Stop 1: Slatersville Reservoir

Black and white photograph of upper dam spanning the Branch River
Upper Dam, Slatersville, RI

To understand Slatersville’s evolution, we must start with water. You are now standing along the banks of the Branch River. The Branch River is a tributary of the Blackstone River, meaning it flows into the Blackstone. At the point where you are now standing, the river drops 40 feet in just a mile. That is a tremendous drop, and it makes this place ideal for building a water-powered mill.

In fact, it was this drop, and the potential power it provided, that attracted industrialist John Slater to this site. John, the younger brother of his more famous brother Samuel, convinced his brother, and other business partners to purchase 1,200 acres of land and the rights to the water.

As you look at the river, you may notice two distinct waterfalls. These are not natural waterfalls but human-made dams. The dam off in the distance is the middle dam. The middle dam and its twenty-foot drop create a reservoir of water, known as a mill pond. This mill pond is over 170 acres in size. A mill pond is intended to provide a water-powered mill with an ample source of water that could power, at first, wooden waterwheels, and eventually mechanical turbines.

Although it might not be evident today, this human manipulation of the river stored enough water to eventually power 3 large textile mills on this site. One of those mills, the Western Mill, once stood on the hillside behind. We will see one of the two remaining structures from this complex at one of our next stops.


Last updated: September 8, 2022

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