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About this Property
The 2005 purchase and redevelopment of Royal Mills was a large undertaking by Baltimore-based Struever Brothers, Eccles and Rouse (SBER). Following success in Providence with the National Providence & Worsted Mills along Valley Street, SBER embarked on more ambitious projects in the state.
Our urban explorations of this complex was fascinating, as much of the machinery was still in place. In the former workshop, for instance, it seemed as though workers had left for the weekend, only to be back on Monday to pick up where they left off. So many industrial artifacts were left behind, including some huge water-powered generators in the basement that still had raceway water pouring through them. The complex was so large with so many levels that the photos we took over the course of only two visits still number over 120. The places in the mill where someone had started a fire or where roof leaks damaged beams to the point of collapse made the pit of your stomach tighten.
- More photos by architectural historian and photographer Matt Kierstead
- Notes on the historic artifacts that have become part of the ad-hoc history museum on the premises
Situated on 14 acres, “Royal Mills at Riverpoint” features 256 apartments and commercial spaces, a historical center dubbed “Turbine Hall”, and a public riverside deck. The 500,000 sf development includes a landscaped extension to the West Warwick Riverwalk, and bike path connections to the Washington Secondary Rail Trail. The mill’s rehabilitated hydropower system provides power to the management office, public areas, and exterior lighting.1
Royal Mills at Riverpoint is managed by Geraghty Associates Inc. 250 apartment units are available in the picturesque historic mills.
From “RHODE ISLAND: An Inventory of Historic Engineering and Industrial Sites”, Gary Kulik and Julia C. Bonham, 1978
Here at Riverpoint, where the north and south branches of the Pawtuxet River meet, a spinning mill was built in 1812, probably on the northeast bank. The mill was two-stories, sixty-five feet long, and started in operation with four throstle frames and two mule-spinning frames. The firm, organized by two physicians, Stephan Harris and Sylvester Knight, in company with three others, styled itself the Greene Manufacturing Company. In 1816, the company failed, but the mill started up again two years later, with eight power looms, under the sole ownership of Harris. A fire in 1827 did considerable damage, but the mill was rebuilt and enlarged.
In 1836, a second mill was built, probably at the upper privilege on the west bank of the river. It was subsequently enlarged. A third mill was built in 1844, and in 1855 it too was enlarged. By the 1870s, the site contained three mills: Number 1, three stories high with a clerestory monitor; Number 2, stone, four stories high with a pitched and dormered roof; and Number 3, stone, four stories high with a clerestory monitor. The mills later became part of the B. B. R. Knight chain. By the late l880s, the company operated 15,904 spindles and 501 looms.
Under the Knights, the 1836 and 1844 buildings were joined by a 4-story, stone connector which lengthened the mill to 420 feet. The roof was also flattened and two massive towers were built. On 27 January 1919, the mill, then producing cotton sheeting, was destroyed by fire at a loss of $1,200,000. The fire started in a tower and spread quickly throughout the mill — despite the mill’s length, it had no dividing walls to contain the fire. Adding to the danger, one of the massive towers collapsed, destroying part of the sprinkler system, which reduced water pressure in the rest of the system. Only the outer walls survived. The mill was rebuilt between 1919 and 1921, and continues to be used by tenants for light manufacture. The dam and raceway also survive, no longer in use, and worker housing still exists along and adjacent to Providence Street.
From the National Register Nomination form, 2004
The Royal Mill complex is significant as the physical expression of the development of the B.B. and R. Knight Company into one of the largest textile manufacturers in the world. Located in Rhode Island’s most heavily industrialized community, the mill’s corporate history parallels and exemplifies several important themes in the state’s industrial history: the consolidation of firms for economies of scale, the decline of the New England textile industry in the early 20th century, and the role of strikes and labor disputes in textile and Rhode Island political history.
A major textile strike that spread throughout New England in 1922 began in the weave room of the Royal Mill. This strike marked the emergence of Rhode Island’s immigrant population into the mainstream of state politics, hastening the demise of the Republican Party as the dominant force in state affairs and bringing the Democrats to power.
A new corporation nursed the company through the late 1920s until its eventual collapse in the Great Depression. The complex was purchased at a foreclosure auction in 1936 by Saybrooke Corporation and subsequently converted for woolen manufacture. Saybrooke was a woolen manufacturer based in Hope Valley, RI. By 1946 Saybrooke had failed, maintaining ownership and leasing parts of the complex to rayon manufacturers, dyers and finishers, and other uses. Hope Valley Dyeing began leasing space in the weave shed shortly after the Saybrooke purchase. When Hope Valley Dyeing left the complex in 1948, Ace Dyeing and Finishing, a company also owned by the Saybrooke interests, continued operation in the brick weave shed until the abandonment of the complex in 1993. Although Saybrooke technically owned the property, a tax default auction in August 1993 assigned tax title to West Warwick.
Royal Mill (1890–1920) — This 5-story, 450-foot long building is of coursed rubble construction, its facade dominated by a central tower/entrance and a clock tower at the southern end. Much of the granite of this building was reused from earlier construction, probably quarried from the neighboring high lands on the east bank of the river. The width is 50’ except for the northern ell. The two square-plan, crenellated towers have quoined corners and a belt course of granite ashlar. The tower facades have an entranceway, three stories of rectangular window openings and a fifth-story round arch window. The north tower has two inset panels below the belt course. These bear the inscriptions: 1855 (the date of a major addition to the previous “Stone Mill”) and 1919 (the date of reconstruction after a catastrophic fire). The south tower is similar to the north but for the addition of an upper extension housing a clock. Below the belt course is a panel bearing the inscription: Royal Mills. These towers were still standing after the 1919 fire. The tall, 1890 hipped tower roofs were destroyed; the upper courses of masonry were altered to form the present crenellations.
The 450-foot facade consists of 17 bays, the north tower, 36 additional bays, and the south corner tower. Windows have 6/9 sash with margined, rock-faced granite lintels and sills. At the roof line there is a stepped brick cornice and a plain wooden crown molding. Two building extensions exist along with a boiler house, office building, waste house, and store house.
Weave Shed (Ace Dyeing, built 1920) — This 4-story, 20th-century addition to the complex represents a typical industrial building of the period — reinforced concrete and steel frame with brick walls, large window openings, and narrow piers and spandrels. The facade consists of 5 bays flanking a square central tower; windows are metal framed. It is roughly 400’ x 150’ and flat- roofed. The upper floors of this building are open space with steel columns and concrete floors. The basement is narrow in width compared to the upper floors because of the thick east wall needed to retain the land rising from that side of the building.
“TAT’s redesign of Royal Mills recognized by RI Preservation,” New England Real Estate Journal (NEREJ), June 12, 2008. Captured December 26, 2020 from https://nerej.com/tat-s-redesign-of-royal-mills-recognized-by-ri-preservation ↩