The entire Blackstone River Valley is a National Historic Corridor. A lot of people don’t realize that we are “one step removed” from a national park and have a good many of the same protections. Many of these opportunities are not enforced, though not from unwillingness. More like “not enough money.”
One of the most lovely and historic parts of the valley is the Blackstone Canal.
The Blackstone river was the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution. In the early 1800s, it was, mile-for-mile, the busiest, most hard-working river in America. Over its 46-mile course, it drops 438 feet — farther than the Colorado River falls through the entire Grand Canyon. By 1790 the Blackstone’s waters powered the pioneering cotton mill of Samuel Slater at Pawtucket, Rhode Island. It was America’s first mechanized cotton factory.
Capital accumulated. Technical specialists gathered. Villages were built. This rapid growth created a need for an improved way of moving materials — other than the rutted dirt roads which had served the area thus far. The Blackstone River has too many twists, turns, falls, shallows, and rapids to be navigable, so during the winter and spring of 1821-2, plans were made to create a canal which would carry goods from mills to the world.
About the Canal
Financed by Yankee entrepreneurs and dug by Irish laborers, it was inaugurated in 1828. The canal follows the course of the Blackstone River and bypasses rapids and shallows using locks.
Over the course of its short 20-year history, the canal spurred commerce and development through the Valley, eventually known as “The Birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution.”
It attracted the attention of Boston and brought a rapid entry of trains to the area, making the canal attractive, but no longer workable. Much of new railroad was built along the tow-path of the canal.
The area was (fortunately) bypassed by most urban renewal. It has held onto much of its historic buildings. Its proximity to I-290 and Union Station made it an easy destination for out-of-towners — and more recently, an attractive place for housing and suburban re-investment.
The Canal is a locus of parks ranging from tiny to quite extensive. Now that the canal and river are so much cleaner, you can see many areas where fishing is encouraged as well as canoeing, kayaking and even — where the snapping turtles are in low supply — swimming. This time of year, it is quite simply, beautiful.