Located at the northernmost point of the City of Providence in what was once part of adjacent North Providence, this intact mill village is the only one of its type in Providence. Mill villages were built in the nineteenth century on water privileges in rural areas, which this was in 1862, before the city expanded out into the village. Founded by Henry Steere and Jesse Metcalf to manufacture wool, the company was immediately successful because of both military and civilian demand for wool during the Civil War. In the late 1860s, the company turned increasingly toward production of worsted cloth. Similar in form to the Oriental Mill, the original Wanskuck Mill No. 1, completed and placed into operation in 1864, is considerably larger than Oriental, even without the later addition of its fifth story. The articulation of both towers’ bases, however, is remarkably similar, though Wanskuck achieves greater prominence through its stretched upper section with open, octagonal-plan belfry. A contemporary of Mill No. 1 is the circular-plan gasometer behind it, used to manufacture and store gas, a rare industrial survivor. Continuing growth occasioned construction of a second, four-story mill attached to the west of Mill No. 1 in 1874-75, and a third mill to the east in 1906. The simple Romanesque mill office was built in the early 1880s, about the same time the company built Wanskuck Hall across the street for workers’ gatherings. The village includes handsome workers’ housing in form of story-and-half brick double houses along Winchester and Vicksburg Streets, south of Branch Avenue, as well as two long row houses lining Shiloh Street, all built between 1862 and 1864 on the streets named for Civil War battles, including, oddly enough, one for significant Confederate victories at Winchester, Virginia, in 1862 and 1863. North of Branch Avenue and, significantly, up the hill from the mills, is the mill superintendent’s house (1880; Stone & Carpenter, architects) at 158 Woodward Road, an imposing Modern Gothic house amid middling early twentieth-century houses built for middle-level managers. At 201 Woodward Road is Roger Williams Baptist Church (1866 and 1892; Stone, Carpenter & Willson, architects for an addition), a sweet little building in the mode of medieval English parish churches, founded and built through the efforts of Helena Adelia Rowe Metcalf, wife of the mill founder. Just beyond the chapel, on the other side of the street, is Wanskuck Park, the site of the home of the Metcalfs, occupied first by Jesse and Helen and then by their son, United States Senator Jesse H. Metcalf and his wife, Louisa Dexter Sharpe Metcalf. In 1949, Louisa Metcalf gave the property to the City of Providence with the provision that the house be demolished and its grounds dedicated to park use. The presence of this open space recalls the once-isolated quality of a remote mill village, now surrounded by the city.
– 2003 Guide to Providence Architecture
While Wanskuck no longer operates in its original capacity, the mill, social hall and housing are intact. PPS included the housing on the Most Endangered Properties list in 1994 because of nearby development along Branch and Winchester avenues that potentially threatened the future of the old mill houses.
The Wanskuck Mill houses consist of nearly thirty brick and wood-frame duplex dwellings set on the west side of Branch Avenue between Burleigh Street and Wanskuck Hall.
Wanskuck Mill and its associated buildings are significant for the role they played in the North End’s heyday as a manufacturing district. The mill houses represent a critical component of a late-nineteenth century mill complex and hold important information about the relationship between employers and employees as they developed within the mill community.
As of February, 2019, the mill houses are holding their own against slowly-advancing development.