General Ice Cream Corporation Building

also known as Sam Dolbey Ice Cream Company, Sealtest Ice Cream Factory, OpenDoors RI

An unassuming former ice cream factory on a busy road through a residential neighborhood

About this Property


This building sat vacant for nearly two decades before it was redeveloped into transition housing for former inmates. The model is being used throughout the country to increase assimilation back into society and has been shown to reduce incidents of newly released people sliding back into their former habits.

The developer OpenDoors worked with architects Elton + Hampton to redevelop the industrial building into 19 single-occupant apartments. Federal, state, and local grants helped fund the effort. Tenants are provided counseling, employment workshops, and job search assistance.

Current Events

As far as we know, the building is still owned and operated by OpenDoors.


From the National Register nomination form, prepared by Elizabeth Porterfield, 2008

Construction of the General Ice Cream Corporation Building in 1915 by Sam Dolbey coincided with a period of significant growth in the national ice cream industry. A healthy, local dairy farm business, transportation improvements, and developments in artificial ice production and refrigeration technology were instrumental in the initiation and success of the business.

Sam Dolbey (1875–1947), founder of the Dolbey Ice Cream Company, was born in Yorkshire England and came to Rhode Island with his family in 1881 at age six. After attending school, Mr. Dolbey worked in a cotton mill and later as a clerk for a book and stationary store. […]

In 1901, with a 3-gallon ice cream freezer, Sam Dolbey opened a retail ice cream store on Manton Avenue northwest of Olneyville Square in Providence. He continued there for approximately two years before relocating to a larger structure on Rye Street (a small street perpendicular to Plainfield Street directly opposite the 485 Plainfield Street building), where he included a wholesale ice cream department. The business continued to flourish, and Dolbey again relocated to a larger two-story facility at 479 Plainfield Street. This building was located immediately east of number 485 and appears, from an early photograph, to have been of wood construction. Dolbey remained there for 12 years and was listed as an Ice Cream Manufacturer in the 1910 Providence Business Directory under the company name of Sam Dolbey. The business officially became the Dolbey Ice Cream Company in 1911 […]

In 1915, during a period of major national growth in the ice cream industry, a new facility was constructed next door at 485 Plainfield Street for the Dolbey Ice Cream Company. […] The company reportedly grew within five years to become “the largest ice cream business in Rhode Island,” with distribution of various ice creams locally as well as throughout Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. […]

In 1925, Eastern Dairies, Inc. was established by the merger of Dolbey Ice Cream Company with three additional companies. […] Eastern Dairies, Inc. consolidated with the General Ice Cream Corporation in 1928. The General Ice Cream Corporation was the ice cream manufacturer occupying the building at 485 Plainfield Street by 1930 [and until 1956]. […]

General Ice Cream Corporation continued to occupy the 485 Plainfield Street plant through the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s with Sam Dolbey as manager through at least 1944. Sam Dolbey died in 1947, and in 1951, the facility remained occupied by General Ice Cream Corporation (Dolbey Division) as well as Sealtest Ice Cream Company, providing evidence of further consolidation. The Sealtest Foods Division of the National Dairy Products Company […] occupied the building circa 1960. […]

From the “Industrial Sites and Commercial Buildings Survey (ICBS)” by PPS and the AIA, 2001-2002

It is a two- and three-story, brick, pier-and-spandrel building with a flat roof located on the north side of Plainfield Street. The two most eastern bays of the structure stand three stories in height while the three western bays are two stories. The building’s primary entrance is offset in the western-most bay of the facade and is comprised of a metal-and-glass door set below a projecting metal hood and reached by a flight of concrete steps with a metal rail. The entrance is set within a round-arch opening with keystone that has since been bricked in. Fenestration consists of segmental-arch openings, the majority of which have been bricked in. Remaining windows feature replacement 1/1 sash; windows on the second floor of the two-story block’s facade are rectangular with fixed and sliding glass. The building is embellished with concrete stringcourses, projecting piers between each bay, and a corbelled cornice. An interior brick chimney rises from the western end of the structure. Attached to the rear of the building is a one-story, shed-roof addition. A chain link fence marks the property’s perimeter.

The building was constructed by Sam Dolbey ca. 1907 for the manufacture of ice cream. Between 1918 and 1926 the building more than tripled in size from 4,525 square feet to 13,675 square feet. Sam Dolbey Ice Cream Company continued to occupy the building through to ca. 1929 when the General Ice Cream Company took over. They ran a similar type of operation from this site. Later (around 1960) the National Dairy Products Sealtest Foods Division took over and ran its base of operations from the site (Woodward 1986).

The building was then vacated until 1967 when the United Pearl Company moved its base of operations there. The 1983 Sanborn map identifies the building as being used for the manufacture of jewelry, with the rear ell being used for lacquering and chemical storage. Until around 1990 the building was used as a site for a score of jewelry manufacturers. The building is currently being used by the Primitive Methodist Church.

In the News

Old factory to house ex-inmates

by Lynn Arditi
Providence Journal | June 28, 2010 (abridged)

Nearly $1.8 million in federal stimulus funds will be used to help transform a historic building that once housed the Sealtest Ice Cream Factory into affordable housing designed for former inmates who are returning to live in the community.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the $4.3-million project at 485 Plainfield St., in the city’s Silver Lake neighborhood, is scheduled Monday. […]

The project’s developer is the local nonprofit OpenDoors (formerly know as the Family Life Center), which helps released prisoners. The organization plans to move its offices into the new building — which will include 19 single-unit apartments — and assist the tenants by providing counseling services, employment workshops and assisting with job searches.

“We have many buildings that are designed with very special social-service providers in — mental health, veterans, and so on,” said Richard Godfrey, executive director of Rhode Island Housing, which helped finance the project. “This is the only residential development put together with an agency that provides special services for formerly incarcerated people. This is a model that more and more states are turning to as a way to assure better success, reduce recidivism [and] provide meaningful employment for folks coming out of incarceration.”

A $2.2-million construction contract for the rehab work has been awarded to The Bailey Group of Warwick.

The idea for the project dates back five or six years to a National Governors Association conference, Godfrey said, when Governor Carcieri participated in a task force focused on helping prisoners reenter the community.

For the last two decades, the building that once housed an ice cream factory at 485 Plainfield St. has been vacant. The last of the tenants — a series of jewelry manufacturers — moved out around 1990.

In late 2008, the vacant building (built between 1915 and 1918) landed on the National Register of Historic Places.

But securing the financing needed to rehab the building took time — and help from the federal government.

In the wake of the mortgage-lending slump, the U.S. Treasury has been trying to stimulate the construction industry by buying back federal tax credits that housing finance agencies have been unable to use because of tight lending markets. The $1.8 million for the OpenDoors project came from tax credits that the Rhode Island Housing and Mortgage Finance Corp. (aka Rhode Island Housing) sold back to the Treasury for about 85 cents for ever dollar, Godfrey said.

In addition to nearly $1.8 million from the federal tax-credit exchange program, the project is being paid for with a variety of state and federal funds, including $94,954 in deferred loan payments from Rhode Island Housing; $850,000 from the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program; and a $50,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Management. […]