Wednesday, October 8, 2014

On Broadway: Barnaby Castle Update

This past weekend, the WBNA (West Broadway Neighborhood Association) hosted a house tour, and we had the opportunity to see the interiors of a number of homes of interest, including Barnaby Castle.  Several people who read my previous post on the Barnaby Castle, and its interesting history, inquired about the house, and about what's happening with the renovation, so here's an update.

The house is currently undergoing renovation. The first floor rooms will be finished as an elegant event rental space for events up to 100 people.

The second floor will contain two apartments. The third floor will contain one apartment, which will eventually be occupied by the building's owner, though I believe it will be rented on the market in the short term.

The second floor is in pretty good shape--kitchen plumbing/wiring and bathrooms have been installed. We did not see the third floor.

The first floor still needs a lot of work--a lot of prep has been done (e.g. fitting drywall into the damaged plaster spots) but there is still a lot of work to do.

Below are some first floor photos.

It's great to see this beautiful old gem undergoing renovation!!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

ALCO, UNFI, and the Woonasquatucket River

The beautifully landscape riverfront near the old ALCO factory.
On a recent walk, we went searching for as many bits of the Woonasquatucket River as we could see from the street--from where the river leaves the confines of Waterplace Park and before it broadens out in the area of Riverside Park. While the river can be kayaked, much of it is hidden from the road (and pedestrians) since it flows between high walls or alongside the old factory buildings.

I was particularly looking to see how complete the proposed Woonasquatucket River Greenway and bike trail was, since I was hoping for the ability to walk along the river from Waterplace Park to Olneyville. While there are some lovely segments, there are many gaps. The bikeway is officially marked however, since it's easier for the bikers to go off-trail in the road in the areas where the trail has not been built. Click here to see a map of existing and proposed trail segments.

The Woonasquatucket traces its commercial roots to the early 1800s. After Slater Mill, the first successful textile factory in America, was built in Pawtucket on the Blackstone River in 1790, the Woonasquatucket was identified as a prime factory location due to its narrow size and swift descent. Many factories and mills were constructed along its length for the manufacture of tools, textiles, rubber goods, jewelry, steam engines and locomotives. You can still see the course of the river today by looking for the old mill buildings, many of which are abandoned, and many of which are being, or have been, restored as businesses and residences.

In the course of our investigation, we came upon the old American Locomotive Company (ALCO) complex, now home to United Natural Foods (UNFI).

The ALCO neon sign.
This led us to a lovely riverside walk, and a subsequent investigation of two companies I knew nothing about. And something that should have been obvious to me--I can see the American Locomotive Company neon sign from my living room window, but never made a connection to the river, to a particular space, or to the company's manufacturing history.

American Locomotive

ALCO was formed through the 1901 merger of Schenectady Locomotive Engine Manufactory, and seven smaller companies, which included the Rhode Island Locomotive Works in Providence.

At its peak, ALCO was the second largest steam locomotive builder in the US, and it produced over 75,000 locomotives. They also manufactured the first commercially successful diesel-electric engine in 1924. During World War II, ALCO built munitions for the war effort, and after the Korean War they entered the oil production equipment and nuclear power plant markets.

In 1906, all locomotive manufacturing had ceased in Providence, and a brand new factory was built here for the manufacture of automobiles. ALCO produced cars designed by the French company Berliet until 1908, when they began manufacturing cars of their own design. Their cars were built to the highest standards, and each one took a year and a half to make.
A 1912 ALCO automobile.

An ALCO won the Vanderbilt Cup in 1909 and 1910, and competed in the first Indy 500 in 1911. But there were not enough buyers at the $6-$7,000 price point, and the low volume meant they lost money on each vehicle; car manufacture in Providence ceased in 1913.

What makes me sad about ALCO is that they did so many things well and produced such great designs--and then the company just faded away in the 1970s/1980s. Bad decision making and bad management have to be the cause, because the products were first rate. Interestingly enough, the locomotives are still being used all over the world, and still being manufactured to ALCO designs in Canada, Australia, and India. So they could have a huge multinational presence today in locomotives if they'd stayed in business!

Along the river walk behind the UNFI corporate HQ.
Redeveloping ALCO

In 2006, Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse announced plans for the redevelopment of the old factories which previously housed ALCO, Nicholson File, and U.S. Rubber. These properties comprised 1.7mm square feet, and were intended to create a commercial, residential, and development mecca on the West Side of Providence. There were to be offices, condos, affordable housing, restaurants, a hotel, and a restored river walk.

The first spaces to be renovated were two ALCO buildings occupying 53,000 square feet, and the major tenant was to be United Natural Foods (UNFI), who was persuaded to relocate their headquarters from Connecticut to RI with the promise of generous tax credits from the state. They brought 181 employees with them in May 2009, with plans to staff up to about 250.

United Natural Foods

UNFI is the leading national distributor of natural and organic foods, specialty foods, and related products in the US and Canada. They were founded in 1996 by the merger of two regional distributors: Mountain People's Warehouse (founded in 1976) and Cornucopia Natural Foods (founded in 1977). Their US revenue is about $6 billion, and they have 7,700 employees. 
In keeping with their mission to distribute natural and organic products, they are also committed to sustainable development and green/clean in other aspects of their business. They try to pursue LEED certification in all of their buildings; the Providence site achieved silver certification.

Recycling and trash containers at UNFI made out of old
RR spikes and other parts from the ALCO factory.
But Now….

The grand plan of Struever Bros. for the West Side ended in foreclosure. The company cleared out of Rhode Island in 2009, after the real estate market crash. The proposed development has been largely on hold since then. In October, 2013, Foundry Associates (developers of the The Promenade apartment complex along the river, close to Providence Place) bought the old ALCO property (11.8 acres, 200,000 square feet). Unfortunately that represents only a small portion of the proposed redevelopment site.  However, we did notice some work being done on some of the other factories further down the river. I'll be keeping an eye out for information on what's happening at these sites, and will post again if and when I learn anything.

Illustration Credits and References

Photo of  1912 Alco originally uploaded by DougW at en.wikipedia. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Other photos by author.

More information about the ALCO vehicle can be found here.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Alexander F. Adie House, Part 2

In my last post, I discussed the demolition of the Alexander F. Adie House on Federal Hill, as well as the life of its builder. Today's post is about Angelina and Angelo Lucchetti; their story touches the house much later.

In August, 1952, Angelina Lucchetti began operating a restaurant in the Alexander Adie House which was then doing business as the Bella Napoli Hotel. Angelina had been married since 1938 to Angelo Lucchetti, and we'll turn our attention to him for a while before returning to Angelina's story.

Fontana Liri, Italy
Fontana Liri, Italy
Angelo was born in 1886 in Fontana Liri, Italy, a small town in the mountains between Rome and Naples, best known as the birthplace of Marcello Mastroianni.

 Like many Italians of his generation he sought work in the U.S. He may have gone back and forth several times, as some did, to perform seasonal work, but in March 1910 he emigrated for good, traveling on the Lombardia from Naples to Boston, with a planned destination of Providence.

By 1918, when he registered for the World War I draft, Angelo had opened a small dry goods store at 199 Atwells Avenue on Federal Hill (about where the Dean and Atwells traffic island is today).  This was a business he would continue to operate for many years, moving to 294 Atwells (currently the home of Nancy's Fancies) by 1924, and to 377 Atwells (the present site of D&L Billiard Supply) by 1930. He continued to operate the dry goods business out of that location until at least 1956.

In November, 1919, Angelo married Giovannina "Jennie" Cecere, a young woman 9 years his junior who was employed as a clerk. Jennie had also been born in Italy, though she had come to the US as a young child. They lived on Atwells Avenue near what would eventually become Lucchetti's store.

By the time of the 1930 census, Angelo and Jennie had divorced; Angelo was still living on Atwells Ave. and his profession was listed as "dry goods merchant." And even after 20 years in the U.S., his language was listed as Italian.

In 1938, Angelo married Angelina--little is known about her age or place of origin. But she was a hard worker; in addition to keeping house for her husband in an apartment above the store (and undoubtedly cooking the Italian specialties that would land her in the restaurant business in 1952) she worked every day in the store, often until 9 o'clock at night.

We catch a glimpse of Angelo in his 1942 World War II draft registration form. At 55, he stood a little over 5'6", and weighed a hefty 232 pounds; he had grey hair, brown eyes, and a "ruddy" complexion.

Lymansville Worsted Mill, North Providence, RI
Lymansville Worsted Mill.
By 1950, Angelo's business was suffering, and Angelina went to work as a yarn spinner at the Lymansville Worsted Mill, along the Woonasquatucket River in North Providence. A year later she was back at work in the store--but only for another year. In February, 1952, Angelo and Angelina acquired the Bella Napoli Hotel (the Alexander F. Adie House) when a mortgage which had been assigned to them in 1944 was foreclosed on. A few months later Angelina began to operate a restaurant in the hotel, and a year after that she filed for divorce.

At the time of the divorce petition, the Lucchettis owned two properties--a house at 489/491 Eaton Street, which they had purchased in 1944, and the Bella Napoli Hotel. As part of her divorce petition, she requested partition of the properties since they were joint tenants.

The divorce petition was turned down, but the court did order the properties divided at public or private sale. Angelo appealed this decision, stating that she had no right of ownership because she had not made any financial contributions to the purchases. However, she pointed out to the court that she had worked every day in the store for 13 years, often until 9 pm at night, and she had never received any compensation for that labor. Any money that Angelo used to pay for the Eaton Street property had been partially earned by her efforts.

Well yes, said Angelo, sure she had worked in the store, and yes her name was on the mortgage, and yes her name was on the deed for the Atwells property--but only because a banker had suggested it. He had wanted her to have the property after he died--but not while he was alive!

The court rejected Angelo's appeal and the case was remanded to the Superior Court "for further proceedings".

Unfortunately, that's where the information chain has some missing links. We find them listed in the 1956 city directory where Angelo is living at the Eaton St. property and she is listed as his spouse. Through at least 1962 she is still listed as his spouse, and her workplace is at the Bella Napoli Hotel. Angelo appears to have retired from the dry goods business sometime during this period (he was, after all, well into his 70s as the 1950s came to a close).

Angelo died in 1977 at the age of 91; by this time he had moved back to Italy where he was receiving his US Social Security checks. I can only hope that Angelina was able to extricate herself from the relationship in time to have a few good years on her own, but that story remains to be told.

If the site of the former Alexander F. Adie house is, indeed, to become a hotel (which is the current scuttlebutt), I imagine that her ghost will be rattling a few pots and pans in its kitchen!

Illustration Credits and References

Photo of the Lymansville Mill from the State of RI Historic Preservation & Heritage Commission website.

Full detail of the Lucchettis' legal case can be found at the Justia US Law website, the case of Angelina Lucchetti v. Angelo Lucchetti, Supreme Court of RI, November 26, 1956.

Census data, city directories, transatlantic ships'  passenger lists, and other records available by subscription on helped to provide some of the back story.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Alexander F. Adie House, Part 1

Alexander F. Adie House, Atwells Ave., Providence RI 2013
The Alexander F. Adie House in 2013.
Empty lot where Alexander F. Adie House used to be, January 2014.
The empty lot, January 27, 2014.
Two weeks ago, I attended the annual meeting of the Providence Preservation Society, where one of the speakers lamented the recent and unexpected teardown of the Alexander F. Adie House, a 3-story Italianate double house at 93/95 Atwells Avenue.

The 1871 house had been included on the PPS Ten Most Endangered Properties list in the year 2000. By 2012 it was on the market, and there was no reason to fear its imminent demise. But on January 6th the demolition began, and by the end of the week the house was gone for good.

While preservationists rightly focus on age and architecture, sometimes the stories of the people behind the historic houses in this city are so much more interesting. So who was the Alexander Fales Adie who built this house?

He was born in 1811 in Rhode Island; his father was a native of Scotland but his mother was a Rhode Islander.

He seemed to be a young man with a plan. As a 13-year-old he'd gone to work in the Dyers & Manton drugstore in Providence, and at the age of 19 (presumably at the end of his apprenticeship), he'd gained employment in Charles Dyer Jr.'s drugstore. In 1830, he moved on to Isaac B. Cooke's drug and chemical business. Cooke moved to a new location on Market St. in 1832, and in 1836, at the age of 25, Adie took the company over.

Now that he was a prosperous business owner, he apparently felt he should take a wife, and on January 2, 1837, he married 19-year-old Julia Ann Perkins. She was the fourth of five sisters, the daughters of Edward and Clarissa Perkins of Mansfield, CT.

Julia Ann died a year later--perhaps in childbirth? Adie must have been heartbroken, and we can imagine he redoubled his efforts to grow his fledgling business.

Nearly three years later, on December 2, 1840, he married Julia Ann's younger sister, 17-year-old Almira Jenks Perkins. In 1843, the Adies welcomed a daughter, Julia Perkins Adie, named after her aunt, Alexander's first wife.

But tragedy was to strike again. In 1845, Almira died giving birth to an infant who also died; they are buried at Swan Point Cemetery. Alexander was now a twice-widowed 34-year-old with a two-year-old daughter. Some time before the 1850 census (probably shortly after Almira's death), Julia Ann and Almira's mother, Clarissa, moved in with the family to care for her granddaughter. Clarissa had also been a young widow since her husband had died when Almira was only three. Her third daughter, Henrietta, had also died young, at 23; only her two oldest daughters lived into their maturity. It must have been a sad house with the ghosts of all those lost daughters and wives.

With Clarissa there to care for young Julia, and without a wife to lavish his attention on, Adie must have thrown himself into his business once again. He appears to have been very successful, since he retired in 1853, selling his stock and good will to Chambers, Calder, & Co.

By 1870, the Adies were living at 347 Westminster Street, in a building which has since been demolished. When he built the Atwells Avenue house in 1871, it was intended as an investment property. Julia brought her new husband, Frederic Anthony, into the Westminster St. home in 1872, and Clarissa passed away the following year.

By 1888, two years before his death, Adie was mentioned as one of Twenty Thousand Rich New Englanders in a book of the same name; he was taxed on $206,360 that year, which would be equivalent to about $5 million today. Clearly Alexander Adie's ventures in the drug, chemical, and paint trade, and his further investments after 1853, were very lucrative--but the loss of two young wives and a child must have been a terrible burden for him.

Adie died in 1890, his daughter Julia Perkins Adie Anthony died in 1907; she and her husband had no children.

In part 2, I'll talk about what was happening with the Alexander Adie house in the 1950s.

References and Further Information

Information about Adie's career in the drug business came from several books available online including The Providence Plantations for Two Hundred and Fifty Years. . . by Welcome Arnold Greene, J. A. & R. A. Reid, 1886 and The Narragansett Historical Register by James N. Arnold, Heritage Books, 1996.

Census data and other data sources available by subscription on filled in the blanks on the family side.

To see photos of the demolition process, you can visit the Greater City Providence website.

Mayoral candidate Brett Smiley issued a statement about the demolition here.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sarah and Edgar at the Athenaeum

Providence Athenaeum, Benefit St.
The Providence Athenaeum.
One of the most beautiful early 19th century buildings in Providence is the Athenaeum, a membership library built in 1838 in the Greek Revival Style.

It was within its dark and comforting confines that Sarah Helen Whitman, a Providence poet and essayist, found solace from her difficult home life, and was able to write and think in peace.
Sarah Helen Whitman House, Benefit St., Providence RI
Sarah Helen Whitman House, 88 Benefit Street.

Sarah Helen Power was born in 1803, and lived in a house at 88 Benefit Street, less than a half mile from what was to become the site of the Athenaeum.

She married a young Brown University graduate, John Winslow Whitman, and went to Boston to live with him in 1828. There she developed friendships with the leading literary lights of the time and place--Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow among others.

Sadly, John died in 1833, and Sarah returned to Providence to live with her unhappy mother and mentally ill sister. The construction of the Athenaeum five years later must have seemed like a godsend.

Portrait of Sarah Helen Whitman by C. G. Thompson, 1838.
Portrait of Whitman by C. G. Thompson, 1838.
By all accounts, Sarah was beautiful, witty, and warm, as well as liberal and unconventional. She liked to dress in what was considered a pagan style of dress--loose, white, filmy clothing with soft slippers and lots of scarves--her friends reported that as she strode down the street pieces of her costume would fly off, which they were forever picking up! She wore a tiny coffin on a chain around her neck.

She believed in transcendentalism, spiritualism, abolitionism, and feminism. She was widely read and fluent in four languages. She was a talented poet, an insightful art/literature critic, and a perceptive commentator on the contemporary scene. She belonged to various literary groups, and ran a popular poetry salon. She also mentored young writers at Brown.

Daguerrotype of Edgar Allan Poe, Providence, RI, 1848.
Daguerrotype of Poe from 1848.
By 1848, she was considered the best woman poet in America and she and Edgar Allan Poe (who was six years her junior) had come to each other's attention, and admired each other from afar. By this time, Poe was the rockstar of the American literary world. He was handsome and gifted, and had the manners of a southern gentleman.

They engaged in a passionate correspon-dence, and wrote poems dedicated to each other. Poe came to Providence to court her in person in September 1848.

He stayed at a hotel called the Mansion House on Benefit Street, a couple of blocks from her house, but of course she couldn’t visit him there. And her mother did not approve of Poe, so that ruled out meetings at her home. So they met at the Athenaeum and at the Swan Point Cemetery.

At one point she showed him an anonymous poem she admired in a book that was in the Athenaeum's collection—he told here he’d written it, and signed that page in the book—and that book with that signature is still there. (Apparently it's OK to deface library books, if you're Edgar Allan Poe!)

After a brief courtship, Poe pressed her to marry him and she demurred--her health, her age, her mother's disapproval of his drug and alcohol habits. He promised to give up drinking if she would agree to marry him (a promise frequently made and frequently broken throughout history), and so she did.

This prompted New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley to write to a fellow editor:
Do you know Sarah Helen Whitman? Of course, you have heard it rumored that she is to marry Poe. Well, she has seemed to me a good girl, and--you know what Poe is . . . Has Mrs. Whitman no friend within your knowledge that can faithfully explain Poe to her?
The wedding was due to take place on December 25th, and on December 23rd Sarah and Edgar were in the Athenaeum with some other people when someone handed her a note (so junior high!). They had seen Edgar drinking the previous night and that morning.

Sarah called off the wedding, fled down the street to her house, breathed a little ether (her drug of choice), and was swooning on the sofa when Edgar caught up with her.

They never saw each other again, and he would be dead within 10 months.

But Sarah would live for another 30 years, publishing her poetry and essays and fostering generations of younger writers and artists.  More than 80 of her essays were carried in the pages of the Providence Daily Journal as letters to the editor, book reviews, travel correspondence, and general essays.  She was active in the woman suffrage movement, and served as VP of the state suffrage association when it was formed in 1868.

However, despite all these accomplishments, she is most remembered today as a defender of Poe against his critics.  She published a scholarly brochure entitled Edgar Poe and His Critics in 1860—it’s the only work of hers that’s still in print.  She was almost singlehandedly responsible for saving Poe’s reputation which had been savaged by critics and editors after his death.

Illustration Credits and References

Photo of the Athenaeum from their website.

Photo of Sarah Helen Whitman house by the author.

Painting of Sarah Helen Whitman from the Brown University Portrait Collection.

Daguerrotype of Poe from the website.

Information for this post came from a number of sources including the Providence Athenaeum website, a book by Brett Rutherford, Last Flowers: The Romance and Poetry of Edgar Allan Poe and Sarah Helen Whitman, Poet's Press, 2011, and a lecture given by Sarah O'Dowd on May 2, 2012 at the Community Church of Providence.

Horace Greeley quote from the January 21 entry in A Reader's Book of Days, edited by Tom Nissley, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 2014. Greeley wrote the letter on January 21, 1849, apparently not aware that the engagement had been broken a few weeks before.