PAWTUCKET, RI – Four years after Senator Reed helped pass the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA), which helps preserve, protect, and make capital improvements to national parks and other public lands to make them more accessible, the National Park Service (NPS) has proposed allocating $9 million in GAOA Legacy Restoration funds to upgrade Old Slater Mill, America’s first successful water-powered cotton spinning mill, and other key Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park sites.

The funding is included in the Fiscal Year 2025 National Park Service Budget Justifications and Performance Information.  Supported by revenue from energy development, the Great American Outdoors Act funding is mandatory, but Congress approves the list each year, and as a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Reed will work to ensure this project is fully funded in FY25.

“I helped pass the Great American Outdoors Act to address extensive maintenance and repair needs throughout the National Parks System and improve visitor opportunities for recreation, education, and enjoyment.? I am pleased this new funding will soon be put to work preserving the historic Old Slater Mill and the Wilkinson Mill waterwheel.  These upgrades will enhance the experience for visitors, giving them a better sense of the sights, sounds, and unique characteristics of these historic mills that helped power the American Industrial Revolution and change the course of U.S. history,” said Senator Reed, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, and former Chairman of the Subcommittee on Interior & Environment, who wrote and passed a 2014 law, which was folded into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), directing the National Park Service to establish the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park, including requiring the acquisition of Slater Mill.  

Senator Reed highlighted the park’s infrastructure needs during a visit by U.S. Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland last July.

Park Superintendent Eric Breitkreutz previously stated: “This critical GAOA funding would allow the National Park Service to restore a key interpretive feature of The Old Slater Mill historic site, re-open an immersive museum for all – including our mobility challenged visitors – to experience in person, and help preserve the Old Slater Mill National Historic Landmark District for current and future generations of visitors.”

Completed in 1793, on the banks of the Blackstone River, by immigrant Samuel Slater and entrepreneur Moses Brown, Slater Mill is the first successful water-powered spinning mill in the United States, and helped set America’s Industrial Revolution in motion.  The other historic buildings within the unit include Sylvanus Brown House, built in 1758, which tells the story of a millworker’s life at home, and Wilkinson Mill, which was added in 1810 and drove production of machine tools.

This proposed $9 million project would preserve the historic Old Slater Mill and Wilkinson Mill, including repairs to foundations, exterior envelopes, the site’s raceways and river retaining walls, the Wilkinson waterpower system and wheel exhibit, and would provide code-compliant accessibility upgrades to the site.

This project would preserve and restore character-defining features of the mills, including the exterior of the Old Slater Mill and the Wilkinson Mill waterwheel.

It would help visitors experience the sights, sounds, and power of an operational, 16,000-pound waterwheel in the basement of Wilkinson Mill as it harnesses the power of the Blackstone River.

The river retaining walls and raceways that run from the river through the park and the basements of both mills would also be repointed to preserve raceway infrastructure and better withstand degradation.

In addition, accessibility improvements and code-compliance updates on the exterior and interior of Wilkinson Mill would allow the park to reopen the building, letting visitors experience the restored waterpower system and machine shop exhibits.

Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park officially acquired the Old Slater Mill National Historic Landmark from the Old Slater Mill Association on March 31, 2021.  Prior to that, the Old Slater Mill Association (OSMA) had owned and managed the site for a century, and OSMA is still in active partner in caring for the park and its history.

If approved, NPS would expect to award the construction project in FY 2025.

Nationwide, GAOA’s Legacy Restoration Fund provides up to $1.3 billion per year for the National Park Service to make significant enhancements in national park units across the country.