April 15, 2009
Richard C. Dujardin | Providence Journal
A raging fire of suspicious origin destroyed the old carriage house of the former Gorham silver manufacturing plant off Elmwood Avenue that was being converted into a firefighters’ museum.
The carriage house, the last standing building of the industrial complex that once stretched over a 37-acre area between Mashapaug Pond and Adelaide Avenue in the Reservoir Triangle neighborhood, was being restored by Providence firefighters to turn it into the Providence Fire Museum.
“This is not good. It’s a real sad day,” said retired fire fighter Tom Peckenham. He said members of Local 799, International Association of Fire Fighters, and other volunteers had put in “countless hours” since 2002 restoring the large brick edifice. The Providence Fire Department Historical Society had planned to fill the museum with memorabilia and fire apparatus going back more than a century including antique trucks that were used in the late 1880s.
What remains of the 115-year-old structure is likely to be demolished on Friday, after members of the arson squad conduct an investigation.
“This is a killer,” said Jeffrey Herman, who worked as a silver designer at Gorham during the early 1980’s and was a founder of the Society of American Silversmiths. “At the turn of the [20th] century, Gorham was the world’s leading silver manufacturer of silver products. This building was the last visible vestige of what once was.”
From a documentation project undertaken by Erik Gould, Erik Carlson and Joshua Safdie, for the City of Providence Department of Planning and Development and the RI Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission. Photos scanned and text put online with permission from the authors and the RIHPHC.
The former Gorham Manufacturing Company complex was a 37-acre industrial site that included over 30 buildings located between Mashapaug Pond and Adelaide Avenue in the Reservoir Triangle neighborhood of Providence. The complex was in continuous operation from its opening in 1890 until 1986 when Textron Corporation – the owner since 1967 – closed the plant. In August of 1992 the City of Providence acquired the complex at a tax foreclosure sale. The City spent the next 6 years looking for a proper redevelopment plan for the site. Efforts to market even just the buildings on site with the greatest architectural significance proved difficult, and no viable proposal for reuse of any of the existing buildings came forward (AIR- This was, remember, before the recent interest in old industrial complexes).
In May of 1997, a $50 million bond issue was approved by the City Council, $1 million of which was to be expended for the redevelopment of the Gorham site. During the summer of 97, the Providence Preservation Society and the City mailed out 1,600 marketing brochures seeking proposals to developers throughout New England. By the deadline of August 30, 10 developers expressed interest but none of their proposals would reuse any of the buildings. Given this response, the City determined that it could make no further efforts to market these buildings for rehabilitation. A tentative schedule for demolition of all buildings, with the exception of the Carriage House, was established in early September.
Jabez Gorham was born in Providence, RI in 1792. After apprenticing for seven years as a jeweler and silversmith, he formed several business partnerships before opening his own small shop in 1818. Gorham originally manufactured beads, earrings, gold chains and other small wares. The business that would grow to be the Gorham Manufacturing Company was founded by Jabez in 1831. It was at this point that Gorham, in partnership with Henry L. Webster, began the manufacture of silver spoons under the name Gorham and Webster at 12 Steeple Street in Providence. All silversmithing at this time was done by hand, and while the company continued its slow growth, production volumes were always small. With steady investment and the implementation of mechanization Gorham’s sales continued to grow. In 1863 the company was incorporated in Rhode Island and by 1868, the company was grossing $1 million is sales.
Some of the notable silver products produced by Gorham include:
The manufacturing process at Gorham was tailored to produce a wide array of different items in the same facility. Among their most important products were sterling silver flatware and hollowware, electroplated flatware and hollowware, ecclesiastical goods, and bronze statuary and architectural products. The design department had access to a large library of folios on ornamentation, architecture, antiquities, gems, silver, furniture, costuming, birds and flowers, etc…
The facility drew its power from four 175 horse power Corliss Upright boilers. These boilers were encased in brick and were located in building H. In this building’s Engine Room was located a 450 hp automatic Corliss Engine. This engine has a 26" cylinder, 60" stroke, and a band wheel 20 feet in diameter.
The main building complex is an interconnected group of 14 distinct buildings constructed and arranged in a cruciform plan and primarily built during the original building campaign of 1890. The main complex is orientated towards the railroad tracks to the east, which originally paralleled a dirt drive that served as the main approach. Most of the structures were steel-frame, brick-clad, flat-roofed structures set on concrete foundations.
Jeffrey Herman Nov 13 2013 I was hired right out of design school in 1981 by Burr Sebring, head of silver design. Working at Gorham as a designer, technical illustrator, and sample maker was the most incredible experience. Trained as a silversmith at Maine College of Art, this was a dream come true as I roamed virtually every square foot of the plant, amazed at everything I saw. Studying the history of this turn of the century greatest silver company in the world leaves me sad as to what it is today – just a name. My experiences at Gorham have helped shape my 30-year career as a silver restoration, conservation, and preservation specialist. I carry with me the techniques I learned and the friendships I developed and hold dear to this day. You can see a beautiful Gorham Martelé piece conserved here.
Eleanor Nugent Oct 23 2012 It’s possible that my great-great-grandfather worked at Gorham. Accdg to family lore, he was a silversmith and lived in either Providence, RI, or Fall River, Mass., where his daughter was born in 1843. He was originally from England. I’d like to find out if there are any employee records still available from the early years of Gorham so I could check this out. His surname was either Nixon or Nickerson. Thanks.
teane Oct 25 2011 I was researching a Gorham sales promotion item and found all of this. So sad that the building burned down. Sounds like there are many good memories that stayed intact. Some of you say your relatives worked there. Were any of your relative salesmen? I have a box that was sent to Seattle WA (don’t know what year) in the box is a miniature boxing glove and a card that says... Save this glove! You have a punch coming! See Your Gorham Salesman... When you open it, there is a list of 9 magazines that I presume they ran advertisements in... circulation... issue... publication date (not the year) on the back it says. Ask your Gorham Salesman what goes on in this balloon... then of course a circle with a string hanging down. Then it says Gorham sterling. I do hope that this questioning doesn’t seem out of place on this thread. Just curious and now more so after reading all about Gorhams history. You may write directly to my email if you have any information. Thank you and sorry for the loss of such a great historical building. teane.tc [at] gmail [dot] com
Marguerite Smith Jul 16 2011 My husband, Hugh, worked for Gorham from 1954 until 1980. In later years he was vice-president of retail sales. Our family has wonderful memories of the people with whom he worked. We kidded him about his fantasy tatoo, Lion/Anchor/G. So sad, there is no Gorham, as we knew it.
mike zacchino May 29 2010 My wife purchased a small silver dish yesterday. We discovered it was from Gorham by going to the web site listed below. My wife loves silver (her father chased for International Silver) and suggests this site for researching hallmarks: www.925-1000.com/Gorham_Date_Code.html
Maueen Payne, Carmarthen, West Wales, UK May 25 2010 I have recently been through some papers from my Aunt who died some years ago. I found a newspaper cliping regarding William J Bird, who was a Silversmith and lived in Rhode Island, USA. I have tried several sites to find out about him, but without success. The newspaper notice was sent to my Aunt in 1943 and I would like very much to send the covering letter to perhaps one of his children etc. I have gone on many sites but the name Bird is common in the USA and I am not sure who I am looking for for. The letter came from a Ethel Bird and I do have confirmation she died when she was 98. It was sent in the War (World War 2) and I think perhaps they like to have it. It tells how difficult in England it was at that time. I was born in 1947 so I only remember sweets were difficult to come by! If you could help me, I would be really pleased. As I am not computer literature, I am not even sure how I got on to your site - sorry. I do know William was a Silversmith and went to the USA from Birmingham and worked for Gorham ? I have an old address of Ethel’s. 5 Woodforward Road? My Auntie was called Ethel – I think there was some connection there as the letter mentions money being sent over during the War.
Barbara Rickard Mar 14 2010 I have a pair of silverplated candlesticks that have the Gorham names on the bottom. It has the silver anchor with an E on the left and P on the right of it. It also has YC3002 below the anchor. The candlesticks are just under 5 inches tall and have a possibly swirled, flower design around the middle of the base and the top edging. I can not find any Gorham markings anywhere of YC3002. Is this a true Gorham candlestick pair? The closest I came is YC3003.
David Jan 17 2010 I remember when I was a college student – 1983 – I worked security as the night watchman for Gorham – I used to do the “outside” patrol which meant I had to walk the entire complex from front to back (About an hour walk) – even in 1983 they had a skeleton crew at night (Foundry) and I remember getting creeped out by the cemetary markers they would forge all night. I also remember the Carriage House (Shame it has burned down) and would go into there at night (When it used to be a guest residence for visitors). Only memories left now.
Sylvia DiPrete May 21 2009 My childhood home is on Adelaide Ave, directly across from what used to be the office parking lot. My mother always warned us kids to be very careful when Gorham’s traffic was getting out of work. (I think around 3 or 3 thirty). I have since moved back to this house and have seen all the changes of the property. I was born in 1953 and remember a thriving business. I was very saddened to see the last of the property destroyed by arson. Only childhood memories left.
Pam Deeds Apr 23 2009 I have a sterling silver folding cup and holder that also has a compass The marks indicate it was made in the late quarter of the 19th century. Could you tell me if this is a correct date, what individuals would have used this ie: military, hunters etc., and any other interesting facts about the item. Also what company produced the compass. Thanks! dbardfarms [at] windstream [dot] net
MG Apr 15 2009 Looks like the remaining carriage house sadly went up in flames today (or at least the building in picture #13?) Sad day for the south side :(
K.Log Mar 4 2009 I have a small sterling wiskey hip flask 7/16 pint dated April 19th, #285 with a sideways 3 underneath, RRT.3, and the large letters JPG and S9V inscribed in script interlocking from top to bottom. Could you help identify it? Who was it originaly made for? Date of manufacture? Approximate value? Thank You for any help you could offer.
Tony Santoro Jan 8 2009 I have a commerative medallion for the 400th Anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. It was made by Gorham Company in 1892. How do I find out more information concerning the number made and value?
Joan Piester Jan 1 2009 I am 84 years old and back in 1949 when my daughter Nancy was born the man I worked for gave me his wife’s silver plated Gorham Mug #0313. I have the Gorham name + an anchor on the bottom. I would like to check the age and wondered how. I am not too swift on the internet, but can try. Thank you for your courtesy in this matter. Kind regards.
wayne talacko Sept 16 2008 my grandfather worked there from 1946 until 1971. i have a silver shell plate dedicated to him for 25 years of service i was born in providence ri but later moved to trenton nj with my mother and brother
Paul Koch Aug 13 2008 Does anyone know the designer of Gorham’s Lansdowne flatware? Also Plymouth hollow ware designer? When was this popular hollow ware first introduced? I have some date marked 1904? Any info greatly appreciated.silverkingsf [at] hotmail [dot] com
Brian R June 28 2008 I have a question for anyone familiar with Gorham products stamped 14.k I have a napkin ring with the anchor and lion and is stamped 14.k gold. Can anyone tell me when gorham made gold items and where can I read about them. This might be a presentation item of some sort because it has initials MJR and it is dated 1861 to 1911 with the script intials in between the dates. Although it looks like a napkin ring as I said it may be a ring that went around a document presented to some one for some occasion. Any help would be appreciated. thanks in advance. Sincerely Brian R
Donna Boileau My grandfather was a huband die cutter in Providence in the late 1800’s. I was told by a former employee (now 80 yrs old) that he knew of my grandfather as when he worked at Gorham, all the hub and die cutters pictures (past and then present) were mounted on the gorham co. walls. I would like to confirm that my grandfather worked there, and if any of the pictures were preserved and if so where. My grandfather was William F. Baker. Thank you, Donna Boileau: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Allen My Brother Skip Allen went to work for Gorhams in 1946 after getting discharged from Army. I also was in a period waiting to enter College after serving in the Navy. Skip got Me a Job also in the next Dept from His. They assembled the knife handels to the blade. The knives came by trays to My dept. Myself and one other man buffed out the grind and seam marks where the two halfs of the handle were joined… I stayed for two years there . it was a great Place to work. I purchased all my dinner ware and chest s to keep my Silver in . Gorham’s had a great wood working dept and produced the finest cabinets and chests.
Martha Christensen My father worked for the Gorham Company from about 1950 until the early 70’s. His father, I believe, had secured him the position. His father was a silver buyer for the J. Herbert Hall Company on Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena California and purchased from the Gorham Co. I have memories of parking along Adelaide Ave. with my mother waiting for my father to come out of work. I remember going to work with him on a Saturday when I was young. I remember wanting to have a job there delivering the mail. My father left Gorham in the 70’s and went to work for the Poole Silver Company in Taunton, MA. He stayed there until it closed in the late 70’s and then went to work for Taunton Silversmiths, also located in Tauton, MA. He retired from there in the late 1980’s. When my father died in 1991 I remember an elderly gentleman coming to his wake. He said he worked as a security guard there and remembered my father during his work at the Gorham Company.
Claire Dietz My husband’s great grandfather JosephBaker worked here. John Gorham went to London in 1852. He met Baker and thought him a skilled workman. After returning to Providence he sent for Joseph Baker offering him work at Gorham’s. Baker accepted and with his son Joseph Baker, Jr. arrived in Providence. Joseph Sr. worked 65 years and his son a retired silversmith after 67 years. Baker’s daughter married Fred Dietz.
Hubert O’Neill I was employed by the Gorham Mfg. Co. from 1941 to1943. I left Goham’s to join the Navy. I also met my future wife at Gorham’s. I was shocked to hear that it was torn down. We had many good tims at Gorham’s. At coffee time they had the most delicious coffee and donuts I ever tasted.
P Babbidge The Stop&Shop that was built upon this land is scheduled to close by the end of October(2006). Let’s all hope we don’t see that building end up on the urban decay page. The Gorham factory was a true victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. If those buildings still existed on the same land today, I bet they would have been redeveloped.
The information about each building grows as visitors let us know about their experiences. Did you or a member of your family work here? Did you grow up near it as a child? Let us know. All entries will be moderated and may be posted in an edited form. We will use your name unless you tell us otherwise. We will not make your email public.