Excavation for Library Reveals History of Mills in Burrillville, RI

Site work for $9-million structure in Burrillville, R.I., bares layers of 19th-century mills
August 11, 2010

Excavation for a new library and related work at a major redevelopment project in Burrillville, R.I., is uncovering vestiges of the saw mills, grist mills, and later, the textile factories that were built in succession near the banks of the Clear River.

"The site contractor would hit a slab of concrete for one mill, then below that another concrete slab for a previous mill, and finally a wood floor set on stone for one of the early 1800s mills," said Dan Joubert, clerk of the works for the town of Burrillville. Joubert, a construction consultant with more than 30 years in the industry, also pointed out the unusual occurrence of another sign of antiquity — giant glacial boulders.

Hundreds of these relics from North America's last Ice Age were unearthed all over the site, with some of them measuring up to 5 cubic yards. Site contractor Catalano Construction of Cumberland, R.I., is breaking up the boulders with hydraulic hammers and then feeding the pieces into a portable crusher. All crushed stone, as well as most of the demolition debris generated by the project, is being reused at the site.

Under construction by E.W. Burman of Warwick, R.I., the new library is one part of an ambitious redevelopment project, according to Christine Langlois, deputy planner for the Burrillville Planning Department.

"The Jesse Smith Library is actually Phase II of the Stillwater Mill Complex, which is based on a Master Plan prepared for the Burrillville Redevelopment Authority," explained Langlois. "Phase I consists of Stillwater Heights, an elderly housing project being developed by Community Builders, a non-profit group, under a HUD grant."

Phase III of the multimillion-dollar development is the renovation and conversion of the so-called 'Clocktower Building' of Mill #4 into low-cost housing by another non-profit organization, the Neighborhood Development Group, she said.

Also planned for the site are retail shops, with such residential units as apartments or condominiums on the second floor — reminiscent of Old World villages.

Work began at the site in August 2006, with AA Wrecking Co. of Johnston, R.I., knocking down three of the old mill buildings to make room for the new construction. Brick, masonry block and concrete from the buildings were pulverized in a portable crusher and later reused as base material under the building pad and roads and parking lots.

As designed by architects Newport Collaborative, the 24,000-square-foot library has spread concrete footings, a concrete foundation wall, structural steel frame, regular concrete slab on grade, and a lightweight concrete slab on steel deck pans for the second level. The two stairwells and single elevator core are framed of masonry block.

Greenville Ready Mix of Smithfield, R.I., is supplying the concrete, while Catalano crews are placing the 4-inch to 6-inch flatwork concrete, and Mount Hope Contractors of Bristol, R.I., is forming and placing the walls.

All columns are 6-inch by 6-inch tubular steel and beams are 12-inch to 18-inch wide flange. Steel is fabricated by Storrow Metal, a Canadian company, and is being erected by Ajax Construction. The Burrillville subcontractor is employing a Link-Belt hydraulic crane to hoist steel.

A striking architectural feature of the new library design is its use of exposed laminated timber trusses for the roof. Manufactured by Western Wood Structures, an Oregon company, the timbers are 60-feet long and weigh about 6,500 pounds apiece.

Burman's $5.6-million building contract — the remaining project costs are for planning, engineering, site work, and contingencies — is being managed by Richard Hawes, project manager, and Sherman Vogelaar, superintendent. Both agreed the job is on schedule, with building occupancy targeted for March 2008.

(A special thanks to Dan Joubert, clerk-of-the-works, for providing several of the photos used in this article.)

 

The multimillion-dollar Stillwater Mill redevelopment is taking place at the site of the defunct Stillwater Worsted Mills Inc., which closed its doors in 1963. Located alongside the Clear River, a tributary of the Blackstone River, the site was home to a succession of mills in the Harrisville Village of the Town of Burrillville, R.I. Clear River water powered saw mills and grist mills in the early 1800s, then a cotton mill, a textile mill, and in the early 1900s, the first concrete fireproof mill in New England. During World Wars I and II, the Stillwater mills provided the material for soldiers' uniforms, blankets and other fine woolen and worsted cloth. According to the July 2004 Redevelopment Plan prepared by Gates, Leighton & Associates Inc. and New England Economic Development Services Inc., the news of the mill moving its cloth production to Virginia in 1963 "came as a blow to the 250 workers in the mill and the residents of Burrillville as a whole. It was the end of an era in manufacturing in Burrillville."
         
 

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