In the early 1800s, Daniel Lyman was starting to think about retirement. An attorney, he had been appointed to serve as Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court in 1802, a position that would require him to travel frequently from his home in Newport to Providence. At the age of 51, he was entering the latter years of his life and so making sure his family would have a financially stable future was critical. It was also during these years that Lyman began to learn more about the new manufacturing movement and business opportunities around the Blackstone River.
With Newport’s economy lagging, making a transition to ventures in the northern part of the state was a sound business decision. He began by purchasing several parcels of land along River Road, now the Woonasquatucket River, in North Providence. There, he established a new homestead for his family, The Hermitage. He built a dam that would serve the land, which would eventually total 80 acres, and he built a mill. In addition to clearing the way for his retirement, he was also setting a foundation for what would become the Lyman Cotton Manufacturing Company, and a new career.
By 1809, Lyman had acquired three partners, Samuel G. Arnold, Joseph S. Martin and Joseph S. Cooke and two years later, merely 20 years after Samuel Slater’s pioneering of a mill on the Blackstone River, the Lyman mill was operational. It would include the first water-powered loom used in the manufacture of cotton.
As the years went by the mill grew from its original L-shaped building to include more structures with its last addition added in the 1950s. Eventually the facility would become Lymansville Mill and thus, what began as a quest for retirement, is now noted for being one of the earliest mills in the nation, a distinction that earned it a listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.
When Bob Terino was growing up in North Providence, Lymansville Mill was the center of the town’s industry.
“I was born up the street, played a lot of times on the property. Some of my friends swam in the water. I never did that,” Terino said.
In 1986, it was with great pride that he and his partner Joe Santoro teamed up to purchase the mill. At the time, it housed a number of small jewelry related businesses. As the years passed, those businesses closed and Santoro passed his share of the property along to his brothers John and Anthony.
What was once open fields surrounding the mill have long given way to houses. The baseball field across the street, where Terino played as a young boy, is now a condominium development and the road itself has been widened to include sidewalks. But indications of Lyman and his partners’ history remain in the form of street names and historical markers. With the neighborhood around the mill becoming more residential, Terino and the Santoro’s began to focus on resurrecting it and turning it into a housing complex.
With the soft humming of power saws and sweet smell of sawdust, the mill has slowly been coming to life again since 2013. The partners began by razing the mill’s dilapidated out- buildings and clearing the land, reclaiming some of that open space and creating a park like setting. What remains is the 150,000 square foot L-shaped brick building that was built in 1886, the foundation of a new iteration.
Now, at age 72, Torino is thinking about retirement. This project, much like Daniel Lyman’s more than 200 years ago, is his last and it will leave a legacy that his descendants can be proud of for generations to come.
“The building will last longer than I and it’s a matter of doing the right thing to make it last,” Torino said.
To that end, he and his partners have incorporated some very nice features into this project. The 13-foot high wood ceilings with exposed steel beams and generously wide common hallways beckon visitors with their stately presence. Finished with upscale products throughout, the building includes quartz countertops and hardwood floors bathed in sunlight splashing through the oversized sash windows.
Torino enthusiastically describes the challenge of installing those windows.
“[At] $4,000 apiece, they’re big windows. Huge windows,” Torino said.
In addition, some of the original hardwood floors - heavily oiled in some areas from the machinery that was once housed there - had to be replaced. There are numerous floor plans to avoid any cookie-cutter layout, giving each resident a unique place to call home. Soft closing hinges have been used on everything from cabinet doors to toilet seats and most units, about 85, will have their own washer and dryer.
“We just couldn’t structurally do it for all of them. Sometimes a beam is located where you don’t want it to be,” Torino said.
For those units without a washer and dryer, there will be a laundry room with large commercial size equipment. The lofts’ high tech amenities have truly catapulted this early 19th century mill into the 21st century.
“We’re working on a deal with Amazon to install a drone port so tenants can actually order dinner by phone and have it delivered to a port” Torino said.
In addition, there will be electronic charging stations throughout the building, a gym, meeting rooms and electronic entry from the front gate to each resident’s front door. There will also be a dog washing system and a treadmill.
“So, in the winter time you can put your dog on the tread mill and walk him,” Torino said. With a six-foot fence and lighting around the perimeter of the property, this is truly a gated community that will provide additional privacy for residents as well as security. Torino is very proud of the security systems they have installed and feels it is one of the most attractive parts of this location.
Behind the scenes, the mechanics of each unit are discreetly hidden yet easily accessed for servicing.
“Every individual apartment has its own hot water heater,” said Mark Hashway, the commercial general contractor for this project and owner of The Bailey Group of Warwick.
Hashway explained that there are also hot water heaters in the common areas such as the laundry room, trash room and pet wash. Because of this, each unit is protected with a Water and Gas Safety (WAGS) valve that will shut off the water supply should the tank fail.
“This will prevent leaking and flooding within the units and those common areas,” Hashway explained.
The device will also provide an insurance discount, helping to keep overhead costs low. The AQUAGUARD WAGS Valve was selected due to its low cost and ease of installation, and the fact that it is a completely mechanical shutoff valve. No electricity, batteries, or wireless signal are required. A simple innovative product that adds value for the property owner’s peace of mind.
The rebirth of Daniel Lyman’s mill as a modern housing facility that shares its history through design and exposed brickwork will be a welcome addition to the area. Support for the project has been overwhelming positive, from the mayor’s office to the police and fire departments.
“They have all gone out of their way to pay attention to our needs. All these people have been nothing but great to us,” Torino said.
While the original dam sits quietly at the edge of the river, Torino travels around the park-like setting and talks of canoeing and kayaking as well as other outside activities. He reminisces about all the generations of people who worked here.
“My grandmother came over in 1907. She worked in the mill and my aunts worked here,” Torino explained.
Torino added that it was a tough time for Italian-Americans to assimilate into society and that many businesses wouldn’t hire them.
“But Lymansville Mill did,” Torino noted.