Gorham Manufacturing Company

A sprawling complex and a leading designer of silver goods for 100 years or more. Still in business (not in RI) as part of the Lenox Corporation.

About this Property

#Reason for Demolition

It seems that the large Gorham complex was a victim of being vacant during the wrong era of real estate development. For a little over 10 years after Gorham shut down operations at this location in 1986, the City of Providence with aid from the Providence Preservation Society, solicited proposals for redevelopment of the site and its buildings. No responses included the existing buildings in their plans. The insatiable thirst for mill building redevelopment would not strike the area for five more years.

If the complex could have stayed standing for a little longer, we might have mixed use residential and commercial at this location. The buildings were gorgeous and the history was long and proud. The location along Mashapaug Pond would have given developers water views. It’s really a shame.

Granted, the soil under these buildings was heavily contaminated. The pollution in the nearby pond was bad enough that some thought it might never recover. None of these things were insurmountable, but they did stand in the way of a more preservationist vision of the redevelopment of this property.

The last remnant of the 37-acre, 14-building complex was going to be converted into a Firefighter Museum. It stood for more than 10 years after the main buildings were torn own, but succumbed to a suspicious fire in 2009.

#Current Events

The Stop-n-Shop plaza that was built on the land where the Gorham Factory once stood closed in 2006. As of Google Streetview photos from 2011, it was still closed with no new tenant.

#History

Rather good synopsis of Gorham’s legacy and importance at Wikipedia. This snippet is very impressive:

The Smithsonian archives of American art list Gorham foundry over 700 times in its inventory of American sculpture.


From a documentation project undertaken by Erik Gould, Erik Carlson and Joshua Safdie, for the City of Providence Department of Planning and Development and the RI Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission. Photos scanned and text put online with permission from the authors and the RIHPHC.

The former Gorham Manufacturing Company complex was a 37-acre industrial site that included over 30 buildings located between Mashapaug Pond and Adelaide Avenue in the Reservoir Triangle neighborhood of Providence. The complex was in continuous operation from its opening in 1890 until 1986 when Textron Corporation – the owner since 1967 – closed the plant. In August of 1992 the City of Providence acquired the complex at a tax foreclosure sale. The City spent the next 6 years looking for a proper redevelopment plan for the site. Efforts to market even just the buildings on site with the greatest architectural significance proved difficult, and no viable proposal for reuse of any of the existing buildings came forward.

In May of 1997, a $50 million bond issue was approved by the City Council, $1 million of which was to be expended for the redevelopment of the Gorham site. During the summer of ’97, the Providence Preservation Society and the City mailed out 1,600 marketing brochures seeking proposals to developers throughout New England. By the deadline of August 30, 10 developers expressed interest but none of their proposals would reuse any of the buildings. Given this response, the City determined that it could make no further efforts to market these buildings for rehabilitation. A tentative schedule for demolition of all buildings, with the exception of the Carriage House, was established in early September.

Significance

Jabez Gorham was born in Providence, RI in 1792. After apprenticing for seven years as a jeweler and silversmith, he formed several business partnerships before opening his own small shop in 1818. Gorham originally manufactured beads, earrings, gold chains and other small wares. The business that would grow to be the Gorham Manufacturing Company was founded by Jabez in 1831. It was at this point that Gorham, in partnership with Henry L. Webster, began the manufacture of silver spoons under the name Gorham and Webster at 12 Steeple Street in Providence. All silversmithing at this time was done by hand, and while the company continued its slow growth, production volumes were always small. With steady investment and the implementation of mechanization Gorham’s sales continued to grow. In 1863 the company was incorporated in Rhode Island and by 1868, the company was grossing $1 million in sales.

Some of the notable silver products produced by Gorham include:

  • Lincoln White House Tea and Coffee Service, 1861
  • Century Vase for 1876 Centennial Exhibition containing 2000 oz. of silver
  • Salem Witch Spoon, most famous of Gorham’s souvenir spoons
  • The Independent Man, top of the State House 1899
  • Serbian & Ecuadorian Currency
  • the Davis Cup, tennis tournament trophy
  • Bronze statue of George Washington built for the US Capitol rotunda, 1932
  • Indianapolis 500 Borg-Warner Trophy, 1935
  • Silver punch bowl, tray, goblets and ladle for the Shah of Iran, 1964
  • White House Table Service (3434-pieces) for the Nixon White House, 1974

The manufacturing process at Gorham was tailored to produce a wide array of different items in the same facility. Among their most important products were sterling silver flatware and hollowware, electroplated flatware and hollowware, ecclesiastical goods, and bronze statuary and architectural products. The design department had access to a large library of folios on ornamentation, architecture, antiquities, gems, silver, furniture, costuming, birds and flowers, etc…

The facility drew its power from four 175 horse power Corliss Upright boilers. These boilers were encased in brick and were located in building H. In this building’s Engine Room was located a 450 hp automatic Corliss Engine. This engine has a 26” cylinder, 60” stroke, and a band wheel 20 feet in diameter.

The main building complex is an interconnected group of 14 distinct buildings constructed and arranged in a cruciform plan and primarily built during the original building campaign of 1890. The main complex is orientated towards the railroad tracks to the east, which originally paralleled a dirt drive that served as the main approach. Most of the structures were steel-frame, brick-clad, flat-roofed structures set on concrete foundations.


From the RIHPHC’s survey of Providence Industrial Sites, July 1981

The Gorham Manufacturing Company was founded as a small jeweler’s shop in 1818 by Jabez Gorham, who made beads, earrings, breast pins, rings, and a gold chain known as the “Gorham Chain.” In 1831, the firm began manufacturing silver spoons. Soon the shop began the production of other silver items such as forks, thimbles, combs, and children’s cups. In 1841 Gorham’s son John joined the firm which became known as Jabez Gorham and Son. After his father’s retirement in 1847, John Gorham greatly expanded the business by installing a steam engine and producing flat silver and silver holloware by machine. In 1865, the Gorham Manufacturing Company incorporated. It established a separate department for the manufacture of ecclesiastical articles in 1885. The department was quite successful and the company was soon handling larger orders for statues and memorials (mainly made of bronze) and for architectural bronze work. One of the many statues cast at the Gorham Manufacturing plant is the Columbus Monument (1893) at Columbus Square in Elmwood: this bronze figure of Columbus is the replica of a silver statue designed by Auguste Bartholdi and cast at Gorham for the Columbian Exposition of 1892 in Chicago.

The complex, which includes one of the largest metal-working foundries in the world, consists of a group of 2- and 3-story brick structures with low hip or pitched roofs, grouped for the most part symmetrically beside and behind a 3-story (third story added later), hip-roofed office building with a gabled, Romanesque-style, central entrance. All the structures possess uniform corbeled brick cornices and window sills and other trimmings of rock-faced granite. A large, bronze statue of Vulcan, cast at the plant, stands in front f the office building. A short distance to the north of the principal complex is a brick, cross-gabeled stable and carriage house erected in 1890 which originally was part of a now demolished station. Also in this area is a long, Colonial Revival building built in 1895 and enlarged in 1906 containing the Board of Director’s room, dining rooms, recreation rooms, and dormitories. This building was to be used by the workers as well as the executives. Located next to the Amtrack Railroad, the Gorham Manufacturing Company complex presents a handsome, picturesque façade to the railroad traveller from New York to Providence or Boston. In 1967 Gorham became a diviosn of Textron. The plant is still in operation today (A.I.R.: until 1986).

#In the News

Fire Destroys Carriage House That Was To Become Fire Museum

by Richard C. Dujardin
Providence Journal | April 15, 2009 (abridged)

A raging fire of suspicious origin destroyed the old carriage house of the former Gorham silver manufacturing plant off Elmwood Avenue that was being converted into a firefighters’ museum.

The carriage house, the last standing building of the industrial complex that once stretched over a 37-acre area between Mashapaug Pond and Adelaide Avenue in the Reservoir Triangle neighborhood, was being restored by Providence firefighters to turn it into the Providence Fire Museum.

“This is not good. It’s a real sad day,” said retired fire fighter Tom Peckenham. He said members of Local 799, International Association of Fire Fighters, and other volunteers had put in “countless hours” since 2002 restoring the large brick edifice. The Providence Fire Department Historical Society had planned to fill the museum with memorabilia and fire apparatus going back more than a century including antique trucks that were used in the late 1880s.

What remains of the 115-year-old structure is likely to be demolished on Friday, after members of the arson squad conduct an investigation.

“This is a killer,” said Jeffrey Herman, who worked as a silver designer at Gorham during the early 1980’s and was a founder of the Society of American Silversmiths. “At the turn of the [20th] century, Gorham was the world’s leading silver manufacturer of silver products. This building was the last visible vestige of what once was.”