Etched in History: Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park Boundaries Officially Placed on the Map
U.S. Secretary of Interior officially signs off on boundaries for Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park;
New and evolving National Historic Park includes Slater Mill & other historic sites that tell the story of the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution
WASHINGTON, DC -- Nearly 230 years ago, the Blackstone River powered America’s entry into the Age of Industry and the success of Samuel Slater’s 18th century cotton-spinning mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island sparked a chain reaction that influenced how people lived and worked, transforming the American landscape.
With members of Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation looking on, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland held a special signing ceremony in U.S. Senator Jack Reed’s Washington, DC office yesterday to establish the official boundaries of the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park.
After extensive public input and collaboration between the National Park Service, governmental and non-profit partners, and willing sellers and donors of private land, the park’s boundaries are now officially set. The multi-site Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park encompasses non-contiguous areas of the Blackstone River Valley and Old Slater Mill in Pawtucket as well as significant sites in nearby Rhode Island mill towns, including Slatersville (in North Smithfield) and Ashton (in Cumberland), as well as parts of Worcester, Whitinsville, and Hopedale in Massachusetts.
Completed in 1793, on the banks of the Blackstone River, Slater Mill was the first successful water-powered spinning mill in the United States, and helped set America’s Industrial Revolution in motion. Other historic buildings within the new National Park Service unit include Sylvanus Brown House, built in 1758, and Wilkinson Mill, which was added in 1810.
The buildings were officially transferred to the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) earlier this year by the Old Slater Mill Association (OSMA), which acquired them a century ago. NPS has already been working closely with OSMA for several years to take over responsibility for the historic sites. And the national historic park will continue to evolve, with the anticipated acquisition of the Slater Mill dam, which may be finalized within a year. There is ongoing coordination between the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM), the Army Corps of Engineers, and NPS on the dam acquisition, so that RIDEM can establish a fish passage on part of the dam.
In addition to acquiring Slater Mill and other historic properties, the national historic park’s boundaries include a conservation and preservation easement of nearly 86 acres of the Blackstone River State Park in Lincoln, which brings segments of the Blackstone Bikeway, a contiguous section of the historic Blackstone Canal, and the Captain Wilbur Kelly House Museum of Transportation into the National Historical Park. RIDEM still owns this section of the park, but the official agreement will allow the National Park Service to help interpret, preserve, protect, and promote the site.
“This is an important step toward preserving American history and shaping Rhode Island’s future. This new national historic park will protect our cultural landscape, and the natural beauty of the Blackstone River Valley, while also attracting more visitors and recognition to the region and creating new opportunities for tourism, education, and recreation,” said Senator Reed, the driving force in Congress to turn the area into a national historical park. In 2014, Reed, in his capacity as Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior & Environment, wrote the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park Establishment Act (S. 371) to establish a new unit of the National Park System within the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor and successfully included it in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which was signed into law that year (Public Law 113-291). “The Blackstone Valley is a national treasure. It is the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution and this national historical park will be a place where people can come and explore the roots of modern-day America.”
“At long last, the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park is officially on the map,” said Senator Whitehouse. “This designation will encourage residents and visitors to discover the history and natural beauty of the Blackstone Valley.”
“After years of hard work by dedicated partners and advocates, I’m thrilled that the Blackstone River Valley National Park’s boundaries are officially set,” said Congressman Jim Langevin. “As Rhode Islanders, we are so fortunate to have such rich historical landmarks in our backyard. As the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution, I hope that today’s designation will preserve the remarkable legacy of the Blackstone River Valley for future generations.”
“The Blackstone River Valley is one of Rhode Island’s greatest historical treasures,” Congressman Cicilline said. “The formal establishment of the Blackstone River Valley National Historic Park’s boundaries will showcase this treasure to the rest of America, bringing folks from around the country to discover Rhode Island and all its beauty and history.”
“America’s national parks and public lands reflect the rich history we share across generations and geographies. The new boundaries of the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park will increase opportunities for visitors and nearby communities to connect with the historical, natural and recreational resources and legacy of the area,” said Secretary Haaland.
“I am thrilled to have reached this important milestone through the multi-year efforts of numerous park partners in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts,” said Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park Superintendent Eric Breitkreutz. “We look forward to expanding public programs and water recreation along the Blackstone River tributary and Blackstone Canal.”
The Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park was established in 2014 as the 402nd unit of the National Park System.
Today, the National Park System oversees 423 units (often referred to as parks) and numerous programs to help conserve the nation's natural and cultural heritage for the benefit of current and future generations. The 85 million acres overseen by NPS includes stunning natural areas such as Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, as well as nationally significant historic sites like Independence Hall and Valley Forge, and monuments and memorials like the Washington Monument and the World War II Memorial, as well as parkways, seashores and lakeshores, trails, recreation areas, and preserves.
Since the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park’s establishment, NPS has partnered with multiple state and local organizations throughout the Blackstone River Valley, including the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor. The partnership has helped establish municipal historic districts, create and offer interpretive programs, expand upon already existing recreational opportunities and raise public awareness of the history, cultural, natural and recreational resources within the valley and its numerous communities. As part of its creation process, park staff worked with partners to establish ownership interest in two key properties within the valley to help better tell the story of the evolution of the Blackstone River Valley from agriculture to industry supported by multiple planned mill villages.
The National Park Service now has 13 full-time employees working at the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park.
The National Park Service will continue to work collaboratively with the Old Slater Mill Association, the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, and other non-profits and local governments and the State of Rhode Island to provide stewardship of the park and offer education and recreation opportunities that tell the story of Slater Mill and the surrounding community in a comprehensive way that is accessible to the public now and in the future.