Newport Steam Factory, Newport Rhode Island

Date added: August 30, 2010 Categories: Rhode Island Industrial

The Newport Steam Factory was a key building in the history of the Newport Illuminating Company. This company was formed from the Edison Illuminating Company financed by General Electric Company.

The Newport Steam Factory is an important surviving example of the nineteenth-century industrial development of the Newport waterfront, as well as an interesting large example of early mill construction dating from, 1831. With its green, Jamestown granite walls, it is an imposing and handsome piece of architecture in its setting.

Throughout the history of the building, there have been numerous additions to the structure and the site. The purchase of the adjacent Newport Foundry and Machine Company, in 1845, expanded the complex. Damaged by fire in 1860, the plant was refurbished, and in 1865 the brick addition to the east, four stories, was erected. A plan and sketch attached to insurance policy No. 927 with the Factory Mutual Engineering Corporation shows eleven structures on the site.

Use of the building for warehouse facilities has resulted in loading entrances being opened in the north wall to the east and west of the stair tower. The stone stair tower presently lacks its Greek Revival cupola.

The following is a letter to the editor published on August 1st, 1882 in the Newport Daily News, titled "A Summer in Newport."

April 12, 1831, the good sloop Reformation, Captain Pratt left Priket wharf, in Providence, hound for Newport- She had on board, in addition to her complement of merchandise as freight, five passengers (of whom the writer was one) who were drawn towards the island town by an agreement with a contractor whose business it was to assist in setting in motion the initiatory of a manufacturing industry then contemplated. A violent gale had just sufficiently subsided to enable the veteran skipper to risk the voyage, and two hours and fifteen minutes were only required to land us on Banister's [Bannister's] wharf in Newport.

A manufacturer of northern Rhode Island, whose finances were crippled by the disaster attending the business crisis in 1829, was the prime mover of the enterprise, and the object was to better his condition by starting the manufacture of cloth in that locality where the hum of the spindle and clatter of the shuttle had not been heard.

An unused distillery building located on the wharf at the south end of the town was to be raised up, and an additional story of stone built under it to adapt it to the designed purpose. Daniel E. Carpenter, though then just a young man, yet a veteran in his profession as a mover of buildings had proceeded us with his jack screws and other implements of his trade, and while waiting for some preliminaries before commencing on his job essayed to show his skill by forcing into her proper element the brig Wave, of Boston, which had been driven ashore by the recent gale, near what was then called Fort Greene, on the Point. His efforts were worthies, whose methods to the same ends were of a different character, and recourse was had to the lifting power of empty hogsheads, placed within the hold of the vessel, which floated her at high tide. A few weeks only were required to complete the work and fit the building for the reception of the machinery, which having been accomplished, . . . They united in the formation of a company to build a cotton factory, to be known as the Newport Steam Factory. The preliminaries were soon arranged, contracts given out, and the work speedily entered upon.. Harry, Eldred, of South Kingston, contracted for the stonework, furnishing and laying, the stone to be quarried from a ledge on the island of Conanicut, and Nathan Hammett, was to superintend the woodwork. Our little company sought for and obtained a chance to labor on the new mill, and spend the intervening time between the completion of the first job, and the commencement of the new, in helping Charlie Whitfield remodel his summer boarding house on Touro street.

Among the many leading men of the town that frequently appeared to be interested, probably most of them as owners, were Nathaniel Ruggles, George Hall, Audley Clarke, Goyernor Gibbs, Lieutenant Governor Charles Collins, and Samuel Fowler Gardner .... Early September found the walls of the factory ready for roofing, and our labors at Newport were finished.
A. H. (Providence, July '82).

Overall dimensions: 46' x 16', rectangular plan, eleven bays, three-and-a-half stories.