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Ornament keeps landmark alive

December 17, 2011

Mayor Leo T. Fontaine, Economic Development Aide Linda Plays, Administrative Assistant Arianne Pare and former Alice Mill owner Steve Triedman, from left, unveil the city's 2011 Christmas ornament in Harris Hall on Thursday, in tribute to the Alice Mill, destroyed by fire in June. A commemorative brick from the mill is included with each purchase.

WOONSOCKET – Once the largest rubber mill in the world, the Alice Mill collapsed in a gale of fire this spring, another icon of the city’s industrial heritage laid to waste.
But the landmark lives on as the inspiration for this season’s installment of the municipal Christmas tree ornament. Mayor Leo T. Fontaine says he could think of no better tribute to a site that has touched so many generations of city residents and their families.
“It had such an impact on the city,” says Fontaine. “What better way to respond to the sentiment that people had than by making it the theme of our ornament.”
The city commissioned 250 of the ball-shaped tree decorations featuring an incredibly detailed, silk-screened image of the 1889 mill, which burned down on June 7.
And this season, the ornament comes with a little something extra: an authentic brick salvaged from the rubble of the four-story building.
The mill was owned by Steve Triedman of Providence, who was converting it into a wood pellet factory when fire ravaged the sprawling site on Fairmount Street, overlooking the Blackstone River. Even now, months after the fire, visitors still show up at the site on a regular basis looking to salvage a memento from the debris.
“We still get two or three people a week who come by asking for a brick for some relative who used to work there,” says Triedman.
Triedman was so honored that the city decided to feature the mill on the ornament that he decided to donate half the production costs to the city. Fontaine said the proceeds of the sale will be used to offset the cost of summertime recreational programs like “movies in the park” and outdoor concerts.
Fontaine wouldn’t say how much the city paid to have the ornaments made, but he did say the city changed contractors and paid a lower price than it had for ornaments in previous years, a boon for city programs in these budget-conscious times.
It’s been well over a decade since the city began offering commemorative Christmas ornaments – limited-edition trinkets that have paid homage to firefighters, police, a new library and a variety of municipal endeavors in the past. But this year’s version may be the first in the traditional shape of a Christmas ball; most of the earlier versions were metallic, pendant-style ornaments made by a photo-chemical etching company.
The new manufacturer is Howe House Custom Ornaments of Plano, Texas. Like past issues, each ornament in the 2011 series is numbered, so buyers know it’s a limited-edition collectible. The price hasn’t changed, either – they’re still $15 each.
About 50 of the ornaments have been pre-sold to aficionados of municipal memorabilia, many of whom have been collecting them for years, says Economic Development Aide Linda Plays. The rest are available on a first-come, first-serve basis beginning Wednesday at the mayor’s office, on the fourth floor of City Hall, 169 Main St.
For more information, call Administrative Asst. Arianne Pare, 767-9205.

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