Images of this Property
29 images: Press to view larger or scroll sideways to see more. Black and white photos from the 1972 National Register Nomination, Library of Congress; 2006 photos by Sarah Clover; photos post-renovation for CAM Construction
About this Property
The Pontiac Mill has gone through some major changes in its 160 years. Here is a brief timeline of major events:
- The land and water power of “Arnold’s Bridge” as it was once called was purchased by Henry Arnold, who in connection with Dutee Arnold, erected a saw and grist mill in 1810. The river at this place has 6 76/100 feet head and fall, making it ideal for water-powered milling.1
- Rice A. Brown, Jonathan Knowles, and Samuel Fenner operated about twenty looms since 1827, but in 1829 during a depression in manufacturing operations, they failed. The property was sold at public auction in 1830 to John H. Clark. Two years afterward, Clark bought the remaining one-third water-power rights from Dutee Arnold along with the saw mill and grist mill.2
- On October 4th, 1850, John H. Clark sold his estate and the mills to Zachariah Parker and Robert Knight for $40,000. In 1852, the premises were passed to B. B. Knight and R. Knight. They would change the name of the village to Pontiac.3
- The B.B. & R. Knight Corporation, operating out of Pontiac Mills in Warwick, began producing bolts of muslin cloth under the “Fruit of the Loom” name.4
- The older stone grist mill was torn down and the brick building of Pontiac Mill was erected upon its site.5
- The former bleach works buildings burned down on April 15th. A new stone building was immediately erected and in operation by September 1st, 1870.6
- Just one year after the first trademark laws were passed by Congress, the Knights received trademark number 418 for the brand “Fruit of the Loom”.
- The Knight brothers, Benjamin B. and Robert L., starting with Pontiac, now own eighteen textile mills, twelve of them in Rhode Island — Grant in Providence; Cranston Print and Fiskville in Cranston; Jackson Mill in Scituate; Clinton Mill in Woonsocket; Royal, Valley Queen, Pontiac, and Lippitt in Warwick; Natick and Artic Mill in West Warwick; and White Rock in Westerly — and controlled a total of 290,000 spindles.7
- Benjamin Brayton Knight dies at age 85.8
- Robert Knight dies and the New York Times lists his company as the largest cotton manufacturer in the world.9
- Webster Knight, son of Robert, sold Fruit of the Loom and the Pontiac Mill to the Consolidated Textile Corporation of New York for approximately $20 million, one of the largest deals ever made in the textile industry at that time.10
- The mill ceased operations as a textile manufacturer.11
- The mill is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. At the time of the filing, the owner was listed as Allied Textile Printers, a textile group headquartered in New Jersey.
- Around this time, Joseph Fazzano of Cranston and Dixon Donovan of Newport become owners of the complex. They convert the buildings into small business and artisan spaces, and by 1994, the complex houses 78 small businesses.12
- A $40-million project is first proposed that would renovate and construct spaces for restaurants, artisans’ workshops, office space, and a small inn. The main mill building would also be converted into 150 loft-style apartments.13
- In December, the City Council amended the redevelopment plan for the historic mill, removing a residential component to allow more office space instead. They cited traffic reduction as the main reason, winning the endorsement of the Pontiac Village Association.14
- A travel-industry start-up, NYLO Hotels, announces plans to construct a new hotel on the site of a portion of the Pontiac Mill. The company said its Warwick hotel will feature 164 rooms.15
- A portion of the western mills were demolished for the new 5-story hotel building. Aerial photos from 2006 shows two western buildings missing and the ground completely cleared. In the previous 2003 photo, two buildings were in place and by 2008, the newer NYLO buildings (with white rubber roofing) is in place.
- A “100-year flood” of the Pawtuxet river put much of the area, including the mills, under water for almost 2 weeks.16 The NYLO Hotel had to close and would not reopen for another two years.
- Hurricane Sandy did much damage to the already dilapidated mill. Roofs were collapsed or ripped off. Water damage made floors sag and collapse. A wooden third story was blown away, leaving the lower two stories roofless.17
- October, 2014
- H. Hampton Hodges from Texas sells his interest in the complex to the Union Box Company, of Baltimore, Maryland, owned by real estate developer Larry Silverstein.18
- January, 2015
- Plans are announced by the new owner to build apartments on the upper floors and provide retail, restaurant, and other commercial spaces on the ground floor.19
- A renovation begins of approximately 200,000 SF at a cost of $35M. 135 apartments and 50,000 SF of office and retail space was redeveloped along the banks of the Pawtuxet River.20
- Preserve RI awards Rhody Award for “Historic Preservation Project” to Knight Capital for the rehabilitation project at the Pontiac Mill.
Leasing at the Pontiac Mills is open on their stand-alone website, pontiacmills.com
Our previous property page mentioned a favorite factoid about the Pontiac Mill — that Abraham Lincoln dedicated the new mill in person in 1863. There is no primary source for this fact. The legend originated in an 1891 history of Providence County but cites no source. A pamphlet from 1930 makes hay of Lincoln’s two appearances in Rhode Island — Providence and Woonsocket — but does not mention this dedication.
From the National Register nomination form for the Pontiac Mills, Warwick, RI, June 1972
[…] The land on which the present Pontiac Mills complex is located has been the site of textile manufacturing since about 1810, when Horatio Arnold carried on wool carding and cotton spinning there. Arnold sold this land and two-thirds of the water privilege in 1827 to Rice A. Brown, Jonathan Knowles, and Samuel Fenner, and it later passed to John H. Clark, who in 1832 erected a stone factory that housed seventy-five looms and who in 1834 also built a bleachery.
Zachariah Parker and Robert Knight bought the entire site and its buildings from Clark in 1850, and two years later the premises were owned by B. B. and R. Knight, who subsequently became one of Rhode Island’s leading textile manufacturers. This place (once called “Arnold’s Bridge” and later “Clarksville”) was now re-named “Pontiac” by the Knight family. They were responsible for giving the mills and the town their present character during the approximately seventy years they controlled them.
In 1863, the 1832 stone mill was torn down and a new brick three-story building (200 by 66 feet with an ell 90 by 4O feet) was erected. The brick company store was built in 1866. On April 15, 1870, the old bleachery burned. It was replaced by a new building (160 by 140 feet) the same year. In 1874 a stone storehouse (157 by 58 feet), five storeys high, was constructed. Other structures were added from time to time until ownership by the Knight enterprises terminated in 1920. There has since been a succession of owners, and industrial activity in the complex has now ceased.
This property is a largely intact mill complex of the post-Civil-War textile boom in New England and remains a significant monument to the economic and social development of its surroundings for nearly a century. For this reason alone its preservation deserves serious consideration. An additional significance, however, is the architectural character of the buildings themselves, which are excellent specimens of the fully-developed American approach to industrial building as practiced in the latter part of the nineteenth century.
The combination of materials and decorative motifs employed makes the Pontiac Mills rather unusual in relation to most of their contemporaries, which frequently display complete homogeneity; and this variety gives the Pontiac buildings part of their architectural interest. The central block with its projecting tower, all of dark red brick and with decorative elements derived from north-European Romanesque architecture, is typical of many local industrial plants built after the middle of the century, but the large flanking wings and extensive additions on the river frontage are relatively uncommon. In these sections where the stucco has been scored to resemble ashlar and where the openings display rusticated red brick surrounds, there is a naive but interesting and appealing attempt at formal architectural adornment, suggestive of rural buildings of the Italian renaissance or of the early seventeenth-century in France. Occasional other examples of such treatment are to be found in neighboring towns, but by and large it remains an unusual departure in mill buildings. This variety, along with the loose, free linking of the individual units of the complex, suggests that the mills would lend themselves well to a wide range of re-use projects now that they have been vacated.
The mill locale is well defined by the adjoining neighborhood of former “company housing,” by the river and steep hill beyond, and by the highway which clearly cuts it off from the nearby shopping plaza. The mill village, although not included in this nomination, is nevertheless worthy of mention and is still to be seen to the north and east of the mills the dwellings still in their original planned ranks, although in some cases altered on the surface by present owners. As a still-intact “compound” and visual entity, closely related in all ways to the large mill complex here nominated, the mill housing may yet form a separate but related nomination to the National Register.
The above nomination mentions the following book as a source, starting on page 1017: History of Washington and Kent counties, Rhode Island, including their early settlement and progress to the present time; a description of their historic and interesting localities; sketches of their towns and villages; portraits of some of their prominent men, and biographies of many of their representative citizens from 1889 and housed at the Internet Archive.
The company store building in our second photo was built in 1866 but was razed between 2008 and 2009. It was present in a 2008 street view from Google but gone by 2009. Aerial photos corroborate this disappearance. From the 2008 photo it looks very dilapidated with many broken windows and terribly overgrown.
- Pontiac Mill video prepared by the Rhody Awards, 2021
- Pontiac Mill history stand-alone site
- Pontiac Mill on the Rhode Tour by Larry Manire
Read more history
From “RHODE ISLAND: An Inventory of Historic Engineering and Industrial Sites”, Gary Kulik and Julia C. Bonham, 1978
In i810, this site on the Pawtuxet River contained a sawmill, a grist mill, a wool carding mill and a cotton spinning mill. The land was sold by Horatio Arnold 1827 to Rice Brown, Jonathan Knowles, and Samuel Fenner, in whose partnership collapsed in the depression of 1829. It was bought at auction by John H. Clark, later a United States Senator, who built a stone mill in 1832 and a bleachery in 1834. In 1850, Zachariah Parker and Robert Knight bought the mills. Two years later, the company of B B. and R. Knight was formed, later to develop into-one of the largest textile combines in the United States. The firm manufactured-under the well-known trade name “Fruit of the Loom.”
The surviving structures include a 4-story, brick mill,200’ X 67’, with an ell 90’ X 40’, built in 1863. This building was originally two stories with a pitched and dormered roof. The mansard-roofed company store at the east-end of the complex was built in 1866. In 1870, a new bleachery was built, 160’ X 53’, replacing the old one which had burned in the same year. This 3-story, stuccoed stone-rubble structure stands to the west of the main mill. On either side of it are stone additions. The 3-story, east addition was built prior to 1874 and housed a machine shop, weave room, and slasher and drawing-in rooms. A 2-story, brick wing on its, west side now houses the Warwick Museum. The mills’ smokestack and water-tower, prominently visible from Interstate 95, also survive.
In the late l880 the company employed 1,500 workers to operate 27,000 spindles. At the same time, there were 170 tenements, of which 120 were company owned. Most of these still survive on streets adjacent to the mill. The dam, gates, and parts of the raceway also survive. The Knight family owned the complex until 1920, and the plant continued to be used as a textile finishing mill until 1970. The new power plant was built in 1948. In 1973, the property was bought by the current owners. It is now occupied by about thirty tenants. No machinery of historic note survives. The Pontiac Miii complex has been entered on the National Register.
#In the News
Neighborhood of the week Pontiac Mills | New owner plans revival for mill
by Christine Dunn
Providence Journal | January 25, 2015 (abridged)
With new ownership, the long-awaited redevelopment of the historic Pontiac Mills may finally get under way in 2015.
A public announcement is expected soon from the new owner about his plans for the site near the Pawtuxet River, just north of the Warwick Mall, according to Mayor Scott Avedisian.
Located on the corner of Route 5 and Knight Street, across the road from the mall, the complex comprises about 15 ½ acres and 23 buildings, representing about 320,000 square feet of space. The city has rezoned the site as “mixed use” to allow for shops, restaurants and residences there.
H. Hampton Hodges, a Texas oilman and real estate developer, said he sold the Pontiac Mills complex in October to the Union Box Company, of Baltimore, Md., which is owned by real estate developer Larry Silverstein. […]
David Bouchard, president of the Pontiac Village Association, said the new owner came to a meeting of the neighborhood group’s leaders after the sale and said he planned to build upscale apartments on the upper floors of the mill buildings and provide retail, restaurant and other commercial spaces on the ground floor.
Association vice president Karen McQuade said the group was pleased that “Mr. Silverstein seems to think he can save all of the buildings.”
The Pontiac Mill site has “a long history,” added Bouchard, who has lived in Pontiac village all of his life. “We’d like to see it salvaged as much as possible.” […]
Hodges said that Silverstein “has vision and he will make something out of the project. He likes Rhode Island and he knows what he’s doing.”
Hodges said the economy and the death of his partner stalled his plans to redevelop the rest of the Pontiac Mills site.
The mills are not Silverstein’s first investment in Rhode Island. In 2012, Silverstein spent $2 million for Salas’ Dining Room on Thames Street in Newport, forming a partnership with a local restaurateur, Patrick Kilroy, to restore the building and operate an upscale restaurant there. Silverstein could not be reached for comment on his plans in Warwick. […]
DUNN, CHRISTINE. “Neighborhood of the week Pontiac Mills | New owner plans revival for mill.” Providence Journal (RI), 1 ed., sec. Features, 25 Jan. 2015, p. PJHOME_01. NewsBank: America’s News, https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/openurl?ctx_ver=z39.88-2004&rft_id=info%3Asid/infoweb.newsbank.com&svc_dat=NewsBank&req_dat=D4BD6B42F1AB4706B5E1244D477DEE03&rft_val_format=info%3Aofi/fmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Actx&rft_dat=document_id%3Anews/153176F141D7D128. Accessed 25 Sept. 2023.
Read more In the News
Spotlight on PONTIAC MILLS
by Martha Smith
Providence Journal | June 21, 1998 (abridged)
Those who enjoy scouting out the cutting edge of fine art and home accessories - and who also appreciate historical settings - will be thrilled to learn of the resurgence of the old Pontiac Mill, in Warwick.
Closed down as a textile mill in 1972, after operating for 162 years as a wool carding and spinning operation and as a manufacturer of coarse woolen sheeting, the factory has new life.
Some two dozen enterprises are spread out over 13 buildings, stone testimonies to the Industrial Revolution that are set against the backdrop of the Pawtuxet River.
Among the diverse businesses are a time-share resale office, a statuary manufacturer, a theatrical prop builder, a photography studio, commercial interior design, figure skating repair and costumes, an insurance broker, graphic designer, a church-cum-coffee shop and numerous antiques shops.
In Building I, visitors can find a piano tuner, a copper fountain factory, a high-end vintage clothing boutique and, soon, ornate interior decorations salvaged from such sources as the old Leroy Theater.
And on the third floor there is a splendid design center: a collaboration of three companies sharing space to exhibit exquisite art, furnishings, home accessories, jewelry and every imaginable use for calligraphy.
The companies are Handled with Care, Starr Designs, and Decorum, owned, respectively, by Diana Young, Sharon Eisman and Marie Simone. The women, who’ve been in business for nearly three years (Simone and Eisman were in separate spaces; Young joined them a year ago in the new showroom) occupy 9,000 square feet.
”We show the works of a minimum of 30 artists,” says Young. ”Many are local but some have international reputations.” Among them is Peter Wise, whose kinetic sculptures are shipped ”all over the country.”
Herself an artist in metals, Young has made Handled with Care a repository of fantastic sculpture, paintings and custom jewelry. One of her specialties is a series of exotic perfume bottles with metal ornamentation on the outside and attached to the stoppers.
”I like to have a little surprise in each one,” she says.
Simone says she attends the ”vast majority” of major furniture markets and then ”picks selectively.”
Once again, the approach is to offer a mixture of imported and locally made furnishings.
”Slowly but surely, people are catching on (to our existence),” says Simone. “A lot of our clientele is from out of state.” […]
Virtually every inch of space is intriguing: a tufted ottoman in a damask rose print; a hand-hooked reproduction French Aubusson rug; Clair Fiedler’s whimsical life-size papier-mache sculpture of “Blossom” hanging out waiting for the bus.
(Another figure, Agnes, was recently sold to the Gatehouse restaurant, where she’s seated at a table with a glass of wine.)
The array of wooden objects is astounding: a cowboy hat by Johannes Michelsen that began as a 100-pound chunk of cherry burl; a curley maple bowl; a lamp whose base was made from a salvaged baluster from the Leroy Theater. […]
“We try to have an (artist’s) opening every four to six weeks,” says Young. “We find unique artists and give them parties.”
One who could not be happier about the new life of the complex is Mildred Longo, a local historian who has lived in the village all her life.
“It was just a little tiny mill when it (the village) was called Clarkville,” she says. “The oldest building is now on the National Register (of Historic Places). The mill bell would ring every hour and you’d see all the people rushing to work.
“They were nice, friendly people. They’d stop and talk to my mother and father.”
Now the nice, friendly people are back. And, unlike so many old mills that have fallen victim to arson and neglect, Pontiac Mills lives again, a vibrant part of the village around it.
SMITH, MARTHA. “Spotlight on PONTIAC MILLS.” Providence Journal (RI), ALL ed., sec. HOME, 21 June 1998, pp. K-01. NewsBank: America’s News, https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/openurl?ctx_ver=z39.88-2004&rft_id=info%3Asid/infoweb.newsbank.com&svc_dat=NewsBank&req_dat=D4BD6B42F1AB4706B5E1244D477DEE03&rft_val_format=info%3Aofi/fmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Actx&rft_dat=document_id%3Anews/15251D7E5114C1C8. Accessed 25 Sept. 2023.
Old mills are put to new use
by the Journal-Bulletin Staff and Wire
Providence Journal | April 23, 1994 (abridged)
The red bricks have been sandblasted. The oak floors have been smoothed. And factory space where 100 years ago Fruit of the Loom workers processed cloth has been resectioned for 78 small businesses.
The old Pontiac Mills on the Pawtuxet River have been recycled into the Historic Pontiac Mill Complex.
There’s an archery range, a karate school, light manufacturing and jewelry assembly shops, a basket maker and other entrepreneurs within the brick walls.
“We’ve become a haven for small-business owners and artisans,” said Florence Nelson, acting general manager.
For decades, the Northeast has witnessed an unending industrial exodus.
Thousands of manufacturing firms have gone out of business. Thousands more have left for less expensive locations in the suburbs and in other regions, leaving abandoned industrial shells behind.
Despite costly government attempts to stimulate economic development in urban industrial wastelands, only a few such buildings have been recycled. […]
The Pontiac Mills, where some of the 18 buildings stretch back to 1863, have been owned for about 25 years by Joseph Fazzano of Cranston and Dixon Donovan of Newport, Nelson said.
The complex has attracted entrepreneurs, artisans and antique dealers who have been able to have the space they want renovated to their needs. Some of the tenants moved from the old Riverside Mills in Providence, which burned down in 1989. […]
Journal-Bulletin Staff. “Old mills are put to new use.” Providence Journal (RI), ALL ed., sec. BUSINESS, 23 Apr. 1994, pp. B-13. NewsBank: America’s News, https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/openurl?ctx_ver=z39.88-2004&rft_id=info%3Asid/infoweb.newsbank.com&svc_dat=NewsBank&req_dat=D4BD6B42F1AB4706B5E1244D477DEE03&rft_val_format=info%3Aofi/fmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Actx&rft_dat=document_id%3Anews/1525233106882650. Accessed 25 Sept. 2023.
Cole, J. R. “History of Washington and Kent counties, Rhode Island, including their early settlement and progress to the present time; a description of their historic and interesting localities; sketches of their towns and villages; portraits of some of their prominent men, and biographies of many of their representative citizens.” W. W. Preston & Co., published, 1889. Page 1018 ↩
Ibid, page 1018 ↩
Ibid, page 1019 ↩
“History and more.” Fruit of the Loom corporate website. Captured 25 September 2023 from https://www.fotlinc.com/our-company/history/ ↩
Ibid, page 1019 ↩
Ibid, page 1019 ↩
Kulik, Gary and Julia C. Bonham. “Inventory of Historic Engineering & Industrial Sites.” U. S. Department of the Interior, Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service, Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation, Historic American Engineering Record. 1978 ↩
“Benjamin Knight.” Wikipedia. Captured 25 September 2023 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Knight ↩
“Robert Knight dies at 86; Largest Owner of Cotton Mills in the World.” November 27, 1912, Wednesday Page 13. Captured 25 September 2023 from https://www.nytimes.com/1912/11/27/archives/robert-knight-dies-at-86-largest-owner-of-cotton-mills-in-the-world.html ↩
“Pontiac Mills.” Wikipedia. Captured 25 September 2023 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pontiac_Mills ↩
“Pontiac Mill plan amended.” Providence Journal (RI), West Bay ed., sec. News, 12 Dec. 2000, pp. C-01. NewsBank: America’s News, https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/openurl?ctx_ver=z39.88-2004&rft_id=info%3Asid/infoweb.newsbank.com&svc_dat=NewsBank&req_dat=D4BD6B42F1AB4706B5E1244D477DEE03&rft_val_format=info%3Aofi/fmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Actx&rft_dat=document_id%3Anews/1525122A25019260. Accessed 25 Sept. 2023. ↩
Journal-Bulletin Staff. “Old mills are put to new use.” Providence Journal (RI), ALL ed., sec. BUSINESS, 23 Apr. 1994, pp. B-13. NewsBank: America’s News, https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/openurl?ctx_ver=z39.88-2004&rft_id=info%3Asid/infoweb.newsbank.com&svc_dat=NewsBank&req_dat=D4BD6B42F1AB4706B5E1244D477DEE03&rft_val_format=info%3Aofi/fmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Actx&rft_dat=document_id%3Anews/1525233106882650. Accessed 25 Sept. 2023. ↩
“Pontiac Mill plan amended.” ↩
“BUSINESS DIGEST.” Providence Journal (RI), All ed., sec. Business, 20 Sept. 2006, pp. F-02. NewsBank: America’s News, https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/openurl?ctx_ver=z39.88-2004&rft_id=info%3Asid/infoweb.newsbank.com&svc_dat=NewsBank&req_dat=D4BD6B42F1AB4706B5E1244D477DEE03&rft_val_format=info%3Aofi/fmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Actx&rft_dat=document_id%3Anews/1524273BD78944C0. Accessed 25 Sept. 2023. ↩
Macari, Anthony. “Looking back: 10 years since the floods of 2010.” TurnTo10.com, 30 March 2020. Accessed 25 September 2023 from https://turnto10.com/weather/weather-blog/looking-back-10-years-since-the-floods-of-2010 ↩
Floyd, Henry David. “Pontiac Mills: Complete history, interactive timeline, and architectural notes.” 2001 section. Captured 26 September 2023 from https://pontiacmillshistory.com/ ↩
“The Lofts at Pontiac Mills.” CAM Construction website. Captured 26 September 2023 from https://cambuilds.com/portfolio/pontiac-mills-development/ ↩