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The historic Fruit of the Loom textile mill in Rhode Island has been rehabilitated and adapted into Pontiac Mills, a mixed-use complex with 133 apartments and 50,000 square feet of retail and commercial space. The $35 million project utilized both state and federal historic tax credits and took approximately five years to complete. The multi-phased process involved the complete structural reconstruction of the complex's 15 separate buildings.
The Fruit of the Loom industrial complex was established in the village of Pontiac in the city of Warwick, Rhode Island in 1863 by textile manufacturers Benjamin Knight and Robert Knight (B. B. & R. Knight Company). The successful business employed hundreds of local immigrants and led to the the creation of a community post office, train station, library, church, and schoolhouse. During the American Civil War, the mill manufactured uniforms for Union Army soldiers.
In the early 1970’s, the mill closed and the site went to auction. From that point, it took 45 years for the investment and revitalization plan to come together. A devastating flood in 2010 further complicated matters, severely impacting the property along the banks of the Pawtuxet River.
Though the property had experienced much deterioration over the years, the majority of the complex was able to be salvaged and rehabilitated through in-kind replacement of heavy timber framing. The new materials matched the existing construction methods, blending the finished product seamlessly into the 19th century buildings. In order to get exact size decking material to replace and match existing framing, a mill in western Rhode Island custom milled planks for six months to supply the huge quantity necessary for the job.
In addition to the complete structural rebuild, underwater structural walls were constructed to stop the flow of water from the Pawtuxet River that previously ran underneath two of the complex's buildings. Numerous environmental issues were remediated, including the rupture of a 100,000-gallon heating oil tank. Two, 180-foot-tall structures were restored (the water tower and the smoke stack); the latter now bears the name Pontiac Mills in eight foot high lettering.
Preserve Rhode Island and Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission | 2021 Rhody Award
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