PAWTUCKET – A cluster of mill buildings in Pawtucket’s Church Hill neighborhood has received federal recognition for its contributions to the history of the city’s industry and architecture.
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.
The National Register is the federal government’s official list of properties throughout the United States whose historical and architectural significance makes them worthy of preservation.
Developed between 1860 and 1930, the buildings of the Union Wadding Company and New England Machine and Electric Company share the same historical legacy and add to the industrial significance and architectural qualities of the Church Hill Industrial Historic District.
Listed on the National Register in 1982, Church Hill includes five industrial complexes on about seven acres located west of downtown Pawtucket. This boundary increase adds twenty buildings and one structure from the Union Wadding Company and the New England Machine and Electric Company properties, located immediately north of the original district in a roughly six-acre area bounded by the Amtrak line on the north, Pine Street on the west, Dexter and Commerce Streets on the east, and Bayley Street on the south.
The Union Cotton Manufacturing Company originated in Rehoboth, Massachusetts in 1808 and pioneered the manufacture of cotton batting, a non-woven fabric used for stuffing and lining. In 1842, Darius Goff formed a partnership with George Lawton in a cotton and paper waste business. This new company built the Pawtucket Steam Wadding Mill with adjoining boiler and engine room at the Church Hill location. The Pawtucket mill experienced its first fire in 1851. Goff and Lawton immediately rebuilt on a larger scale and soon after dissolved their partnership. In 1870, Goff renamed the firm Union Wadding Company. It produced annually $250,000 worth of cotton wadding and sold $150,000 worth of cotton waste.
On September 10, 1870, Union Wadding suffered one of the most destructive fires ever seen in Pawtucket, the third fire at the plant in nineteen years. The plant was completely rebuilt in 1872. Most of the surviving plant dates to this 1872 rebuilding and subsequent expansion through the early 20th century. By the time of Darius Goff’s death in 1891, the company was producing 75 miles of 36” wadding per day along with its business in paper stock and cotton waste. According to some sources, Union Wadding was the largest operation of its kind in the world.
Eastward expansion continued with the construction of a 4-story Cleaning House between 1890 and 1895, a Classical Revival office building in 1901, and a brick cotton storage shed. The last phase of expansion occurred with the construction of a new bleachery in the years between 1923 and 1939. Around 1940 Union Wadding subdivided their property and sold 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.
Declining business finally forced Union Wadding to close, and the property was acquired for redevelopment. In October 2010 a major fire destroyed ten buildings on the western side of the plant before they could be rehabilitated; however rehabilitation of the buildings in the eastern portion of the complex is now underway.
The remaining building in the newly expanded Church Hill Industrial District housed the New England Machine and Electric Company from 1925 to about 1990. The company, which provided electrical contracting, machining, and motor rebuilding since its incorporation in 1908, represented the final phase of the industrial development of Church Hill. The current occupant of the property is Armando’s Meat Market.
The National Register nomination for the expansion of the Church Hill Industrial District was prepared by historic preservation consultant Edward Connors. According to Edward F. Sanderson of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission, “Pawtucket was an industrial leader for 150 years, from Samuel Slater’s 1793 cotton mill until well into the 20th century in the Church Hill neighborhood. Today, rehabilitation of the Union Wadding buildings and other nearby factories shows that Pawtucket’s history is also its future.”
In addition to honoring a property for its contribution to local, state, or national history, listing on the National Register provides additional benefits. It results in special consideration during the planning of Federal or federally assisted projects and makes properties eligible for Federal and Rhode Island tax benefits for historic rehabilitation projects. Owners of private property listed on the National Register are free to maintain, manage, or dispose of their property as they choose. As the state office for historic preservation, the Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission is responsible for reviewing and submitting Rhode Island nominations to the National Register.