Photography: Garry and Marilyn Armstrong

You really get a feel for rivers when you live in a regional watershed. The Blackstone and its tributaries flow down from the Worcester hills at the northern part of the state.

The Blackstone is not a wide river. Not like the Mississippi or even the Hudson. It’s a relatively narrow river that drops about 900 feet from its beginnings. It does a lot of twisting and turning, making it much more powerful than its size would suggest.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

It concludes its nearly 50-mile run as it flows into the sea down around Newport, Rhode Island. All the dams were built to power factories and mills, which is why every town in the valley is called “mill” something — or has the name of one of the mill owners.

Early greenery along the river in Rhode Island

Uxbridge is unique. We are named after Uxbridge in England. That’s our twin town, though it’s nothing like our Uxbridge. England’s Uxbridge is an affluent suburb of London. We’re not an affluent anything.

Spring by the Mumford Dam – Photo: Garry Armstrong

The problem with the dams is they block the river and make it hard for wildlife to move up and down the river and many people want to get rid of the dams.

Because this region was the “birthplace” of America’s industrial revolution (1788), most of the earth used to build the dams is hazardous. It’s amazing how much pollution we created in the good old days, before the chemical revolution. We made things every bit as poisonous as we do today.

Spring, downtown Uxbridge

So although they would like to release the dams, they can’t. That hazardous dirt would poison the river. The 45 years we’ve spent cleaning up one of the most polluted rivers in the world (as of the 1970s) would be undone. Instantly.

The train doesn’t stop here anymore – Photo: Garry Armstrong

We are — in 2019 — more or less the poor cousin to other towns in New England, but once upon a time, this was the most prosperous area in the country. Uxbridge had a population and stuff like trains, buses, and businesses.

In the early 1900s, mill owners decided they weren’t rich enough. So they moved down south to where cotton grew and where people worked cheap. By the 1920s, they had closed all the factories in New England.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

The south got the mills, the dams, and the pollution. Then, they realized they were rich, but not rich enough, so they said “Screw the USA” and moved the mills to the far east where people were willing to work for pennies, including children as young as four or five.

Suddenly, all the modestly priced cotton sheets we used to buy became expensive. Between moving the mills and fabric factories to another continent, they simultaneously realized it was also cheaper to buy the cotton there, too. Like, from India, Pakistan, Israel, and places in North Africa.

So it was and so it has remained.

Roaring Dam: Photo: Garry Armstrong

It’s why you can’t find decent percale sheets anymore. The cotton they grow overseas is different than the cotton we grew. It’s finer and silkier, but not as strong or crisp.

To finish us off, we then banned immigrants from picking crops. The idea was that Americans would pick cotton once those brown-colored foreigners were gone. Instead, it turned out that no American of any color, race, or creed will pick cotton. The professional pickers are gone and so are the farms where cotton grew.

Bridge over the Blackstone River

Americans will not pick cotton. Not only do we not do the job well, but we refuse to do it at all. Today’s Americans do not pick cotton. Not white, brown, black or any shade in between. We would rather starve.

John Grisham wrote a book about growing up in the south and picking cotton called “The Painted House.” It’s his little autobiography about before he became a lawyer, then an author. It’s enlightening.

Early autumn at Manchaug

David Baldacci has written something along the same lines about his native West Virginia and how it has been completely destroyed, its people uprooted and ruined. These lawyer-writers are interesting guys. They are more than lawyers, more than writers. They are thinkers.

These southern authors come in two varieties: racist and incredibly liberal.

Guess which ones I read?

Memories of My Life In Textile Mills

After the mills closed along the Blackstone River, the owners moved their business down south. It made sense, since cotton mills were the bulk of their business and the cotton fields were in the south.

These transported mills became a backbone industry for the American south until a series of U.S. Presidents, starting with Reagan, continuing with Bush, Clinton, then Bush again … traded away our business to countries which pay workers pennies on our dollar — and don’t have significant health and safety regulations — or child labor laws. Or unions.

In fairness, it was supposed to be a two-way street, bringing Americans less expensive products and ramping up our home economy with an infusion of new trading partners. As most of us feared, it did exactly the opposite.

It cost America millions of jobs that have never been replaced. It did not lower costs of goods now being made in India and China and Malaysia. Anyone who has tried to buy cotton fabric can attest to the dramatic increase in costs and decrease in quality that has been the real result.

What have we have to show for it? Empty hulks of the mills and factories that once buzzed with business. Reminders why it’s always unwise to sell your birthright for a pot of lentils.

I was reading a post this morning over on Marily Armstrong’s blog at: She had a great collection of photographs depicting some of the oldest factories in New England that represented the beginning of America’s Industrial Revolution. Looking at those building threw me back in time because for 13 years I worked in South Carolina & George in the cotton mills of Graniteville Company and later Avondale Mills. I was there until the bitter end when in 2006 They shut down 13 mills that represented the 3rd largest textile company in the world, Avondale Mills. I was there working for Graniteville Company that had just celebrated their 150 year tradition before Avondale Mills bought them out. I was there when a terrible train derailment broke open a chlorine tanker that was the death knoll for the entire company. So many people lost their lives at 2 a.m. on a…

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The River – Marilyn Armstrong

When first we moved here from Boston, it was wonderful, but so different.

Although I’d lived in the suburbs and spent most of my vacation time through the years out in the country, I’d never lived so far from a major city nor in a river valley, which has a particular character of its own.

The dominance of the Blackstone both over the ecology of the valley and its economy is hard to over-emphasize.

The Blackstone River National Heritage Corridor is actual part of the National Parks system and includes all the cities in the valley, from Worcester, where the river starts, to Providence where it ends. It is a protected area, though not a park, because so many people live here, but it is considered to be of significant historical importance.

A small pond where herons like to fish is formed by the river and canal’s congruence just above the falls.

It was in this valley that the American Industrial Revolution took place.

I call it the “keyhole” bridge. It’s just before the river divides.

I became fascinated with the river. It was everywhere. Even though you can’t always see it, the Blackstone or one of its tributaries is everywhere you travel, just off the road, hidden by a hillock or trees.

There’s a walkway along the canal where everyone likes to stroll. It’s right next to the parking lot for a medical building, and there’s a small picnic area there, too.

Twelve years later, the river still fascinates me … in all its seasons and permutations. This is the river in late summer/early Autumn, from last September. This is just a single hour of shooting by the river last September. You can be sure there will be much more.

Inside An Old Mill


We went down to Walpole today. Garry was doing a television show with his friend, Tom Ellis, a “wrap up” to his Hall of Fame induction.

Walpole Comm TV

I’d been to Walpole Community Television before. Several times and once, when I was a new author, I was interviewed on a show there. Yet I had never noticed the building was a converted mill. I usually notice architecture, but I guess my mind was on other things.

Long hallway

Today I noticed. The thing is, the building doesn’t look like a mill — not from the outside, anyway. It’s quite small, as mill buildings go and there’s no river or pond visible. It turns out, there is a small stream which runs alongside the building. Perhaps it was larger a hundred years ago. Probably much of the water has been diverted or sent underground.


Walpole isn’t in the valley … not the Blackstone or the Merrimack. The river valleys are where I expect to find mills. But really, there are mills — old mills — all over New England. Wherever a river or a stream ran, someone built a mill. Milford, Millis, Millville, Milbridge, Millbury. From Connecticut to Maine, you’ll find the mill towns and the old mills around which the towns grew.


The mills were our first industry and now, they are gone to China or other places. When the mills left New England, the region’s economy went with it and despite a few short bursts of economic prosperity, the economy has never returned.

Mill No. 4, 1911

All over the valley, they are remodeling old mills and turning them into office space, housing, places for crafts and shopping. This mill is in North Smithfield Rhode Island.

The clock tower from the side.

It bears the name of Mill No. 4, 1911. I haven’t been able to find out more. Yet.

Tower from the front.

I’ll keep searching, but meanwhile, Mill No. 4 is now an office park. Not bad.

The tower looms at certain angles.

Behind the façade, bits of the old mill are still visible. I guess that’s why they call it a façade.

Behind the façade.


A Little Canal

The Mumford is one of the major tributaries of the Blackstone. It, as well as the Blackstone, run right through the middle of Uxbridge. Can you spell flooding? Between the main Mumford and the old Bernat Mill runs a tiny canal. It has its own locks, even though it is no more than a dozen feet wide along most of its length.


Mills of the Blackstone Valley

Not surprisingly, the Blackstone Valley is full of old mills. Some are very old, some relatively recent. Some of the oldest are the best preserved and a few have been fully renovated and put back to use as housing or shopping areas.

The Crown and Eagle mills pre-renovated.
Renovated into elderly and affordable housing, the old Crown and Eagle mill in Uxbridge is beautiful today.
Renovated into elderly and affordable housing, the old Crown and Eagle mill in Uxbridge is beautiful today.
Thousands of water lilies bloom on the small canal that runs to the renovated Crown and Eagle mill.
Thousands of water lilies bloom on the small canal that runs to the renovated Crown and Eagle mill.
On the Mumford. Converted to a liquor store.
Mill on the Mumford. Converted to a liquor store.

Huge brick mill-factory on a large pond. Northbridge. Rain is falling.
Canal between the falls and the small mill, and the former Bernat Mills that burned down five years ago. Uxbridge.

Many mills have been converted to condominiums or mini malls. Some have become office space.

English: The Brick Mill, built 1826, Whitinsvi...
The Brick Mill, built 1826, Whitinsville, Massachusetts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many have burned down or been torn down because they presented a fire hazard. Fortunately, many others have been renovated, turned into malls, senior housing, mini-malls and other kinds of commercial  real estate.

The last standing parts of Bernat Mills.

The last standing parts of Bernat Mills.
Old Mill No. 4
Old Mill No. 4
1911 - Mill No. 4
1911 – Mill No. 4
Mill buildings converted to antiques complex.
Mill complex converted to antiques complex.