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Setting the Stage

The Blackstone River, stretching from Worcester, Massachusetts, to Pawtucket, Rhode Island, played a crucial role in the development of the surrounding area. In 1790, Pawtucket witnessed the birth of the American Industrial Revolution when Samuel Slater built the first successful water-powered textile mill. By 1814, water-powered mills could be found at all the readily available dam sites in the Blackstone River Valley. These mills and the villages that grew up around them transformed the previously agrarian landscape.

The rapid growth of the textile mills of New England created a need for more sophisticated tools and metal components. This need was met by an increasing number of metal working shops in the northern (Worcester, Massachusetts) end of the Blackstone River Valley. Everything from giant boilers and turbines to wire, precision tools, and fine cutlery was designed and fabricated in dozens of factories throughout Worcester.

The skilled workers who operated the machinery and created the products were known as "mechanics" (men who made things). Some of these mechanics had become successful businessmen and civic leaders in their communities by the middle of the 19th century. Mechanics in many New England towns, including Worcester, formed mechanics organizations to help members develop the knowledge and skills necessary to work in the mills. These workers prided themselves on their constant pursuit of knowledge. A sense of pride and community prompted members of the Mechanics Association in Worcester to construct a magnificent meeting hall in 1857. Members used the facility to hold meetings and lectures, to conduct classes, and to showcase their products and skills. As a place for learning work-related skills and experiencing cultural events, Mechanics Hall was a tribute to the new kind of worker in an industrialized world.

 

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