Biography of Charles Roderick Makepeace

Charles Roderick Makepeace
Charles Roderick Makepeace

One of the best-known designing and consulting industrial architects and mechanical engineers in the United States, the late Charles R. Makepeace was regarded as an authority in his profession. During his long and exceptionally successful career he was identified with the erection of some two hundred and fifty plants in various parts of the United States, as well as in several foreign countries. Having always made his headquarters in Providence, this city naturally benefited extensively by his widespread activities and by his high professional standing. He also took a very active and effective part in civic affairs, rendered valuable services during the World War, was a member of several engineering, business and social organizations, and thus represented through his varied activities the highest type of useful, vigorous, public-spirited citizen.

Charles R. Makepeace was born at Fayetteville, North Carolina, May 20, 1860, son of George H. and Marion (MacRae) Makepeace. He was educated in the local public schools and entered Trinity College, now known as Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, in order to complete his education, but owing to illness was forced to withdraw without graduating. Many years later, however, in 1920, his alma mater conferred upon him his degree as of the class of 1880. His early professional training was acquired in his father’s mill at Fayetteville, where he learned the details of the equipment and operation of textile mills, which proved invaluable to him in his later career. In 1885 he moved to Providence to associate himself with the late D. M. Thompson in an engineering firm which occupied offices on the fourth floor of the Butler Exchange for nearly half a century. A few years after joining the firm, Mr. Makepeace became its head and afterwards conducted it under the name of C. R. Makepeace & Company. He specialized in textile mill architecture and engineering, designing and equipping all types of textile plants, including cotton and woolen mills, bleacheries and dye works, as well as incidental buildings, such as power and water plants. Mr. Makepeace was himself familiar with practically all the large mill properties throughout the country, especially in New England, and frequently acted in a consulting capacity in connection with changes, extensions, and improvements to be made in mills throughout the United States. The following partial list of the plants erected by his firm gives an idea of the scope of his work: the Oakland Mills in Rhode Island; the Dana Warp Mills in Maine; the Suncook Mills in New Hampshire; the Arlington Mills in Lawrence, Massachusetts; the Miami Woolen Mills in Ohio; the Woodbury Cotton Mills at Baltimore, Maryland; the Eno Cotton Mills in North Carolina; the Clifton Manufacturing Company’s Mills in South Carolina; the Cluett-Peabody Mills in Connecticut; the Skenanadora Mills at Utica, New York; the Louisville Cotton Mills in Kentucky; the California Cotton Mills at Oakland, California; the Alden Knitting Mills at New Orleans, Louisiana; and the Galveston Cotton Mills at Galveston, Texas. Hardly a State in the Union fails to have benefited by his skill, and Mexico, Canada, South America, and Australia contain factories designed and equipped by him. His professional success has rarely been equalled and was the result of his profound interest in industrial progress, his thorough knowledge of general principles as well as small technical details and processes, and his honesty of conception and execution.

Although he never sought public office or political preferment, Mr. Makepeace’s outstanding ability and his well-known public spirit brought him frequent calls for public service. He served as councilman from the Second Ward of Providence during 1904-10 and during this period served on several of the most important committees. He was especially interested in the project of an East Side approach that would be practical and afford an easy ascent to the hilly sections to the east of the business centre. As chairman of the city property committee, he displayed his customary thoroughness in visiting personally every school building in the city and in recommending improvements which were afterwards effected. Through his professional status as engineer counsel for the Hope Company, the Interlaken Mill and the B. B. & R. Knight Company, which owned nearly a dozen plants affected by the North Scituate reservoir project, he was able to further this project very effectively. As their representative in the arbitration conferences regarding compensation for the loss of power, he steered discussion amicably and so adroitly that no litigation was necessary to bring about a satisfactory agreement. He was a director of the United States Bobbin & Shuttle Company, the Firemen’s Mercantile and the Narragansett Mutual Fire Insurance companies, the Rhode Island Investment Company, and the American Supply Company. He was also president and a director of the United Lace & Braid Manufacturing Company, and vice-president and a director of Res-Pro, Incorporated, as well as a trustee of the Hope High School Field Association.

During the World War Mr. Makepeace offered his services to his country as a “dollar a year man.” He was a member of the sub-committee on parity of prices of the War Industries Board, and in association with J. E. Sirrins, of Greenville, South Carolina, fixed maximum prices on all cotton goods sold to the government by mills or brokers in any part of the country. His decisions, based on his wide experience and invariably rendered with clear judgment, honesty and fairness, were never questioned or disputed. He was a life member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and of the National Association of Cotton Manufacturers. His interest in social life and his fondness for the outdoors found expression in his membership in the Squantum Association and the Agawam Hunt Club. His religious affiliations were with the Congregational Church and for many years he was a deacon of the Central Congregational Church of Providence.

Charles R. Makepeace married (first) Kate A. Salisbury, who died in 1913, survived by three sons and a daughter:

  1. Colin Mac Rae Makepeace, a well-known lawyer and formerly assistant attorney-general of Rhode Island.
  2. C. Salisbury Makepeace, associated in business with his father.
  3. Roderick F. Makepeace.
  4. Mrs. Malcolm D. Champlin, wife of Judge Champlin, of East Providence.

Mr. Makepeace married (second), in 1919, Marion Mac Rae, of Fayetteville, North Carolina, who survives him with two children:

  1. Marion Makepeace.
  2. Charles R. Makepeace, Jr.

At his home in Providence, Charles R. Makepeace died, February 9, 1926. His death was the conclusion of an exceptionally successful and useful career. His many professional achievements represented important contributions of lasting value to the economic development of many sections of this country. All of his work was distinguished by his consistent adherence to the highest professional and civic ideals, and the eminent professional standing which he enjoyed was fully deserved. For all this he will long be remembered by all who had the privilege of knowing him. To his family, to which he was attached with great devotion, his passing, of course, meant an irreparable loss, a loss which was also shared by his many friends, who had always found him a loyal, genial, and kindly companion. Rhode Island’s capital, for many years to come, will cherish his memory as that of one of its most loyal, helpful, and public-spirited citizens.

Source: Carroll, Charles. Rhode Island: Three Centuries of Democracy, vol 3 of 4. New York: Lewis historical Pub. Co., 1932.

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