Factory Restoration in Deep River Holds Promise as New Community Hub
Allison Sloane and Kim Olson, new owners of the former Pratt Read & Co. factory, stand near a door that opens into a former ivory vault. They plan to work with the Deep River Historical Society and use the room as a place for historical objects, a museum that discusses the building’s history. (Photo by Elizabeth Reinhart/The Courier)
Allison Sloane outlines the different sources of power used at the site of the former Pratt Read & Co. factory. The factory itself used a large water turbine, which is now defunct but still remains in the basement of the building. The factory later used coal for power, after Route 9 was put in and changed the course of the water. Here, Sloane points out the remains of an outdoor coal storage facility. (Photo by Elizabeth Reinhart/The Courier)
The historic factory building and property at 112 West Elm Street in Deep River is undergoing a major restoration effort, spearheaded by co-owners Allison Sloane and Kim Olson.
The site, built in 1856 by the Pratt Brothers, is steeped in the town’s history as a top manufacturer of ivory products. It was once a bustling place where ivory was cut and bleached for combs, piano keys, and collar buttons, spurring economic development of the town of Deep River and lower Connecticut River Valley.
Sloane said that she expects the restoration work to take some time, although she hopes that her thrift shop, R3, can open at the end of July, with other outdoor features and a small café potentially opening in the fall.
“We want to do it right,” said Sloane. “It takes a while to restore an 1856 factory that hasn’t had any love in 70 years, and maybe more.”
The site was most recently owned by the soldering equipment manufacturer, ESICO (Electric Soldering Iron Co.)-Triton International Inc.
When it was listed for sale by the company earlier this year, Sloane and Olson were quick to realize its historical value, and how it could fit in with their own business and philanthropic plans.
“We were very, very close to losing it. We actually had to bid against someone because they were going to demolish it and put up condos,” said Sloane.
The restoration of the mill is an important undertaking, not only for the town, but the state, said Sloane.
“We’ve had everyone from the state level down, as far as historical people, coming through the building and touring,” she said.
The property’s bleach fields, used in the processing of ivory, are unique.
“They’re not found in any other factory that we have looked into,” said Sloane, who adds that they are working with Jerry Roberts, who is serving as a historical consultant for the site.
The bleach fields are adjacent to the foundations of Pratt Read & Co.’s bleach houses. These small structures, typically constructed of wood and glass, would harness the sun to whiten ivory pieces.
Other distinct elements uncovered by the restoration work include Roman numerals that appeared after power washing granite blocks on a lower level of the building and a door with paneling that allowed for various levels of ventilation, as is required during the cutting of ivory.
A freight elevator in the building, one of the oldest of its kind, said Sloane, will also be put to use, as well as the bronze bell in the building’s cupola, which they plan to ring each day at noon.
The main power supply for the factory, a large water turbine, also remains in the building, as well as benches that were used for conveyor work, among other features.
“This building has been like an onion, just peeling back layers, peeling back the layers of the past,” said Sloane.
Once restoration work is complete, Sloane and Olson plan to offer tours of the building, led by docents, who will share the historical legacy of the site, including the Pratt Read Co.’s contribution and reliance on West Indies trade.
“We’re very, very committed, Kim Olson and I, to speak very truthfully about its heritage, not only the good, not only what Pratt Read and what Comstock Cheney did for our area…but also the bad and how hundreds of thousands of elephants perished” as well leading to massive numbers of deaths of enslaved people, said Sloane.
“We have some wonderful people who are going to be able to tell this moving story and we want people to come and see the beauty of this building and see how the water powered the building. It’s amazing that people will be able to come in and see the power of it and see where all of this happened,” she continued.
The building, which spans approximately 12,000 square feet on two levels, will primarily house the thrift shop, the proceeds of which benefit the Pandemonium Rainforest Project. This project, which helps fund the rescue and rehabilitation of exotic animals, will also be located on the property.
“We are building a 35-foot by 55-foot metal building, in the lower part of the land…that will be a place where people will be able to come and learn about the rescue and rehabilitation that we do, and see the animals,” said Sloane. “I think that’s going to be really exciting.”
A 30-foot yurt on the property will also allow the project’s rescued parrots to fly freely. It will also act as an educational center, where classes will be taught on the care of exotic animals, such as parrots and reptiles. Classes on recycling, reusing, and repurposing will also be held here.
Sloane, who is a master gardener and owns the floral and garden shop Ashleigh’s Garden at 500 Main Street in Deep River, has also incorporated her passion for native plants and flowers into the property at West Elm Street.
“We just put in a huge wildflower field because we’re part of the pollinator pathway,” said Sloane. “We have a wonderful area that we call Bee’s Knees and that’s where we can teach kids about bees, butterflies, and birds. That whole area is very important to us.”
With a myriad of educational offerings, and such rich history to share, she hopes the site will become a destination for people of all ages throughout the state to come and visit.
The 4.5-acre property also offers a tranquil natural setting that is rich in biodiversity, especially with a portion of the Deep River flowing through it, she says. A footpath is planned for a portion of it.
“It’s just really, to us, it’s all about community,” said Sloane. “It’s all about bringing everybody together, giving people a place where they can feel like they are a part of something and having people come and want to be part of something.”
She urges those interested to “be part of this. Come talk to us and be part of this.”