Places To Go
Photo by R. Christopher Noonan
– Robert Melnick
Scattered throughout the 24 cities and towns that make up the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor are many vestiges of a by-gone era: The Age of Industry. The American Industrial Revolution changed the Blackstone Valley’s landscape and transformed life in America. It left behind many clues to the past – mill villages, roads, trails, dams and mill ponds, agricultural and natural landscapes and ethnic traditions in neighborhoods, languages and foods. Today, efforts are underway to protect and interpret these distinctive heritage landscapes.
Pawtucket is home to the original Slater Mill where the wheels of industry began and forever changed the landscape and lifestyle of America. The site includes the original Slater Mill (1793), the first successful textile spinning mill in America, the Wilkinson Mill (1810) and the Sylvanus Brown House (1758), an example of a colonial home with demonstrations of hand spinning and weaving. Stroll along the river to see the Pawtucket Falls just south of the Mill. Located across the street from Slater Mill is the Blackstone Valley Visitor Center, where you can pick up information about the Valley, see the film, “Hidden in the Blackstone Valley”, enjoy exhibits on the Valley and visit the gallery.
The Cumberland / Lincoln area contains the historic mill villages of Berkeley, Lonsdale, and Ashton - all built, owned and operated by the powerful Lonsdale Company. The mill village center in Ashton with its massive mill and adjacent brick worker’s housing serves as a prime example of a New England mill village of the mid-19th century. Cumberland is also home to the Blackstone River Theatre where the culture is brought to life through performance arts. In Lincoln, you can explore the old Great Road where you’ll find several historical gems like the Eleazer Arnold House (c. 1693), the oldest home in the town and one of the few remaining examples of a “stone-ender” in the state, the Moffet Mill (c. 1812), a fine example of an early wooden mill, and the Chase Farm, now a recreation area. Nearby, you can enjoy the outdoors in Lincoln Woods State Park or enjoy the bikeway that runs through the Blackstone River and Canal State Park.
In Woonsocket, historic Main Street and Market Square are solid proof of this city’s 19th century success as an important urban center. You can visit the Museum of Work and Culture to trace the story of mill workers who came here from Quebec to work in the textile mills and learn about the origins of the labor movement in the Blackstone Valley. Take a stroll along the Blackstone at River Island Park where you can access the river in warmer months or enjoy ice skating in the winter. Check the schedule for the Blackstone Valley Explorer to take a boat trip up the Blackstone River and learn about its natural and industrial history or check out what’s playing at the Stadium Theatre, a local performing arts center featuring live theatre, concerts, and classic movie presentations.
Uxbridge was initially an agrarian community with a healthy smattering of gristmills, sawmills and other small enterprises. By the mid-19th century, more than 20 textile mills flourished in Uxbridge, attracting many immigrant workers, enriching an further diversifying the Town’s population. Downtown Uxbridge contains many vestiges of its early settlement from its common surrounded by churches of varying denominations, to its distinct housing and mill structures. Stop by the library across the common for a self-guided walking tour brochure and other information. Visit the River Bend Farm Visitor Center in the Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park owned and operated by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management to get information about the Valley and Corridor programs. The Park covers 1,000+ acres in Uxbridge, Northbridge, Millville and Blackstone where you can walk along the historic canal tow path, canoe the canal or river, view wildlife, enjoy interpretive tours, hike on your own or catch a summer concert.
In Northbridge you’ll discover five distinct villages that made diverse contributions to the growth of the Valley, and remains an active manufacturing community today. Stop by the Town Hall or Whitin Community Center for more information.
In Whitinsville you’ll find the home of the Whitin Machine Company – once the nation’s largest manufacturer of textile machinery. Built, maintained and controlled by the Whitin family for over 100 years, the family also controlled the mills and villages in nearby Linwood, Riverdale, and Rockdale. Whitinsville today reveals the its evolution from an agrarian settlement to industrial giant, and offers fascinating glimpse of the powerful family behind it all. Nearby is Plummer’s Landing, where Israel Plummer established a general store and warehouse beside an existing canal lock in 1837, Canal boats could easily tie up in the adjacent basin, and local farmers brought products there to be shipped to expanding markets. Today you can walk through the foundation stones of Plummer’s buildings, discover the remnants of a canal lock, access the Blackstone River, or take a walk along the existing tow path.
Worcester rose to prominence as the second largest city in New England, and the largest inland seaport in the world as a result of the building of the Blackstone Canal. Within a fifty year period, the city grew from 15,000 to 118,000 as its industries flourished in the manufacture of textiles, machine tools, carpets, boots and shoes, looms, corsets, wire and wire products of all kinds, and structural and ornamental ironware. You can visit several cultural institutions including the Higgins Armory Museum, the Worcester Art Museum, Salisbury Mansion, and the Worcester Historical Museum to learn more about its history and culture. Visit the Great Museum Adventures site to learn more. A few minutes from downtown Worcester you’ll find Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary - the largest urban wildlife sanctuary in New England. Owned and operated by the Massachusetts Audubon Society, the sanctuary contains six trails winding through 277 acres of marsh, meadow and woodland that are home to a large diversity of wildlife. The Visitor Center contains information about the Blackstone River Watershed and the nature of the Valley and offers educational programs about the environment.
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.