What's A Corridor?
The John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, designated by Congress in 1986, is composed of 24 cities and towns on 500 square miles of land in the watershed of the Blackstone River.
The watershed area extends from north of Worcester, Massachusetts south to Providence, Rhode Island. The 46-mile long Blackstone River, named an American Heritage River in 1998, is the focal point and main artery of the region.
Why is the Blackstone River Valley such a special place? The region is distinguished by outstanding resources: natural, cultural and historical. Beginning in the 18th century, the Blackstone Valley provided the setting for a remarkable transformation from farm to factory - a local story that became the model for a national phenomenon: the American Industrial Revolution. America's first textile mill could have been built along practically any river on the eastern seaboard. However, in 1790, the forces of capital, ingenuity, mechanical know-how and skilled labor came together at Pawtucket, Rhode Island where the Blackstone River provided the power that kicked off America's drive to industrialization at the Slater Mill.
The story of the Blackstone River Valley is told in a living landscape. Here history is not held back behind a velvet rope. Instead, you are welcome to roam farm fields, trek along the canal towpath and tour mill villages where people still live in the company built houses that their ancestors inhabited a century ago.
Work is the core theme of the history of the Blackstone River Valley. The Blackstone Valley is a chronicle of innovation and creativity as well as the transformation of peoples and landscapes brought about by the effort of genius and hard work. Each of the workers - farmers, mill workers, bankers, canal diggers, machinists, union organizers - has a story that adds to the tapestry. The thread that ties all of the stories together is the Blackstone River, a shallow, rocky, twisting stream that flows from Worcester to Providence and on out into the Narragansett Bay. The river attracted people here as a source of drinking water, food, and, eventually, energy. Today it attracts people as a source of recreation and inspiration.
Unlike a more traditional National Park, the Heritage Corridor does not own or manage any of the land within its boundaries. Instead, the Heritage Corridor Commission works in partnership with a variety of Federal, State and local agencies, along with many non-profit and private organizations to protect not only the sites and resources of the Blackstone Valley, but to maintain the spirit of innovation and ingenuity that makes this a special place.
The Blackstone Heritage Corridor is part of broader National Heritage Area network. A "national heritage area" is a place designated by the United States Congress where natural, cultural, historic and recreational resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally-distinctive landscape arising from patterns of human activity shaped by geography. These areas tell nationally important stories about our nation and are representative of the national experience through both the physical features that remain and the traditions that have evolved within them. To learn more about Heritage Areas, please click here.
To reach these goals, the Heritage Corridor Commission and its partners have undertaken a variety of tasks, from creating a system of Visitor Centers and interpretive sites to tell our story, to working with local communities on restoring Main Streets and protecting open space. Currently, our most ambitious program is the Campaign for a Fishable/Swimmable Blackstone River by 2015, an initiative to restore the heavily industrialized and abused Blackstone River to water that is safe for swimming and fishing by the year 2015. It's a daunting task, but the people of the Blackstone River Valley have a proud history of using hard work and ingenuity to get the job done.
Did You Know?
Children as young as age six were hired to work in the textile mills of the Blackstone River Valley. These adolescent workers were employed by the Lonsdale Company, c. 1912. Photos such as this helped lead to the passage of child labor laws.