Cannonball Safe — Riverside Mills

Did a demolition crew stumble upon this item as they razed the remains of the old mill on Aleppo Street, or do we have some foresighted developer to thank for saving it? If so, this was one unwieldy doodad to hang onto without knowing whether anyone would ever take it off your hands. Who knew that this would be a park someday?

[On September 10 a comment came through from the director of the New England Wireless & Steam Museum with a video of a similar Corliss cannonball safe, and it is fascinating. Thank you Randy Snow!]

This spherical steel safe was used in the Riverside offices of the American Woolen Company (the first mill in America with electric lights!) and now sits near the entrance of Riverside Park along the Woonasquatucket River. From the explanatory plaque:

Spherical or cannonball safes were first introduced in the 1860s . . . In 1878, William Corliss founded the Corliss Safe Company in Providence which specialized in the manufacture of spherical safes. Their signature design featured a concentrically rotating core and shell with no recognizable door. The safe offered no corners, edges, rivets, or welds that could be exploited by robbers.

The safe sits atop a plinth consisting of two granite slabs — also salvaged from the mill building — which had displayed the company names (see pix below). Art in Ruins has some history of the American Woolen Company and Riverside Mills.

The first of several large woolen mills in the area was the Riverside Mills, built in 1862 by George Chapin and Lewis Downes. It produced mohair and astrackan cloth used for fine coats.

I had liked the look of the ruins — like those monasteries in England — but next to a swing set and jungle gym? Pretty much the definition of an attractive nuisance.

In addition to the beautiful playground and the bike path, the park features a fish ladder by the falls — it feels like another world down there. Good opportunities for birders.

(All this was made possible through the efforts of the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council. Join up . . . become a volunteer.)

Riverside Park, Aleppo Street, (directions)


Heavily damaged by fire in 2001, the crumbling facade was finally torn down some time in the last five years.

Nicely done.

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