National Providence and Worsted Mills

also known as Donstan Corp., Rising Sun Mills

A large mill complex of 13 buildings on 2 acres was converted to apartments and commercial space in 2005

About this Property


The development of Rising Sun Mills came about at a pivotal moment in the real estate boom of the late nineties/early oughts. The redevelopment and subsequent razing of Eagle Square shook the development community as well as the arts community that was using these buildings as cheap and abundant space.

Successful Baltimore developer Bill Struever came to town to attend hearings on the Eagle Square matter to offer an alternative development proposal that would save more of the historic buildings. Urged on by his daughter, then attending RISD, and moved by his memories of attending Brown University and working at places like the Providence Fruit Warehouse, Bill made some impassioned speeches to the City Council. While Eagle Square was not saved, the City Council got their first taste of Mr. Struever, as he decided to open a RI-base for his company.

Taking advantage of the generous State Historic Tax Credit program, Streuver Brothers, Eccles and Rouse (SBER) set their sights on these mills, bordered by Valley Street on one side and the Woonasquatucket River on the other. This large complex would be the first RI project for the developer who was already used to tackling large mixed-use redevelopment in their home city of Baltimore, MD. To make it easier and get a primer on how development in RI worked, SBER partnered with the Armory Revival Company on the development of this complex.

Changes were in the air for the community of Olneyville, and artists were not happy about it. Already spurred on by the Eagle Square fiasco, the once large Fort Thunder group had to split into factions. Some moved into a space dubbed The Bakery deeper in Olneyville. Others broke away to become The Hive, while others left town completely. Rents were already on the rise in mill spaces as well as regular rental homes in the Olneyville and West Side of town. Some of this was speculative, and some was market-driven. And the thriving Fort Thunder scene was getting attention for other reasons and being legitimized by one of its spin-offs’ (Force Field) inclusion in the Whitney Biennial, as well as Lightning Bolt’s explosion onto the noise-rock music scene. So, it should have been little surprise that their new “under-the-radar” digs were raided by City Fire Inspectors, and they were quickly displaced again.

Rising Sun Mills marked the beginning. It was one of the first – and one of the largest – redevelopments at the time. The development team took a lot of flak from the community who were understandably concerned about the sudden gentrification of their neighborhood. While on one hand, Olneyville needed social and economic investment, the sudden influx of investment worried residents that they wouldn’t be able to afford to live where they were.

Eagle Square and the arrival of companies like SBER made one thing clear: the “Fort Thunder” era of huge, cheap space in Providence was over. No more living undisturbed by landlords just happy to get something for rent in these unwanted, hard-to-heat spaces. No more late night music shows and film premieres. No more pop-up art galleries. No more wrestling shows and general mayhem. Providence was changing, and not everybody liked it.

Current Events

Rising Sun Mills is available as apartments and commercial space and is managed by the Armory Revival Company and Armory Management.


From the National Register nomination form, prepared by Clark Schoettle, Jennifer Gould, and Ned Connors

The National & Providence Worsted Mills is a large factory complex; it consists of several large brick, 1- to 4-story buildings constructed to house the spinning of worsted wool yarn and the weaving of worsted cloth. Most components of the complex are slow-burning mill construction, with heavy timber frames and load-bearing red brick walls. Roofs are flat or shallow gables; two buildings have monitors. The complex is located on a 10-acre, 2-block parcel west of downtown Providence on the Woonasquatucket River in the Olneyville neighborhood. […] The remaining buildings are relatively intact, with alterations largely confined to window and entryways.


The National & Providence Worsted Mills are historically significant as the location of a major manufacturerofworstedtextilesduringtheperiodwhenRhodeIslanddominatedworstedproduction. Seton the heavily-industrialized Woonasquatucket River on the west side of Providence in the Olneyville neighborhood, the mills were constructed incrementally over the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and produced worsted yarns and fabrics from 1881 through the 1930s.

The history of the National & Providence Worsted Mills exemplifies some important aspects of the development of worsted manufacture in Rhode Island, including the trajectory of business success and decline, the reliance of the industry on English- trained management in the early years of production, its concentration in the Olneyville area of Providence, and the development of large worsted combines and holding companies in the early twentieth century. In addition, the National & Providence Worsted Mills have architectural significance, as they are typical of the buildings constructed for textile manufacture multi-story, timber-framed red brick, lined by large windows, with flat roofs.

Charles Fletcher

As with many other Rhode Island worsted mills, the Providence & National Mills had their beginnings in the 1870s when Charles Fletcher built the original Providence Worsted factory here. Fletcher was an Englishman who had acquired his knowledge of worsted production in the noted mills of Bradford, England. He came to United States in 1864 at the age of 25, worked at a Lawrence (MA) factory, returned to England briefly, and finally settled in Providence in 1867. He went to work at the Valley Mills, the first in Providence to produce worsted yarns, and rose to the position of superintendent of Valley’s worsted production.

In 1875 Fletcher left the Valley Mill [and started his own company]. He set up the National Worsted Mill, a weaving operation which he originally kept as a separate entity from the Providence Worsted Mill. The National Worsted Mill produced fabric for suits, overcoats, and cloaks. […] When Fletcher incorporated the two operations as the National and Providence Worsted Mills in 1893, the company employed 750 workers, produced 900,000 yards of worsted goods yearly, and was the largest single consumer of wool in the United States.

Rising Sun Mill

[Charles] Fletcher rented the Rising Sun Mill, Rhode Island’s first paper factory, established by John Waterman, Christopher Olney, Jonathan Ballou, and William Goddard in 1765. Goddard’s newspaper, The Gazette, a forum for anti-colonial agitation, was apparently the principal consumer of the Rising Sun paper, though the mill also did job printing in the 1760s. The stone mill used the power of the Woonasquatucket and was located about 200’ back from the present-day alignment of Valley Street, north of the nominated mills. The paper mill operated until 1857 and stood into the 1870s at least; an 1875 map shows a main building (about 35 x 80’) and a smaller structure as well. A covered raceway drew water from the river and returned it through a downstream feed mill. The Rising Sun name today identifies an early twentieth-century dam (RIDEM # 140) built by the American Woolen Company in 1905 […].

The property was purchased by Textile Properties Inc. in 1954 and sold that same year to Donstan Corporation. The 1956 map identifies the property as Donstan Corp. Between 1956 and 1983 an addition was made to the west end of mill No. 2. The 1962 directory lists Donstan Corp, real estate and metal specialties, at this address. Donstan Corp was run by members of the Blacher family [who also bought Grant Mill in 1935], including Louis Blacher, president; Donald L. Blacher, vice president; Stanley P. Blacher, secretary; and Benjamin Blacher, treasurer. Until recently, the complex was occupied by several small industries and businesses and owned by Blacher Brothers. Inc.

In the News

A lengthy story was written by Ian Donnis for the Providence Phoenix in February 2003 detailing the issues of gentrification in the Olneyville/Valley neighborhood. Mill renovations were hot, with many underway or nearing completion, pushing out small businesses or artists that would occupy older un-renovated mill spaces.

Read the full article

Where Will People Live?

by Ian Donnis
Providence Pheonix | February 7-13, 2003 (abridged)

For critics, the plan to redevelop the former Providence and National Worsted Mills in Olneyville is about as natural a form of neighborhood growth as a sudden landing by a massive alien spaceship. But for proponents of the envisioned Rising Sun Mills, which is poised to offer 151 loft-style apartments, 100,000-square-feet of office space, and an ecological small-business incubator, the $45 million project represents a much-needed source of investment and stability in one of the most economically disadvantaged areas in Rhode Island.

Those critical of the development, mostly young artists and activists, cherish Olneyville’s downscale polyglot funk and fear that an influx of upwardly mobile types will raise housing costs and spark gentrification. The developers, led locally by the Armory Revival Company, cite additional housing as an antidote for rising rents and they describe the initiative as a welcome alternative to the continued deterioration of the neighborhood’s 19th-century mill buildings.

Struever Brothers, Eccles & Rouse of Baltimore, the lead developer of Rising Sun, has a well-deserved reputation for helping to reinvigorate economically blighted neighborhoods, and Bill Struever’s firm became involved in the project after emerging as a possible alternative developer for Eagle Square. Given all this, it’s slightly ironic that Struever Brothers and the three partners of Armory Revival, who helped to resuscitate the Armory District before branching into more upscale developments, are drawing criticism from a small band of idealistic critics.

Even some of those who cite the multi-million dollar investment as an undeniable positive for Olneyville – where 41 percent of families live in poverty, according to the 2000 Census, compared to a citywide average of 24 percent – describe Rising Sun as a potentially mixed blessing that could impact the largely Latino neighborhood in unexpected ways. Rents at Rising Sun will run from $600-$1400 – with most between $700-$1100 – a far cry from the luxury housing sprouting in pockets around town, but not exactly housing on the cheap, either. The development comes as Olneyville is showing some promising signs of improvement, including development of the Riverside Mills Park and the Woonasquatucket River Greenway…

The steadily increasing difficulty of finding decent, affordable, and suitable space in Providence has led some artists (and arts organizations) to set their sights for Pawtucket, Fall River, Massachusetts, and other destinations. The situation is so serious that AS220, the nonprofit arts organization, is exploring the possibility of buying another downtown building. “It is getting very expensive to live in the city,” says artistic director Bert Crenca, who sees Rising Sun as having a mixed impact. “I’m hearing that on a daily basis – ‘What’s going to happen? We’re all going to get priced out.’”

The concerns expressed about affordability are symptoms of a housing crisis that extends far beyond mill buildings and the particular needs of artists. “Housing costs in Rhode Island are just out of reach of the common family,” says Godfrey. “Rising Sun is not going to drive up the rents. Rising Sun is a symbol of what is already happening. The upward pressure [on rents], the increased demand [for housing], allows Rising Sun to happen.”…

Although the housing crunch is a national problem, it is particularly serious in Rhode Island… the average statewide rent for a two-bedroom apartment jumped to $854, from $613, over the last four years, and Rhode Island had the greatest increase in home prices over the last year (and the third highest nationally over the last two decades)…

Although a monthly rent of $2000 seems better suited to midtown Manhattan than the former site of the Silver Top Diner, an underserved market for high-end housing has triggered plans for a handful of other luxury developments in recent months, including 83 condos in Fox Point, envisioned apartments in the Capital Center, and condos across Fountain Street from the Providence Journal Building. Across town, Rising Sun marks the most ambitious project for the Armory Revival Company, whose recent efforts include upscale condos on Thomas Street (one of which sold for $1.2 million) and on Westminster Street, near the Providence School Department. Providence, a city long known for its unstudied idiosyncrasy and relatively cheap digs, is increasingly going pricey.

[…] “I think in the long run, it should prove to be a positive,” says architect Steve Durkee, since such residents can help to support restaurants, cultural activity, and other desirable elements of city life. At the same time, Durkee, who worked last year with the Olneyville Housing Corporation to develop 32 units of affordable rental housing – which attracted more than 600 applications – knows how the lower end of the market suffers from a woefully inadequate amount of attention.

Rising Sun’s most vociferous critics, who were informed about the proposal just a few days before it was presented to the city Plan Commission, remain stung by what they see as a lack of public participation in the process and the absence of dialogue with the developers. “Overall, it seems like the project was created in a vacuum and there was no intention to integrate it into the fabric of the community,” says Adriana Young, executive director of English for Action, a nonprofit that works with immigrants in Olneyville. There’s suspicion, too, about Armory Revival’s acquisition of nearby property and a fear that it will be more difficult for young artists to buy lofts in the area as a result.

Mark Van Noppen and B.J. Dupre, who, with Barry Preston, constitute Armory Revival, say they didn’t anticipate criticism from members of the local arts underground and focused their earliest informational efforts on the dozen or so businesses and artists being displaced from the mill complex. Noting that the wide swath of land from Olneyville Square to Atwells Avenue, between the Woonasquatucket and Route 10, produces less than $800,000 in annual tax revenue, Van Noppen says, “It’s like a giant whole in your wallet. We want our investment to be something that’s going to add to the long-term value of the community.” Dupre adds, “It’s really about building community,” citing an unmet demand for loft apartments in the city, as well as plans for Rising Sun to include office space and the ecological small business incubator being organized by Sara Struever, daughter of Bill Struever, whose goals include gallery space, a media center, nonprofits, and community development organizations… a new Armory Revival development on Pearl Street is due to include 18 lofts for sale and 36 apartments, with 20 percent of the housing at affordable prices, thanks to a program backed by the Providence Preservation Society’s Revolving Loan Fund…

Offering subsidies for artists is sometimes a controversial subject, but considering the benefits that Providence and Rhode Island have gained from marketing themselves as bastions of the arts, ensuring the presence of artists is a smart forum of economic development. And although even established arts organizations face difficulty during lean economic times, it’s worth noting that it’s the underground arts groups that have attracted some of the most enthusiastic out-of-town notices during recent times. The work of the art-music collective Forcefield, for example, previously included in the Whitney Biennial, was featured on the front of the Sunday arts and leisure section of the New York Times a few weeks ago. Similarly, Lightning Bolt received an enthusiastic review in the Times last year, and the alt-rock heroes of Sonic Youth performed a symbolic passing of the torch to the group during a recent gig at Lupo’s.

Godfrey still tends to get quizzical looks when he speaks about the importance of coming to terms with Rhode Island’s housing crisis. Although he has no illusions about the difficulty of changing the situation, he hopes that publicity about growing homelessness… will spark change. “The irony is that those of us who own our homes get richer every day,” he says. “To a certain extent, we like the way it is. Yet,” when it comes to buying a home, “our kids can’t afford to get in.”

The entire story captured from