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About this Property
Reason for Demolition
It seems that there were plans to convert these mill buildings into residential use in the early 70s. The Providence Redevelopment Agency supported documentation for inclusion in the National Register, and sponsored the newly formed Moshassuck Square Historic District. This complex figured heavily in that district, along with the Fletcher Manufacturing Company building (2 Charles Street, 1869), the Stillman Brass Foundry (1 Charles Street, circa 1856), Canal House (127 Charles Street, 1900), and a later addition to the American Screw Company at the corner of Hewes and North Main (1918).
From the nomination addendum, 1972:
This group of brick industrial and commercial buildings is all that now remains of the once-large industrial district surrounding the Moshassuck Square — American Screw Company mills. Some of the American Screw Company structures were entered on the National Register in September, 1970, as part of a large urban renewal project comprising rehabilitation of the mill buildings along the Blackstone Canal as a center for a complex of new housing. All but two of the structures originally entered were destroyed by fire on July 5, 1971.
We could not find any news stories from the time to suggest whether or not the fires were suspicious, but in any event, they must have been huge. The first fire, July 1971, destroyed the Bay State Mill, Building 1’s southern additions, Building 6, and most of Building 2. The roofless shell of the oldest structure, Building 1, remained. According to the report in 1972, “the brick carcass stands firmly, however, and will be re-used.”
Indeed, an aerial photo from 1972 shows only the brick walls of Building 1 and its smokestack still standing. The rest of the complex had been leveled save for the later additions up the slope of Hewes Street. Bark Street begins to get filled in and reclaimed by nature. In an aerial photo from 1981 the mill is gone and the parking structure off North Main for what is now the Providence Center appears (parking for 528 & 530 North Main Streets). As late as 1988 the long shadow of the smokestack seems to remain, but by 1997 that is gone as well.
The area where these structures once were are surface parking and partially a three-level parking structure built into the hill. The handsome 1918 structures along Hewes Street are currently in use by The Providence Center.
The American Screw Company was organized in 1860 with a nominal capital of $1,000,000, and it immediately purchased the property of the Eagle Screw Company (1840) and New England Screw Company (1850). This [was] by far the largest manufactory of this kind in this country, if not in the world. It has a capacity for producing, each working day, about forty thousand gross of wood screws, several tons of rivets, large quantities of machine screws, and gives employment to some two thousand five hundred operatives. (History of the State of Rhode Island with Illustrations, 1878)
In 1949, the American Screw Company moved their operations to Willimantic, Connecticut. The buildings survived intact until a July 1971 fire swept through the complex leaving just charred shells. Today none of the buildings remain.
The American Screw Company was the largest screw manufacturer in the early 1900s, and had many notable figures involved with its existence:
- Marsden Jaseal Perry (1850 to 1935) was a former director and chairman of the board of Norfolk Southern Railroad, director of General Electric Company, Nicholson File Company, and American Screw Company. Considered the “Utility King” and one of the most powerful men of the state. Nelson W. Aldrich, a prominent U.S. Senator (RI) and Mr Perry were closely associated. Aldrich, a big business ally, expert on tariff and banking laws, wrote and passed legislation directly benefiting Perry and himself. The corruption and manipulation was so blatant and severe, it formed the basis for Lincoln Steffens exposé of corruption in Rhode Island called “Rhode Island: A State for Sale” which appeared in McClure’s Magazine (1904). Aldrich, Perry, and Charles Ray Brayton controlled state politics, patronage, and favors.
- Hayward Augustus Harvey (1824 to 1893) was the inventor of the Harvey Process of tempering sheet steel for armor plate. Also involved with his father developing improvements in wood screws and the machinery for their production. In 1865 he founded the Continental Screw Company in Jersey City, which became the owner of Mr. Harvey’s first patents on screw machinery, covering the entire process of wood-screw making. After a short existence these works were bought out by the American Screw Company. From 1870 to 1890 Mr. Harvey was constantly at work designing new machinery for making screws, bolts, wire nails, washers, spiral springs and many other articles of that kind. The most notable of his inventions during this period is what is known as the “rolled thread” screw. Instead of cutting the screw thread into the wire, Mr. Harvey rolled or cold-forged the thread partly into, partly upon the surface of the wire itself. He gave to these screws a sharp central point, which, with the large thread and small neck, with incidental saving in the weight of wire, necessarily gave to the Harvey rolled screw such an immense advantage over all other screws that the great screw manufacturers of the world — the American Screw Company of Providence and the Nettlefolds of England — were practically obliged to purchase the Harvey patents, which they did in 1886.
All photos and documentation taken from the National Register nomination form.
This is a complex of factory buildings of brick, timber and iron construction with stone and wood trim, dating mainly from c.1800 to 1873. Those factories were erected on land at the north end of Providence sloping upwards to the east from the Moshassuck River, which, at the time the earliest of them were built, formed a part of the Blackstone Canal system. The principal buildings are three or four storeys in height, mostly rectangular in form, with gable roofs and protruding stair towers, and generally with vast undivided loft space.
Building #1 — c. 1840
The first of these to be built was that of the Eagle Screw Company, a lengthy oblong with its long side fronting on Stevens Street. This is of three storeys topped by additional useable space under a full-length clerestorey or monitor astride the gable roof, giving the brick end-gables a stepped effect. The façades are pierced by numerous regularly-spaced windows having the simplest of stone sills and lintels. A sizable square entrance and stairtower projects from the centre of the north front, and was originally surmounted by a wooden belfry or cupola of modest but dignified Greek Revival design. At the west or gable end is another stair tower of smaller dimensions, with recessed brick panels giving it minimal but noticeable adornment on its outer face. This tower has lost its original low wooden parapet or capping but retains its cornice.
The original long building was given a gabled south wing of three storeys — making a P-shape — with an additional stair tower, but this was apparently not adequate for very long. Much later this addition itself was extended [upward] and given a mansard roof.
Building #2 — c. 1850
To the southeast of the c. 1840 structure another similar factory was built, probably within ten years of the first one; but this does not have a clerestorey or a belfry. (Samuel N. Green writes, 1966, in his American Art that Thomas A. Tefft may have designed the Eagle Screw Company. 1840 is too early a date for Tefft. It is possible that he worked on this second factory, however.) These oldest buildings remain intact in their fabric and handsome in their functional simplicity and severe dignity.
Building #6 — c. 1865-1870
Further factory space became needed after 1860, when the Eagle Screw Company merged with another firm to form the American Screw Company, and a second phase and style of building took place. A large triangular mill or factory was built higher up the slope, east of the c. 1840 building and north of the second factory. Enlargements were also made to the previously existing buildings. All this work is thought to be by a prominent mid-century Providence architect, Alpheus Morse, — and could be dated c. 1865-1870. Morse was the designer of 30 Benefit Street (1869), the home of William G. Angell, president of the American Screw Company for many years. Detail on his house is like that of these mill buildings. The additions to the mills consist of two- and three-storey runs and corner blocks topped by decked mansard roofs, high and angular in profile. These mansards cap still-severe brick walls with plain window openings; but there are at the eaves wooden architrave hands surmounted by projecting wooden cornices carried on curving brackets; there are hold capping cornices also at the break of the mansards; and all of the dormers are pedimented or gabled, with overhanging eaves, some being bracketted as well.
Bay State Mill — c. 1873
In 1873 expansion was again necessary, and the so-called Bay State Mill, believed also to be by Morse, was built on the north side of Stevens Street. This is a long gabled structure like its facing neighbor and is of four storeys and attic. There are the same numerous, regularly-spaced windows, though here with segmental brick arches instead of stone lintels. There is a projecting frontal stair tower as well. But at this point similarity ends, for in the 1873 building we have an “ornamental” factory and one which is meant to appear picturesque, however economically this is achieved. It is achieved through the use of certain features and details from the north Italian architectural vocabulary which Morse and others (notably Tefft) had previously used on public, church and domestic buildings locally — all of this adornment carried out in the manipulation of brickwork.
The main portion of the factory and its tower have projecting cornices of brick courses supported on brick corbels. or brackets spaced; the tower has a projecting brick “architrave” or wide belt at the eaves supported (visually, at least) by engaged brick posts on corbels; the sides of the tower are panelled, with brick fretwork at the tops pf the panels. Round-headed windows are used in the tower, narrowed and paired in a Lombard Italianate manner at the fourth level. The tower, which is meant to soar above the main building like a campanile, has a very steep hipped roof originally topped by metal cresting, and eclectically displaying a metal bull’s-eye dormer window of Louis XIII type in its front. At each end of the main building, in the gables, is a series of five round-headed windows, grouped, and growing smaller from the centre to ends — another borrowing from Italy.
Two of the three tall, tapering, square smokestacks of this factory group still stand — simply and monumentally handsome — though few of the steel and wooden bridges once connecting various buildings across lanes and alleys remain. There are some other minor brick buildings or extensions which have not been individually described.
The basic condition of all these buildings is good [A.I.R.: written in 1970]. Recently vacated, they have been slightly damaged in the vacating process and moderately vandalized since. However, most damage appears limited to broken window glass or sashes and smashed doors. Their rugged masonry is in good order, and there there is wood trim it seems to have survived quite sturdily. The buildings mainly require a housecleaning and the restoration of ordinary continuous maintenance in order to serve or house any new use or uses to which they may be converted.
Our inclusion in the list of National Register Properties
We could not determine if these buildings were individually listed or not. They were photographed for the Historic American Buildings Survey and Historical American Engineering Record (HABS/HAER), and they were submitted as part of the Moshassuck Square Historic District, but the National Register database had no results for an individual listing. We imagine this could be due to the fact that shortly after the submission of paperwork to the Register, the buildings burned and were demolished. While the paperwork exists, perhaps the listing never became official because they were lost so quickly. Still, we include them in our list of properties that were listed on the Register because the report was officially submitted.