Providence Dyeing, Bleaching, & Calendering Company

also known as The Plant

A mill redevelopment that tried to be different than the typical luxury condos and one that change residential zoning to help make units more affordable

About this Property

#Redevelopment

60 Valley Street has become The Plant — live/work studios from 500 to 600 sq ft, larger lofts of 1300 to 1800 sq ft, larger “nest” spaces for four to five people to share, and commercial space. The architects for the renovations were ICON studios. The renovation included space for a restaurant in the detached building along Valley Street.

This section of Valley Street saw much redevelopment in the mid-aughts, with Rising Sun Mills in one direction and pieces of this complex sectioned off into a new headquarters for the United Way Rhode Island as well as a smaller redevelopment project, Calender Mills. Across the river are spaces that are still heavily commercial or art studios at Atlantic Mills and Cathedral Art/Art Braid as well as 95 Hartford Avenue (redeveloped into apartments circa 2015).

Olneyville has historically been the most heavily industrialized area of Providence, and it has always had a large concentration of low income worker’s housing. Once a major employment center with a strong retail district, nearly half of Olneyville’s 10,000 peak residents and one third of its housing stock have disappeared since World War II, and only 18% of the remaining homes are owner occupied (well below the 34% city average). In 2004, the Olneyville neighborhood’s median income was $16,857 (40% less than the median income for all of Providence). Thirty-six percent of Olneyville’s families live below the poverty line.

An authentic attempt to make this mill redevelopment responsible and sustainable was headed up by PUENTE (Spanish for “Bridge,” now defunct), a non-profit real estate developer. It was the brainchild of Sara Struever, daughter to SBER developer and partner, Bill Streuver. She was also a Brown University graduate and saw how mill development displaced artists in Eagle Square.

Puente led with an idea that in order to keep rents affordable, large loft “nest” spaces should be allowed to have more people live in them and share rent. The city zoning law prohibited more than three unrelated people from living together, and Puente worked to change that to allow up to six. It was a small but significant win for affordability.

Puente worked for three years to develop the space and listen to community demands. They had big ideas and created partnerships to provide things like a shared kitchen incubator space — an idea that did not come to fruition, but for which there was demand, and eventually became a reality with Hope and Main in Warren.

The smokestack was crumbling prior to the complex’s purchase and was shortened from its height of 150 feet to only 50 feet in February 2001. A sculptural “intervention” added more height to the former stack in the form of a ghostly empty steel structure resembling brickwork and caressed by metal vines. The sculpture is called “Embrace” and was designed and fabricated by Gillian Christy and installed atop the stack in May of 2007.

#Current Events

The Plant is managed by the Armory Revival Company and Armory Management, which also manages Calender Mills up the street towards Olneyville Square and Rising Sun Mills in the opposite direction.

#History

From the National Register nomination form, 2003, prepared by Edward Connors and Associates

The Providence Dyeing, Bleaching and Calendering Complex is significant as a textile dyeing and finishing plant, an important component of the textile industry. […]

Architecturally, this complex represents more than a century of the company’s evolution and expansion. This complex began with a late 18th century or early 19th-century stone mill (two walls of which survive in the center of the complex) and by 1920 encompassed eighteen buildings, a dam, and a cobblestone alley, all of which survive. […]

Within a few years of the establishment of the first waterpowered textile factory in Pawtucket, a growing market emerged for vendors capable of taking in yarn or cloth for washing, bleaching, printing, or dyeing to the specifications of the customer. The Providence Dye House Company, established at Sabin and Mathewson Streets in 1810 (predecessor to Providence Dyeing, Bleaching and Calendering) was one such enterprise. By 1815 the principals of this company had associated themselves with Hercules Whitney and Henry Hoppin, two Providence merchants who had acquired the unexpired patent rights to a differential calendering machine (1811) and an Oliver Evans steam engine (1814) to provide the motive power for the calender and other finishing machinery. This association was made formal in the name of the Patent Calendering Company (1815). The combination of this calendering machine, steam power, geographic location, and the entrepreneurial zeal of the new company soon established the Patent Calendering Company as a regional leader in textile finishing.

The company, incorporated as the Providence Dyeing, Bleaching and Calendering Company in 1842, purchased a small mill complex at a water privilege on the Woonasquatucket River in 1845. This location was named the Valley Bleachery and operated as a bleaching operation subsidiary to the main plant until a reorganization in the 1880s consolidated all work of the company to Valley Street. […] The company survived the Great Depression and the war years finding specialty markets and continuing the company’s history of technical innovation. The company ceased operations in 1952 after 137 years of operation. […]

Christopher Olney’s water privilege on the Woonasquatucket

Christopher Olney (1745-1809), a descendent of Thomas Olney, an early settler of Providence, settled in the area that came to be known as Olneyville in 1785. As a young man, Olney was associated with the Rising Sun Paper Mill, established at a mill privilege on the Woonasquatucket River in 1764 and operated by John Waterman. At age twenty he learned the papermaking trade from Waterman, and eventually came to purchase 100 acres of land along the river and operate the Rising Sun mill. In 1773-74 he built a second paper mill, the Brown George, at a privilege a few hundred yards upstream at what was to become the Valley Bleachery, owned by Providence Dyeing, Bleaching and Calendering after 1846. Shortly after his death in 1809, the Brown George Mill passed to Olney’s son, Nathaniel, who operated the mill for a short time. With the probate settlement of his father’s estate in 1811, it was determined that Nathaniel Olney had inherited his father’s debt of about $12,000. Within a year Olney took out a mortgage on the property from Providence merchants, Hercules Whitney and Henry Hoppin. Although he was able to repay the mortgage, continuing financial difficulties forced Olney to sell the Brown George Mill at public auction in 1816 to Providence merchants Stephen C. Smith and Seth Davis.

[…] The north and east stone walls of [Bleach House #1] may date to Christopher Olney’s original 1773 paper mill.

In 1843 Providence real estate investor Stephen Kinyon purchased the site […]. A year later Kinyon took out a $13,000 loan from banker Richmond Bullock with the provision that he spend “not less than $5000 in the erection of other buildings or in machinery and tools” at the site. As the specific nature of Kinyon’s improvements are not described in the mortgage deed, it appears that Kinyon was serving as an agent for PDB&C and his improvements were associated with the intended conversion of the mill site to a bleachery. PDB&C purchased the property from Kinyon in 1845. The company continued to improve the property as a bleachery, subsidiary to its downtown Providence location.

Calendering of Cloth

Shortly after the formation of the [Providence Dye House Company] company, two Providence merchants, Hercules Whitney and Henry Hoppin, proposed to the Dyers that they purchase partial rights to the use of a differential (also called friction) calendering machine. This innovative machine, for which William Smith of New York had received a patent in 1805, imparted different finishes to cloth by squeezing it under tension through rollers moving at different speeds. Whitney and Hoppin had themselves purchased the unexpired patent rights to the machine from Smith’s widow, Mary, in 1811 […]

More about the Buildings

Improving the Valley Bleachery

Begun in 1885, this process included the elimination of all dyeing operations and the hiring of noted mill engineer Frank P. Sheldon to modernize and improve the old plant. The first phase of this improvement, visible in detail in the 1889 Sanborn Fire Insurance map, included the construction of a brick Starching, Drying, and Finishing House (No. 5) and expansion of the Boiler/Engine House (No. 6) to accommodate five boilers and a larger engine. This expansion also included a group of frame structures south of the main cluster of buildings along Valley Street. By the late 1880s the company was bleaching annually 30 million yards of fabric.

Expansion continued into the 1890s with the construction of the surviving Machine/Carpenter Shop (No. 7), a frame Filter House, and a frame Tentering Room (both demolished). Around this time the company introduced the mercerizing process into the United States. In this process fabric is immersed in a cold sodium hydroxide solution in order to make it more receptive to dyes. This process was carried out in the new, brick second story of the Kier Room (No. 4).

By 1904 PDB&C had bought back a parcel of land at the south of the property previously sold to the Atlantic-Degras Company c. 1894. This company erected Building No. 9 around this time for the extraction of oils from wool scourings. These oils, valuable in the treatment of hides, were then sold to tanners and curriers. This building was converted for use as a storehouse. Around this time, the company also removed the old wheel and gatehouse and filled in the headrace as reconfigured between 1857 and 1875. On this reclaimed land they built a large, single story Mangle/Tenter Room (No. 10). In this building they also reintroduced dyeing for the first time since the closing of the Sabin Street plant, a decision likely related to the introduction of the mercerizing process.

The expansion of the physical plant to its present plan was accomplished by about 1918. Between 1904 and 1918 the company built the Filter House (No. 11), the Lime Room (No. 12), the Calender Room (No. 13), the new Office/Storage Building (No. 14), the three infill buildings between the Atlantic-Degras Building (No. 9) and the Machine/Carpenter Shop (No. 7), and a small garage on Valley Street (No. 18). […]

[Following the second World War, despite] efforts at modernization, the company was unable to secure an adequate regional market because of the relocation of New England textile mills to the southern states, a process that had begun some thirty years earlier. In ill health at age 79, [then-owner Wilfred] Ward put his stock in the company up for sale in 1952. There were no buyers; after 137 years of operation PDB&C was liquidated in April, 1952. A company representative stated the reason for failure in very simple terms: “lack of profit.” Jali Realty (Jacob Licht) purchased the plant at auction on June 4, 1952. As described in a Providence Journal article the following day, much of the plant’s $300,000 worth of machinery was shipped to southern mills.

The plant has been occupied by various tenants since that time. One current occupant, Antonelli Plating, Inc., was incorporated in 1956 at which time it occupied Buildings 7, 11, 16, and 17. Circa 1962 Antonelli acquired Buildings No. 9 and 15 and built a rear cinderblock addition in 1976. The buildings of the central, and oldest part of the complex, including Buildings 1-6, 8, 12, and 13, are vacant. Ocean State Metals has occupied the Mangle/Tenter Room (No. 19) since the mid-1990s.

#In the News

New law could aid artists’ housing

by Cathleen F. Crowley
Providence Journal | October 6, 2005

Artists living and working together in large apartments might soon come out of hiding.

The city zoning law prohibits more than three unrelated people from living together, but some artists have ignored the law and crowded into apartments to make it more affordable.

The city is considering an ordinance that would allow up to six unrelated people to live and work out of their apartments. The ordinance was drafted by Puente, a group that is renovating 29 live/work spaces at The Plant, 60 Valley St.

“There used to be a lot of spaces available,” said Sara Struever, of Puente, a nonprofit organization that is is developing The Plant. “Unwanted industrial space where artists can live and work is becoming much harder to find.”

Several artists’ colonies have been evicted because of poor living conditions or development. Last year, 56 artists and musicians were forced to leave an Olneyville warehouse where they were living illegally. In 2001, the legendary Fort Thunder artist enclave was evicted from the Eagle Square mill.

The proposed ordinance would allow six people to live and work together only in certain areas of the city: downtown and the industrial zones. The number of people allowed in a dwelling would be restricted by the size of the apartment: there must be 300 square feet per person, said Thomas E. Deller, director of the city Department of Planning & Development. Half of the space must be dedicated to work.

Though intended for artists seeking affordable housing, the ordinance applies to anyone who uses their home for work.

“A building inspector is not going to decide this person is an artist and this person is not,” Deller said.

The original three-person limit on unrelated roommates was adopted in the mid-1990s, when city officials cracked down overcrowded student apartments that were becoming neighborhood nuisances.

Councilwoman Josephine DiRuzzo, who represents the ward where The Plant is located, sponsored the proposed ordinance.

Struever envisions all sorts of creative, entrepreneurial and small home-businesses occupying the live/work studios.

“People have been living like this in Providence for years,” she said. “It’s been part of the cultural vibrancy in at least part of the city. It’s exciting to see it go to this new level of legality.”