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                        The Aquidneck Mill was built in 1831 between the Colonial and Gilded ages,

                                                                     when Newport was, literally, under construction.

                                                                      Architectural historian Catherine Zipf looks

                                                                   back at how this mill bolstered Newport’s working

                                                            waterfront. Terry Nathan looks ahead to the pivotal

                                                                   role the historic building will play in IYRS’ future.

       T      THE AQUIDNECK MILL, standing prominently
              on the IYRS campus on lower Thames Street,
              harkens back to an often-misunderstood age in
              Newport’s history.
                 Dating to 1831, the mill is neither part of our
              Colonial Golden Age nor our Victorian Gilded
              Age. It does not represent Newport’s thriving
              mill culture, because Newport never had a thriv-
              ing mill culture. It does not represent Newport’s
              busy waterfront, because it had little to do with
                                                                      Thames Street waterfront tells the story of how
                                                                      Newport evolved from the Golden Age to the
                                                                      Gilded Age. This transitional period was ex-
                                                                      tremely important, for had Newport not gained
                                                                      a new momentum after the American Revolu-
                                                                      tion, had it not repaired its economy after nearly
                                                                      complete devastation, and had it not welcomed
                                                                      new groups of people to build the city into a
                                                                      thriving metropolis, Newport would never have
                                                                      had a Gilded Age—and the city we know today
              traditional waterfront industries. And it did not       would never have existed.
              help Newport overcome its economic difficul-                       A pivotal role in a growing city
              ties, because it never employed large numbers              When the mill was built in 1831, Newport was,
              of people.                                              literally, under construction. The Golden Age
                 In short, it is easy to dismiss the Aquidneck        that gave rise to Newport had left it a small city—
              Mill as a fluke that happens to stand between            reaching north-south from the Point to Pope
              two important eras—but to do so is to sell this         Street and east to Spring Street. Damage done
              important historical structure short.                   by British and French troops after the Revolution
                 The presence of Aquidneck Mill on the                (combined with the 1807 trade embargo and the

                                                                                                   Continued on page 16

  AQUIDNECK MILL:               By Catherine Zipf

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                                              Aquidneck Mill stands apart from other

                                              mills in Newport because the IYRS

                                              working waterfront recaptures

                                                   the context in which the

                                                           mill was born.

 The Aquidneck Mill Building in its heyday.

Playing a Pivotal Role in
Newport’s History and IYRS’ Future

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AQUIDNECK MILL                                                                                               The construction of

                                                                                                     Aquidneck Mill expanded
Continued from page 8

War of 1812) decimated Newport’s slave        ing, and commercial trade. None of these
                                                                                                             Newport’s working
and shipbuilding economies. For the next      industries dominated (Newport’s sailing
decade, Newport limped along, losing          and maritime culture had already begun
                                                                                                      waterfront environment
many of its prominent merchants to the        a long decline that would end with the
more active port of Providence.               development of the automobile.), but
                                                                                                             in a new direction.
   Fortunately, the beginning of construc-    they did constitute a working waterfront
tion at Fort Adams sparked a series of        that survived until well into the twentieth   floor and occasionally to a small office for
changes that resulted in new development      century. And the construction of Aquid-       the mill’s business operations. Aquidneck
along southern Thames Street. These           neck Mill, built for cotton manufactur-       Mill follows this type nearly exactly, with
changes included the arrival of successive    ing, expanded this working waterfront         its eastern stair tower and belfry (now
waves of Irish immigrants who built the       environment in a new direction.               gone), its 11 regularly spaced windows,
Fifth Ward, the neighborhood surround-          The mill originally contained 4,356         and its interior post construction.
ing the southern endpoint of Thames           spindles, the typical measure of a mill’s        All mills relied heavily on a connection
Street that still thrives today.              capacity to weave cotton into thread.         to the water. Early mill buildings, like the
   Aquidneck Mill was constructed             Approximately 100 people tended the           1793 Slater Mill in Pawtucket, R.I., used
amid this growing, but far from stable,       machines, performing various tasks like       running rivers and streams to power its
economic climate. Originally called the       mending broken threads, feeding baled         machinery. Water from the river turned a
Newport Steam Mill, the three-and-            cotton into spreaders, and changing spools    waterwheel connected by gears to a crank
a-half-story green granite structure on       on the spindles when full or empty. Most      shaft, to which individual machines were
Howard’s Wharf cost the astronomical          mill activities occurred within the build-    connected and disconnected according to
sum of $40,000. At the time, Howard’s         ing, but there were also ancillary build-     need. A complex belt system transferred
Wharf stood on the outskirts of town          ings on the wharf. Small sheds stored raw     power from the waterwheel shaft to spin-
at the end of the Thames Street devel-        cotton, finished thread, coal, and wood,       ning machines, looms, saws, and drills.
opment. The mixed-use area housed a           while mechanical shops fabricated new         This reliance on water power made towns
                                                                   parts to ensure that     near running water, like Fall River, ideal
                                                                   all machines were in     for mill construction.
                                                                   good running order.         Aquidneck Mill, however, used water
                                                                        True to type,       differently. Newport had no river or
                                                                         yet unique         stream of sufficient capacity to power an
                                                                       Mill buildings       entire mill complex, so Aquidneck Mill
                                                                   represent a certain      had to use coal to run its steam-powered
                                                                   architectural type.      machinery. With no railroad sidings in
                                                                   Because they had to      Newport (railroads would not be able to
                                                                   function well, light,    cross onto the island until new bridges
                                                                   air, and wide open       from Fall River were constructed toward
                                                                   interior spaces were     the end of the century), Aquidneck Mill
                                                                   extremely impor-         imported its coal on barges that docked
                                                                   tant. Before the age     at Howard’s Wharf. Raw cotton was also
The mill building in the mid-20th century.                         of electricity, mill     brought in from the ocean, while pro-
                                                                   builders maximized       cessed thread was transported out. The
combination of multi-purpose structures.      the amount of natural light by putting        mill’s location adjacent to the bay and in
Commercial structures tended to cluster       large regularly spaced windows on all         navigable waters was therefore of critical
along the spine of Thames Street, al-         sides and at all levels of the building.      importance to its ability to compete with
though a few were scattered around the        Inside, the plan was likewise functional      other mill centers.
wharves. Residential space varied widely,     with posts placed along a grid to support       Surviving the rise and fall of fortune
from single- or double-family houses          each successive floor.                            The mill’s operations proved profit-
along side streets to apartments above          The resulting system of parallel aisles     able, but only in an off-and-on fashion. In
storefronts and boarding houses on the        and perpendicular rows created a wide         1845, additional lot space on the wharf
wharves.                                      open floor plan that was ideal for me-         was purchased and the storage capacity
  Howard’s Wharf itself was home to           chanical production. A stair tower on one
waterfront activities like fishing, ice-mak-   end of the building gave access to each                            Continued on page 18

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                                                                       AQUIDNECK MILL BUILDING

                                              THE                          FUTURE
Demand for IYRS programs is
growing. Over the past 20 months,
the full-time program enrollment
has grown 50%, and new students
                                          and Heritage Commission. Addi-
                                          tionally, the State has conditionally
                                          approved over $1.2mm in net tax
                                          credits for the restoration. The IYRS
                                                                                   sible. The restoration of the Aquid-
                                                                                   neck mill building goes deeper than
                                                                                   our pragmatic need for more space.
                                                                                   It goes to the core of our preservation
are coming from around the world,         Board of Trustees has pledged almost     mission and commitment to restora-
including Japan, Germany, France,         $500,000, and IYRS intends to seek       tion values. As Howard Mansfield
and throughout the U.S. The year-         a long-term mortgage in the amount       writes in The Same Ax Twice, “Good
old continuing education program          of approximately $1.5mm. The debt        restoration schools us in the graces
is currently attracting about 250         service on this mortgage will be cov-    of the old ways. When we bring our
students on an annualized basis,          ered by lease income from synergistic    attention to that which is old, it is
and many are from area yards and          tenants that also provide our students   not the past we are restoring but the
marinas—looking to build on their         value by being related to our trade      future. Good restoration saves the
professional skills.                      and educational programs.                future.”
   The growth in the full-time pro-          Beautiful in its own right and his-      To contribute to the restoration
gram has reached near capacity levels.    torically important to the Newport       of the mill building and to help
Thus, the need for more classroom         waterfront, when it is fully restored,   IYRS grow, please contact James
and workshop space has become al-         the mill building will be an important   Russell at or me at
most critical. If momentum is a key       component in creating a campus-like; or call us at 401-
ingredient in continued growth and        atmosphere. We are working closely       848-5777. Thank you.
the long-term financial integrity of       with Newport Collaborative Archi-                                 Terry Nathan
the institution, then the restoration     tects and share a commitment                                           President
of the 30,000 square foot mill build-     to restoring as much historic
ing on our campus is an imperative.       fabric and spirit as pos-
With plans well under way, fund-rais-
ing efforts have steadily increased. To
date, IYRS has raised over $700,000
in foundation grants from the Alletta
Morris McBean Charitable Trust, the
1772 Foundation, the van Beuren
Charitable Foundation, and the
Rhode Island Historic Preservation

     At right:
     The mill

                                                                                                         WINTER 2006 • RQ • 17
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Continued from page 16

was expanded—a fact suggesting business      mill construction principles, the differ-    as IYRS Restoration Hall. This two-story
expansion. But in 1857, a depression         ences in height and material make it stand   red brick building has classical details,
in the cotton manufacturing business         out from the original even today. With       blind arches, and large windows on its
forced production to stop entirely. A year   more space, the Richmond Co. expanded        upper story. Originally, Restoration Hall
later the building was sold for $9,500       production to include 9,632 spindles;        contained three generators (including
to Mr. Rodman, who updated the mill’s        210 looms; 175 employees; and new            the first vertical Curtis Steam Turbo-
machinery and who christened the mill        ancillary buildings for storage, offices,     generator in history), a boiler, and a
“Aquidneck.”                                 a boiler house, and shops. On average,       steam turbine that, together, ran the
   In 1860, the building sustained sub-      the company produced 200,000 yards           street railway. The building housed street
stantial fire damage to its second and        of cloth per month from 1,000 bales of       railway functions until 1920, when it
third stories. Although the damage was       cotton. Unfortunately, in 1884 the cot-      was purchased by the Newport County
repaired, the building faced an uncertain    ton manufacturing industry hit another       Electric Company. IYRS acquired the
fate; it was sold twice more before land-    depression, ending the Richmond Co.’s        property in 1995.
ing in 1865 in the hands of the Richmond     operation entirely.                             Generally speaking, mill buildings
Manufacturing Company, who purchased                     Finding new uses                 have survived at a high rate because their
the property for $40,000. The increase         In subsequent decades, the mill            open plans, large windows, and solid
in price probably reflected Civil War–era     changed hands several times and was          masonry construction are easily suited
inflation, as well as the improvements        adapted for use by companies as varied       for many purposes. Mills around New
that Rodman had made.                        as the Burnham Elastic Webbing Co. and       England have been reused as commercial
   Under the Richmond Co., Aquidneck         the Edison Illumination Co. In 1900, it      spaces, office spaces, condominiums,
Mill gained a new lease on life with the     was purchased by the Newport and Fall        residential apartments, and museums, as
construction of a substantial four-story     River Street Railway Company, who in         well as for educational purposes. Some
brick addition on the east side of the       1903 built the large brick structure on      have been preserved intact to document
building. Although the addition followed     the western edge of the lot, now known       this important chapter in New England’s
                                                                                             Even though Newport was never a cen-
                                                                                          ter of mill culture, it retains vestiges of its

               Cruising in Paradise                                                       industrial era. In addition to Aquidneck
                                                                                          Mill, Perry Mill—at the corner of Memo-
                                                                                          rial Blvd. and Thames Street—survives
                                                                                          as a combination retail/condominium
                                                                                          complex. The foundation of Coddington
    A Sailor’s Caribbean
                                                                                          Mill on Coddington Wharf, heavily dam-
    aboard the 19th Century                                                               aged by fire in 1869, has been adapted to
    Replica of a Dutch Clipper                                                            residential apartments.
    STAD AMSTERDAM                                                                           Aquidneck Mill stands apart from
                                                                                          these other mills, because the IYRS work-
    February 10-17, 2006
                                                                                          ing waterfront environment recaptures
    St. Lucia - St. Lucia
                                                                                          the context in which it was born. As the
                                                                                          school’s preservation efforts continue,
    For more information and                                                              the public will benefit greatly—not just
    reservations contact:                                                                 from the preservation example IYRS has
    EVENTS AROUND                                                                         set, but also by learning more about this
    THE WORLD, INC                                                                        important era in Newport’s history.G
                                                                                          DR. CATHERINE ZIPF is an assistant professor
                                                                                          of cultural and historic preservation at Salve
                                                                                          Regina University in Newport. In addition to
                                                                                          her teaching experience, Dr. Zipf has worked as
                                                                                          an architectural historian in San Francisco and
                                                                                          Washington, D.C., and for the National Trust for
                                                                                          Historic Preservation.

18 • RQ • WINTER 2006

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