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2013
Jan 2

ProJo: Historic orphanage ready for new use

For full article with photos, click here.

Historic orphanage ready for new use

After volunteer work, former home to state orphans now to be used by college students

By LINDA BORG JOURNAL STAFF WRITER

PROVIDENCE — Bill Hayes’ connections to Rhode Island College run deep. His parents met at RIC. Three of his sisters and a brother attended the college. And almost all became teachers.

“I was the only one who didn’t go to college,” said Hayes, who is a superintendent for Gilbane Building Co.

So it was especially meaningful for Hayes to participate in the $300,000 interior reconstruction of RIC’s historic yellow cottage, which was built by William Gilbane in 1885 and used as a dormitory for the state orphanage until 1979. The cottage is now part of the East Campus of Rhode Island College.

It seems fitting that the cottage, which served so many homeless children in the wake of the Civil War, will now be used as a research center for child-welfare advocates.

“I have a foster child myself,” said Hayes, 51, of West Warwick, “so I could really appreciate the children who grew up there.”

The newly renovated facility, which will be open to students next semester, includes a large classroom, two conference rooms, an office and a museum that will include photographs, documents and other memorabilia from the former orphanage. Oral histories from former residents have been collected. The superintendent’s mansion has been restored and archaeologists have excavated buttons from children’s clothing, toys and a set of ice tongs from the old ice house.

Researchers also discovered that Elizabeth Buffam Chase, a leading reformer in Rhode Island, championed the campaign to open a public orphanage in this state, a novel concept in the post-Civil War era.

The interior restoration was truly a labor of love. The Gilbane company, along with nearly 100 volunteers from the building trades, donated about $200,000 worth of labor, with contractors working after-hours and weekends to remodel the building, which was in serious disrepair.

“Gilbane donated all of its time,” said Paul Tierney, Gil-bane’s project manager. “Ten to fifteen trade contractors donated their time and money,” including members of the Rhode Island Building Trades Council’s apprenticeship program.

The official ribbon-cutting ceremony, which took place on Nov. 19, drew Lt.  Gov  . Elizabeth Roberts, members of the Gilbane family, Gilbane staff, architect Charles Hagenaugh, who donated his time, and members of the building trades.

The cottage now has new wiring, insulation, sprinklers, bathrooms, doors and windows. Certain historical details, such as the staircase and beadboard paneling, were preserved, because the structure is considered a historic building.

The exterior of the cottage was renovated in the mid-2000s. In late 2004, Rhode Island’s congressional delegation announced a $325,000 federal grant to restore the building. The college had also received $100,000 from the Rhode IslandHistorical Preservation and Heritage Commission.   (401) 277-7823

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