images of this Property
28 images: Press to view larger or scroll sideways to see more. Maps from the Library of Congress and Secretary of State Digital Collections
About this Property
Reason for Demolition
This set of buildings date from the 1960s to as early as between 1900 and 1908. While the description from the 2002 Industrial Sites and Commercial Buildings Survey notes that the “Appalachian Company moved in around the year 2001” they either did not stay long or they performed no maintenance on the building. Many of the rubber roofs were torn away and exposed wooden roof beams as early as 2014 (present in aerial photos) Portions of other roofs were collapsed by 2018. The building could be seen from a nearby Route 6 overpass and has been crumbling for at least 15 years.
What Cheer Flower Farm bought the 2.7 acres of land and the buildings in 2018. They started growing flowers in piles of dirt in the former parking lot over sheets of plastic to protect them from contaminants. They received a $50,000 from a RI DEM grant to clean up portions of the site soon after acquisition. It was always part of the plan to remove the buildings, clean up the soil, and use the entire block for an urban farm. After a successful capital campaign with support from many local philanthropic non-profits, their dream of acres of flowers within walking distance from an urban city center will be come to fruition.
Now, passersby on the new nearby Route 6 overpasses will see rows and rows of neat and colorful flowers where a crumbling factory building once stood.
Located on the site of the former Colonial Knife complex is What Cheer Flower Farm, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing solace, joy and healing to the people of Rhode Island via free flower deliveries as well as job training. They grow, rescue, and give away over 100,000 flowers per year and are on track to expand to 300,000. They never sell flowers — all are given away via their network of local nonprofits.
From the “Industrial Sites and Commercial Buildings Survey (ICBS)” by PPS and the AIA, 2001-2002
The Colonial Knife complex on Agnes Street is comprised of a series of one- and two-story brick and concrete block structures built between 1908 and 1966. The original complex was made up an office building facing Pocasset Avenue, and two adjacent buildings facing Oak Street. What now comprise the rear portions of the building along Agnes Street were the original blocks of the complex, with the Dike Street portions of the structure built after 1937.
The Dike Street section is comprised of two one-story, brick, flat-roof structures with minimal decoration and raised concrete foundations. The eastern block is rectangular with a chamfered comer at the intersection of Dike and Agnes. The building’s primary entrance is located at this intersection, through paired replacement doors set below a single-light transom. Fenestration is comprised of single and paired sash windows. The western block is a much larger, U-shaped structure that extends along Dike Street and then south to the rear of the complex. This block is noted as the Factory Building on Sanborn maps. The interior courtyard created by the U-shape of this ell features several small, one-story additions, including one constructed in 1968.
Attached to the rear of the Dike Street block is a one-story brick, rectangular structure built between 1926 and 1937 when it appears on the Sanborn map of that year. Extending off the rear of this block are the original portions of the complex including a two-story, flat-roof, brick structure on Agnes Street that features segmental-arch window openings with multi-light fixed and awning sash. The 1919 map identifies this structure as No. 3 with spinning on the first floor and drawing on the second. This block is connected to a two-story, slight end-gable, brick structure by an overhead walkway. The western brick block features an offset entrance set within a recessed, round-arch opening. Fenestration on this block is comprised of segmental-arch openings with replacement sash. An exterior brick chimney is located on the west elevation of this block which is identified as No. 4 on the 1919 map with office, shipping, and spooling. Attached to the west is a one-story, flat-roof, concrete block ell with a single pedestrian entrance on the south elevation.
Extending to the south of the Agnes Street block is a one-story, concrete block structure (Press Room, 1966) and a large, two-story, concrete block, flat-roof structure (Factory Building, 1948) with concrete block infill window openings. The parking lot for the property is on Magnolia Street, with multiple ells on the interior through the parking lot.
The complex at 28 Agnes Street was originally a much smaller structure occupied by the Snowdon Worsted Mills in 1919. At that time, what is now the middle portion of the complex was extant (the two-story brick blocks) and Oak Street ran all the way through from Agnes Street. What is now the parking lot of the complex was occupied by several residential dwellings, a sausage factory, and two larger tenement buildings on the western half of the lot (not extant). Where the one-story, brick block is now on Dike Street stood two wood frame buildings occupied by the A.A. Morin Auto Co. as well as several smaller wood frame buildings (not extant).
Colonial Knife was established in 1919 and incorporated in 1926 by Domenico Paolantonio. The firm was originally located at 19 Calendar Street. Around 1930 the Paolantonio family bought the former Snowdon Worsted Mills site at 287 Oak Street and moved their manufacturing operations there. The Paolantonio family owned and ran the company at this location for almost 70 years (until 1997). The building was then left vacant when Colonial Knife ended its operations until the Appalachian Company moved in around the year 2001.
Map cardinal directions are north to the right, east from top to bottom, south to the left, and west from bottom to top.
- 1900 Sanborn Insurance Map, Volume 3, plate 263 (page 53) — Agnes Street runs along the east with Oak Street crossing Agnes and passing into what will become part of the Colonial Knife property. McDonough Street runs along the south and will later be renamed Magnolia. Dike Street does not pass through to Plainfield Street. No buildings of the Snowdon Worsted Mills are present.
- 1908 L.J. Richards Insurance Map, Plate 15 — Snowdon Worsted Mills, Inc. appears. Not much detail is present in the map. An overhead passageway is not present in the map but it could have been left out.
- 1920-1921 Sanborn Insurance Map, Volume 4, plate 13 (page 14) — Snowdon Worsted Mills is present but is noted to be “Not in operation”. The original buildings of the complex were two red brick, two-story buildings connected by an overhead passageway. The property was surrounded by smaller wooden buildings.
- 1926 G.M. Hopkins Map, plate 36 — Not much has changed, no new additions have yet been added, but the name “Crown Worsted Mills” appears larger under a smaller “Snowden [sic] Worsted Mills.”
- 1937 G.M. Hopkins Map, plate 36 — A narrow but long building is added to the north, seen here in pink. Both older names are gone and “Colonial Knife Co. Inc.” appears, as well as “Regal Realty Inc.”
- 1920-1951 Sanborn Insurance Map, Volume 4, plate 13 (page 14) — Bigger changes as Colonial Knife expands. The long narrow addition to the north is seen here in blue, indicating concrete construction. A wooden frame “Press Rm.” has been added to the east. Unlabelled “Factory Bldg.” appears to the north, likely part of Colonial Knife. To the south, across the remaining portion of Oak Street is a new concrete “Fact’y Bldg.” also labelled Colonial Knife. Incidentally, to the far left (south) the former wooden structures have been removed as the new expressway is constructed.
- 1920-1956 Sanborn Insurance Map, Volume 4, plate 13 (page 14) — A large expansion occurred to the north and west. Oak Street has been shortened and the area will soon be infilled with more buildings.
- 2022-2023 Google Satellite image, Google Maps — An overview of the complex as it stood before demolition. Much of the available space to the north was infilled as well as most of the space along Agnes Street to the east.
In the News
What Cheer Flower Farm is demolishing Colonial Knife building in Olneyville. What’s next?
by Katie Landeck
Providence Journal | May 12, 2023 (abridged)
Rows of purple and pink tulips burst open in the May sunshine and create a stark juxtaposition against the groan of heavy machinery knocking the derelict Colonial Knife site in the Olneyville neighborhood to the ground.
“This is going to give us nearly three acres of farm,” said Shannon Brawley, executive director of What Cheer Flower Farm.
If it weren’t for the thriving raised beds and hoop house on the other side of the property, it might be hard to picture that the nonprofit’s plan to turn a hazardous brownfield site into a thriving flower farm that gives away 300,000 flowers annually to hospitals, hospices, food pantries, recovery centers and other nonprofits is going to work out.
[… S]ince they started in 2018, they’ve already dug a space for themselves out of the formerly paved-over site, found the grant money and community resources, and are now up to giving away about 100,000 flowers a year.
What’s another 200,000?
What is happening at What Cheer Flower Farm?
The Colonial Knife site at 63 Magnolia St. was one of those sites that can confound people.
A large tract of land in the city with a former factory on it can spur dozens of ideas for what’s possible and dreams that can easily start falling apart when you consider the chemicals that need to be remediated, the deterioration of the structures and other logistics.
What Cheer Flower Farm is a nonprofit that gives away flowers to hospitals, hospices, seniors, recovery centers and more. It is demolishing the Colonial Knife Co. building to expand its footprint. […]
With its expansion, What Cheer plans to add acres of growing space, a new building for community classes and certifications as well as administration needs, community gathering space and hedgerows to create a pollinator habitat.
It’s taking both grant assistance from the state Department of Environmental Management’s Brownfield program and an ongoing multi-million dollar capital campaign through the Rhode Island Foundation. […]
While there has been some discussion over whether the Colonial Knife building should be considered historical, overall, there’s a lot of excitement at the idea of taking a stark landscape and covering it with flowers. […]
Dennis Leggett, of the nearby hotel Dye House, said in an area dense with buildings, the farm is going to be “eye candy.”
“I’m excited about the psychological effects this is going to have,” he said. “This is going to make the entire community feel a lot more uplifted.”
To try to explain why What Cheer believes so strongly in flowers, Erin Achenbach, the head florist and farmer, handed them out to the small crowd.
“How do you feel when you hold this flower? How do you feel when you hold and see a flower?” she said. “It sparks a memory. It sparks joy. It makes you feel better. That’s what we do here on a very, very basic level.”
She then collected them back up, quickly turning the individual stems into a bouquet, a metaphor for when individuals come together to create something bigger.
“We are going to take this little spark of joy and we are going to create a shining light in the corner of Olneyville,” she said.
— Captured 21 May 2023 from https://www.providencejournal.com/story/news/local/2023/05/12/what-cheer-flower-farm-expands-at-colonial-knife-site-in-providence-olneyville-providence/70207765007/
What Cheer Flower Farm blossoms on former factory site in Providence
by Edward Fitzpatrick
Boston Globe | January 4, 2021 (abridged)
This week’s Ocean State Innovators conversation is with Anne Holland, co-founder and board president of the What Cheer Flower Farm, a nonprofit based in Providence.
Q: What distinguishes What Cheer from other flower farms?
Holland: You can’t buy flowers from us – we give them all away for free. What Cheer is one of the only flower farms in the world that gives away its entire crop. […]
Instead of selling flowers, we rely on generous grants and donations. We also sell honey from beehives at the Farm, and paintings created by artists inspired by our fields. In a normal year, we also run fun events such as our late August Flower Festival.
Q: To whom do you distribute your bouquets?
Holland: We partner with dozens of Rhode Island nonprofits who reach directly into the community. For example, Meals on Wheels drivers hand out our flowers along with meals to seniors in need. We give bouquets to local food banks to distribute with groceries. We also deliver bouquets in bulk to recovery centers, homeless shelters, services for domestic violence victims, hospices, at-risk teen centers, and senior services, among others. […]
Q: Tell us about the site you occupy on Magnolia Street in Providence.
Holland: It’s amazing. Thanks to a generous donor, we bought the former Colonial Knife factory, which is just one block from bustling Olneyville Square. It’s a 2.7-acre site, which is enormous for a site so close to the center of the city.
With help from Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and environmental consultants Wilcox & Barton, we have begun remediating the land, turning urban blight into an organic flower and floristry center. It’s a huge job. Each year, we turn more of the parking lot into fields. This winter, we will begin asbestos removal on the derelict factory prior to pulling most of it down. We’re continually fundraising to help make this happen.
We chose this urban site because our goal, aside from giving away flowers, is to be a job training center for careers in farming, floristry, and fine garden maintenance. These employers are already looking for trained people, and the jobs won’t leave the area. About 50,000 people live within a mile of the Farm, many of whom are underemployed. They can come check out possibilities and training in their neighborhood, which is also on a major Rhode Island Public Transit Authority bus line, much more easily than they could go to a place outside the city. […]
— Captured 21 May 2023 from https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/01/04/metro/what-cheer-flower-farm-blossoms-former-factory-site-providence/