Royal Mills is a stunning group of buildings, and was intact with much of the machinery in place back in 2004. Students and professional photographers have done a lot of documenting in this building, illegally and with permission. Streuver Brothers Eccles and Rouse rehabbed the 14 acre site and its many buildings through 2004 and 2008. The entire complex was converted to residential and commercial space, with large floor plans and most of the original amenities intact. Extensive history web-site is impressive, and the complex contains a small museum.
In some of the photos you will notice the old water turbines that powered parts of the mill (30, 31, 32, 39 & 48). Since then, a new hydroelectric turbine was installed to power all of the common areas around Royal Mills. The turbine, though technologically brand new, is powered just like its cotton mill era predecessors using the original 1861 dam rerouting under the Royal Mill building.
Royal Mill (1890, 1920) This 5-story, 450-foot long building is of coursed rubble construction, its facade dominated by a central tower/entrance and a clock tower at the southern end. The two square-plan, crenellated towers have quoined corners and a belt course of granite ashlar. The north tower has two inset panels below the belt course. These bear the inscriptions: 1855 (the date of a major addition to the previous “Stone Mill”) and 1919 (the date of reconstruction after a catastrophic fire). The south tower is similar to the north but for the addition of an upper extension housing a clock. Below the belt course is a panel bearing the inscription: Royal Mills. These towers were still standing after the 1919 fire.
The 450-foot facade consists of 17 bays, the north tower, 36 additional bays, and the south corner tower. The roof is flat and sealed with asphalt and gravel. Windows are 6/9 double-hung sash with margined, rock-faced granite lintels and sills. At the roof line there is a stepped brick cornice and a plain wooden crown molding. Interior floors are wooden plank. The floor plan is generally open, although certain areas throughout the building are now partitioned for office space. Columns are wooden.
Weave Shed (1920) This 4-story, 20th century addition to the complex represents a typical industrial building of the period – reinforced concrete and steel frame with brick walls, large window openings, and narrow piers and spandrels. The facade consists of 5 bays flanking a square central tower; windows are metal framed. It is roughly 400' x 150' and flat-roofed. The roof is sealed with asphalt and gravel.
Much of the machinery and office equipment of Ace Dyeing and Finishing (a forty-year occupancy) was left behind at the time the building was abandoned. This upper floors of this building are open space with steel columns and concrete floors. The basement is narrow in width compared to the upper floors because of the thick east wall needed to retain the land rising from that side of the building.
Waste house (1890) This flat roofed, 2-story, coursed rubble building, located behind the 1920 weave shed dates to the 1890 construction. The side elevation of this roughly 70' x 40' building is incorporated into the river retaining wall. The facade shows significant alteration – a mix of segmental arch, brick lined doorways; double-hung sash windows with granite lintel and sill; and 24-light steel frame windows. The cornice is wooden and bracketed. The roof is flat, sealed with asphalt and gravel.
Interior space is divided into two main narrow areas. A small office is located on the second floor. At the time of its abandonment it housed a machine shop, much of the contents (including overhead shafting and belting) of which remains in remarkably good condition on the second floor.
Truss Bridge (ca. 1890) This riveted, iron pony truss bridge has a span of 65 feet. It dates to the extensive reconstruction of the mill complex by the B.B. and R. Knight Company. The bridge spans the Pawtuxet River at a 45-degree skew within the mill property. This type of bridge, patented by Thomas and Caleb Pratt in 1844, was commonly used throughout the United States for spans of from 25 to 150 feet in length. A plaque on the northeast end post identifying the builder as the Boston Bridge Works is now missing. The Royal Mill Bridge is one of five wrought iron, riveted Pony truss bridges in Rhode Island. Although the wooden deck is badly weathered, the wrought iron structural components appear to be in very good condition.
The Royal Mill complex is significant as the physical expression of the development of B.B. and R. Knight into one of the largest textile manufacturers in the world. Located in Rhode Island’s most heavily-industrialized community, the mill’s corporate history parallels and exemplifies several important themes in the state’s industrial history: the consolidation of firms for economies of scale, the decline of the New England textile industry in the early 20th century, and the role of strikes and labor disputes in textile and Rhode Island political history.
The present layout of the complex is essentially that of an extensive reconstruction and demolition carried out circa 1890 by B.B and R. Knight, incorporating the Greene Manufacturing Company’s plant into its holdings of some seventeen separate factories throughout Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Sensing the threat posed by southern competition and rising labor agitation, B.B. and R. Knight sold their complete holdings to a New York-based conglomerate in 1920. Intensifying southern competition and widespread, violent labor strife followed, bringing the company to near collapse in the 1920s. A major textile strike that spread throughout New England in 1922 began in the weave room of the Royal Mill. This strike marked the emergence of Rhode Island’s immigrant population into the mainstream of state politics, hastening the demise of the Republican Party as the dominant force in state affairs and bringing the Democrats to power.
Through reorganization, a new corporation nursed the company through the late 1920s until its eventual collapse in the Great Depression. The complex was purchased at a foreclosure auction in 1936 by Saybrooke Corporation for one dollar and subsequently converted for woolen manufacture. Hope Valley Dyeing began leasing space in the weave shed shortly after the Saybrooke purchase, until leaving in 1948. Ace Dyeing and Finishing, a company owned by the Saybrooke interests, continued operation in the brick weave shed until the abandonment of the complex in 1993. Although Saybrooke technically owned the property, a tax default auction in August 1993 assigned tax title to West Warwick. A suspicious fire in December 1996 damaged the second floor of the Ace Dyeing Building.
Jack Lancellotta April 6, 2008
The revitalization effort of the Royal Mills Complex in West Warwick, is an exciting and resilient endeavor by the Maryland-based, Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse for all to cherish.
Our JAYCEE Chapter and Foundation have been for-ever advocates of mill restoration in the Pawtuxet Valley region, especially as it accesses the beautiful, picturesque riparian scenes and power of Rhode Island’s longest waterway, The Pawtuxet River.
The Ace Dye Building and the concomitant Royal Mills Building, provides a majestic appearance in the aggregate welcoming at a glace of real hydro-proportions for residents and visitors to the eastern-entrance of the Town of West Warwick.
The JAYCEES have been a principle presence to a sound and modern approach to ecological preservation and economic development with the support of mill rehabilitation projects, the construction of statewide bikepaths, open space heritage lot development as well as their own award-winning, JAYCEE Corridor & Arboretum, that is the portal entrance to the state Senator Donald Roch Riverwalk; all which meanders at the confluence of the south and north branches of the Pawtuxet.
There are many dedicated people that have given enormous time, personal resources and even sacrificial commitments to maintain the historic architectural countenance and environmental enhancement of the Pawtuxet River Basin and Valley and the JAYCEES are certainly pleased and humbly proud to be a part of that. Best Wishes and continued success to all.
Yours in Public Service,
John J. “Jack” Lancellotta, Ex. Director
JAYCEE Education & Library Foundation
Lynn Paola Feb 1 2008 The river view from within is absolutely breathtaking and a retreat from the real world. West Warwick is where I took my first steps and though I’ve moved since, I’m coming home... I remember driving by the mills during the conversion thinking I’m going to live there some day. I’ve had my sights on the mills since early development and my family and I are excited to join the community...
Dave D I am glad that a historic landmark such as this has been reborn into a useful and economic impacting solution. The positive externalities that will occur as a result, will benefit the town of W. Warwick and the State as a whole.
Susan Dever I have to say that I am quite fortunate to be living at Royal Mill. My family and I truly enjoy being here. The original plank flooring remains in the main areas of the apartments with carpeting covering the bedroom floors and tile in the bathrooms. The cross link over to the Ace Dye building provides a fascinating view of the dam which was used to power the machinery here. Original walls were left intact, and initials, carved long ago by workers or whoever, are still quite visible around the deep set windows. It’s truly a beautiful place, the clock tower, welcoming us all home.
Cindy Dragan My husband’s family worked at Royal Mill around the turn of the century. We have one old damaged picture that was taken inside the original mill.
Gale Plante-Hicks My mother worked at the Royal Mill back in the 1960’s and used to wave to me while I was at recess in the school yard. All you could see was a hand coming out of the window to the right of the clock tower... it got to be where more and more friends got involved in waving to her... everyone would be looking for the hand... I was recently back in RI and saw the renovations of the mill which is truly beautiful. So many fond memories.
Lynn Halmi I am the Preservation Coordinator of the Knight Estate in Warwick and would like to know if anyone has any info on the Knight Family in particular, (as well as their many mills). The info here on the Royal mill is full of interesting details.
Donna V My sister used to work at Holiday Products in the Royal Mill. She used to sew Christmas stockings and hats and stuff like that. I’m glad they are fixing it up. So far it looks beautiful! Can’t wait till it’s done.
Mike Muzzy I pass by the Royal Mills to and from work. I noticed that it was almost 6pm on the way home tonight and stopped to hear the clock mark the top of the hour. I almost missed it when I realized the hard way I was at the bus stop when the bus eclipsed my view! The first time my daughter saw the clock illuminated she thought it was the moon (she saw it out of the corner of her eye. David Seay, you are my hero! That clock rocks!
Michael Amendola My grandfather (Mose Lavoie 1900-1975) who lived on the nearby East Main st. worked several jobs at the Royal mills in the 1920s and 30s before becoming a master plaster. Back in the 50s, my mother would wait for the bus in front of the mills that would take her to her job at the state Medical Center in Cranston. As a child I remenber picking blueberrys in back of the Royal Mills, back then we would call Knights farm.
R. Warila On a recent bicycle outing with my young children, we passed by the Royal Mill complex. As a child I grew up in West Warwick and attended Horgan School across the street. At the time, most of the mill was abandoned and falling into disrepair. It is good to see the efforts that are being put forth in restoring the old mill structure.
David Seay I recently restored the clock faces and started the new clock running on March 25, 2006
Brandon L The clock hasn’t worked in sixteen years and they finally got it to work.
The information about each building grows as visitors let us know about their experiences. Did you or a member of your family work here? Did you grow up near it as a child? Let us know. All entries will be moderated and may be posted in an edited form. We will use your name unless you tell us otherwise. We will not make your email public.