Safety First: Zachariah Allen & Allendale Mill
A Rhode Island Entrepreneur
Built in 1822, the Allendale Mill on Woonasquatucket Avenue currently serves as apartment housing for the North Providence community. Although the building’s existing structure provides hints of its historic past, most simply ignore it as just another defunct mill, unaware that both its design and operation served as a model for later textile mills.
The man behind its construction was Providence luminary and civic leader, Zachariah Allen, born 1795. He was a founder of the Providence Athenaeum and the Rhode Island Historical Society, as well as a trustee of Butler Hospital. A successful legal professional and respected author, Allen constructed Allendale Mill out of a desire to return to his family’s roots in manufacturing woolen textiles.
Allen was as much innovator and inventor as academic and businessman. Learning from the failures and deficiencies of past and present textile mills, Allen’s design for Allendale was way ahead of its time.
The entire structure was designed from the ground up around a single key element: fire safety. Allendale’s double-thick floors, complex staggered-framing, general floorplan and original slate shingles all contributed to the plan for the “slow-burning mill,” a term attributed to Allendale and later applied to other mills that used such a design.
In addition to its safer construction, Allendale was at the forefront in terms of practical and accessible fire protection for workers. Among Allendale’s signature hallmarks was its own hydrant and sprinkler system, which complemented industrial-grade pumps and water-hoses situated at ‘hot-spot’ locations throughout the mill.
Allen believed that his commitment to providing a safer work environment would constitute lower insurance premiums for his mills, but his insurers disagreed. Thus, Allen decided he would need to form his own insurance company. Together with other like-minded business owners, Allen collaborated with the Boston Mutual Insurance Company to form the Allendale Insurance Company. This new firm would deal only with manufacturers that held their facilities to the highest standards in construction, maintenance, and quality, and would use the Mill at Allendale as a benchmark for further industry standards that would help to shape the development of modern workplace fire codes and regulations that continue to safeguard workers today.
Allen’s insurance enterprise continues to operate as FM Global, headquartered in Johnston, RI.