The Blackstone River is a river in the U.S. states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. It flows approximately 48 mi. 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.
Blackstone Valley History
The Blackstone River has been a part of American history since 1635 when the first English settlement in Rhode Island was established by William Blackstone in the Blackstone Valley. The valley quickly attracted other settlers and by the late 1700s, many communities were located on the river near small water-powered grist mills. Industrial development along the Blackstone changed dramatically after 1793, when Samuel Slater opened Slater Mill, the first cotton mill in the United States to use mechanical spinning machines. After the mill opened, water-power sites along the Blackstone developed rapidly. By 1800, the town of Pawtucket supported 29 cotton mills. Mill villages like Woonsocket, Blackstone, Millville, Uxbridge, and Millbury grew up all along the river. By the 1830s, there was one dam for every mile of river along the main stem and tributaries.
Transportation from industry to market was often a problem. In 1792, John Brown suggested that a canal be constructed along the Blackstone linking Providence with Worcester. Opposition was voiced by mill owners, who feared that the canal diversion would interfere with their hydropower, and farmers, who feared increased competition for water from urban areas. In 1823, the project was funded by both the Massachusetts and Rhode Island legislatures. The canal, 35 feet wide at the top, 18 feet wide at the bottom and 4 to 6 feet deep, was constructed by hand. It was 45 miles long, including 45 locks and a system of reservoirs. The canal opened in 1828, but existed only briefly before closing in 1849, two years after the Providence and Worcester Railroad opened.