Alexander Duncan Warehouse

also known as The Quay Building

A handsome two-story former wharf warehouse along Dyer street, backing up to the Providence River, used as a electric substation for about 100 years

About this Property

#Rehabilitation

This historic structure along the historic waterfront was preserved and reinforced by Narragansett Electric in 2003. One of the only remaining quay warehouses built in the 19th century, this building is an important reminder of Providence’s beginnings as a main seaport.

From the cadastral maps, one can understand why the building was set at an angle from the street. A main railroad line ran down Dyer Street and into Eddy Street, with spurs that curved off into these warehouses. The angle was also useful on the wharf side where boats could pull in and upload their cargo. Between 1899 and 1937, a small triangular addition was added to the front to make the north side align with the street edge.

This structure is what is left of what was once a dense waterfront full of warehouse structures and docks. In 2003, the roof was removed temporarily to allow a crane to remove asbestos and old transformers. The brick walls on the sides were buckling from the lack of long lost structures on either side. The existing roof was too heavy for the now unsupported walls. The entire roof was removed and replaced with a lighter steel one.

As part of the clean up, the broken windows were removed along the street edge and filled in with plywood and then painted. The building certainly looks better but it is a shame that it can’t be more actively used by commercial or retail. It was rumored to be part of the plan because Narragansett Electric uses the rear substation building more than this one, but no public use has come to pass.

#Current Events

The building has been owned by Narragansett Electric since about 1899. The rear building was built as a substation in about 1920. In 2003, the main building was cleaned out and reinforced. It is our understanding that the main front building is not being used as a battery or substation any longer.

#History

The three cadastral maps show this building as far back as 1889. The 1889 map labels the building as “S.S. Sprague and Company, Columbia Elevator Mills” and the front section as a “Flour warehouse” with a central section for an elevator and southern storage areas for “Salt, Hay, and Straw.”1

The 1889 map labels it as the “Narragansett Electric Lighting Company’s Storage Battery Station.” Salt, Hay, and Straw are still present in the southern storage area.2

The 1937 map labels the front building and new rear building as “Narragansett Electric Company” with battery storage to the north and a generator station to the south.3

From “Downtown Providence: Statewide Historical Preservation Report P-P-5,” prepared by the RIHPHC, May 1981

146 Dyer Street Alexander Duncan Warehouse ca 1880: 2-story, brick structure with corbel cornice and slate hip roof; polychrome stone relieving arches over 2nd-story *windows; original loading bays on first story now blocked down.

Duncan, a Scot, came to America in 1822 and married Cyrus Butler’s niece; he was associated in business with Butler in Providence during the 1840s and also served as President of the Providence and Worcester Railroad Company. While he removed to England during the Civil War, he maintained real-estate interests in Rhode Island, building both this warehouse and the nearby Hay Block at 121 Dyer. It served as a harbor side warehouse until purchased by Narragansett Electric around the turn of the century.

146 Dyer Street (rear building) Narragansett Electric Battery Substation ca 1920: 3-story brick structure with a flat roof and simple band cornice and quoined corners. This building has been used by the Narragansett Electric Company since its construction.

Alexander Duncan

From the National Register Nomination Form for the Hay and Owen Buildings, prepared by Howard Maurer, August 1980

Alexander Duncan, builder of the Hay Building, was a Scottish immigrant born 1805 who was related by marriage to Cyrus Butler, the prominent builder of Providence’s Arcade 1828 and for whom the Butler Exchange of 1873 was named. After practicing law in New York state for several years, Duncan moved to Providence and became a business associate of Butler in 1839. Soon after the Providence and Worcester Railroad was organized lie became its president in 1847. Although Duncan removed to England in 1863, he kept his financial ties with Providence and continued to visit annually. The construction of the Hay Building in 1867 was one of his later business ventures.

  1. 1889 Sanborn Insurance Map, Brown University Digital Repository, captured February 18 from https://repository.library.brown.edu/studio/item/bdr:213555/ 

  2. 1899 Sanborn Insurance Map, Brown University Digital Repository, captured February 18 from https://repository.library.brown.edu/studio/item/bdr:213588/ 

  3. 1937 G.M. Hopkins Insurance Map, Historic Map Works, captured February 18 from http:////www.historicmapworks.com/Map/US/895458/Plate+001/Providence+1937/Rhode+Island/