Industrialization was a self-fueling phenomenon, and Nicholson File was a direct outgrowth of Brown & Sharpe, for William T. Nicholson, the company’s founder, began his career as an apprentice at Brown & Sharpe in 1852. Nicholson founded his file-manufacturing company in 1864, and the designs for this complex as well as that of the specialized machinery it housed were his own. The company grew rapidly and prolifically: in 1867, this plant produced 3,600 files per day, and by 1916 the company’s six plants manufactured seven thousand different products. The two-story quadrangular complex, a contrast visually to Brown & Sharpe, is a uniform two stories on a flat site alongside the Woonasquatucket River’s adjacent railroad lines. The stalwart mansard-roof office was added around 1880, and its lacy corbelled cornice links it visually to the rest of the more utilitarian manufacturing buildings. The eminent smokestack, on which the company’s name descended vertically, was reduced to a stub in the 1980s but is still visible to prying eyes. Nicholson File transferred its industrial activity to Indiana in 1959, but the complex, like many others in this manufacturing corridor, still serves a variety of small-scale industrial uses. As Providence upscales itself in the early twentieth-first century, the evolution of this very handsome complex will be interesting to follow.
– 2003 Guide to Providence Architecture