Southbridge Mills is a $23 million preservation and adaptation of a 19th-century, three-story brick mill into 48 affordable units. Located on the former campus of the American Optical Company, the 70,000 square foot structure was built in 1888 for machinery, grinding, and storage and is the oldest building within the Southbridge Innovation Center complex. Prior to its closure in 1979, the international leader in the optical field served as Southbridge’s largest employer.
The decaying mill required extensive interior repair due to water damage and neglect, including complete replacement of the timber decking and beams in the central core of the structure, brick and mortar restoration, and exterior waterproofing. Located in the floodplain adjacent to the Quinebaug River, the design team raised the mill’s first floor by one foot to create a resilient structure. The deep floorplate allowed for double-loaded corridors – a long central hallway with units on either side – providing greater circulation efficiency and higher overall unit density. Original mill details are artfully exposed, including brick, decking, and wood and steel columns, which add to the industrial aesthetic. One of the original stairwells was thoughtfully preserved and restored for resident use.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building’s LEED-certifiable restoration boasts energy-efficient windows, insulated and air sealed bedrooms, and a high-efficiency heating system. The interior design highlights character-defining features and finishes of the mill with respect to the historic materials. A muted color palette of earth tones creates an elegant and calming atmosphere, resulting in a sense of harmony with the surrounding Lensdale Pond waterfront environment and original architecture. Amenities include a light-filled resident lounge and workspace, an accessible community kitchenette, an entry lobby, a shared laundry room, and a mail room.