Case Study: Reinventing early american industrial mills

The sparks of the American Industrial Revolution first flickered in a small Rhode Island town called Pawtucket. British expatriate Samuel Slater opened the country’s first industrial mill in 1793 along the banks of the Blackstone River. His cotton spinning mill still resides there, now preserved as a National Historic Landmark. Slater Mill’s opening triggered a boom of mill construction that swept across the rest of the country. Over the next two centuries, New England—and Rhode Island in particular—came to be known for the many mills that peppered its mountains, meadows, and coastal towns.

Pawtucket and Providence, Rhode Island’s capital city just 20 minutes south, still contain dozens of these historic structures. Some have sat vacant for decades, concealing both their historical significance and architectural charm. But in recent years area developers are responding to an increasing need for quality housing by giving these once-thriving behemoths a new lease on life.

Enter Premier Land Development, a Providence-based real estate company involved with residential, mixed-use, commercial, and industrial properties throughout New England. One of Premier’s specialties is the revitalization of these historic mills. The company has undertaken a multi-property project that includes renovations of three massive mills in the Providence metro area, and the contracting team is relying on the CertainTeed Architectural QuickSpan™ Locking Drywall Grid System to help complete the complex work.

The goal: transform the frameworks of post-Colonial Era structures into comfortably chic, multi-unit residential properties that offer a suburban lifestyle in an industrial urban shell.

The first of the three mills, located at 725 Branch Ave., was built in 1862 for The Wanskuck Company, which produced wool uniforms and blankets for the Union Army during the Civil War. Upon completion in mid-2022, there novation will have turned the empty space into 240 apartments and three commercial units.

The second mill, located ten miles uptown at 476-469 Roosevelt Ave. in Central Falls, will house 113 units when completed in 2023. The third—and the largest—is a little further north at 1 Ann and Hope Way in Cumberland. Its243 units are slated for completion in 2025.

Renovation at this scale requires quality building materials that ensure speedy installation, consistent application,and reliable performance throughout the historic buildings’ new lifespans.

All three mills are blank canvases: vast empty spaces to be subdivided into upscale apartments requiring thousands of square feet of drywall installation. And supporting all that drywall is the QuickSpan Locking Drywall Grid System.


QuickSpan is the industry gold standard for quick, sturdy drywall ceiling installations in corridors and small rooms within condominiums, apartments, hotels, and corporate headquarters—precisely the kind of installation required for Premier’s mills.

As both a developer and a general contractor, Premier is unique in that, in addition to property acquisition, it also executes all aspects of construction and ongoing property management in-house. At the heart of those operations is superintendent Kevin Moran, who has been with Premier since its inception. He oversees all construction, renovation, and property management.

“We first came across QuickSpan at our distributor, Acoustical Supply,” says Moran. “They mentioned it could save us time, so we gave it a shot. It has worked out well for us—and we installed a lot of it. Thousands of pieces.” QuickSpan boasts several innovations that allow drywall crews to cover more square footage with fewer installers in less time. Chief among these is a click-in locking channel that allows installers to quickly twist tees into place while locking tabs prevent lateral and upward movement. There’s no need for screws, pop rivets, or crimpers.

“That’s the key—the ability to lock it in without having to put the screws in,” says Moran. “Plus, all the parts are pre-measured. You save a lot of time. One installer can run down the middle of the space on a lift and just snap the grid into place.”

One optional add-on the QuickSpan system offers is the Quickspan Support Clip, an accessory that slides and snaps into place on carrying tees. It reduces the number of hanger wires needed to achieve longer unsupported spans in larger spaces. The support clip can support spans of up to 16 feet—the longest unsupported span available in the industry.

All QuickSpan tees also feature a heavy duty G40 galvanized construction for maximum rigidity, plus a double-stitched web for added strength. These make it ideal for swift, sturdy installation.

“We’re subdividing the mills into bays, and each is about 30 feet long,” says Moran, “If we’re putting up 15 pieces of QuickSpan, it may be a half an hour of time saved over a true stud job in a single bay. Multiply that across a thousand bays, and it’s a fairly large time savings at the end of the job. QuickSpan really does what it’s supposed to do.”


While QuickSpan is known for the speed and reliability it offers to installers, Moran and his crew are relying on its versatility for an additional benefit: acoustical control.

In mill construction, some of the most charming architectural details are the wood floors and ceilings juxtaposed against natural brick walls. While aesthetically appealing, there’s very little to dampen unwanted sounds, which can create significant issues in a multi-unit residential structure.

“We found it’s very noisy and you can hear footsteps and people talking between floors,” explains Moran. “We also found a lot of dust that we couldn’t get out during construction would fall from between the boards over time, which creates a messy environment.” 

The team created an installation solution by assembling QuickSpan about 7 inches below the wood ceilings to conceal recessed lights, sprinklers, and duct work with drywall, giving the space a more modern feel while allowing historic attributes to show through in other details.

A void of air, QuickSpan, a layer of mineral wool insulation, and 5/8” drywall comprise the system—an effective sound barrier between neighbors on various floors.

“We anchored the assembly to the beams that support the whole building, rather than the underside of the floor above,” explains Moran, “so there’s also no vibration coming through the ceiling assembly from the floor above.”


In the early days of our budding republic, America’s industrial mills were built to last. The fact that they are being revitalized to meet today’s demands for upscale living is a testament to the ingenuity of their timeless design and robust construction.

As the first of the three Premier mills nears completion, excitement for the new living spaces is high. And with the help of innovative building materials, Premier is giving these charming historical buildings new life for many years to come.