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Fuller Ironworks

 

The nondescript building was covered in a purplish asbestos tile until not too long ago, when it was revealed that underneath was curtain walls of glass panes 20 feet high. The building has sat in disrepair for I don’t know how long, and most recently was a nightclub with a few interior spaces that have since been a graffiti crew’s hangout. The building and land has been up for sale for some time now, and they either have a buyer or the owner thinks they will get more interest if the building was gone. Either way, no word on the street yet about what the land will be used for. This land block, though, is adjacent to recently cleared land from the I-195 move to the south.

 

Anecdotally, one of the first steel-framed buildings in RI and almost certainly the first steel-framed and glass curtain-walled structure in the state. Steel framing was being adopted in numerous places at the time – most notably Chicago – so it’s not as though this building was setting the national trend, but it was part of the initial wave.

From: Joseph D. Hall, Biographical History of the Manufacturers and Business Men of RI (1901), pp. 270 and 271

Fuller Iron Works. – Manufacturers of iron castings, water works specials, steam and gas flanged pipe and fittings, and general machinery castings. Business established in 1840. Works located on South Main, Tockwotton, Pike and Benefit streets, Providence. Incorporated in 1894. Capitalized for $100,000. Employ 100 hands. Officers: Frederic Fuller, President; Frederic H. Fuller, Vice-President; H. Clinton Fuller, Secretary and Treasurer.

Frederic Fuller, the President of the company, was born in Easton, Mass., March 8, 1825. He came with his parents to Cranston, R.I., where his father, Frederick Fuller, began the foundry business at the Cranston ore beds in 1833, making nearly all of the castings for the Spragues’ and the other mills of the Pawtuxet valley of that period. In 1840 Frederick Fuller purchased the wooden buildings which were erected by the Fox Point Foundry Co. upon the site of the present plant. The builders of the foundry never completed nor operated it, but sold the property to Mr. Fuller, who immediately equipped the same and began business on quite an extensive scale for those clays. At that time it was considered one of the most important foundries in this section and of New England, and the fact that upon the introduction of water into the city of Boston, many of the large water mains of the Boston water works were cast here at Frederick Fuller’s foundry, is evidence that the foundry was equipped for doing the heaviest of work that was required at that time. Mr. Fuller carried on the business in his own name until his death in 1865. His sons. Frederic and George Fuller, became his natural successors and they adopted the name of Fuller Iron Works, which name has been retained ever since. The business was carried along as a firm until the death of George Fuller in 1894, the company then being incorporated, Mr. Frederic Fuller’s two sons entering as members of the corporation at that time.

In 1869 the three story brick building was erected, along with other improvements, and the steel and glass machine shop was built in 1893, the dimensions being 90 by 220 feet, the object of this steel structure with glass upon three sides being to provide perfectly diffused light through the heavy ribbed glass that was used. This was the first steel structure of its kind erected in the city of Providence. It is probably the best lighted machine shop in the country. The latest addition to the works is the foundry building, which replaces the original wooden structure, and was erected during the present year of 1901. It is of the same steel and glass construction as the machine shop, consisting of two sections 50 and 40 feet wide by too feet in length and together with the connecting buildings gives an area of about 18,000 square feet for foundry purposes.

Mr. Frederic H. Fuller, the Vice-President of the company, is a native of Providence where he was born in May, 1847. He has charge of his father’s brass foundry, which is located at the corner of South Main and Tockwotton streets, Providence, which was established by Frederic Fuller in 1859.

Mr. R. Clinton Fuller, the Secretary and Treasurer of the company, is a native of Providence where he was born in October, 1856. He was educated in Providence, and after leaving school entered the employ of the company, acquiring a complete knowledge of the various departments of the business. He is at present the manager of the works.

Mr. Frederic Fuller, the President of the company, has made the Fuller Iron Works as well known as any similar concern in the State, gradually enlarging the plant to meet the increase of trade.

In 1896 Mr. Fuller built the Fuller Building at the corner of Sabin and West Exchange streets [present site of the Providence Journal building, downtown], one of the most substantial business blocks of the city, and in other ways he has shown his enterprise and public spirit. The first use that this new building was put to was for an Industrial Exposition that was planned and developed by the Providence Board of Trade as a means of displaying many of the manufactured products of the State for the inspection of the Mexican, Central and South American delegates who were making a tour of the country on the invitation of the Philadelphia Commercial Museum. A reception was tendered them upon their arrival the 17th of June, at which Governor Elisha Dyer made the address of welcome. The exhibition was very complete, filling nearly the entire building.

Frederic Fuller Bell and Brass Foundry – Manufacturer of church, school, factory and fire alarm bells, heavy brass and bronze castings of every description, composition rolls for calendars and paper machinery. Works located at the corner of South Main and Tockwotton streets, Providence. Business established by Mr. Fuller in 1859. Many of the mills throughout the State, as well as churches and Fire Department of the city of Providence, are supplied with bells from this foundry.

more history

From a talk by Rick Greenwood “Early Steel-framed Industrial Building: The Berlin Bridge Company in Rhode Island”, at the SIA Annual Conference, 2010:

This is a brief report on some recent investigations into a group of early steel-framed industrial buildings built in Providence, RI in the 1890s. They are all the products of a single company, the Berlin Iron Bridge Company of Connecticut, but they exhibit a high degree of diversity. This diversity illustrates the transitional nature of their era, when manufacturers and engineers explored new possibilities in industrial building offered by new materials such as steel and the new motive power of electricity, sometimes boldly and sometimes cautiously.

The Berlin Iron Bridge Company, as its name implies, entered the new realm of iron and steel-framed buildings as an outgrowth of its principal enterprise of iron bridge building. Beginning in the late 1870s, the company had established itself as an important producer of highway bridges using its patented lenticular truss. Producing 600 bridges in its first decade of production, the company grew to be probably the largest structural fabricator in New England, according to historian Bruce Clouette. It was absorbed into J.P. Morgan’s American Bridge Company in 1900, though a number of engineers split to establish the independent Berlin Construction Company.

Making a natural progression from bridge trusses to roof trusses, the company began offering manufacturers the benefit of their experience in rolled iron construction. By the 1890s, the company catalogs were speaking of not just iron roofs but iron buildings and touting their advantages especially for manufacturing buildings. [...] One advantage was the reduced danger of fire through the elimination of the wooden frame – though they did not claim their iron buildings were absolutely fireproof. Another was the strength and rigidity of the iron frame – unlike wood which swells, shrinks and checks – the riveted iron and steel frame would remain stable while carrying significant loads. This benefit had great implications for the operation and maintenance of line shafting hung from the building frame and for the new electric traveling crane that was coming to be an essential component of foundries, machine shops and other shops that needed to handle large work.

The earliest of the Berlin Company’s Providence buildings is the 1893 machine shop of the Fuller Iron Works. Built on the end of a brick mill building from 1869, the building is 90' wide and 216' long, with its steel posts 8' on center. But it is certainly most remarkable for its original exterior cladding – essentially a window wall with banks of wood-framed sash containing heavy ribbed glass that diffused the immense amount of light the interior received. The interior features a main bay open to the roof rafters, flanked by a side aisle with an upper gallery level. Unfortunately, the Fuller shop interior is currently inaccessible and the dramatic window walls are mostly obscured by asbestos shingles. [...]

The character of the Fuller’s interior is better understood by studying a very similar machine shop erected for the Granger Foundry and Machine Company machine shop in 1895. The Granger Foundry were manufacturers of textile finishing equipment. 80' x 205'; 37' high, crane with 35' span and 275' travel length, 40’-wide side aisle with gallery. Sadly this structure was demolished in the 1970s without receiving any notice for its importance. [Photo 21]

Dimitri Viveiros Mar 8 2012 It was indeed sold and the new owner who razed the property. I knew the location as Bevo Nightclub an abandoned building with too many creepy small rooms in its basement.

chuckA Feb 15 2012 Had no idea that is building was ~120 years old. It looked so modern - thought it was post WW2! It held up pretty well! Let’s hope that if anything takes its place it is equally well-built. – Chuck

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.

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