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Ornate window transom, photo by Pete Rienhard

Gorham Factory: A Visit to a Parking Lot

333 Adelaide Ave. (demolished)

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For some reason I decided it was a good idea to walk all of the way from my apartment to the former site of Gorham Factory in 35 mph winds, unsure of what I might find, if anything at all. By order of the GPS on my cellphone, I zigzagged my way from Cranston St. to Huntington Ave., through a Walgreens parking lot and around a used car lot, towards 333 Adelaide Ave. I neglected to wear a hat, gloves or long underwear (because it’s mid March!) and was freezing. Finally, I found myself in a giant parking lot. As predicted, there wasn’t a lot to see.

I stood in front of a mostly vacant shopping center and the Jorge Alverez high school at the very end of the drive. Mashapaug pond mostly frozen over and fenced off, sits behind the property. I didn’t stumble upon any silver spoons.

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Mashapaug Pond (Caroline Stevens, 2015)
Though I didn’t find any silver, I was fortunate in finding another treasure in the form of Anthony Johnson. Anthony had also come to see what had come of the old Gorham factory property (he was lucky enough to do so in a car). Anthony used to work as a security guard for Gorham in the late 80’s and early 90’s when it was owned by Textron. He recalled, “There used to be a guard check right here, and they’d check you coming in and check you on the way out — make sure you didn’t steal nothing. Because there was a whole lot of silver in this building.” Here’s a short audio clip of Anthony’s memories:

(photo courtesy of Erik Gould)

He was right about there being a lot of silver in the building. Gorham silver is world famous (the White House even has a few sets of it), and it was produced right here in Providence. Just do a search on ebay for Gorham silver, and you’ll come up with 29,460 results. Personally, I fancy this “chocolate spoon“. Yummy. But Gorham didn’t just manufacture silver: they expanded to working in gold, brass and bronze. During WWII they temporarily ceased working in bronze and silver and instead manufactured shell cases, torpedo components and tank bearings.

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Gorham Silver
The main building (where the school is now) was completed in 1890, designed by mill architect Frank Sheldon. The site eventually expanded to cover 37 acres comprised of 35 buildings. Anthony had a lot of ground to cover as a security man.

In 1967 Gorham sold to Providence-based Textron. Soon thereafter, people say that the quality of Gorham’s products began to decline until Gorham finally closed its doors in 1986. The property eventually foreclosed, and the city bought it. Proposals were solicited and none of them incorporated plans to reuse any of the Gorham buildings which were subsequently all torn down. Alvarez High School opened on the site in 2008.

Unfortunately, because of surface water run-off from the Gorham site and the company’s industrial discharges, Mashapaug Pond is highly polluted (note that the water’s pollution is not the fault of Gorham alone). The fish are poisoned and the water is unsafe to drink or swim in. The need to communicate the message of the pond’s pollution to area residents inspired the creation of the Urban Pond Procession, who have created engaging signage, public programs and even an annual procession or parade of sorts that celebrates and raises public awareness about the pond. A happy thing to come out of a sad story.

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Kudos to Challenge Winner: Molly Kerker @MollyKerker for guessing my mysterious whereabouts!

Follow my journey through 20 of PPS’s Most Endangered Properties in 10 Weeks @pvdpreservation, #mep20 and subscribe to this blog.

Do you know anything more about Gorham Manufacturing? Stories or thoughts to share? Share below!

Check out what people are saying about Gorham Manufacturing on #MEP20 

Originally posted March 19, 2015