The Copper Rolling Mill

The Copper Rolling Mill

Within the Paul Revere Heritage Site park stands the Copper Rolling Mill, the largest remaining structure of the original Revere Copper Company. The building, a victim of decades of neglect, was preserved through adaptive reuse in a process that took four years to complete.

The ground floor of the preserved structure structure houses The Northern Spy Restaurant. The upper floor is now home to Copper Mill Hall, a space that houses preview exhibits of upcoming programs that will be housed in the Historic Barn, while also serving as a venue for public and private programs and events.

2016

2021

Architecture

Paul Revere founded the Revere Copper Company in 1801. The original mills were small, wood-frame buildings and structures. The company prospered. In 1850, during an expansion period, Revere’s son Joseph Warren built the brick copper rolling foundry, designed with these architectural features:

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Broad brick arches

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Angled brick buttresses
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Oculus windows that had been bricked in prior to restoration
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Three brick arched doorways with brick keystones set between paired windows with brownstone lintels. The doorways were plugged with cinder blocks prior to restoration.
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A “saw-toothed brickwork cornice” that runs the length of the mill
The three smokestacks of the original structure had been demolished years before the recent preservation and were not rebuilt. The adaptive reuse also replaced the building’s asphalt roof with copper sheeting provided by the Revere Copper Company, now located in Rome, New York.

Significance

Illustration by Stephen Biesty showing a shipyard worker installing USS Constitution’s first copper sheathing in the summer of 1797.

USS Constitution Museum Collection, © Stephen Biesty, 2015

In addition to the building’s architectural significance, the structure speaks to the Reveres’ entrepreneurial spirit. Successful entrepreneurs take advantage of a window of opportunity to fulfill unmet market needs. The Reveres recognized the need for the young Republic of the United States to develop a navy composed of sleeker, faster vessels that could protect the country’s harbors and defend its merchant vessels.

When President Washington signed the Naval Act of 1794, Paul Revere saw an opportunity. The hulls of 18th century ships were subject to rot, worms, and the growth of barnacles that added weight and decreased speed. Ships spent many days in dry-dock undergoing repairs. Great Britain had discovered that covering a ship’s hull in copper eliminated the barnacle problem, reduced rot and deterred worms. But Britain kept the copper rolling process a military secret.

Here in the America, Paul Revere won the navy’s contract to roll the copper, borrowed $6000, and established the Revere Copper Company on the grounds of what is now the Paul Revere Heritage Site in Canton, MA. Soon afterward, Revere was able to roll copper whose quality equaled that of Great Britain’s. The USS Constitution’s hull was sheathed in copper rolled by the Revere Copper Company.

In his early acceptance of the navy’s defense contracts, Revere may have begun what Dwight Eisenhower referred to 150 years later as the “military-industrial complex”. This is one of the many issues the new Museum of Discovery and Innovation will examine: What is the role of the government in promoting investment in private enterprise?

Regardless of where one falls on debating the intended or unintended consequences of early American political precedents, the Reveres’ techniques demonstrated the importance of American ingenuity, invention and innovation in propelling economic growth.

The Copper Rolling Mill prior to restoration

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