Providence Combing Mills

also known as John Waterman Mills, Harrison Steam Mills, Lawton Spinning Compan, Pocassett Combing Company, Crown Pearl Company

A newer complex of brick structures built up and around an almost 200-year old stone mill

About this Property

#Current Tenants

These mills have been on the periphery of a major complex that was the former Waterman-Weybosset Mills occupying three blocks to the east and south. Instead, this block bounded by Dike to the north, Troy to the east, Oak to the south, and Agnes Street to the west has been home to two major businesses and building complexes, located maybe twelve feet apart. The complex to the south is the Crown Worsted Mills, while the buildings north of center are the Providence Combing Mills. All businesses and buildings in this four block area once processed wool or cotton products.

The building complex of Providence Combing is particularly interesting because it may contain walls that once belonged to the first mill built on this property in 1835. The Eagle Mill was originally built by John Waterman, which would make it one of the oldest steam mill in the state.

#Current Events

Mars Manufacturing occupies some of the complex presently and makes plastic products. They also occupy the complex next door, the former Crown Worsted Company. Most of the complex is split into small business and studio manufacturing spaces.

#History

Maps

  • 1889 Sanborn Insurance Map, Volume 1, Plate 27a (page 55) — Labelled as “Harrison Steam Mills (Cotton) J.L. Ross.” The footprint is very different from the buildings now standing, but over the next few maps one can see this stone structure (indicated by its blue color in the map) become consumed by brick structures. Map indicates it is three and a half stories tall.
  • 1900 Sanborn Insurance Map, Volume 3, Plate 264 (page 54) — Labelled as “Lawton Spinning Co. Mfrs of Cotton Yarn & Thread.” [Crown Worsted](/property/crown-worsted-pvd/ has been built to the south. The old stone mill stands independently, but more brick structures have been added around it.
  • 1920 Sanborn Insurance Map, Volume 4, Plate 14 (page 15) — Labelled as the “Providence Combing Mills — Worsted Top Mfy,” brick structures have surrounded the building to the west, south, and east. Crown Worsted to the south has expanded. A note in the blue field of the former stone mill says “Stone– 1-2-3 Brick–4th.” One story wooden structures occupy the north side of the block.
  • 1937 G.M. Hopkins Insurance Map, Plate 36 — Much the same as 1920, but the map creators draw the building with the original shape of the stone mill hidden within brick structures. The northeast corner now has a large brick structure on it — the 1951 Sanborn map labels it as two story.
  • Google Maps three dimensional view — From this 2022 aerial view, one can see an indentation on the southern wall of the main building that exposes some of the original stone mill.

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

The complex is made up of one-, two-, and four-story blocks set on the east side of Agnes Street and extending east to Troy Street. 50 Agnes Street is a long, four-story, stone and brick structure (first three stories are stone, fourth story is brick). The building is attached to 66 Dike Street, a long, rectangular, brick building set to the north at the corner of Dike and Troy streets. 50 Agnes features segmental-arch window openings with replacement sash on the top story with a projecting cornice supported by brackets. The stone portion features smaller, rectangular window openings, also with replacement sash. The building has been added onto on several occasions. A two-story, flat-roof ell projects from the east elevation of the original block. The two-story block features three pedestrian entrances on its east elevation. Fenestration is comprised of replacement sash with concrete sills. An addition has been added to the two-story ell to provide access from the street level to the four-story opening on the original block. This access has a flat roof and sits on a concrete slab with vertical wood paneling. A tall brick chimney stack rises from the location of the boiler room (according to maps).

The stone core of this mill seems to be the 1835 Eagle Mill built by John Waterman. The existing RIHPHC data sheet for the property suggests that the original mill was largely destroyed, but based upon interior inspection and the 1895 and 1908 maps, it appears that a large amount of the 1835 structure survives, making it one of the oldest mills in the city and one of the oldest steam mills in the state.

Harold Lawton of Warwick, Rl purchased the property in 1898 for use by the Lawton Spinning Company. The property was transferred to Frederick C. Fletcher of Brookline, MA, the president of Pocasset Combing Company, in 1903. Pocasset Combing appears in city directories as far back as 1904 at this location. Early maps show the stone mill building at 50 Agnes Street with smaller wood-frame, one-story structures at 66 Dike Street These wood-frame buildings are identified as store houses on the 1919 Sanborn map. The property was transferred to Providence Combing Mills in 1921. By 1926, brick structures had been constructed on the site of the earlier wood-frame buildings at 66 Dike Street and 50 Agnes Street had been added onto at both the east and west ends. Providence Combing Mills would reside at this location until about 1954. According to city directories, the next occupant was Crown Pearl Company, manufacturers of beads, in 1960. Crown Pearl operated out of this complex until about 1970, following which Mars Manufacturing Co., Inc., plastic bead manufacturers, and Del Ray Pearl Company, jewelry manufacturers, operated out of this location.