J & H Electric former Kiernan Wholesale Drug Company


Now called the Ship Street lofts, back in 2003 a quick look on Residential Properties’ website confirmed that units in this building were going for a whole lot of money. $490,000 for the super top-of-the-line unit that is 2906 square feet, and $315,000 for 1253 sq ft, your basic loft box. Amenities include elevator, gated keyed parking lot, air conditioning, large thermopane windows, maple hardwood floors, and custom maple solid wood cabinetry. “Steps away from Downcity,”; if by Downcity you mean Club Hell, Jerky’s, and Johnson and Wales.


From ProvPlan.org:
It is a three-story, brick, flat-roof building notable for its chamfered corner at the intersection of Richmond and Ship streets and the trapezoidal shape of the structure, which conforms to its corner lot. The building is embellished with brick corbelling and projecting brick piers between each bay. The buildin’s primary entrance is offset on the façade, within a recessed opening. The entrance features a replacement metal-and-glass door reached by a flight of concrete steps set below a neon sign on the Richmond Street side of the entry. A vehicular entrance with roll top door is located on the rear elevation. Fenestration consists of rectangular openings with single and paired, multi-light, fixed and awning sash; replacement single-light awning sash and some infill glass block on the first floor façade. Basement windows have been either bricked in or have glass block. A stairwell is located on the southeast corner of the building and features a painted sign reading: “J&H Electric Co.”. Visible beneath this sign is one advertising Kiernan Wholesale Drug Co. A brick chimney rises from the northeast corner of the building.

This structure was originally built by Kiernan Wholesale Drug Company around the year 1922-23. J & H Electric Co., which specialized in the supply and service of electric motors and electric motor parts such as bearings, industrial wire, drives and sheaves, and Browning V-Belts, moved into it in 1929. J & H, founded in 1906, had begun at 97 Chestnut Street, expanded to 155 Clifford Street and other locations before consolidating here in 1929. In 1931 it was reported in the Providence Board of Trade Journal that the company had undergone remarkable growth (Jewelry District National Register nomination form). They ran the company from this location through to at least 1990. The building is currently vacant and slated for conversion into condominiums.

Dr. Carl E. Aronson My father went to work for J & H Electric Co. part-time in 1919, while still in high school, and, after learning his trade as an armature winder and electrician, he retired from the company 47 years later as shop foreman. As a youth, I spent many hours keeping him company when he worked overtime on nights and weekends rewinding motors, some of which were over 200 HP in size.

The basement of the building was where the old wire coils were stripped out of motors prior to installing new ones, and this area also contained a large in ground varnish tank in which newly rewound motors were dipped and sealed with a special type of varnish, in order to protect the coils and insulation, then baked in a large oven to cure the varnish. The oven was also used to bake the moisture out of motors that had been underwater in floods, etc. The first floor contained the reception counter, the large motor department, a machine shop, locker room, and the loading dock/shipping department. The second floor housed the buisness offices, stock room, and the belt and drive department. On the third floor small motors and power tools were repaired, and it also housed the coil making department ,which produced custom-made. replacement coils for the large motor repair department. Specialized electical control panels of various types were also designed and built by J & H.

The company was frequently called upon to service electic motors aboard many of the ships that came into the port of Providence. They also took care of motors and related equipment in many local jewelry manufacturing sites. Much of that work was done on an annual basis during the 4th of July week, when many factories closed for vacation. The company also did commercial wiring.

I remember my Dad telling me how, during the 1938 hurricane, he left the building just in time to get out of the downtown area before it was flooded. Several fellow workers, who stayed around to talk after quitting time, found themselves stranded and their cars under water.

It was nice to learn that the building is soon to be put to new use, now that it no longer is the home of J & H Electric Co.

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