Kennedy/Stafford Mill

also known as Elizabeth Webbing Mills, M Residential

One of the last operating woven product mills in the area, closing in 2001, and later converted to residential starting in 2007

About this Property

#Redevelopment

Elizabeth Webbing started in the Kennedy/Stafford mill buildings in 1933. After over 70 years of making cloth straps used for seat belts, dog collars, luggage straps and more, it ceased operations in March of 2001. The complex, which included 19 nearby mill buildings, was split up and sold off — including the former Central Falls Woolen Company (later F.S. Farwell Worsted), General Fabrics Corporation Silk Mill at 558, and Pawtucket Hair Cloth (later American Hair Cloth) mills at 561. A portion of the mill at 558 Roosevelt became a self-storage facility in 2004.

As late as 1991, Elizabeth Webbing was still expanding. They purchased the newly vacant former Health-Tex plant across the street to build a new production facility. In 1994, Elizabeth Webbing acquired California Webbing Industries Inc., a $9-million narrow-fabric manufacturer in Los Angeles. In 1995 it bought more modern equipment as well. The company boasted 600 employees and sales of about $103 million, but by the end of 1996, they started to suffer losses from growing too fast.

California Webbing Industries, Inc., became the parent company of Elizabeth Webbing Mills and switched its bankruptcy from Chapter 11 to Chapter 7, which called for liquidation of the company.1

In 2007 work began on converted the mill to residential, one of the earlier projects of this kind in Central Falls. Led by the Tai-O Group, with local companies ai designs as architects, Searle Design Group as landscape architects, and Caputo & Wick as surveyors and environmental services. The first phase of the project opened to tenants in 2009.

#Current Events

This mill is now residential condominiums. The M Residential is still a live destination but the information does not seem up to date.

#History

A company profile from TextileWeb.com, dated November 2000

Read the profile

When you look at webbing, you see the same colored strands of yarn. But at Elizabeth Webbing Mills, we see opportunity. The opportunity for our customers to distinguish themselves from their competition. This kind of vision has brought us through the past 67 years. We’ve gone from a small textile mill in Central Falls, Rhode Island, to being the world’s leading provider of webbing. Today, our quest is to offer our customers a continuum of new solutions to strengthen their position in their market.

In just the past 12 months, we’ve become the exclusive provider of DuPont Fabric Protector in the narrow fabrics industry. We’ve achieved ISO 9001 certification and forged partnerships with numerous worldwide brand leaders. These decisions were part of our strategy to ensure that each and every one of our customers has the product differentiation needed to maintain their competitive edge.

Our webbing is a component in over 800 products — from awnings and camera straps to child restraints and x-ray shield bindings, and that’s only today. Our research and development teams continue to search for ways to provide our customers the finest webbing solutions in the world. Today, we specialize in narrow fabrics for the outdoor, juvenile, sporting goods, safety, pet, horse and transportation market places while we continue to test and refine new solutions for other markets.

We have the ability to manufacture over 8 million yards per week in our fully integrated, state-of-the-art facility in Rhode Island. Our manufacturing is complimented by ten (10) distribution centers to insure prompt, on-time delivery of our customer’s products.

Over the years we have become expert in manufacturing cost efficient, high quality commodity webbing. But what makes us stand above all other webbing manufacturers is our branded products such as Absorb-Edge, 2-Tone , Soft-Edge, Tuffweb, Tuffsling and Eplus. These products set the standard for the industry and help our customers distinguish their products at point of sale.

Captured November 22, 2021 from https://www.textileweb.com/doc/elizabeth-webbing-mills-0001


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

(Abridged to skip over redundant information from below)

Pawtucket artisan Sylvanus Brown built a dam near this site in 1780. […] The Smithfield Manufacturing Company, formed in 1806-1807, also did cotton spinning here, using a part of the old chocolate mill. None of these structures survive.

In 1824, John Kennedy, in conjunction with Samuel Slater’s partners, Almy El Brown, built a brick mill on the site for the manufacture of cotton cloth. […] The floors consist of fast-burning board-on-joist construction and are carried on large wood beams and cylindrical wood posts. The load-bearing brick walls are constructed in nine-course American bond.

In the l860s, Stafford built the mill’s east addition (brick, with slow-burning interior) and the right-angle stone dam. The dam is 10 feet high and has a rollway of 156 feet. Stafford also enlarged the existing power canal and built a new one with a separate entry gate, to provide exclusive power for the Stafford Mill. The older canal had its flow divided among the Stafford and three mills down stream, the former Benedict Mill, Central Falls Woolen, and the Pawtucket Hair Cloth Company. Originally built in 1823, the canal’s water power was divided into six privileges and carefully apportioned to prevent the kind of legal difficulties which were then embroiling Pawtucket (see Sargeant’s Trench2). In 1965, both canals were filled in and no water-power equipment survives. The Stafford Manufacturing Company, established in 1864, produced cotton yarn here into the 20th century. No longer used for textiles, the mill is now vacant.

From the National Register nomination form for the Central Falls Mill District, 1976

This is a 4 1/2-story, red brick mill (1825), with gable roof and clerestory monitor. It has a square end tower,originally capped by a flat-roofed belfry, now removed. There are brick additions on the north side (3 stories, 140 x 30 feet, 6 bays long) and on the east side (4 stories, 70 x 36 feet, 13 bays long), which date from the 1860s. The original mill is 10 bays long. Its floors, carried on wood beams and cylindrical wood posts, are of board-on-joist construction. A single story, dye house with hip roof adjoins the eastern end of the mill. No water power equipment is in place.

Significance

The Stafford/Kennedy Mill is built on the earliest industrial site in Central Falls and is one of the oldest buildings in the city. The first dam was constructed here in 1780, and the water power used by manufacturers of scythes, other edged tools, and chocolate. Stephen Jenks located here in 1811 to finish 10,000 muskets under a contract with the federal government.

In 1825, John Kennedy (with Samuel Slater’s partners, Almy & Brown) built the present mill. His choice of brick as a building material at this early date makes his mill a regional rarity. Kennedy manufactured cotton cloth here; the mill was later operated by John Gardner and, still later, by Rufus J. Stafford. The Stafford Manufacturing Company continued to produce cotton products here into the 20th century. Stafford built the additions to the mill, rebuilt the dam, and reconstructed the power canal system. The mill is now occupied by commercial tenants.

#In the News

M Residential showcases work of city investor Tai-O

by Sandy Seoane
Valley Breeze | April 5, 2017 (abridged)

Read the article

[…]

“We literally walked into a manufacturing operation,” said Jevon Chan, COO for Tai-O, of what is now M Residential, a 165 unit luxury apartment complex in Central Falls. “The business shut down and left everything exactly where is was. It was kind of eerie.”

When Tai-O arrived in that city in 2006, the land where M stands was considered a brownfield site by the Environmental Protection Agency, a property contaminated through decades of use as a mill. The project would utilize three historic mill buildings dating back to 1824, and the last tenant, Elizabeth Webbing Mills, had left in 2001.

“They had been vacant for almost five years,” Chan said.

Remediation and cleanup alone, Chan said, took around two years.

“The interior had to be sand-blasted down to the brick,” he said.

The first building to open at M, holding 39 units, was finished in 2009.

Now, the fully-occupied 165 unit property has an average rent of $1,300 a month, and boasts a waiting list. The project was given a Rhody Award by the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission and Preserve RI in 2016, and has a five-star rating on several online review sites. […]

The massive $30 million renovation project was the vision of company President Louis Yip.

“He brought us here,” said Chan. “The vision here was to all be market-rate apartments, which is what we want to do in Woonsocket.” […]

In Central Falls, that product includes barbecue pits scattered throughout the landscaped grounds, and an overlook deck hanging above the Blackstone River, where the company hosts wine and cheese nights. On the amenities floor, renters have access to a gym, a game room, a small movie theater, and multiple conference rooms and event spaces that can be reserved for special occasions. A large room at the center is strikingly sparse, empty save a piano and an enormous television, but it packs in tenants for events like the Super Bowl in February. “We’ve had everything from city meetings to bar mitzvahs in this building,” Chan said. […]

Most apartments in the complex are spacious, 1,200 square-feet, two bedrooms and two baths, while around 30 percent of the units are one bedroom, with some of the larger spaces holding three. They all hold sharp, modern appliances and fixtures, and have tall ceilings, with natural light streaming through large windows.

Chan said that around 30 percent of his tenants are locals, Central Falls natives who may have left the area to find housing elsewhere if they weren’t given an attractive option.

The rest have been brought to M from outside the city and include millennials, but also many retirees. Among them are Bob Billington, president of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council and executives from nearby companies like Hasbro. Chan himself moved his family in for two years.

[…]

Captured November 22, 2021 from https://www.valleybreeze.com/news/m-residential-showcases-work-of-city-investor-tai-o/article_0242494f-8182-53bf-9d8f-12ee6ed770c9.html


Central Falls, R.I., Textile Mill Prepares To Close

by Lynn Arditti
Providence Journal | June 3, 2001 (abridged)

Read the article

Back when noise and light filled the sprawling brick buildings on Roosevelt Avenue, it was hard to believe Elizabeth Webbing Mills would ever die. Machines roared, floorboards trembled and generations of workers, many of them immigrants who spoke barely a word of English, stitched together new lives in Rhode Island’s textile industry.

They ran the machines that wove, wound and dyed the nylon, polyester and polypropylene threads into webbing for seat belts, luggage straps and dog collars. The jobs, back when they started out, paid less than $5 an hour, but there was always overtime and the promise of a raise.

“I remember going home and saying, ‘Mom, look! I got my first paycheck!,’” recalls Nella Fonseca, who began working at the mill as a winder when she was 19. She worked her way up to manager of the processing department. To Fonseca and others like her, the mill looked as solid as the bricks it was made of.

But all around, the graves of textile mills were being dug.

America’s industrial revolution, born just down the road at Samuel Slater’s factory in 1793, had long since left Rhode Island behind. The decline of the state’s textile industry picked up speed after World War II. Mill owners, drawn by cheap labor, headed south and later overseas. By 1980, just two years before Fonseca came to work at Elizabeth Webbing, textile jobs in Rhode Island had fallen to 12,282 – less than half the 28,100 recorded just 20 years earlier, according to the state Department of Labor and Training.

Just 1 in 10 textile jobs remain from what there were 50 years ago; about 6,400 jobs in all as of last year.

Today, most of the mills are small, specialty shops; fewer than two dozen employ more than 100, state data show. Elizabeth Webbing, with 280 people working in 22 buildings, was one of the exceptions. On Friday, the mill’s winding machines will stop, the final production workers will be let go, and a business that started 72 years ago will end.

In the weeks to come, what remains of the red, blue, green and yellow webbing will be loaded into cardboard boxes and trucked away to customers. The buildings and machines will be sold to the highest bidders. “The handwriting on the wall has been there 100 years,” says Scott Molloy, professor of labor and industrial relations at the Schmidt Labor Research Center at the University of Rhode Island. “Now we’re just seeing the final death throes.”

For a long time, it seemed that Elizabeth Webbing would be one of the survivors. Its owners had decided, like others in the state, to specialize in straps, belts and other “narrow fabrics.” Such specialization was the only way many Rhode Island mills stayed in business after World War II.

To strengthen its position in those specialty markets, Elizabeth Webbing also invested in new technology to improve productivity. The strategy seemed to be working. In 1991, the company’s president and chief executive officer, Eliot Lifland, stood at the loading dock behind the former Health-tex plant on Roosevelt Avenue and spoke with emotion about realizing his dream of building a “showcase of state-of-the-art technology.”

The company celebrated the opening of the vacant former Health-tex plant across Roosevelt Avenue where it would build a new production center. Lifland, who had taken over the mill from his father, had reason to be proud. The Lifland family had built the company from a tiny mill with sales of about $200,000 to $300,000 a year in 1960, to a sprawling complex with 400 employees and sales of about $70 million by 1990.

And it was growing.

In 1994, Elizabeth Webbing acquired California Webbing Industries Inc., a $9-million narrow-fabric manufacturer in Los Angeles. A year later, it bought new, more modern equipment to extrude the polypropylene thread – a soft but resilient synthetic fiber – the mill used for nearly half of the products it produced.

In 1995, the company boasted 600 employees and sales of about $103 million, according to Lifland. Then, at the end of 1996, Lifland says, problems hit. In retrospect, the company tried to get too big “and didn’t do it the right way,” Lifland says.

The company suffered “significant losses” in 1997 and 1998, according to an executive summary provided by the company. Lifland was asked to step down as CEO in 1997, and the company was turned over to professional managers. In February 1999, George S. West, a graduate of Harvard Business School and an experienced “turn-around manager,” was hired as president and CEO to try to rescue the company. The effort failed.

On March 30, 2000, a year after West arrived, the company filed for protection from its creditors in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Providence under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy laws. The plan, outlined in court documents, was to sell the company’s Unitex division, which distributed industrial awning, sign and marine textile fabrics. Then West could focus on reorganizing the Elizabeth Webbing Mills.

The company sold Unitex last May, and West set out to try to find a buyer for the mill. In January, with the bankruptcy case still pending, the company signed a purchase agreement for the mill with Dimeling Schreiber and Park, a private investment partnership based in Philadelphia. But Dimeling backed out and the deal, which was scheduled to close on Friday, March 16, fell through.

The following Tuesday, with no buyer in sight, West resigned. The next day, the company’s chairman of the board of directors, Robert Wickey, did the same. With the top executives gone and no buyer, Elizabeth Webbing asked the court to convert its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing to a Chapter 7, which paved the way for liquidation. Peter J. Furness, the company’s lawyer, says there was nothing else he could do.

Since then, Matthew J. McGowan, the court-appointed receiver for the company, has been trying to find a buyer for the mill, but has been unsuccessful. So McGowan is preparing to sell the building and its equipment, which the city values at more than $2 million. The cavernous maze of buildings, linked by underground tunnels, is being shut down one room at a time: weaving, warping, dyeing, processing.

Every Friday for weeks now, it has been a funeral procession of good-byes. Tears, hugs and promises to stay in touch. Nella Fonseca began saying her good-byes two Fridays ago. The hardest part was leaving people like Irene Almeida. She worked at the Number 6 winding machine. At 53, she had given almost half her life to the mill. It was Almeida’s last day, and tears spilled from behind her glasses.

“One of the best cutters,” Fonseca said as she watched her work.

The looms had already stopped running; their metal frames stood like empty jungle-gyms in the darkened room. The only noise was the clanging of tractor-trailers barrelling along Roosevelt Avenue. “It’s like something is missing,” said Czeslawa “Cindy” Bies, an immigrant from Poland who, 23 years ago, followed her parents into a job at the mill. “Like you lost your best friend.”

At 3 o’clock, the shift over, Bies, Almeida and the others stuffed plastic grocery bags with their belongings and lined up at the computerized time clock to punch out. Alipio Bernardo. Fernando Pereira. Manuel Matos. Maria Trinidade. Connie Saraiva. Irene Almeida. Cindy Bies. Nella Fonseca.

“Bye.”

“Bye.”

“Bye Anna.”

“Good luck.”

  1. “Elizabeth Webbing Mills to be liquidated,” Providence Business News, April 2, 2001 captured November 22, 2021 from https://pbn.com/elizabeth-webbing-mills-to-be-liquidated5095/ 

  2. Cut as a fishway around Pawtucket Falls in 1714, Sargeant’s Trench was used, by the mid-l8th century, to power forges, blacksmith shops, and a fulling mill. […] By the early 19th century, the Trench generated new and intense conflict among competing industrial users. [The trench] is now completely covered over and runs from the Hodgson-Rotary Park on the Mill Historic Site under Main Street to a 42-inch conduit which runs to the Bridge Mill Power Plant.