The vast Gorham Mill Complex was constructed in 1890 according to the designs of prominent mill architect Frank Perry Sheldon as a commercial foundry for Gorham Manufacturing. Founded in 1818 by Jabez Gorham Jr, Gorham Manufacturing began as a small jewelers shop at 56 Benefit Street. The company later expanded to large scale metal work and subsequently relocated to 333 Adelaide Avenue in 1890. There, the Gorham Mill Complex grew to include over 35 two- and three- story buildings and occupied 32 acres. The orderly layout of the complex was typical of nineteenth century industrial complexes. At its height, Gorham was one of the largest metal working foundries in the world, boasting over 460,000 square feet of working space. Among other architectural idiosyncrasies, Gorham featured a colonial revival casino and a handsome three-story office building with a Romanesque entrance, uniformed brick cornices, and window sills with granite trim.
In 1967, Gorham became a division of Textron which decided to move to Smithfield in 1985. In 1989, the Gorham Manufacturing Complex vacated the property and the complex eventually fell under the ownership and care of the city in 1992. Unable to maintain such a vast complex, the vacant buildings deteriorated and suffered from vandalism and decay, notably the loss of the clock tower and extensive damage to the buildings’ interior spaces. In 1997, with no onsite security, thieves carefully removed all the windows, copper wiring and anything else that could be salvaged. The loss of the windows only accelerated the deterioration buildings at Gorham.
PPS included the Gorham Manufacturing Complex on its Most Endangered Properties list for four years (1994-1997) to inspire interest in rehabilitation. Encouraged by accounts of the successful redevelopment of similar complexes in other cities, PPS worked closely with John Palmieri and Thom Deller of the City of the Providence Department of Planning and Development along with members of the Reservoir Triangle Neighborhood to identify possible new uses for Gorham.
LOST: Despite the efforts of PPS, the City and many other concerned agencies and individuals, the Gorham Manufacturing Complex was demolished in 1998. Environmental concerns following the discovery of contaminants on-site coupled with the extensive damage to the site prompted the city to demolish all but one of the original complex buildings in 1998. A grocery market was later built on a portion of the site; the one remaining building, a carriage house, was renovated for use as a fireman’s museum.
Prior to its demolition, the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission oversaw the careful documentation of the Complex according to HABS/HAER standards. Prints and negatives from the documentation are available at the John Hay Library of Brown University.