RIVER OF DESTINY – BORN ON THE BLACKSTONE

BORN ON THE BLACKSTONE: A SHORT HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION

Born Bankrupt

America was born bankrupt. We won a revolution, but lost everything else. Our economy depended on Great Britain. We produced raw material, but England turned materials into goods.

Battle of Lexington and Concord revolution

Not merely did we depend on the British to supply us with finished goods we could not produce ourselves, we depended on British banks, shipping, and trade routes.

Everything has a price and we had no money. We hoped we could reach an agreement with England short of war and had there been a different monarch on the throne, we might have been able to. Despite the Massachusetts “Sam Adams faction” most colonists felt at least some allegiance to England.

We had no “American identity” because there was no America with which to identify. What colonists wanted were the rights of free Englishmen. A deal should have been reached, but George III said no. It was war. England lost their wealthiest colonies and we were born.

How did we win the war? George Washington did an amazing job considering what he had to work with. And then, there were the French.

French military support was the key. Ships, guns, mercenaries. It was a loan we agreed to pay back. The French revolution was a stroke of luck indeed. Afterwards, when Napoleon suggested we repay our war debt, we said “What war debt?” Phew.

What Did We Have?

Slaves and land. Sugar and rum. Most slaves lived in the south, but were brought here by New England sea captains. Held in New York, and Boston, sold to slavers at northern markets, they were then sent south to be resold to individual owners. Our entire economy was based on slaves.

The new-born United States had no factories, no national bank, currency, credit, courts, laws, or central government. Even before 1776, slavery was the polarizing issue in the colonies. When it came time to write a Constitution, it was obvious abolishing slavery would doom it, so slavery became law, laying the groundwork for America’s bloodiest war.

87 years later, more than 600,000 lives would be the butcher’s bill for that “deal.” It would twist and distort American history, shape our politics, society, culture, and social alignments. Its legacy remains. When you dine with the Devil, bring a long spoon.

Welcome to the Blackstone Valley

People needed work. Trade goods. If this country was going to develop into anything, it needed reliable sources of income.

Slave and rum might work for a few, but most settlers didn’t own ships. Moreover, slaving was never a profession for “nice folks.” Decent people might live off the labor of slaves, but actually buying and selling people was more than they could stomach.

As great minds gathered in Philadelphia to draft a document to build a nation, other great minds sought ways to make money. It’s the American way.

Renovated into elderly and affordable housing, the old Crown and Eagle mill in Uxbridge is beautiful today.

The Crown and Eagle Mill today, renovated into elderly and affordable housing.

As the Constitution went into effect in 1789, the American Industrial Revolution took shape on the banks of the Blackstone River.

Moses Brown had been fighting his own war. He was battling the Blackstone. With a 450 foot drop over a 46-mile course — an average drop of about 10 feet per mile — the Blackstone River is a powerhouse. Not a wide river, its sharp drop combines with its narrowness and meandering path to give it much more energy than a river of this size should generate.

As the Constitution was gaining approval, Brown tried to build a cotton thread factory in Pawtucket, RI at a falls on the Blackstone River. He was sure he could harness the river to power his mill, but at the end of 1789, the score stood at Blackstone River – 1, Moses Brown – 0.

America had her welcome mat out in those days. We needed people. We weren’t picky. All immigrants were welcomed, a stroke of luck for Moses Brown.

Slaterville Mill -- oldest mill in the Blackstone Valley

Slaterville Mill — oldest mill in the Blackstone Valley

In December 1789, Samuel Slater — a new immigrant from England — began working for Brown. Slater was an engineer with years of experience working in English textile mills. In less than a year, he built a working mill on the Blackstone River. America’s first factory was open for business.

Slaters Mill restoration (museum)

Slater’s Mill restoration (museum)

Mills sprang up everywhere along the Blackstone. From Worcester to Providence, its banks were lined with mills and factories. More sprouted by the Merrimack and eventually, everywhere in New England where a river ran.

The Blackstone Canal

What made the Blackstone a natural for generating power made it useless for shipping. Horse-drawn wagons were slow and expensive. It took 2 to 3 days over dirt roads from Worcester to Providence.

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When winter came, the trip was impossible. All of which led to the building of the Blackstone Canal.

What Does This Have To Do With Slavery?

Mills brought employment to the north. It created an industrial base which would give the north the ability to fight a civil war and win. It started with the river, continued with a canal, expanded with railroads. Which is why the Blackstone Valley is the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution … a revolution that brought the U.S. into the modern world and positioned us to become top dog on the international scene.

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The canal system remains largely intact. Trails along the canals where horses towed barges are walking paths. Barges are gone, but small boats enjoy the open stretches of canal and river.

Railroads

Railroads were the game-changer. When rail arrived, the canal was abandoned. Business boomed.

By the end of the 19th century, the Blackstone River was lined with mills and factories. The Blackstone supplied the hydro power and in return, the river was used to dispose of industrial waste and sewage.

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By the early 1900s, the Blackstone River in Massachusetts was grossly polluted. This was also the beginning of the end of the textile industry in the northeast and the beginning of mass unemployment in the north.

As of 1923, the majority of nation’s cotton was grown, spun and woven down south — and that’s where the mills went. One by one, they closed, never to reopen. Without its mills and factories, the valley’s population began to shrink.

Pollution

In 1971, the Blackstone River was labeled “one of America’s most polluted rivers” by Audubon magazine. It was the low point. Time to clean up the mess.

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We’re still cleaning up. Although not as bad as it was, the watershed isn’t clean yet. Against all logic and reason, waste-water is still being discharged from a sewage treatment plant in Millbury. It’s hard to fathom the reasoning, if any, of those knuckleheads still pouring sewage into our river.

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Good news? The birds and fish are back. American eagles nest in my woods. Herons and egrets wade in the shallows to catch the fish who breed here. The river is alive, if not entirely well. An apt description of our nation too.

INDUSTRY OUTSIDE METROPOLIS

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Industrial

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It’s a matter of definition. For most of my life, I lived in or around major cities. New York, where I grew up. I don’t know if Jerusalem counts as a major city, but I was there a pretty long time.

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Then Boston. Industrial in large cities is synonymous with “big.” Great brick factories belching smoke. Tall chimneys. Pollution. Cement. Traffic.

Old Mill No. 4

Yet, ironically, out here in the Blackstone Valley is where the American industrial revolution began. We are the home of the first factories.

Crown and Eagle mill transformed into elderly housing

Crown and Eagle mill transformed into elderly housing

The mills, built along the Blackstone River were where it all began. We are still cleaning up the pollution and the mills are either gone or converted to some other use.

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First they moved down south, where they could find cheaper land, labor, favorable tax laws … and they would be near the cotton fields.

path machines dirt hartford st

But industry remains. It’s not the way it was, yet it is industry. Small factories, cottage industry by comparison. And just as interesting as photographic subject.

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And finally, not forgetting our New England coastline, the docks and ships of our historic fishing fleets. Our first American industry!

GENTLE WINTER WITH HOLIDAY SONGS

It wasn’t a heavy snow. A dusting, really. Fat flakes drifted past the windows through the naked trees, but left nothing more than a frosting. And it was wet snow that quickly melted when the sun hit it. The ground was too warm. Winter has been gentle this year.

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During the night, the cold is supposed to move in.Our nights have been cold, but the days have been unusually warm for this time of year.

Winter is usually about how many layers you need to wear. Which boots will keep your feet from freezing. Scarves and hats keep the frostbite at bay. How long it takes the car to warm before you can get heat. Remembering to not leave stuff in the car that might freeze.

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So far, though, except for a wintry blast on Thanksgiving, it has been mild. Mostly in the high 30s and low 40s in the daytime, in the 20s at night. For you west coasters, this really is mild for New England in December.

The wood steps to the deck are usually too treacherous to use throughout the winter, but so far, so good.

Garry takes weather personally. Cold makes him suffer. He’s a sunshine kind of guy. Both of us were raised in New York and landed here. In Massachusetts. It’s a love-hate thing. Love New England, wish the weather weren’t so harsh.

light snow falling picture windowWe feel weather in our bones these days. Human barometers. We are more accurate than the maps on the weather channel.

This warm spell is a treat, a special gift for our holiday season.

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So … no snow right now, but I assume it will come. Or maybe we will have one of those precious snow-free winters. I’m dreaming of a not-so-white Christmas!

SUNDAY AFTERNOON SOMEWHERE IN SUTTON

We were actually heading for one place, but the pond we were trying to get to was accessible only by a private road. Residents only. Rich people territory. This is where we ended up. The only problem is, I’m not sure where we were other than “somewhere in Sutton.”

There were ducks and geese on the pond, as well as a couple of beaver. Kaity got a shot of the beaver, but I was too slow. For all that, it was a good afternoon shoot.

This is the end of autumn, just before it becomes winter in the valley.

WITH GRATITUDE – AND ABOUT THE WELL

Feeling Fancy — You’re given unlimited funds to plan one day full of any and all luxuries you normally can’t afford. Tell us about your extravagant day with as much detail as possible.


Raining

Raining

It’s such a dreary, drippy day. I think it will be teeming soon enough. That’s what the forecast calls for. Almost 3 inches of rain today and flash flood warnings throughout the Valley.

At least it isn’t as cold as yesterday, or all the stuff falling out of the sky would be snow and sleet. It’s dark, too. I keep turning lights on, but it doesn’t feel bright enough. And my head hurts. I blame it on the weather.

I blame everything on the weather. The weather can’t argue back.

It is hard for me to imagine spending unlimited funds on myself for any reason. It has been a long time since I saw money and didn’t think “bills need to be paid.” That’s life in the slow lane, life since retirement, since the paychecks were replaced by pensions and Social Security.

So many things which were yearned-for luxuries have no place in today’s world. Not that long ago, a “spa day” sounded great. Now, it sounds like a long drive through heavy traffic, somebody poking at me, followed by a long ride home. I haven’t had my hair professionally cut in more than a year. Not because there are no hairdressers to whom I could go. It’s that I don’t trust anyone near my head with a pair of shears.

I wouldn’t mind a pedicure, though. That would be nice. I can do that locally. Get my eyebrows waxed. How about dinner at our favorite Japanese restaurant? Get the car detailed so it looks good and smells fresh?

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If we are going to go all out, how about a chair lift so we can stop hauling our reluctant bodies up the stairs? And a pair of senior scooters plus a car-carrier so we can take them with us? That would make life a lot more fun!

Maybe a contractor to fix the stuff that needs updating, replacing, repairing, restoring. Not an overhaul. A coat of paint. New vinyl in kitchens and bath, carpeting in bedrooms. Give the old place a face lift. Since you asked.

I don’t brood on this stuff. We manage. We’re not suffering, though we aren’t getting younger or more spry. But who is?

december bouquet

We have a lot more than many others, so rather than yearning for what we lack, I’d rather dwell on how lucky we are.

It has been an amazing year. I’m alive! That’s a good starting point!

ABOUT THE WELL

With your help, we have a well. Water flowing from the taps. The project is not quite completed. We still lack the well’s top. Probably not going to get that done until spring. But everything else is finished.

The well is working. We have water pressure. Water from the taps is icy cold and crystal clear. It means we can continue living in this beautiful valley of rivers and dams, beavers, ducks, and herons.

So this is a good time to be glad. Christmas is rolling around and I’m here to celebrate. Grateful to have friends who care. Family. And so happy we have each other.

That’s huge. Come to think of it, I’ve got plenty!

LAST WINTER

Winter is on its way. We’ve been warned. A couple of little snows. Just a few inches and now it has melted, so we are back to mud. But that’s because it warmed up and rained last night.

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In a few weeks, it will stop warming up. All precipitation will be snow or sleet (I hate sleet).

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Last winter was horrendous. It was bitterly cold and never warmed up enough to melt off. It would melt a little bit, then immediately freeze again until our driveway was a glacier from which we could not escape.

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Yet. It was beautiful. Snow is beautiful. Living in this valley, when the snow cover turns the world shiny and white looks like a painting, a Currier and Ives illustration. Even the most hardened winter hater can’t help but be awestruck.

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A few pictures from last winter … antique-style to add just a hint of unreality. I’m down with winter’s unreality, by the way. If only I could stay unreal until spring …

NOVEMBER ON WHITINS POND

Whitins Pond November

Whitins Pond, November 2014

Just when I thought the glorious fall was over for good and all, we had yet one perfect afternoon in mid November. The pond is full again. The rains came and filled it.

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Houses on Whitins Pond, almost twilight

While the swans have been absent, mallards seem to be everywhere. Maybe they are taking advantage of the absence of the swans to take over that piece of pond. They were too far for me to photograph, but I could see them. It’s nice to see birds again.

Twilight on Whitins Pond in November

Twilight on Whitins Pond in November