Fuller Iron Works (1893)

The earliest steel-framed buildings in the city, constructed by the Berlin Iron Bridge Company of Connecticut

About this Property

#Reason for Demolition

This large building with a non-descript exterior on the edge of India Point directly across Tockwotton Street from interstate 195 was covered in purplish asbestos tile until recently. Underneath was revealed a curtain wall of glass panes 20 feet high.

The building has sat in disrepair for a very long time and was most recently used as a nightclub. The soaring 20 foot ceiling was diminished by a drop ceiling, likely to keep the heat down where the people are. More recently the building seems to have been a hangout for a graffiti crew, or at least one of those places that everyone comes to leave their mark.

The building and land were up for sale and then finally auction. Now that the buildings are adjacent to land that was recently cleared after portions of interstate 195 were removed form the center of the city, the land is more valuable for residential use rather than commercial.

Still standing is the older portion of the Fuller Iron Works from 1869.

#Current Events

The land on which the iron works once stood has a new residential building constructed on top of it — called 580 South Water. Construction started in 2020.

#History

Anecdotally, one of the first steel-framed buildings in RI and almost certainly the first steel-framed and glass curtain-walled structure in the state. It was built by the Berlin Iron Bridge Company in 1893 as an extension of the older iron works at 25 (now 39) Pike Street. Steel framing was being adopted in numerous places at the time – most notably Chicago — so it’s not as though this building was setting the national trend, but it was part of the initial wave on the East Coast.


From: Joseph D. Hall, Biographical History of the Manufacturers and Business Men of RI (1901), pp. 270 and 271

Fuller Iron Works – Manufacturers of iron castings, water works specials, steam and gas flanged pipe and fittings, and general machinery castings. Business established in 1840. Works located on South Main, Tockwotton, Pike and Benefit streets, Providence. Incorporated in 1894. Capitalized for $100,000. Employ 100 hands. Officers: Frederic Fuller, President; Frederic H. Fuller, Vice-President; H. Clinton Fuller, Secretary and Treasurer.

Frederic Fuller, the President of the company, was born in Easton, Mass., March 8, 1825. He came with his parents to Cranston, R.I., where his father, Frederick Fuller, began the foundry business at the Cranston ore beds in 1833, making nearly all of the castings for the Spragues’ and the other mills of the Pawtuxet valley of that period. In 1840 Frederick Fuller purchased the wooden buildings which were erected by the Fox Point Foundry Co. upon the site of the present plant. The builders of the foundry never completed nor operated it, but sold the property to Mr. Fuller, who immediately equipped the same and began business on quite an extensive scale for those clays. At that time it was considered one of the most important foundries in this section and of New England, and the fact that upon the introduction of water into the city of Boston, many of the large water mains of the Boston water works were cast here at Frederick Fuller’s foundry, is evidence that the foundry was equipped for doing the heaviest of work that was required at that time. Mr. Fuller carried on the business in his own name until his death in 1865. His sons. Frederic and George Fuller, became his natural successors and they adopted the name of Fuller Iron Works, which name has been retained ever since. The business was carried along as a firm until the death of George Fuller in 1894, the company then being incorporated, Mr. Frederic Fuller’s two sons entering as members of the corporation at that time.

In 1869 the three story brick building was erected, along with other improvements, and the steel and glass machine shop was built in 1893, the dimensions being 90 by 220 feet, the object of this steel structure with glass upon three sides being to provide perfectly diffused light through the heavy ribbed glass that was used. This was the first steel structure of its kind erected in the city of Providence. It is probably the best lighted machine shop in the country. The latest addition to the works is the foundry building, which replaces the original wooden structure, and was erected during the present year of 1901. It is of the same steel and glass construction as the machine shop, consisting of two sections 50 and 40 feet wide by too feet in length and together with the connecting buildings gives an area of about 18,000 square feet for foundry purposes.

Mr. Frederic H. Fuller, the Vice-President of the company, is a native of Providence where he was born in May, 1847. He has charge of his father’s brass foundry, which is located at the corner of South Main and Tockwotton streets, Providence, which was established by Frederic Fuller in 1859.

Mr. R. Clinton Fuller, the Secretary and Treasurer of the company, is a native of Providence where he was born in October, 1856. He was educated in Providence, and after leaving school entered the employ of the company, acquiring a complete knowledge of the various departments of the business. He is at present the manager of the works.

Mr. Frederic Fuller, the President of the company, has made the Fuller Iron Works as well known as any similar concern in the State, gradually enlarging the plant to meet the increase of trade.

In 1896 Mr. Fuller built the Fuller Building at the corner of Sabin and West Exchange streets [present site of the Providence Journal building, downtown], one of the most substantial business blocks of the city, and in other ways he has shown his enterprise and public spirit. The first use that this new building was put to was for an Industrial Exposition that was planned and developed by the Providence Board of Trade as a means of displaying many of the manufactured products of the State for the inspection of the Mexican, Central and South American delegates who were making a tour of the country on the invitation of the Philadelphia Commercial Museum. A reception was tendered them upon their arrival the 17th of June, at which Governor Elisha Dyer made the address of welcome. The exhibition was very complete, filling nearly the entire building.

Frederic Fuller Bell and Brass Foundry — Manufacturer of church, school, factory and fire alarm bells, heavy brass and bronze castings of every description, composition rolls for calendars and paper machinery. Works located at the corner of South Main and Tockwotton streets, Providence. Business established by Mr. Fuller in 1859. Many of the mills throughout the State, as well as churches and Fire Department of the city of Providence, are supplied with bells from this foundry.


From a talk by Rick Greenwood “Early Steel-framed Industrial Building: The Berlin Bridge Company in Rhode Island”, at the SIA Annual Conference, 2010

This is a brief report on some recent investigations into a group of early steel-framed industrial buildings built in Providence, RI in the 1890s. They are all the products of a single company, the Berlin Iron Bridge Company of Connecticut, but they exhibit a high degree of diversity. This diversity illustrates the transitional nature of their era, when manufacturers and engineers explored new possibilities in industrial building offered by new materials such as steel and the new motive power of electricity, sometimes boldly and sometimes cautiously.

The Berlin Iron Bridge Company, as its name implies, entered the new realm of iron and steel-framed buildings as an outgrowth of its principal enterprise of iron bridge building. Beginning in the late 1870s, the company had established itself as an important producer of highway bridges using its patented lenticular truss. Producing 600 bridges in its first decade of production, the company grew to be probably the largest structural fabricator in New England, according to historian Bruce Clouette. It was absorbed into J.P. Morgan’s American Bridge Company in 1900, though a number of engineers split to establish the independent Berlin Construction Company.

Making a natural progression from bridge trusses to roof trusses, the company began offering manufacturers the benefit of their experience in rolled iron construction. By the 1890s, the company catalogs were speaking of not just iron roofs but iron buildings and touting their advantages especially for manufacturing buildings. […] One advantage was the reduced danger of fire through the elimination of the wooden frame – though they did not claim their iron buildings were absolutely fireproof. Another was the strength and rigidity of the iron frame – unlike wood which swells, shrinks and checks – the riveted iron and steel frame would remain stable while carrying significant loads. This benefit had great implications for the operation and maintenance of line shafting hung from the building frame and for the new electric traveling crane that was coming to be an essential component of foundries, machine shops and other shops that needed to handle large work.

The earliest of the Berlin Company’s Providence buildings is the 1893 machine shop of the Fuller Iron Works. Built on the end of a brick mill building from 1869, the building is 90’ wide and 216’ long, with its steel posts 8’ on center. But it is certainly most remarkable for its original exterior cladding – essentially a window wall with banks of wood-framed sash containing heavy ribbed glass that diffused the immense amount of light the interior received. The interior features a main bay open to the roof rafters, flanked by a side aisle with an upper gallery level. Unfortunately, the Fuller shop interior is currently inaccessible and the dramatic window walls are mostly obscured by asbestos shingles. […]

The character of the Fuller’s interior is better understood by studying a very similar machine shop erected for the Granger Foundry and Machine Company machine shop in 1895. The Granger Foundry were manufacturers of textile finishing equipment. 80’ x 205’; 37’ high, crane with 35’ span and 275’ travel length, 40’-wide side aisle with gallery. Sadly this structure was demolished in the 1970s without receiving any notice for its importance. (photo #1)


From the RIHPHC’s survey of Providence Industrial Sites, July 1981

Fuller Iron Works (1869, 1893): The Fuller Iron Works, established by Frederick Fuller in 1839, first occupied the old wooden buildings of the Fox Point Foundry on the northeastern corner of South Main Street (then called Fox Point Street) and Pike Street. By 1850 the Providence Directory noted that “the Fuller’s Foundry and Machine Shop is an extensive establishment and is in very flourishing condition.” The Fuller Iron Works produced heavy-machine castings, water pipes, steam engines, and other heavy-metal products.

Upon Frederick Fuller’s death in 1867, his sons, Frederick and George, took over the business and erected the 3-story brick building with a low, pitched-gable roof and segmental-arch windows with granite sills on the southeast corner on south Main and Pike Streets. In 1893, the Fuller Iron Works built the glass and steel machine shop (which is now covered by modern siding) located to the south of the earlier structure. It was the first steel-frame and glass machine shop in Providence. The Fuller Iron Works, which continued to be controlled by the Fuller family, ceased operations in 1937 when R. Clinton Fuller shifted entirely to the field of real estate, having founded several years earlier the Fuller Real Estate Company. For quite a few years the 1869 machine shop was used by a social-service organization. In the 1960s, the building was converted to office use and the tall central window on the north elevation was installed.

#In the News

Private land near old Rte. 195 site for sale at auction

by Kate Bramson
Providence Journal | November 1, 2010 (abridged)

Two private parcels of land just east of the new Providence River Bridge and near the public land that will eventually be available for development because of the relocation of Route 195 are for sale at auction.

The properties are 566 South Main St., the former Fuller Iron Works building, described by the city planner’s office as the first all glass and steel industrial building built in Providence, and 40 Tockwotten St., a 32,817-square-foot site with a former manufacturing and warehouse facility.

The glass-and-steel portion of the South Main Street building is now covered in asbestos shingles, according to documents consulted by Thomas E. Deller, city director of planning and development. The front portion of the building is a three-story brick addition that housed, until a few years ago, the martini bar Bevo. […]

(A.I.R.: Correction to the above. The older building is the 3-story brick mill still standing, it is not a “three-story brick addition.”)