Washburn Wire

also known as American Electrical Works, Rhode Island Forging Steel, Ocean State Steel

A former steel and wire manufacturing facilty along the waterfront in East Providence shut down in 1994 and was razed 10 years later

About this Property

#Reason for Demolition

This property just can’t seem to catch a break. In 1994, the former steel and wire manufacturer by the name of Ocean State Steel was forced to shut down. A developer planned to turn the cleaned up land into residential condos 10 years later, then that plan died. More developers came forward, but nothing has happened to the site yet. Maybe there is a bright future for this waterfront property, since there is another developer on the scene.

This history below is a mix of buildings that still survive today as Phillipsdale Landing and structures that were part of the now demolished Washburn Wire company.

1883–1887
Richmond Paper Company builds the earliest of seven buildings on this land and land north of what would become Washburn Wire. These early buildings have become known as Phillipsdale Landing since 1987.
1887–1889
The Richmond Paper Company fails and its equipment is sold for auction. The land lay vacant for four years until it was purchased at public auction in 1893 by Eugene Phillips and adapted for wire manufacture. Phillips’ company, American Electrical Works (AEW), a pioneer in the manufacture of insulated wire, made significant alterations to the plant and occupied it until 1934.
1893–1899
Phillips’s acquisition of the former Richmond Paper plant allowed space to expand and provided access to rail, coal, process water, and a wharf on the Seekonk River. The new plant contained about 175,000sf of floor space.
1899
Charles Washburn leaves Worcester-based manufacturer Washburn and Moen when it was acquired by American Steel and Wire. He entered into a brief partnership with Eugene Phillips the following year, under the name Washburn Wire Company.
1900
AEW built a new rolling mill and a three-story shipping building, the first major adaptations of the former Richmond plant for wire manufacture. In 1900 the Washburn Wire Company built an open hearth furnace to the immediate south of the AEW works. Although Charles Washburn left the partnership shortly after, Phillips continued to operate it as a wire manufacturer.
The plant employed upwards of 1000 workers, and was processing fifty tons per day of Michigan copper billet into rod for wire.
1905
Eugene Phillips dies at the age of 62 and management of the AEW company passed to his sons.
1934
The Phillips interests sold the AEW plant to Kennecott Wire and Cable. Washburn Wire continues to operate.
1976
Within a year of the resolution of an 8-month strike, Washburn Wire files for bankruptcy.
1982
The Washburn Wire Company closed for business. Rhode Island Forging Steel operates at this location until 1989, when Ocean State Steel, an American subsidiary of a Swiss company, purchased the complex and continued to produce steel until 1994.
1994
A judge orders Ocean State Steel to cease operation in a case brought by the Department of Environmental Management. Ocean State Steel did not comply with previous orders issued requiring it to install all pollution-control equipment. DEM calculated that approximately 600,000 tons of steel dust had been emitted into the atmosphere between August and December 1992, and DEM wanted more of it to be captured.
2001
GeoNova Development Company LLC, of New York first proposes redeveloping the former Ocean State Steel site. GeoNova named it “East Pointe” in a $200-million plan for close to 500 condominiums, townhouses, and single-family houses, as well as commercial spaces.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the city a $2-million grant and a $3-million loan to aid with cleanup of the industrial site, which had been contaminated with heavy metals.
2004
Demolition of the Ocean State Steel site was nearing completion and construction of the first housing units were scheduled to begin in February. The environmental cleanup was completed, but the housing project never progressed.
2015
Superior Court Judge Michael A. Silverstein appoints W. Mark Russo special master of the property after a longstanding legal dispute between the City of East Providence and GeoNova.
2016
A new developer, Prominem LLC, releases plans for 144 apartments on the 9 acre site. Sale price was set at $1.8 million cash, or $2.8 million for a financed purchase. Prominem is owned by the same investors who are involved in the Lippitt Mill project in West Warwick. This plan never made it off the drawing boards.
2020
Noble Development, LLC., represented by Churchill & Banks, submitted a plan to develop a series of 330–370 mixed residential units of single family and townhouse/duplex residences. It would also afford the city community at-large access to the river’s shoreline.

Sources

  • “Richmond Paper Company Mill Complex”, National Register Nomination Form, prepared by Edward Connors & Associates, February 2006. Captured November 20, 2020. http://www.preservation.ri.gov/pdfs_zips_downloads/national_pdfs/east_providence/eapr_bourne-avenue-310_richmond-paper-co-mill-complex.pdf
  • “Washburn Wire Company & Ocean State Steel — East Providence, Rhode Island RIHRA EAPR-OOO”, Edward Connors and Aaron Usher, December, 2003. Captured November 21, 2020 from https://archives.hud.gov/offices/cpd/environment/section106/pdf/ri_eastprovidence_2003.pdf
  • “Durfee vs. Ocean State Steel”, January 26, 1994. Captured November 21, 2020 from https://law.justia.com/cases/rhode-island/supreme-court/1994/636-a-2d-698.html
  • “Rumford’s East Pointe may finally get new investors”, Christine Dunn, May 12, 2016, Providence Journal. Captured November 20, 2020 from https://www.providencejournal.com/article/20160512/NEWS/160519720
  • “E.P. Waterfront Commission hears initial concepts for ‘East Pointe’ redevelopment” Mike Rego, East Bay RI, November 20, 2020. Captured November 20, 2020 from https://www.eastbayri.com/stories/ep-waterfront-commission-hears-initial-concepts-for-east-pointe-redevelopment,86325

#Current Events

In 2020, a new developer came onto the scene. We’ll keep track of how that new plan proceeds.

#History

Eugene Phillips

Eugene Francis Phillips, son of David Gresham and Maria (Rhodes) Phillips, was born in Providence, RI, November 10, 1843. He received his early education in the public schools of the city of Providence. In 1878, after being in banking, Mr. Phillips began experiments on the manufacture of insulated electric wire. He was an organizer of great resourcefulness and genius, and the infant industry which started in a small shed in the rear of his home in Providence grew and became one of the largest steel and copper wire manufacturing establishments of its kind in the world. Discoveries in the field of electricity greatly developed the possibilities of the new industry, and through his ability to foresee the size and importance of the manufacture of insulated wire, and its value in extending and broadening the uses of electricity, Mr. Phillips was able to bring the business to the forefront.

American Electrical Works

The first plant of the company was located at the corner of Stewart and Conduit streets, and in 1890 the factory was enlarged. In 1893 another addition to the plant was necessary, and since the city did not afford efficient nor ideal conditions for work, the present site on the Seekonk river in East Providence was purchased from the Richmond Paper Company, and the factory altered and modified for the manufacture of wire. The presence of an industry of such size in the vicinity caused the speedy growth of a village which was named Phillipsdale. The infant industry was named the American Electrical Works. The annual output of the concern covers wire and cables of every description, from heavy telephone and street cable wire to the delicate silk covered wire used for testing.

Washburn Wire Company

The Washburn Wire Company was originally founded in 1870 for the purpose of manufacturing insulated cable for the then fledgling telephone industry. In 1882, it was incorporated under the name “American Electrical Works, Inc.” and subsequently moved to Rhode Island. In 1900 it was merged with the Washburn Wire Company of Maine. The Washburn Wire Company of New York was formed in 1916 and a year later, the Washburn Wire Company was incorporated in Delaware marking the beginning of the consolidation of the two separate operating divisions - one in New York City, and the other in Rhode Island.

In 1900 the American Electrical Works consolidated with the Washburn Wire Company, which enabled them to add the steel business to their already large variety of manufactured goods. The copper department consumed more than thirty million pounds of copper per annum. The steel department, equipped with open hearth furnaces, made their own steel, using pig-iron as a basis.

Eugene F. Phillips was greatly loved by his employees, and highly respected and honored by his associates in the business world. He was one of the most prominent citizens of Providence, though never active in the official life of the city. He attended the Congregational church of Providence, and eventually erected the Grace Memorial Church (Episcopal) in East Providence, in memory of his daughter Grace, who died in childhood.

Rhode Island Forging Steel and Ocean State Steel

When Washburn Wire closed, the site became Rhode Island Forging Steel. It then operated as Ocean State Steel from 1989 to 1994, when a judge ordered the plant shut down because of air pollution. The site had been abandoned until its demolition in 2004.