Providence Steam Engine

also known as Providence Engineering Works (Corporation), New England Butt Co., Corliss Landing

A 1980s conversion from industrial to residential condominiums by the same developer of the Davol Rubber Company

About this Property

#Redevelopment

Corliss Landing was an early foray into converting industrial mill buildings for residential use at a time when the buildings were not very attractive

The developer of Davol Square, Robert P. Freeman, president of Marathon Development Companies, planned the first multi-million-dollar residential, office, and retail project on the waterfront in 1984. The complex was still under industrial use by the New England Butt Co.. Parent company, the Wanskuck Company, sold the buildings in 1983.1

“What we will be offering is a new type of living experience to the people of Providence,” says Freeman. “The conversion of an historic manufacturing complex on the waterfront into residential units has proved very successful in other cities, particularly Boston, and we feel it will be very attractive here. (1984)”2

69 apartment units were rented for a time and then sold as condominiums. The units range in size from studios with 612 square feet to two-bedroom units with 1,774 square feet.

#Current Events

These are all privately owned condominiums or commercial spaces. They pop-up on the typical home-search sites when they are available.

#History

From the “Industrial Sites and Commercial Buildings Survey (ICBS)” by PPS and the AIA, 2001-2002, hosted by ProvPlan.org (now defunct)

555 South Water Street Providence Steam Engine Company 1845, NR - College Hill Historic District. […] The majority of window openings are segmental arch with 6/6 double-hung sash windows with granite sills; remaining fenestration includes rectangular window openings with 8/8 sash and granite lintels and sills. Pedestrian entrances are located along both South Main and South Water Street elevations. Two oversized, round-arch entrances are located on the South Main Street elevation and provide access to the interior courtyard. The structure is notable for its “clipped” comer at the intersection of Wickenden and South Main Street. […]

[Showing only what was unique to that report]


From “Downtown Providence: Statewide Historical Preservation Report P-P-5,” prepared by the RIHPHC, May 1981

521 South Main Street Providence Steam Engine Company (1845 and later): The Providence Steam Engine Company is said to have had its start as early as 1821 when John Babcock, an early steamboat builder, worked on or near this waterfront site. In 1830 Babcock’s son, John Babcock, Jr., and E. L. Thurston combined their mechanical expertise to establish a steam-engine company. Soon afterwards, when the inventor Noble Greene joined the company, the name was changed to Thurston, Greene, & Company. In 1841, Thurston, Greene, & Company bought the patent rights to the Sickle Cut-off Valve. Seven years later when Corliss introduced his stationary steam engine with an automatic regulator, Thurston, Greene, & Company sued Corliss for infringement on the Sickle Patent but lost the case after many years of litigation.

An 1845 fire destroyed the complex, but it was immediately rebuilt. A 2-story, stuccoed-stone, gable-roofed structure with chamfered-beam and joist framing survives from the 1845 rebuilding. Other structures in the complex date from 1892 to 1894, though these later buildings might incorporate parts of the complex built between 1863 and 1864. These 1890s structures include a 3-story pattern and erecting shop with round-arch fenestration on the east of the complex; a 3-story, brick, engine house with a gently sloping gable roof on the south; and a 3-story machine shop with a slightly pitched roof on the west of the complex.

In 1854, the company added a new partner, H. W. Gardiner, who ran the company for many years. In 1855 the firm introduced the Improved Greene Engine featuring the automatic valve gear. This engine was noted for its efficient speed control, durability, and stability. During the Civil War, the company produced the engines for two sloops of war, the Algonquin and the Contoocook. In order to produce the capital needed for expansion during the booming war years, the business incorporated in 1863 as the Providence Steam Engine Company. By 1865 the works had tripled in size. While in the 1870s the company continued to manufacture the Improved Greene Engine, a new product — a steam riveting machine — was added to the company’s line; this machine held plates of iron together while forming the head of the rivet. Another product was the Burdict Nut and Bolt Machine.

In 1874 the company completed a pumping engine for the Hope Reservoir which could pump as much as 2,000,000 gallons of water in a twenty-four hour period. This engine was praised for its unique and efficient regulating mechanisms. In the late 1890s, the Providence Steam Engine Company, which employed 300 workers by this time, merged with the Rice and Sargent Engine Company. The new company, called the Providence Engineering Works, produced both the Rice and Sargent Engines and the Improved Greene Engine as well as designing and manufacturing general machinery. In 1908 the works manufactured the running gear for the Maxwell Motor Car and a few years later began constructing engines for other automobiles as well.

The Providence Engineering Works was liquidated in 1955, and the complex was bought by the New England Butt Company, a division of the Wanskuck Company, which today manufactures braiders, wire stranding, and cable machinery.


Read more history

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

John Babcock, Sr., an early steamboat builder, is said to have worked on this waterfront site as early as 1821. In 1830, Babcock’s son joined with Robert L. Thurston to form what later became the Providence Steam Engine Works. Within eight years, the company was the major producer of steam engines in the state, supplying half the engines used in Newport and seventeen of the twenty-three at work in Providence. In 1841, the firm, then known as Thurston, Green and Company, bought the patent rights to the Sickles “cut-off” valve. Later, the firm unsuccessfully charged George Corliss, the noted inventor of the Corliss steam engine-valve system, with infringement on the Sickles patent

Incorporated in 1863 as the Providence Steam Engine Company, the business substantially expanded its plant in the following year. In 1899, the company merged with the Rice Sargent Engine Company to form the Providence Engineering Works. The new firm continued the manufacture of marine and stationary steam engines especially the Greene and the Rice Sargent. Two hundred and fifty skilled machinists worked with specialized machine tools such as large-capacity metal planers.

The surviving structures include a stuccoed-stone, pitched roof building on the northwest, 170’ X 57’, built in 1845, and framed with chamfered beams and small joists; a 3-story, brick building on the northeast, built in 1864; and two brick additions on the southeast and southwest, built in 1893. The site contains two twenty-five-ton Case electric cranes, one in the 1864 building, the other in the 1893 wing on the southeast. Both buildings were originally built to accommodate large cranes. The 1864 structure has interior brick pilasters and a wooden track supporting its crane. The buildings are now used by New England Butt for the manufacture of wire stranding machinery. The company still uses early 20th-century machine tools, such as a vertical boring mill built by the Niles Tool Works, Hamilton, Ohio, and a Mitts Merrill broaching machine, both used originally by Providence Engineering. A large collection of plans and blueprints was recently donated to the National Museum of History and Technology, Smithsonian Institution.

#In the News

Corliss Landing spruces up waterfront 41% of condos in project already sold

by Clyde H. Harrington
Providence Journal | May 5, 1985 (abridged)

With 41 percent of its luxury apartments already purchased even before they are anywhere near completed, Corliss Landing, the $8-million housing complex on the Providence waterfront, is launching an intensified sales campaign.

A model two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment is finished and furnished, and Leila W. Mahoney, director of sales for Corliss, says that while this apartment carries a $170,000 price tag, the normal price for a Corliss Landing unit is $165,000.

And the 69 apartments — 30 two-bedroom, 36 one-bedroom and 3 studios — will reflect 55 different or differing styles and prices, Mrs. Mahoney says, and will range in size from 750 to 1,800 square feet.

Robert P. Freeman, president of Marathon Development Companies, managing partner in the development of the riverbank property, says Corliss Landing is the city’s first waterside residential project to be renovated and transformed from an historic manufacturing complex.

THE PROPERTY (a parcel of approximately two acres) is located at the intersections of Bridge, South Main and South Water Streets, not far from the Fox Point Hurricane Barrier and only a few hundred yards across the river from a Narragansett Electric Co. station and Davol Square, an earlier Freeman development involving the sprawling former Davol Rubber Co. complex.

The Corliss property was acquired from the Wanskuck Co. (Mossberg Industries) in September of 1983 for $1 million.

The $10-million restoration/renovation project involved several two and three-story structures built between 1845 and 1893. They first were occupied by the Providence Steam Engine Co. which, among other things, made parts for the famed Corliss steam engine. […]

Since the buildings comprising Corliss Landing qualify as certified historic structures, apartment buyers can qualify for a 25 percent investment tax credit. This means that one fourth of an investor’s money spent in renovation (not purchase) of the building can be recovered as a tax credit. […]

Freeman says the current schedule calls for all apartments to be completed by the end of July or early in August.

“We hope to have people moved in by the end of August and the stores in early September,” he says, referring to the 20,000 square feet of retail/commercial space now being developed along part of the lower level of the complex. This space, he says, probably will be leased at an average cost of $15 or $16 per square foot.

UNDER CURRENT planning, the City of Providence will be building new docks along the waterfront which is faced by the Corliss Landing complex. The current Rhode Island Fish Co. building will be rehabilitated and utilized for retail space by the Corliss owners and Rhode Island Fish, itself, may established a small retail operation next to the Hot Club somewhat farther down the waterfront, Freeman says. […]

HARRINGTON, CLYDE H.. “Corliss Landing spruces up waterfront 41% of condos in project already sold.” Providence Journal (RI), ALL ed., sec. REAL ESTATE, 5 May 1985, pp. G-01. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/1525C08924D45840. Accessed 8 Jan. 2022.

  1. HARRINGTON, CLYDE H.. “Corliss Landing spruces up waterfront 41% of condos in project already sold.” Providence Journal (RI), ALL ed., sec. REAL ESTATE, 5 May 1985, pp. G-01. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/1525C08924D45840. Accessed 8 Jan. 2022. 

  2. STETS, DAN. “Luxury housing complex planned on waterfront near Davol Square.” Providence Journal (RI), CITY ed., sec. NEWS, 24 Jan. 1984, pp. A-01. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/1525C16755FE2850. Accessed 8 Jan. 2022.