Our all time favorite vacation is renting a canal boat and spending a week or two driving it through the English countryside. England has a network of canals that run throughout the country, from London up to Wales, with many circular routes or ‘rings’ in the center of the country.

The canal boats are not like any boat you’ve ever seen. They’re called narrow boats. They are basically long and thin steel barges, about 7 ½ feet wide and ranging from 45-65 feet long. They are like houseboats and can sleep anywhere from two to eight people. There is always a living/eating area, often with comfy chairs and a wood burning stove. There is a kitchen and bathroom in addition to at least one bedroom. They are amazingly roomy and comfortable.

The outside of the boats are painted in distinctive bright colors with classic patterns on them. They are beautiful and each boat is unique. The style is country craft meets gypsy. Lots of stylized floral motifs.

All the boats also have a small outside deck area where you sit or stand and steer the boat – from the back. The boat can only go about five miles per hour and you steer it with a single tiller. When another canal boat is coming in the other direction, you may only have six inches or so of space between the two boats. At first driving the boat is daunting and intimidating. But after a while, it becomes second nature and it’s no big deal.

Locks are something unique to canals. They are part of the allure and the culture of the canals. To get up and down the numerous hills and valleys, you go through locks. These are sluices that raise or lower the water level to the water level on the other side of the lock. In England, they are all manual and the boaters have to work the locks themselves. I don’t have the space here to go into lock technology. But it takes time and requires physical labor by the lock person, while the navigator drives the boat into and out of the lock compartments.

Locks add to the charm of the canal experience, except in the pouring rain or in 95 degree heat. We have experienced both.

The canals and the scenery alongside them are beautiful. You can drive through scenic farmland, dotted with cows and sheep. You can also go through heavily forested areas, suburbs with gorgeous canal side houses, or even swampland. There are also industrial towns along some of the routes. The canals were originally built in the eighteenth century for industries, like the famous English china factories such as Wedgewood. The canals were for the transportation of supplies and marketable goods back and forth around the country.

Canal boating is a very self-contained and independent type of holiday. If you see a pub that appeals to you, you stop for a beer or a meal. And there are lots of picturesque pubs along all the canals. When you get to a town, you walk to the stores and shop for food or just putter around. When you’re ready to stop for the night, you pick a spot, pull over and hammer down stakes to hold the boat in place.

You get totally caught up in the peaceful, slow-paced world of the canals. You get friendly with other boaters camped near you or going through the locks with you. Many English boaters live on the canals for months at a time, often with their cats and/or dogs. That sounds idyllic to me!

I’ve been on three canal trips. One was with another couple and four young children and two were just with my husband, Tom. It’s one of the only vacations I want to go back to again and again. To reduce stress, when I think of a peaceful, happy place, I transport myself to a canal boat in the English countryside.


Where To Next? by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

Perhaps you have seen the commercials or print ads for a popular travel planning site that features a garden gnome. Yes, a garden gnome!  If you have done any travel planning online, then they may have popped up on your computer too.  The internet is smarter than we are and knows when to send us a picture of a garden gnome.  For years I thought the ad campaign was silly.  I could not imagine why a lifeless gnome was speaking to us from various locales from around the world.

Then a friend recommended the beloved 2001 French film Amelie to me (aka Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain) .  Actually, he checked it out of the library, gave it to me and told me to watch it.  Amelie was busy in her life solving the problems of others while neglecting her own.  As the film progresses, one of the people Amelie turns her attention to is her father, a widower who rarely seems to make it past the garden and his beloved gnome.  I will not explain the importance of the wooden figurine, but needless to say, Amelie has launched a great plan that includes the gnome.  If you do not know French, watch it with subtitles.  It is worth it.

Tom Law t-shirt, Chicago

Some years after discovering why the gnome is travelling the world, I had a conversation with musician Tom Joseph Law regarding his t-shirts and where they had been seen online.  Perhaps it was just a casual conversation about the posting of a friend, I honestly don’t recall, but I do remember that I had a picture of myself at a local event in 2015 where I was wearing the shirt.  So I posted it to Facebook.


In the picture, a stick figure Tom is falling off his surfboard while a large fish seems ready to greet him.  It is based on a rather horrible surfing accident which Tom relayed to me one day in quite a bit of detail.  Some of it is a bit amusing now that time has passed, but it was not pleasant.  It affected Tom’s voice for a long time to follow.  This is not good for a singer-songwriter.

The first time I went to Colombia, I took the shirt along and got several pictures throughout Medellin.  I am not sure which one I posted at the time, so here is one with my friend and tour guide for the visit.  Not only did John take a few pictures with my camera, but we also bothered his friends to get some pictures of us. It was the first time John and I met in person, after a year or more of conversation.

On the next trip to Colombia I may have forgotten this particular shirt, but I had another Tom Law shirt with me.  It is the drawing that also appears on the cover of an album (EP, actually).  I may have violated the true spirit of the gnome, but nothing says Colombia more than an American wearing the British guy’s t-shirt in front of the British store in a mall in Medellin. So here it is anyway.


When I finally got to travel to England and visit the area where Tom is from, he had already left the country.  I am pretty sure that had nothing to do with our arrival.  So we found our own travel guide and went on to Bath while Tom was hiding in an eastern European country.  I guess it was his own personal Brexit.  Anyway, I got my travel companion to take pictures of my gnome t-shirt with my phone.  If you wish to see pictures of our tour of Salisbury, Stonehenge and a Roman Bath, you can find them here.

Bath, England but where is Tom?

Last month I visited my closest friend in France.  This brought the opportunity to get another picture of the traveling t-shirt with the gnome falling off the surfboard.  On a sunny day in a week that was filled with clouds, we made it to Strasbourg where I coaxed the French guy into taking pictures of yours truly in the British t-shirt. Since the guy in the foreground is not much to look at, it is fortunate we were on the street that leads up to the magnificent cathedral in Strasbourg.

Strasbourg, France

This historic building was started over a thousand years ago.  It is awesome in its intricate details and is always a site to behold.  At one time, it was the tallest structure in Europe.  Now the Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg should be on the tour of anyone passing through the Alsace region, whether you are carrying a garden gnome or not.

When considering all of the countries where this shirt has been, whether there was a postcard home from the gnome or not, Tom thinks it may have made it to more countries than he has.  That’s not too bad, actually.


Back on Facebook, the site I love to hate. Someone who ought to know better is saying “Here’s a suggestion: To solve this government shutdown, call a general election and let the people decide what should be done. Should we continue with the shutdown or go back to running the government? Sounds simple to me!”

Election day 2012

And getting the response:  “What’s simple to us is hard for our elected officials!”

It’s not hard for our elected officials. It’s impossible and illegal for our officials — elected and otherwise.

Not only that, but we do not have any mechanism that allows a plebiscite wherein everyone gets to voice his or her opinion and The Government has to Abide by Our Vote. How would that work, exactly? To which part of our legal system does that belong? Judicial? Legislative? Executive?

I’m pretty sure we have to pass laws via the legislature. To change laws, we have to get rid of old laws via the judicial branch and/or enact new laws. Which brings us back to the legislative branch. Or to put it another way — congress. If you don’t like the bozos in congress, don’t vote for them. What? You didn’t vote? Well then. I guess you got what you deserve.

The executive branch (aka The President) can’t enact laws. He can use his influence to try to get congress to create laws he likes. He can veto laws he dislikes although presidents do not use their veto much. It’s a thing. Oh, and congress can overturn a veto if enough members of congress agree. Like that’s going to happen.

So — after we have this entirely illegal “public opinion election,” who will enforce “the will of the people”? To the best of my knowledge, there is no force of law to public opinion. There never has been.

Returning to Facebook, I post a little something. Because I love it when I absolutely, positively know no one is going to pay any attention to me. I say: “You can’t just ‘call an election’ in the U.S. This isn’t Great Britain where members of parliament vote “no confidence’ to jumpstart a new election. The U.S. has scheduled elections. Beginning and end of story. The Constitution specifies how and when elections will be held. You can vote down a government in England. You cannot do it here.”

Everyone ignores me. Probably because I’m so smart.

So what can you do about all the stuff you don’t like? Between scheduled elections, you are free to gripe, whine, wail, argue, rant, piss and moan … but you can’t vote until the next scheduled election.

Green is for going.

Green is for going.

It’s one of several fundamental differences between our government and parliamentary governments (like England, France etc.). Americans are always saying how superior our government is, yet they don’t seem to know how it works. Hmm.

So I love it when folks call for an election to change something they don’t like. As if the United States has ever or could ever “just call an election” and “let the people decide.” Even in a parliamentary government — which is nominally more responsive to public opinion — you can’t just “call an election” anytime citizens are displeased with what’s going on.

Somewhere in every government throughout history a lot of citizens are/were/will be unhappy with whatever the government is or isn’t doing. If you had an election every time a bunch of people were mad at the government, we’d always be in the middle of an election.

Wouldn’t that be fun!

You are not required to like what’s going on, but if you want to participate, you need a fundamental grasp of how your government works. The boring stuff you ignored learned in grammar school. Today, you’re all grown up and your government is boring. I know. It’s not fair.

Feel free to ignore me. I should never read anything on Facebook. It just pisses me off.


Woven of Myth: The Plantagenets

The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England

By Dan Jones

PENGUIN GROUP Viking – 560 pages

Publication Date:   April 18, 2013

This is a highly readable book. Although it is pure history, it’s so beautifully written, so lyrical it feels like a novel. Rarely has any book about this remarkable family given me the sense of destiny and the full impact of their influence and the romance of England’s premier ruling family. To a large extent, the Plantagenets defined England — perhaps even created it. This view of the Plantagenets was unique concept for me. As soon as I read it, it made complete sense. That the more than 200 year reign of this remarkable family, with its peaks and its depths continues to define British identity was something I’d never considered. Now it seems obvious, but like so many obvious things, I never noticed it until the author pointed it out.

It was wonderful to read history where the author appreciates not just the facts, but the drama, romance, story and myth. The imprint left by this ruling family on Great Britain is deep, pervasive and affects every aspect of England’s identity, even in the 21st century long after the family has — technically — disappeared. On many levels, this family can never disappear. They are part of the soil, the air, the heart of the island kingdom they ruled.

From its opening words, the book grabbed me and pulled me in. It “had” me before I had finished the preface, much less the first chapter.

The Bayeux Tapestry, chronicling the English/N...

The Bayeux Tapestry, chronicling the English/Norman battle in 1066

Although I was predisposed to enjoy it, I had no idea how much I would enjoy it. This is a book that greatly and delightfully exceeded my expectations. I have read many books about the Plantagenets, both straight history and as literary “docudrama.” I am very familiar with the stories of each of the monarchs, the wars, the scandals, the affairs, the treachery. It could have been old news for me, but instead, it was like reading it for the first time. What a wonderful fresh voice the author brings to material that has been written about — one might think — to the point where you could reasonably question whether or not yet another tome on the subject serves any purpose.

Was anything new uncovered? Not really new information, but in many cases, a new way of looking at history I have read in many other books. Whether or not the information is new to you will depend on how much else you’ve read. There was no news in it for me, but I’ve been fascinated by the Plantagenets and the British Crown since I was a kid.

The debunking of characters like Simon de Montfort that seem to have surprised some readers wasn’t news to me. I have read sufficient French history of the period to thoroughly detest the man and didn’t need any more help. The same goes for most of these characters. It wasn’t new information that made the book so much fun for me, but the presentation and the obvious relish the author took in the stories and characters. His enthusiasm is infectious.


As you might expect, the book includes maps, lineage charts, all the family connections of the Plantagenets. The story covers that period from Empress Mathilda through Richard II’s loss to Bolingbroke. It stops in 1399, rather before the ascent of the Tudors. The author chose to end his narrative before the War of the Roses, leaving that long and ugly battle for England’s throne for the next volume. I look forward to reading that too.

At 560 pages, it is a long book. I had no trouble with its length other than finding enough time to read the entire thing. It wasn’t hard to become engrossed in each of its sections. Nor does it require any prior knowledge of the period, although prior knowledge certainly doesn’t hurt. You could hardly grow up an English-speaker and not have heard of most of the prominent people that strut, gallop or crawl across the pages. If you’ve read any English history at all, you have surely encountered these Kings, Queens, counselors, courtiers, ministers and more.

If you’ve read Shakespeare, you may feel you know this material well, but anything written by Shakespeare is strongly prejudiced in favor the usurping Tudors. It is untrustworthy as fact. Shakespeare is literature, not history and should be enjoyed as such.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is a pleasure to read, whether you are a scholar, history buff,  Anglophone or Anglophile, lover of historical novels … or innocently searching for a great read.

It’s available in hard cover, paperback, Kindle and audio. I don’t believe you could go wrong no matter what version you choose.

American Mythology

Every nation revises history. They leave out the bad bits  — slaughters of the innocent, unjust wars against minorities and civilians. They invent heroes, turn defeats into victories.

This (attributed to ) originally appeared duri...

American history is no different. It’s relatively easy to make our history match our myths when such a large percentage of U.S. citizens haven’t learned any history since third grade. There’s some question about how well third grade lessons were absorbed. Recent studies show a troubling pattern of ignorance in which even the basics of history are unknown to most of our natural-born citizens. Ironically, naturalized citizens are far better educated. They had to pass a test to become citizens. The rest of us got a free pass.

College students don’t know when we fought the Revolution, much less why. They can’t name our first president (George Washington, just in case you aren’t sure). Many aren’t clear what happened on 9/11.  I’ve been asked which came first, World Wars I or II — indicating more than ignorance. More like deep stupidity.

Getting the people excited enough to take up arms is hard work.

All over Facebook, morons gather to impress each other with the vigor of their uninformed opinions. They proclaim we fought the Revolution to not pay taxes and keep our guns. Saying that’s not how it happened is insufficient. I lack the words to say how untrue that is.

Why did we have a Revolution? How come we rebelled against England rather than peaceably settling our differences? Wouldn’t it have been easier to make a deal?

Yes, it would have been easier to make a deal and we tried. Unfortunately, it turned out to be impossible. We fought a revolution when we exhausted every peaceful option. Petitions and negotiations failed, but we kept trying, even after shots had been fired and independence declared.

We didn’t want war with England. There were lots of excellent reasons:

  • Our economy was entirely dependent on trade with England. Through English merchants, we could trade with the rest of the world. Without them, we were stuck with no trading partners or ships
  • We were ill-equipped to fight a war
  • We had no navy, no commanders. No trained army. We barely had guns
  • Our population was too small to sustain an army
  • We had no factories, mills or shipyards
  • We relied on England for finished goods other than those we could make in our own homes, including furniture, guns, clothing, cutlery, dishes, porcelain
  • We needed Britain to supply us with anything we ate or drank (think tea) unless we could grow it in North America.

All luxury goods and many necessities came from or through England. We had some nascent industries, but they were not ready for prime time. It wasn’t until 1789 we built our first cotton-spinning mill — made possible by an Englishman named Slater who immigrated from England and showed us how to do it.

Our American colonies didn’t want to be Americans. We wanted to be British. We wanted the right to vote in parliamentary elections as equals with other British citizens. The cry “no taxation without representation” (remember that?) didn’t mean we weren’t willing to pay taxes. It meant we wanted the right to vote on taxes. We wanted to be heard, to participate in government. Whether or not we would or would not pay a particular tax was not at issue. Everyone pays taxes — then and now. We wanted seats in Parliament and British citizenship.

King George was a Royal asshole. His counselors strongly recommended he make a deal with the colonists. Most Americans considered themselves Englishmen. If the British king had been a more flexible, savvy or intelligent monarch, war could have been averted. We would be, as the Canadians are, part of the British Commonwealth. There would have been no war. A bone-headed monarch thought a war was better than compromise. He was a fool, but it worked out better than we could have hoped.

We declared war which many folks here and abroad thought was folly. We almost lost it. We would have lost were it not for two critical things:

  • British unwillingness to pursue the war aggressively
  • French ships and European mercenaries.

Without French assistance and hired mercenaries from central Europe, we would have been squashed by the British who were better armed, better trained. They had ships with guns, trained seamen to man them. We didn’t.

Near home, in a ritzy Boston suburb.

Just as we considered ourselves English, albeit living abroad in a colony rather than in England, British soldiers and commanders were not overly eager to slaughter people they considered fellow Englishmen. They didn’t pursue the war with the deadly determination they could have … and if they had? Who knows?

Did we really win because the British were inept and couldn’t beat an untrained ragtag rabble army? That’s our story and we’re sticking to it. I doubt it. There is considerable argument on much this affected the course of the war. I side with those who think that the British found it distasteful to shoot people with whom a short time before they had been friends and with whom the hoped to be friends again. And of course, many British soldiers had family in “the colonies” and vice-versa. It was a painful fight, rather like a civil war.

Many British citizens sympathised with the colonists including a goodly percentage of troops. Sympathy ran high even in the upper echelons of British government. Many important people in England were none too happy with King George. So they did as they were ordered, but without enthusiasm. No one in the British government — or high up in the army — believe the colonies had any chance of winning. They were convinced we’d work it out by negotiations eventually. Many felt the fewer people killed in the interim, the fewer hard feeling would exist afterwards.

And then there was one huge miscalculation. The British did not expect the French to show up. As soon as the French fleet arrived, a few more battles were fought and the British went home. Had they pursued the war with vigor from the start, we wouldn’t have lasted long enough for the French to get here, much less save our butts.

The mythology surrounding the American Revolution is natural. Every nation needs heroes and myths and we are no exception. But as grown ups, we can apply a bit of healthy skepticism, read a couple of books. Learn there’s more to the story than the stuff we learned when we were eight. Like, the second part of the Revolutionary war known as “The War of 1812.” Part two of the Revolution which we lost fair and square when the British burned Washington D.C.

We did not win the Revolution. We survived it. Barely.

Andrew Jackson’s big win at New Orléans in 1814 kept the British from coming back. The battle took place a full 10 days after the war ended. Losing it would no doubt have encouraged the British to return, but the Battle of New Orléans was not decisive. The war was over by then. No one had a cell phone, so they didn’t know, which is why I contend the course of history would be really different if cell phones had been invented a few centuries earlier.

Only crazy people think guns and killing are the solution to the world’s ills. Guns and killing are the cause of most of the problems. It horrifies me such people gain credence. It used to be considered a normal part of good citizenship to have a basic understanding of history and government.

Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown

Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is no better form of government than ours. There are others perhaps as good, but none better, none more fair, none that offers more protection to its citizens. Whatever is wrong with our system of government is wrong with the world, not just America. Intelligent people don’t throw away the good stuff because someone lost an election, or a jury brought in a bad verdict.

We have the good fortune to live in a nation of laws. They don’t always work the way they should, nor does justice always prevail, but the laws exist. We have elections. We transfer power from one administration to the next without battles, riots, bloodbaths.

An educated citizenry and a free press are our best defenses against tyranny. As long as you can complain openly and protest vigorously against your own government, and those people on TV and on the news can say what they will about the government — whether or not you or I agree with them — we are living in a free nation. That’s a rare and wonderful thing.

Ignorance is the enemy of freedom. It allows fools to rush in where angels would never dare. Support education. Encourage your kids to read. Let’s all read. Knowledge benefits everyone.

Gazing through from the other side with a British accent

It’s 5 hours later in London than in New England. I was reminded of this today because a few minutes after 4 in the afternoon, I got almost 400 hits from England on a blog I wrote Last September.

The post is about the première episode of this season of the CBS series “Criminal Minds.” For those of you who have never watched the show, it is based on the FBI‘s Behavioral Analysis Unit based in Quantico, Virginia.

I wrote the original post on September 26, 2012, which was when the première episode for this season of “Criminal Minds” aired in the United States. For some reason, that post hit the top of Google’s search engine and has stayed there ever since.

The series supposedly portrays the FBI’s best and brightest. The words “gazing through from the other side” were left at a crime scene and in the show, the team can’t find any reference to those words anywhere in the virtual universe. Of course the first thing I did after they said they couldn’t find it was type the words into Google and hit “Enter.” Up came the song, the lyrics, the group … and it took me perhaps 10 seconds.

Apparently the same thing happened today in England when the show aired for the first time. Everyone watched the show, heard the line, grabbed their tablet or laptop, Googled the phrase … and found me.


I realize it’s TV, not the real FBI, but surely even the fake FBI can do a simple Google search. My granddaughter was doing Google searches before she finished first grade, so it is hard to believe a television show would portray federal agents as less computer savvy than a 6-year-old.

It had been an unremarkable day, even a bit slow. I usually get most of my hits in the evening, so when I looked at my site in mid afternoon and saw I had around 140 hits, it seemed normal.

A screenshot of the BAU Team on the jet.

When I went back to look at my site a bit after 4 in the afternoon, I had gotten almost 600 hits, the vast majority from Great Britain for that same post about “Criminal Minds.” I may not be the sharpest tack in the tool box, but I deduced today was the British première of the show. I was so sure I didn’t even bother to check until an hour ago when I Googled “criminal minds UK première” and it came up as 28 January 2013 at 9pm — 4pm my time.

That little post, written between commercial breaks, has been my all-time most popular post. It isn’t my best work. It isn’t even close to my best. I’ve posted hundreds of better pieces, but none ever got such a big response. It makes me think about why I’m blogging. I want to be read, but it would be nice to be recognized for work of which I’m proud. Regardless, my most popular stuff is never my best. Sometimes, it isn’t even mine — it’s a reblog. That hurts.

When I get responses to posts on which I worked hard, it makes me happy. Responses from people who “get me” are gratifying. The only thing that could make it better would be money. Feel free to send cash or checks. I’m sorry, but I don’t accept credit cards.

Does Common Sense Stand a Chance in the Valley?

I love the Blackstone River and the canal. It is beautiful, breathtaking, but despite the many years since the mills closed, it is still too polluted for swimming and fishing.

Against all logic and reason, the town of Worcester continues to pour raw sewage into the Blackstone River from their waste-water facility in Millbury.

Why? Renovating the facility and stopping the pollution would cost a couple of hundred thousand dollars, an average of $100 per year per Worcester homeowner. That adds up to less than a $2 per week per household. To continue to pollute the river, the aquifer, and the ecosystem of which the Blackstone River is a critical component, is insane. Especially considering that the cost of ending the problem, even in a poor economy, is not high.

I and many others cannot fathom how the so-called “public servants” of Worcester can claim that pouring raw sewage in our river — a direct health hazard to everyone in the Valley — is an acceptable choice to renovating their sewage plant. The health of tens of thousands of people are directly affected by the stupidity and short-sighted political agendas of these “officials.”

The good of the majority is ignored to save a few people paltry pennies per week. It is so dumb it leaves me speechless. And that just doesn’t happen!

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

How It Began: The United States, Broke at Birth

America was born bankrupt. We won the war, but lost everything else. Our economy had belonged to Great Britain. French military support that helped us to beat the British had been given as a loan, not a gift.

Americans thought it a great stroke of luck when France’s revolution eliminated the government with whom we’d cut the original deal. When Napoleon suggested we repay the war debt, we shrugged our collective shoulders and said “What debt?”

Our shipping industry was in its infancy. The British, the big soreheads, ruled the seas and were disinclined to share it with us and it would be a long time until we could challenge them.

The new-born United States of America was lacking elements that are generally viewed as essential to a nation. Missing were factories, a central bank, money, credit, a constitution, and a central government. The slave trade thrived because it was highly profitable.

From north to south, slavery made people rich … not the slaves, of course. The other people. such as New England sea captains and southern plantation owners. They profited hugely and it’s not hard to see why they were reluctant to do the right thing and give it up. Parting the rich from the source of their wealth usually involves guns and military maneuvers.

Slavers, rum, and sugar, in what was known as the “triangle trade” was the most profitable form of capitalism available at the time, but it didn’t generate job opportunities.

While great minds debated the constitution, everyone else was hunting for a way to make money. The Constitution went into effect on March 4, 1789. Simultaneously, the American Industrial Revolution began along the banks of the Blackstone River.

Moses Brown was fighting his own war, battling the Blackstone River. With its 450 foot drop over its 46-mile course — an average of about 10 feet per mile — the Blackstone River is a powerhouse. Its sharp drop in elevation combined with its narrowness and meandering path give it far more energy that you would expect a river of that size to generate. It invites development.

All through 1789, Brown wrangled the river, trying to build his cotton thread factory in Pawtucket, RI at the falls on the Blackstone River. Despite his conviction that he could harness the river to power his mill, as the end of the year approached, the score stood at Blackstone River 1, Moses Brown 0.

Slaterville Mill -- oldest mill in the valley and recently renovated. Picture is pre-renovation.

America still had her welcome mat out. Immigrants were welcome, which was fortunate for Moses Brown. In December 1789, Samuel Slater, newly immigrated from England, began working for Brown. Slater had spent many years working at an English textile mill. He immediately recognized that Brown’s machinery would never work. In less than a year, he’d redesigned and completed the mill.

By 1790, Slater’s Mill was up and running, the first successful water-powered cotton-spinning factory in the United States. Slater’s Mill proved you could make money in New England doing something other than whaling, fishing, or running rum and slaves.

Entrepreneurs hopped on the idea like fleas on a dog. Mills were an immediate popular success. New England was inhospitable to agriculture, but fertile for factories.

Mills grew along the Blackstone from Worcester to Providence, then sprouted by the Merrimack in Lowell, and eventually, throughout New England. Wherever the rivers ran, mills and factories followed.

On the Blackstone, mill owners urgently sought a better way to move their goods. The same features that make the Blackstone a natural for generating power make it useless for shipping. The only other choice — horse-drawn wagons — was slow and expensive. the trip took 2 to 3 days over dirt roads from the northern part of the valley to Providence.

Little canal on the Mumford

When the weather turned bad, the trip would be impossible. Which led to what turned out to be temporary fix, the Blackstone Canal

The Blackstone Canal took four years to build, from 1824 and 1828.

The main canal runs alongside the Blackstone and in some sections, the canal is the river (or maybe vice-versa). There is also an extensive network of small canals, many on larger tributary rivers like the Mumford. The main canal was designed to handle large barges. It travels in a relatively straight line from Worcester to Providence.

The smaller canals allowed mills to move goods to many places not immediately on the Blackstone. These small barges could move smaller amounts of cargo between towns and from one mill to another.


The big barges were faster and cheaper than horse-drawn wagons. A single barge could haul as much as 35 tons of cargo and only needed two horses, presumably going downstream.

The canal system is intact. Trails along the canals where horses towed barges have become walking trails. The barges are gone, but small boats can enjoy the open stretches of canal and river.

Ultimately, railroads were the game-changer. As soon as rails from Worcester to Boston, and Worcester to Providence were built, the canals were abandoned. Business boomed.

You might want to take a look at Dead and Buried: The Graveyard of Worcester’s Blackstone Canal.

The Blackstone River was lined with mills and factories at the end of the 1800s. The Blackstone supplied the hydro power and in return, the river was used to dispose of industrial waste and sewage.

By the early 1900s, the Blackstone River in Massachusetts was grossly polluted. Fortunately for the river, though not necessarily for the valley’s residents, this was also the beginning of the end of the textile industry in the northeast.

As of 1923, the majority of nation’s cotton was grown, spun and woven down south. Without its mills and factories, the valley’s population began to shrink.

Small canal serving the Crown and Eagle, used to transport goods between sections of the mill complex, but connecting to the main canal also.

In 1971, the Blackstone River was labeled “one of America’s most polluted rivers” by Audubon magazine. It was a low point for the region.

It was time to clean up the mess. We are still cleaning up and will have to continue for a long time to come. Although no longer as polluted as it was, the watershed has a long way to go. The river’s tributaries are less polluted than the Blackstone because against all logic and reason, waste-water is still discharged from a big sewage treatment plant in Millbury. The fight never ends.

The canal as it approaches the Uxbridge locks.

The good news? The herons and fish have returned. American eagles nest in my woods. There is food for them in the rivers and streams. The river is alive despite our best efforts to kill it. Everything will improve if we stop dumping sewage in the river. We can eventually even eat the fish we catch!

Related articles