Union Wadding Company

A 400,000+ sq. ft. series of mill buildings dating from 1870 and converted to residential units after suffering a devastating fire that leveled half the complex

About this Property

Redevelopment

The Union Wadding complex used to be the site of nineteen one- to four-story brick buildings with a prominent round-section chimney sited next to a late 19th-century boiler house. The cotton wadding and waste business was prone to fire; several fires between the earliest development of the site in 1847 and 1870 destroyed most of the original factory buildings. A major fire in October 2010 — unrelated to the manufacture of cotton wadding but under suspicious circumstances — claimed ten buildings at the west end of the complex. The surviving Union Wadding buildings represent building campaigns carried out between 1870 and ca. 1930.

A redevelopment effort to convert the mill spaces from industrial to residential started in 2005, shortly after the Union Wadding company moved out. A small development team from Connecticut ran the show and completed a Phase 1 by 2008. Progress was slow and financing was not quick to come in, therefore Phase 2 was only just underway when a massive fire struck only the undeveloped spaces and leveled half of the complex. The fire was declared arson soon after, and we have not been able to find who or what entity was responsible.

Progress on Phase 2 was stymied for several years before finally being completed around 2015.

Current Events

Since we at A.I.R. have mixed feelings about the original developers of this property, we will only say that it is currently managed under the name “Lofts 125.”

History

1808
Richard Goff establishes the Union Cotton Manufacturing Co. in Rehoboth, MA.
1809
A son, Darius Goff, is born in May. He goes on to learn the cotton trade in his father’s Rehoboth mill.
1835
Darius and his brother Nelson take ownership of the mill from their father.
1839
Darius marries Harriet Lee and has two sons — Darius Lee in 1840 and Lyman in 1841.
1842
Darius Goff forms a partnership with George Lawton of Waltham, MA, for a cotton and paper waste business. The Pawtucket Steam Wadding Mill builds a 200’ x 40’ two-story mill with adjoining boiler and engine room.
1847
Darius Goff founds the Union Wadding Company to process cotton waste into a wadded form that was usable by paper mills to be made into paper.
1851
Union Wadding experiences its first fire but Goff and Lawton immediately rebuild. In the same year, their partnership dissolves. Lawton took possession of the Boston operation; Goff became full owner of the Pawtucket mill.
1860s
Darius’s sons Lyman and Darius Lee become more involved in the management of the company.
1870–1872
The Union Wadding Company is incorporated. At that time the company utilized five steam engines and produced $250,000 worth of cotton wadding and sold $150,000 worth of cotton waste annually. Most of the original structures suffered fire again and were burned to their foundations. Reconstruction was completed in 1872.
1890–1895
Expansion of the business and buildings continued with the construction of a 4-story Cleaning House.
1891
Darius Goff dies, but his sons maintain the company. It is producing 75 miles of 36” wadding per day along with its business in paper stock and cotton waste. According to some sources, Union Wadding is the largest operation of its kind in the world.
1901
A Classical-revival-styled office building is added in 1901 (100 Dexter Street), along with a brick cotton storage shed.
1923–1939
The last phase of expansion occurs with the construction of a new bleachery at the north end of the complex.
1940
Union Wadding subdivides their property and sells the eastern parcel on Dexter Street to United Public Markets. Despite the general decline in the Rhode Island textile industry in the mid-20th century, Union Wadding continued to operate and diversified into Christmas tinsel, other holiday ornamentations, and industrial fans and blowers.
2004
Declining business finally forces Union Wadding into receivership and the company closes operations after one hundred and sixty-four years of operation.
2005
Connecticut-based First National Development, LLC, purchases the complex with plans to convert it into 240 residential condominiums. The husband-and-wife developer team of Rebecca and Garfield Spencer valued the project in a total of more than $23 million.
Project manager Aurora Leigh would say in January, 2006, that loft-style units will feature exposed brick, existing hardwood floors, 14-foot ceilings, oversized windows, stainless steel appliances and industrial lighting. Units would be about 1,200 square feet each and sell for $150,000 to $200,000.
2006
First National lists the entire complex for sale on Craigslist (of all places). The City of Pawtucket was battling plans that proposed a trash transfer station to be placed at the end of the nearby railroad spurs, which made a nearby residential project undesirable. Speculation at the time was that First National used the Craigslist listing to get the attention of Pawtucket City officials and show that a sale would be serious should plans for the Transfer Station move forward. City planner at the time, Michael Cassidy, said “we will try to do whatever we can to prevent this. I told [the developers of Union Wadding that] this was the first inning of a long ballgame.”
2008
May marks the end of Phase 1 construction. Loft apartments enter the rental market. Phase 2 buildout is not yet funded and permits will not be applied for until early 2010.
2009
The owners of Union Wadding are fined $40,000 for renting unfinished apartments. The developers admit to illegally allowing tenants to live in their unfinished Goff Avenue apartments without occupancy certificates — or put another way, they did not tell tenants that the building was not permitted to be occupied but took their monthly rent anyway.
2010, October 13
A fire starts around 11:20pm and quickly spread through the large empty structures of the mill complex. Residents of the converted portions of the mill were evacuated in precaution. The fire destroys more than 225,000 square feet and hot spots continue for days afterward. The vacant portions of the complex where the fire broke out were intended to house 140 residential apartments.
First National has numerous problems in complying with city codes and paying its debts, according to city records. Tax records show it owes more than $262,000 in back real-estate taxes, court costs, fines and liens. The building and land are valued at $3.75 million. The remaining buildings were scheduled for a tax sale on November 10, 2010. A previous tax auction on the property had been scheduled in the summer of 2009 but was later canceled after an agreement was reached between First National Development and its lender, Rockland Trust.
2010, October 22
State Fire Marshal Jack Chartier said that the results of the sweeping investigation by federal, state, and local fire officials revealed “multiple points of origin within the building.” Fire Chief William Sisson noted that some 200 firefighters from eight different communities had responded to the late-night blaze, which took several days to completely extinguish.
2011
Edward F. Sanderson, executive director of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission, announced that the National Park Service has increased the boundaries of the Church Hill Industrial Historic District that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places to include the Union Wadding Company complex and the New England Machine and Electric Company. This move makes the redevelopment project eligible for historic tax credits.

Sources

  • Stories from the Pawtucket Times written by Douglas Hadden used for reference, but links to the orignal source material have been lost. August 3, 2005; August 10, 2005; and January 18, 2006. A former version of ArtInRuins’s Union Wadding page was used for reference, captured December 23, 2020 from https://web.archive.org/web/20100922165149/http://artinruins.com/arch/?id=decay&pr=unionwadding
  • Original listing for the property on Craigslist: https://providence.craigslist.org/off/219021887.html, link since dead and unrecoverable
  • Union Wadding thread on the UrbanPlanet forum, https://www.urbanplanet.org/forums/topic/15077-in-progress-union-wadding/
  • “Owners fined $40,000 for renting unfinished apartments in Pawtucket,” Tom Mooney, Providence Journal, April 4, 2009. Captured December 23, 2020 from https://web.archive.org/web/20090613003339/http://www.projo.com/ri/pawtucket/content/pawtucket_mill_developers_fined_04-04-09_H4DU_v10.34f600a.html
  • “Rhode Island Mill Building Destroyed by Blaze,” FireHouse.com, October 14, 2010. Captured December 23, 2020 from https://www.firehouse.com/home/news/10466115/rhode-island-mill-building-destroyed-by-blaze
  • “Update: Investigators probe Pawtucket mill fire / Video,” Tatiana Pina, Providence Journal, October 14, 2010. Captured December 23, 2020 from https://web.archive.org/web/20101018174037/http://newsblog.projo.com/2010/10/fire-fighters-still-working-at.html
  • “Union Wadding fire called arson,” Pawtucket Times, October 22, 2010. Captured on December 23, 2020 from https://www.pawtuckettimes.com/union-wadding-fire-called-arson/article_19aaf0df-eaeb-52d4-b69a-8565055b290e.html
  • “Union Wadding and N.E. Machine make National Historic Register,” Pawtucket Times, April 1, 2011. Captured on December 23, 2020 from https://www.pawtuckettimes.com/union-wadding-and-n-e-machine-make-national-historic-register/article_a76b6b7c-247f-5f02-880f-cc5a61b28627.html

From the Church Hill Industrial District (expanded) nomination form, 2010

Richard Goff established the Union Cotton Manufacturing Co. in Rehoboth, Ma, in 1808. His son Darius (1809-1891) learned the cotton trade in his father’s mill. In 1835 Darius and his brother Nelson took ownership of the mill, adapting it for the manufacture of cotton batting, a non-woven fabric used for stuffing and lining. During this period they developed a manufacturing process — an “apron process” that produced batting on a continuous roll.

By 1836 Darius Goff had observed that substantial quantities of cotton waste were being generated by the larger mills along the Blackstone River, particularly the Lonsdale Company. This waste product of weaving and spinning was of little use to those factories and Goff saw the opportunity to process it for the manufacture of batting and wadding. In that same year Goff contracted with the Lonsdale Company to acquire their cotton waste and built a new factory in Rehoboth in 1842.

Darius Goff formed a partnership with George Lawton of Waltham, MA, in 1842 for a cotton and paper waste business. This new company purchased land in Pawtucket along the rail line and maintained ownership of property at Grey’s Wharf in Boston. The Pawtucket Steam Wadding Mill built a 200’ x 40’ two-story mill with adjoining boiler and engine room in the general vicinity of present-day Buildings 21 and 19 staffed by 13 operators. Darius married Harriet Lee in 1839; she gave birth to son Darius Lee in 1840 and son Lyman a year later.

The Pawtucket mill experienced its first fire in 1851. Goff and Lawton immediately rebuilt on a larger scale. In the same year the partnership was dissolved. Lawton took possession of the Boston operation; Goff became full owner of the Pawtucket Steam Wadding Mill. In 1859 Goff associated himself with John D. Cranston, Henry A. Stearns, and Stephen Brownell for the buying and selling of cotton waste and paper stock and the manufacture of cotton wadding. By 1860 the company was producing daily 1200 lbs of wadding. In the 1860s, Darius’s sons Lyman and Darius Lee became more involved in the management of the company.

In 1870, the Union Wadding Company was incorporated. At that time the company utilized five steam engines and produced annually $250,000 worth of cotton wadding and sold $150,000 worth of cotton waste.

On September 10, 1870, the complex suffered one of the most destructive fires ever seen in Pawtucket. A contemporary account states that the fire began in the dye room at the south end of the original building and quickly spread the length of the building. Soon most of the plant was engulfed. The plant was completely rebuilt in 1872, including a new power plant and 300 HP Corliss engine.

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

The earliest structure on this site was built in 1847. At that time, a 2-story, stone steam mill, 200’ X 40’, was erected to carry on the production of cotton wadding from waste purchased from the Lonsdale Company. Originally founded by Darius Goff, the firm took the name of the Pawtucket Steam Wadding Mill until 1862, when it was given its current name. Because of the nature of the waste cotton business, the danger of fire was serious — and constant. Prior to 1870, at least three fires occurred, forcing the company to rebuild and redesign. The 1847 foundation is still visible on the southeast end. On the northwest end is a brick section, c. 1860, with pitched roof and partially bricked-over windows. The largest part of the present structure, however, was built c. 1870 and later. It is brick, two to three stories in height with segmental-arch windows and granite sills. The fire hazard has been reduced by the skillful use of fire walls and empty spaces separating each production room. This work was done in the 1860s and 1870s. In 1876, the company produced 250 bales of wadding per day with power generated by a 300-horse power steam engine. In 1891, according to local historians, the firm was twice the size of any wadding manufactory in the world. At that time, it employed 400 workers. It continues to produce wadding to the present day. No historic machinery survives, but an 1870 “Union Wadding Carding Machine”, donated by the Company, is on display at the Slater Mill Historic Site.

Credits: Grieve and Fernald; Goodrich ;Interview with Company Vice President, Richard Merrill, 28 August 1975; Hall, engraving p. 275.