Fletcher Manufacturing Company

also known as International Braid Company, The Fletcher Building

A striking 3-story mansard former office building for a larger manufacturing complex of woven goods turned into various small office spaces

About this Property

#Redevelopment

Sometime in the late 1960s, this once larger complex of mill buildings dating from the 1840s suffered a large fire. All buildings to the west of the remaining Fletcher Office building were demolished. The remaining handsome, mansard roof office building was rehabilitated in the 1970s for use as commercial office, as it remains today. Somewhere between 1988 and 1997 aerial photos, a building was added to the southern face of the original two building, adding another 33% of office space to the original two. It is sympathetic in design, with similar massing and window style, but without any ornamental brickwork.

The fire or series of fires in the late 60s/early 70s must have been quite something. Almost all of the building complexes in the Moshassuck Square district suffered fires and the district suffered the loss of probably 75% of its mill structures. There are only a few remnants of this once dense cluster of mid-19th century mill buildings.

#Current Events

The Fletcher Building is a collection of commercial office spaces, and over a dozen businesses or groups work out of these spaces. There are 54 parking spaces, 30 of them covered by a two-level steel beam parking structure. The building is valued at a little under $3 million, having been sold recently in 2015 for $2,875,000.

#History

From the “Industrial Sites and Commercial Buildings Survey (ICBS)” by PPS and the AIA, 2001-2002, hosted by ProvPlan.org (now defunct)

47 Charles Street – The Fletcher Manufacturing Company, founded by Thomas Fletcher in 1793 for the production of narrow fabrics such as lampwicks, was originally located in Boston. Fletcher moved his company to Providence in 1808, and in 1844 Fletcher’s sons, who then ran the business, built a mill, the first structure of the Charles Street factory complex. While Thomas Fletcher had produced lampwicks and other narrow fabrics, his sons expanded the operation to include the manufacture of boot and shoelaces, corset laces, twine, yarns, spindle bandings, and kerosene-lamp wicks. In 1865 the Fletcher brothers incorporated their rapidly growing company as the Fletcher Manufacturing Company. By 1890 the textile factory complex covered over four acres and employed 750 workers. The company remained at this site until the early 20th century when the International Braid Company bought the Fletcher plant as well as the Elmwood Mills for the production of shoe and corset laces. In the 1950s, when most textile companies were liquidating their New England properties and were moving south for cheaper labor, transportation and energy costs, the International Braid Company sold the large complex. Damaged by fire in the early 1970s, the Fletcher Manufacturing Company complex was demolished except for the office and warehouse.

Built in 1869, the imposing 3 1/2-story office with brownstone trim, a mansard roof, and bracketed dormers, still retains the name of the company which is displayed in projected lettering on a brownstone cartouche above the entrance. Built at the same time and attached to the office is a 3-story brick building which, though less ornate than the office building, is nevertheless a handsome addition. The office and warehouse did not reflect the style of the mill buildings in the complex, which were 2- 3- and 4-story, brick, gable-roofed structures, one of which had a handsome exterior stair tower. In 1973 along with the other remaining industrial buildings in the Randall Square area (see 1 Bark Street and Hewes Street), the Fletcher Building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and recently has been rehabilitated as an office building.

From “RHODE ISLAND: An Inventory of Historic Engineering and Industrial Sites”, Gary Kulik and Julia C. Bonham, 1978

The Fletcher Manufacturing Company was founded in 1793 by Thomas Fletcher, a cotton weaver newly arrived from Manchester, England. Trained in the weaving oof narrow fabrics, tapes, rufflings, and lamp wicks, Fletcher produced these goods in Boston until he moved his business to Providence in 1808. In 1844, the first mill of the new 4-acre complex was completed and the manufacture of boot, show, and corset lacings, twine, yarns, and spindle bandings was started. By 1865, the year of incorporation, the use of kerosene oil for lamps was common enough to create an increased demand for lamp wicks. Fletcher helped fill this demand to such an extent that by 1891 the Fletcher Manufacturing Company was known as “the largest works, in the line of goods manufactured in this country” (Grieve and Fernald, Providence Sunday Journal, 24 August 1975 p. 130).

The only remaining building of the once-large complex is a 3 1/2-story, brick office building which was been recently gutted by fire. This 1869 structure has a mansard roof with dormers, a smaller flat-roofed, 3-story back section and segmental-arch windows with granite insets in each arch and granite sills. The Fletcher building is presently under construction for redevelopment.

From the National Registration form for Moshassuck Square Historic District, 1972

Earliest of the buildings now being nominated is the mill office and warehouse of the Fletcher Manufacturing Company. Located on a narrow trapezoidal lot between Charles Street and the Moshassuck River, it is the only surviving element of an extensive textile mill complex operated by this firm. The company, founded in 1793, moved to this area in the 1840’s, incorporated in 1865, and, in 1869. erected a tall, mansarded, three-story brick office and warehouse. This severe, yet imposing, structure was clearly a “show-piece,” surrounded as it was by the plain, squat mill buildings which up to then typified the Fletcher complex. Its crisp brickwork is relieved by regularly-spaced segmental-arched windows ornamented with brownstone and brick projected caps and sills. A handsome paneled brick frieze runs beneath the moulded wood cornice. The mansard is robustly ornamented with bracketed dormers, patterned slate-work and moulded deck capping. In the attic story of the Charles Street side is a freight door with hoist. The company flagstaff, that once-ubiquitous adjunct to any XlX-century factory complex, rises above a chimney on the narrow north façade. The mill office entrance, at 47 Charles Street, is set in a wood-paneled recess. Above it on a brownstone cartouche is proudly displayed the name of the firm in bold, pro­jected lettering. A similar plaque on the north façade bears the date of construction — 1869. A lower, more modest, three-story brick warehouse abuts the south end of the office. Visually and functionally, it comple­ments the main building. […]

Historically, the buildings provide an essential physical bond be­ tween the present and the origins of Providence’s industrial prosperity. The first gristmill in the town of Providence was erected by John Smith in 1646, just north of the Stillman White Brass Foundry. East of the foundry site, Providence’s first tannery was established in l655. By the 19th century the Moshassuck River had become a part of the Blackstone Canal system, and numerous mills, factories and foundries had located in what became known as the Randall Square district. The commercial establishments along Charles Street served these firms and their employees. The Fletcher Manufacturing Company mill office, the Stillman White Brass Foundry, 127 Charles Street and the extant portions of the Bay State Mill complex all have a part in that history.