We live in a region of rivers and dams. Back when this country was more a hope than a reality, this was the river where America’s transition to industrialization began.
“The Blackstone River Valley of Massachusetts and Rhode Island is the “Birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution,” the place where America made the transformation from Farm to Factory. America’s first textile mill could have been built along practically any river on the eastern seaboard, but in 1790 the forces of capital, ingenuity, mechanical know-how and skilled labor came together at Pawtucket, Rhode Island where the Blackstone River provided the power that kicked off America’s drive to industrialization.”
It’s easy to see our history when you live in the Blackstone Valley. There were 46 dams on the Blackstone River. There are some fewer now. They are trying to remove dams and let the river run freely. But wherever you see a dam, there was a mill, a factory, or both at that turning of the river.
The soil supporting these dams is terminally hazardous. Packed behind the dams, it can’t spread its poison downstream. Allowed to run into the rivers, it could easily poison the river that was saved from (and is still being saved from) some of the worst pollution anywhere in the world. In the mid 1974, the Blackstone was considered one of the three most polluted rivers in the U.S. Today, it’s a living river filled with birds and fish and even some humans enjoying its waters.
Most of the remaining dams will stay where they are. The danger to the environment that would come with removing them is incalculable. Thus we enjoy the beauty of the dams. Swans, geese, ducks, divers and the occasional beavers enjoy the calm waters. While swimming is still forbidden both because of the still somewhat polluted water and the dangerous currents in the river, trout breed there and the river is open for kayaking, canoeing, and fishing along many banks.
All the dams were built between 1789 and the early 1900s. Each dam is unique to its place on the river and built of natural local stone.
The pool that forms in the pond before the waterfall is always as still as a glass mirror. It’s remarkable how clear and shiny that water is. Barely a ripple to announce the imminent falling of water over a dam that may be just inches away.