Images of this Property
14 images: Press to view larger or scroll sideways to see more. Contributions by Betsy von Die, Will Hart, the Armory Revival Company, and real estate listing sites
About this Property
This mill conversion project was one of the early ones in the City, but not the earliest. It was early for the spate of mill redevelopments that were to come in 2002 and beyond. Hard to place exactly, but we think this project was completed in 1998. A small single-story structure was removed for the new four-story entrance addition and elevator tower. The condos originally sold for $300 – $500,000 in 2000.
The early photos of the construction show how much of an interior gut rehab this was. The floors and interior structure were almost completely replaced. The front half of the building is the only part that remains of the original mill.
The redevelopment has been quite successful. Condo units in the building sell occasionally – one as recently as 2018 for a little over a million dollars. The ground-floor retail space has been home to Mill’s Tavern for almost 20 years.
An 1889 Sanborn Map shows the following: “Bower’s Block, 103–109 North Main Street, Mattress Factory 1st (floor), Painting 3rd, Tailor Shop 4th.” A large 2-story livery stable is behind the bulk of the 4-story mill. In a G.M. Hopkins 1937 cadastral map, the City of Providence is shown as the owner. Perhaps the city had to purchase the building to obtain right of way for the raised train tracks that carried the trains from behind Union Station to East Providence inside the East Side Train Tunnel.
Per one of the Armory Revival Company principals, the City of Providence owned the property and had their horse stable located in back in what is now a covered parking garage. When the train tracks that ran across North Main Street — the “Great Wall of China” as it was called — came down, it opened the location up dramatically and made the renovation appealing while Federal Historic Tax credits made it financially feasible.
Our first photo is an interior view circa mid-to-late 1970s of artist Francesca Woodman. The photo was shot and her life at RISD is chronicled by classmate and photographer Betsy von Die. Woodman’s photographs were largely shot inside many of the rooms of the Pilgrim Mills and have been collected by the RISD Museum and the Tate Modern, to name a few. She is an interesting and tragic figure, having taken her own life in 1981 at the age of 23.
From a RISD Museum exhibition checklist:
Made during Woodman’s sophomore year at RISD, the photographs reflect spaces that inspired her work. Woodman surreptitiously moved to an off-campus studio at Pilgrim Mills on North Main Street in Providence, where she lived and worked, as seen in Untitled (figure with door). She used her studio both as a backdrop against which her images were staged and as a prop that she deliberately manipulated, in this case by maneuvering the door. Untitled (sequence) shows Woodman and her close friend Sloan Rankin (who often modeled for Woodman and pressed the shutter when Woodman posed) in motion against the interior of Rankin’s apartment. The room becomes a container for their bodies, which were directed through the space by Woodman.
Local artist Dan Gosch and fellow RISD graduate had a studio in Pilgrim Mills in the early seventies. He is known locally for the great rock star caricatures at Leo’s and Lupo’s. A full story is available at the Daily Dose in celebration of “1950-2000: Celebrating 50 Years of Art in Rhode Island” from 2017.
Blue Point Oyster House
Known for great seafood and wine list, Blue Point was located in a one story addition that was demolished to make way for a new four story addition to Pilgrim Mills. It was a legendary watering hole: Aaron Siskind, Dale Chihuly and other RISD luminaries were regulars. It is where Bill Warner, Fredric St. Florian, and Irving Haynes came up with the concept to move the rivers and create Waterplace Park.
There was the famous evening in April 1981 no one remembers the precise date when several frustrated local architects let their imaginations run intelligently amok over drinks at the old Blue Point Oyster Bar on North Main Street. William Warner and his wife, Peggy, Irving Haynes, and Friedrich St. Florian were sharing drinks and grousing about city planning efforts when the pens and markers came out and a linen napkin became their easel. They started drawing and talking, and before long they had the outlines of a plan, with spilled wine added for color. “It was a collage of a couple of disillusioned architects,” Warner recalled last week. “We were drinking a little bit of wine, and we all said ‘Let’s draw what it could be like.’ It wasn’t really a vision, it was really a fantasy.”1
The owner of the restaurant, who was paid to vacate, was not happy about the move. The building, however, was falling down around them and business had slowed by the mid-nineties.
From a March 1994 review of food destinations in Providence, New York Times:
For fresh fish in a funky atmosphere there’s the Blue Point Oyster Bar, 99 North Main Street, […] near the Rhode Island School of Design. The casual, arty decor belies the professional service, sophisticated cuisine geared to seasonal ingredients and fine wine list. In March, the menu will feature whole grilled breast of mallard duck in cabernet butter, served with a savory pear bulgur; after April 30, strips of shad and shad roe with creamy polenta, arugula and pancetta. Of course, the Blue Point offers a variety of oysters, including Olympias from Washington State and local Moonstones. Warm chocolate caramel pecan tart with homemade French vanilla ice cream is among the desserts. Dinner for two with wine costs about $80.
MacKAY, SCOTT. “A napkin, some wine, and imagination led to city’s rebirth.” Providence Journal (RI), All ed., sec. News, 13 Apr. 2002, pp. A-01. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/15250AF06AAF23A8. Accessed 31 Dec. 2021. ↩