American Woolen Company (what’s left of it)


News in 2014: Some bad news. A recent newspaper article shows the City going to bid on the demolition of the last remaining building from the Riverside Mills complex at 50 Aleppo Street. The City – who has continuously owned the building — and Olneyville Housing have not been able to find a private partner for the developement they envisioned. Instead, they are seeking to build a new “green” building at this location. Apparently, they don’t know how green it is to reuse an old building instead of sending it to the landfill. Admittedly, A.I.R. does not have the full story about the descisions behind these actions.

Previously… As of March 2008 when the first of these photos were taken, what is left of the former Riverside Mills is under rehabilitation as part of a Bike path/Greenway project. The building itself says “American Woolen Co” and “Riverside Mills”.

The building size is approximately 5,000 sf. After a devastating fire in October of 2001, the Planning and Parks Departments decided that something needed to be done, quickly, to stabilize the building. They spent approximately $150,000 on stabilization (including raising the roof for an additional floor). The end use will be community space on the first floor, a combination of residential and office uses of the second floor, and a residence (with deck overlooking the park) on the third floor.

The Parks Department will be looking for groups to either run the building or inhabit parts of it next year. They envision a long-term partnership with people who will work with the community in the building, and who will enhance the uses in the park. The building is really where the park meets the neighborhood.

The site is being remediated (a former Brownfield) to the tune of $2.35 million. The park will be usable by fall of 2004. RIDOT is building a bike path through it at some point, but they are behind schedule.


The first of several large woolen mills in the area was the Riverside Mills, built in 1862 by George Chapin and Lewis Downes. It produced mohair and astrackan cloth used for fine coats. This small building, we think, is all that is left of a larger mill that existed, and was built early in the 1900’s. By 1908, the Riverside Mills encompassed 11 buildings over seven acres, and employed over 2000 workers.

The largest textile combine was the American Woolen Company, formed in 1899 by William Wood of Lawrence, MA and Charles Fletcher of Providence, who owned the Providence and National Worsted Mills (Rising Sun). The American Woolen Company was a combine, a conglomeration, and so owned the Riverside (this building, and others that do not survive), Valley, Weybosset, Manton, and Providence and National Worsted Mills. By 1924, the combine owned 60 New England and woolen and worsted mills. In 1937, the American Woolen Co. sold Riverside Mills to a realty company, and many manufacturing businesses used the space for years to come. At one point, 33 companies leased space in the Riverside Mills.

The mill complex was purchased in 1986 for $2 million by Barry Lewis. The complex housed approximately ninety tenants by the late 1980s, including mechanics, musicians, and artists. A fire in December 1989 destroyed the historic mill complex but left only one of the complex’s buildings, the office building, intact (Providence Journal, 12/20/89, 12/28/89). A fire in October 2001 heavily damaged the two-story office building that had served as the offices for American Woolen and Riverside Mills (Providence Journal, 10/10/01).

Joe Margulies Nov 11 2017 Hello everyone, I hope this is not a misuse of the site, but I am a professor at Cornell doing some writing about Olneyville. I am interested in the history of Riverside Mills both before and after the 1989 fire. If anyone has anecdotes about or photos of the space, including the mill buildings before and after the fire but before the creation of Riverside Park, I'd love to hear from you. Thanks. jm347 [at] cornell [dot] edu

George Miller Oct 22 2012 I have a brown woolen blanket with a label with the following info: made by the American Woolen Co INC May 29, 1940 W669 OM Civ 405, Spec 8-11 Ser# 27-8-678 ... can anyone provide me with any information...

Mark Sawtelle Mar 14 2009 My grandfather worked for years for American Woolen, though in New York. My father also worked in the woolen industry for decades. When we moved to my wife’s family’s 3-decker in Olneyville in 1982, I explored the mills down the hill, where her parents had worked and met long before, and sometimes processed goods from my father’s company. When I came upon this front office building, and unexpectedly discerned “American Woolen Co.” on the ivy-covered granite name plate over the left doorway, I felt an eerie jolt of a connection being made.

Gerry Veley My grandmother had a brother who worked as the head dyer at the American Woolen mills. His name was Rudolf Bullard. I also think that his father, Joseph Eusebe Bullard was employed at the mill in the same capacity. Do you have any information on these two individuals? I think that they worked at the mill in the 1930’s. Any information on these two relatives of mine would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you.

A.M. Adrain My band, Cool Beverages, was one of many who lost everything when the mill burned down. We lost instruments and personal items, but more than anything it was the sense of community that being in the old mill fostered that was displaced. Many bands were there: Tyger Tyger, The Threats, BoneYard just to name a few. It was a good time while it lasted. But boy, when that place came down, it came down hard and fast. A 1/4 of a mile long, and four stories built in brick, all came crashing down. Leaving behind just 4 story columns where the double walled bathrooms had been. Long gone right after the fire was Barry Lewis

Anthony Branco We have an old cardboard box with a picture of a little girl sitting in a bed with a raggety ann type doll surrounded by a peach colored blanket The little girl looks to be about 8 yrs old and is holding a lollypop in her hand. At the bottom of the picture in big letters are the words “American Woolen Co. Incorporated” We were wondering if you someone could tell us how old this picture/box is.

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