The Steel Yard was founded in 2001 by Nick Bauta and Clay Rockefeller. They purchased the former Providence Steel and Iron (PS&I) complex in the hopes of creating a new space for artists to gather and practice age-old trades of metalsmithing and more. In collaboration with fellow artists and community members, Bauta and Rockefeller built a non-profit around the idea of connecting people to how things are made and teaching them about process.
The first major foray into programming began with the intention of furnishing local metalworkers with access to a well-equipped shop. PSI’s ornamental shop was converted into an industrial arts facility and education center. The facility and surrounding site now accommodates classes and projects in welding, blacksmithing, ceramics, jewelry, glass casting and the foundry arts.
Over the years, both the interior and exterior spaces have been used for the fabrication of products, the creation of works of art, open houses, workshops, demonstrations, exhibits, and performances. The input and assistance of the surrounding community has helped drive a grassroots evolution at the Steel Yard ensuring that its vision, curriculum, and facilities are unique and uniquely beneficial to the locality in which they work.
From a Press Release concerning the new listing of PS&I on the National Register, issued by the RIHPHC office, September 2005
The Providence Steel and Iron Company Complex (PS&I) is a group of one- and two-story,predominantly brick industrial buildings located on a three-acre lot at the corner of Sims and Kinsley avenues south of the Woonasquatucket River. The site includes the original structural steel building (which housed the office, pattern room, and drafting rooms), an ornamental iron building, a bar shop, a maintenance shed, and a detached office building. These buildings are arranged around the periphery of a central yard served by a series of steel gantries and cranes and a narrow gauge rail that allowed for the manipulation of materials, stock, and fabricated structures and for transport into the various buildings.
Providence Steel and Iron Company (PS&I) was created as a subsidiary of Builders Iron Foundry (BIF), a Providence company established in 1822. BIF manufactured precision iron castings, water meters, and architectural ironwork in a plant downtown. New contracts and space constraints allowed the company to purchase about 20,000 square feet of land at the corner of Sims and Kinsley Avenues for its Structural and Architectural Department. This offshoot of BIF was incorporated as Providence Steel and Iron (PS&I) and purchased by Michael F. Houlihan in 1905.
The Providence construction firm of Houlihan and Maguire designed and erected a building to house a structural steel shop on the first floor and an office, pattern room, and drafting room on the second. PS&I’s Structural Steel Building represented a significant innovation in that it was designed for electrical illumination and power. With the expansion of the local electrical grid in the 1890s and the early years of the 20th century, factories were able to choose either to tie in to the grid or to generate electricity at a local steam plant.
In researching the National Register nomination for PS&I, preservation consultant Edward Connors investigated documentary evidence and the physical plant. Scanning the early plans for PS&I, Connors found no indication of a boiler or engine/dynamo room; this suggested that electrical needs were furnished by Narragansett Electric Lighting Company. On site, he found a combination of local motors dedicated to individual machines and some local shafting and belting. The early system of gantries and cranes in the rear yard of PS&I suggests the company began its rear-yard operation with hand-operated cranes and chainfalls. Considering the rapid development of electrical materials-handling equipment in the early 20th century, Connors claims that it is likely that PS&I acquired electrically-driven cranes and hoists early on. By 1906 PS&I was advertising locally for “designs and estimates for buildings, bridges, trusses, girders, built-up columns, etc. Also stairs, fences, railings, window guards, grillwork, and general blacksmith and household work.” The company also stocked steel beams, channels, angles, tees, and plates.
By 1918, PS&I had acquired enough land to extend its system of cranes and to construct three buildings: the Ornamental Iron Works Building (1918Ð21), Office Building (1921-26), and the Bar Shop (1926-37). Another land purchase enabled the firm to install the stockyard crane and build the final extension of the Ornamental Iron Works. Providence Steel & Iron continued operations without interruption until economic conditions forced its closure in 2003.
Honor Sanderford Aug 22 2015 Bill Toof, his name was actually Herman Toof, is the owner Alden is referring to. Bill Toof was my grandfather; he stayed on with the company after it was sold until his death in 1975. So glad to see that the building still stands and is being has been repurposed. I doubt our grandfathers ever envisioned what it would look like today.
ALDEN WILSON Sep 25 2010 My grandfather Harry Page Wilson 1878 1948 was one of the owners along with William Tooth they owned the company during the 30’s and 40’s and built the stadium where the Pawsox play in Pawtucket.
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