HERITAGE AND THE PAST IN THE BLACKSTONE VALLEY

THURSDAY’S SPECIAL: TRACES OF THE PAST Y3-05


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.”

Photo: Marilyn Armstrong

Photo: Garry Armstrong

One of the most lovely and historic parts of the valley is the Blackstone Canal.

Photo: Marilyn Armstrong

Photo: Marilyn Armstrong

Photo: Marilyn Armstrong  – The trail along the canal was originally the path used by horses while pulling barges

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.

Photo: Garry Armstrong – Waterfall to the river; straight ahead to the canal.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

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.

Photo: Marilyn Armstrong

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.”

Photo: Marilyn Armstrong

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.

Photo: Marilyn Armstrong

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.

Additional historical information in THE HISTORY | THE CANAL and the Blackstone River and Canal National Heritage Park (Gov. Massachusetts)

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26 thoughts on “HERITAGE AND THE PAST IN THE BLACKSTONE VALLEY

    • We’ve been lucky. The canal has not always been well cared for, but for that past 20 years, they really have worked at fixing them up. Because it runs through a relatively rural area, it gets less messed up than if it ran through a city. In Worcester, it has actually been buried under the streets.

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  2. Pingback: THURSDAY’S SPECIAL: TRACES OF THE PAST Y3-05 | Lost in Translation

  3. These images are beautiful. Yours and Garry’s both. I feel like I am there, exploring the site with the two of you. Great eye for the composition! Thank you, Marilyn.

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    • In recent years, they have spiffed up the areas quite a bit. there are places to sit, places to barbecue. Even a reasonable number of spots for fishing and hiking. This particular section is actually part 1 of 2 pieces of parkland and if you walks along the path, you will come to the next park, maybe a few hundred yards down the path. Really lovely this time of year. A totally GREEN experience 🙂

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    • Spring HAS sprung, and it’s lovely out there for this whole next week. Bad news, too because the Gypsy Moth caterpillars are back. They are still tiny, but they will grow. I didn’t have a tight closeup lens to show them, but they visible. It’s going to be another ugly spring. Worse, there’s nothing more we can do about it than we have already done. Now, it’s wait and see and hope that the birds and natural disease kill a lot of them off.

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