The former New England Butt Company was purchased and redeveloped during 2002-2004 by the Armory Revival Company, with design expertise provided by Durkee, Brown, Viveiros & Werenfels Architects. Out of 55 units, 36 are for rent, 19 are for sale, and 5 are affordable by federal and state standards. The term affordable is varied, but we still appreciate the fact that about 10% of the units are affordable by any means, as no other developer during the early oughts seemed concerned about making units affordable by any measure.
As part of the redevelopment and design, many of the historic features have remained intact or even lauded. The original street name tiles are still in place at the corner of Pearl Street and Perkins. The overhead passageway between two of the structures has been made inhabitable – it is an extra room in one of the apartments – and has been painted in a fairly accurate way. All of the units are fairly unique in their layout, and most have one-of-a-kind details. We at AIR even like the new steel-clad addition, and thinks it makes a nice architectural counterpoint to the existing structure.
About 44,000 sq feet of the complex, mostly a one story, less historically significant portion, has been rented out to Trinity Repertory for their set design department and to the Providence School Department for storage. Neighbors of note are Classical and Central High schools, Firehouse 13, and Jones Warehouse.
From the 1981 RIHPHC Industrial Sites Report
Established in 1842 by N.A. Fenner, the New England Butt Company manufactured cast-iron butt hinges. By 1880, however, the introduction of cheaper, stamped-metal butts rendered cast-iron butts obsolete, and the company turned to the manufacture of braiding machinery.
The oldest building in this complex is the much altered 2-story, monitor roofed, frame building in the center of the block on Perkins Street (photo 28), built between 1849 and 1857. The main building, constructed in in 1865 from plans by Spencer R. Read, is a handsome, gable roofed, brick structure with corbeled brick cornices, brick window caps, and arched door surrounds. This building, fronting on Pearl Street, was originally used for machining and assembling. A long, brick two-story wing built at the same time behind the main building was later raised to three stories. Although this building has window caps identical to the main building, it may incorporate an older structure. In 1951 a large, flat one-story glass and brick structure replaced the foundry on Perkins and Rice Streets.
By 1901 the New England Butt Company employed 200 skilled workers in the manufacture of braiding machines for silk, worsted, and cotton braid as well as telephone, electric light and crinoline wire. The Wanskuck Corporation bought the New England Butt Company in 1955. (As of 1981,) the factory continues to produce braiding machinery and cabling machinery at this site as well as the works of the former Providence Steam Engine Company at 521 South Main Street.
More about Wanskuck and the acqusition of New England Butt:
The Wanskuck Company was founded as a woolen mill on Branch Avenue in 1862 by Stephen T. Olney, Jesse Metcalf and Henry J. Steere. In reaction to the collapse of the Rhode Island woolen industry, the company attempted to diversify in 1955 with the purchase of the New England Butt Company, a Providence foundry which produced a wide variety of industrial machinery. New England Butt had been the site of pioneering industrial engineering work by Frank Gilbreth. By 1957, Wanskuck was out of the textile business completely, but continued to buy out other firms, and was a successful conglomerate for many years. It was reorganized as Mossberg Industries, Inc. circa 1982; after 1983, the Providence directories do not list Wanskuck, Mossberg or New England Butt, and the corporate headquarters were vacant.
Carol Thomas Mar 30 2014 I have a iron with the number 7 in the middle from the New Eng. Butt Co. Prov. RI. Can you provide me with some history of this antique iron?
Joan June 5 2011 A question: I have a very very large flat iron that has the New England Butt Company, Providence RI, #21 on the top surface. This is extremely heavy. Can someone tell me if the company made these? and if so when? I have done searches and have not found that they made flat irons. Thanks in advance for any information you might have.
Trudi Hancock Beard May 25 2008 I recentely came across my great grandfathers WW1 draft registration card only to find out his employment was listed at the New England Butt Company as a machinist... since I live in Alabama and have never meet this grandfather – or his daughter (my grandmother) I couldn’t begin to imagine what a butt company was... Thanks for the information.
Barry Preston a clarification about the Pearl Street Lofts:: there are 44,000 st of warehouse/commercial space in the Pearl Street Lofts, of which 14,000 sf are rented to Trinity Rep for set-makingn and prop storage. 30,000 sf are rented to the Providence School Department as their central stores warehouse.
Of the for sale residences at the Pearl Street Lofts (of which, as you note there are 19), 4 are permanently affordable – 20% of the residences for sale. This has been made possible through a collaboration with the Providence Preservation Society Revolving Fund.
You may wish to know that the New England Butt Company was one of the first clients of the Gilbreaths (about whom one of their children wrote “Cheaper by the donzen”). They were industrial efficiency experts, and moved to Providence to work with New England Butt to rationalize its processes and increase the efficiency of their workers. They set up shop – the “betterment room” – in what is now the loft space in the Pearl Street Loft apartments. Jane Lancaster, who has written the biography of Lillian Gilbreath, has more information on this chapter of the building’s history, as well as some interesting photographs and a movie made of their work with New Engalnd Butt Co.
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