Historic Andrews Mill targeted for housing development

Historic Andrews Mill targeted for housing development

Ned Connors, left, is a preservation consultant and Bill Lewis is the Assistant Director of Real Estate Development for NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley’s historic Andrews Mill building project.
Tupperware, Coastal Recycling most recent owners

NORTH SMITHFIELD – A Woonsocket-based nonprofit has acquired the historic Andrews Mill located on Great Road just west of the intersection with St. Paul Street and has ambitious plans for the building that has served as a textile manufacturer, office space and garbage dump over its 100-year history.

NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley purchased the property for $300,000 in March and plans to turn the former mill into an affordable housing complex, the number of units yet to be determined, according to NeighborWorks Assistant Director of Real Estate Development Bill Lewis. The 32-acre property includes a machine shop, water tower and several smaller buildings, but organization representatives say the real prize is the main building, which was officially recognized with a spot on the National Register of Historic Places earlier this month. The structure’s roof includes a unique saw tooth design, constructed to assist in the textile manufacturing that once took place there.

“It’s a diamond. There’s not a whole lot of saw tooth mills left,” said Lewis.

The mill traces its history to 1918, when the Andrews Mill Company, a subsidiary of a French woolen and worsted manufacturer, acquired the site where the former Pitts Mill had burned down a few years earlier. Located on the Branch River, the site provided a power source in the form of the Branch River dam as well as a worker population in the form of a trolley line from Woonsocket. The C.I. Bigney Construction Company of Providence was hired to build the new mill, and by 1920, approximately 200 employees were producing worsted dress goods at the site.

Within a few years, however, the company ran into financial issues, and in 1923, the plant closed briefly until F. B. Motte, another French company, purchased the Andrews Mill Company. Production continued on and off under various owners until 1955, when the Tupper Corporation began leasing the building for its corporate office and laboratory. At the time, the company manufactured its Tupperware products only about a mile to the north in the former Tupperware Mill that now houses the High Rocks Condominiums.

It was during the Tupperware era that the building acquired many of the changes passersby see today, including blue and white aluminum siding. According to Ned Connors, a preservation consultant who assisted with the application to the Rhode Island Historic Preservation and Heritage Commission, part of the difficulty of receiving federal recognition was proving the building did, in fact, retain the structure of a historic mill. It was only after removing a 12-foot section of siding that the new owners were able to demonstrate the building’s merit for preservation.

“We considered all the Tupperware stuff kind of invasive renovations. Thank God not that invasive, because we were able to pull it away and see that beautiful building underneath it,” he explained, indicating a section of original brick and pink Westerly granite near the building’s front door.

Inside, a handful of unusual items scattered among the broken glass and graffiti, including old arcade games, hint at the property’s most recent use as a dumping ground. After a real estate firm purchased the property in 1994, the property was leased to Coastal Recycling, a trash removal company. During its occupation of the property, Coastal Recycling was cited for storing several dumpsters’ worth of waste in the building’s back lot and clear cutting 37,500 square feet of wetland behind the building. In 2014, the company filed for bankruptcy and the property was abandoned, leaving piles of trash to rot until NeighborWorks took over the property earlier this year.

“We had over 300 cubic yards of solid waste, hazardous waste,” said Lewis. “We still have a lot more stuff to do on the inside.”

While most of the group’s efforts so far have focused on removing trash from the property, Lewis said NeighborWorks hopes to submit plans for the new development within five years and will rely on Environmental Protection Agency grants and historic tax credits. He pointed to the group’s prior experience rehabilitating historic mill properties for affordable housing, including the ClockTower Apartments in Harrisville and several buildings in Woonsocket’s Market Square.

“To do what we’re doing is very challenging, to be honest, and NeighborWorks has been doing it for a long time,” he said.

Connors added the building’s construction offers some unique opportunities for development, including the possibility of putting solar panels on the south-facing side of the saw tooth roof’s north-facing ridges. While a private developer might not have touched the ambitious project, he said, the change in ownership and historic status designation have the possibility to offer new life to a building that had fallen into years of neglect.

A 1918 photo shows the newly built Andrews Mill building on Great Road.
A 2018 photo shows the Andrews Mill building as it looks today. The blue and white aluminum siding was installed when the building was used as an office and laboratory by the Tupper Corporation.
Old arcade games are among the unwanted items dumped on the property when the historic mill was used as a trash disposal area by Coastal Recycling. (Breeze photos by Lauren Clem)


This is not what the taxpayers want for the town. Stop filling old mills with residential units and attract business!

This appears at odds with thee 2018 Draft Comprehensive Plan
As the Future Land Use Map found here depicts: https://www.nsmithfieldri.org/sites/northsmithfieldri/files/uploads/map_...

Shows this area as "Rural Residential Conservation - Low Density".

When did packed low income mill housing become "Low Density"?

This is not what we want for our town. Look at Woonsocket as an example. Low income housing of this nature contributes very little to the tax base but takes a heavy toll on the school system. Keep it in Woonsocket. I will fight this tooth and nail.

First, developing low income housing will bring hundreds of cars to this site and if you haven't driven past this property the past ten years, the traffic pattern is a nightmare. Simply getting in or out of there will be nearly impossible. Next, this group paid 300K for the property, but "hopes" to present a plan within five years. Where does this "non profit" get such caches of cash anyway? Experience tells us that these projects are hugely expensive (300K per apartment) and I believe such a large sum of taxpayer money could be better spent elsewhere.

This Town DOES NOT NEED THIS ! What we need is TAX paying businesses and better infrastructure , like water and sewers.
We voted the sewers in but that was abruptly stopped !!!! Again the people DID NOT get what WE voted for !!!!!!!!