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Sylvanus Brown house on the left with garden and Slater Mill in the background, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

The birthplace of American manufacturing. Photo of Samuel Slater on the right.

Will and I spent a day in his hometown of Pawtucket, Rhode Island. On my visits to Pawtucket before, I had noticed Slater Mill, and knew it was a historic building of some kind, and thought it was pretty and wanted to take a look. Will agreed that it was a place that should be visited. I was not prepared for what a great stop it turned out to be, with a guided tour of all the on-site buildings that are maintained by the National Park Service as a museum and part of the Blackstone River Valley National Historic Park. It was inexpensive, and the Ranger tour guide was knowledgeable and excited about the site’s history. I highly recommend this experience to anyone.

There’s a scandal to the story. Samuel Slater was apprenticed at a cotton mill as a young man in England, eventually becoming a superintendent very familiar with how the whole operation worked. Slater had a dream of creating his own mill, and memorized the water powered machines. It was against British law for textile workers to share information or to leave the country (which explains the memorization), but Slater left for America to try and build a textile industry of his own.

After failing his own attempts and bankrupting himself and other investors, Slater was put in touch with Moses Brown who was looking for someone to help him build a mill with his partner William Almy. By 1790 they had built the first water-powered cotton mill in the United States. Thank you England!

When Slater first arrived, Brown had suggested that he might board with the Wilkinson family, business associate of Brown. Slater moved in and met Hannah Wilkinson, one of the daughters of the household. They were married. Hannah disovered a way to make better thread and applied for a patent. Some people believe she is the first woman in America to be awarded a patent. It’s under the name “Mrs. Samuel Slater,” reflecting conventions of the time.

We first toured the Brown House, built in 1758.

The Brown House is set up with period furnishings, complete with a foot warmer and a bed pan.

Next we entered the Wilkinson Mill.

I was fascinated by the massive water wheel that powered the mill.

We were told the wheel is usually in operation, but stopped while we were there for repairs.

A panoramic view shows the wheel and the water course inside the mill.

We went upstairs above the water wheel and came into a huge workshop powered entirely by belts! I was in awe. I’ve never considered how machines were run before electricity, but here was one amazing example. All the machinery in the shop/museum is currently functional, and the guide powered up the belts (on electricity since the wheel is not moving) and the whole place came to life! All the belts were connected, so across the entire room, the ceiling was alive and noisy! The guide then drilled a few holes for us to demonstrate that the machines were working.

I love all that old stuff, and had a fun time just poking around, picking up iron pieces and wooden pieces and trying to work out how it was all part of  the Wilkinson family operation that built and repaired machinery in the whole region.

Looking across the floor and up at all the belts spinning. I wish I had a decent video so you could see what it was like.

Some of the equipment that our guide demonstrated for us.

There were several cabinets that stored different components of the equipment. Here, tagged belts sit on a shelf, and tools cover a bench.

The farther into the place we walked, the more delighted I was with all the treasures inside. And the tour only includes the first and second floors. I wonder what the third and fourth floors hold.

Up close it was hard to get a good photo of the yellow-painted Slater Mill. This was our last and final stop of the tour. We stood outside in the shade beside the Blackstone River while the guide told us more about the innovative history of the place. For example, he explained how Slater designed his textile mill and thread-making machines so that children could easily work them. While that is distasteful to us now, at the time, people were grateful to be able to place their children into employment for the family. Slater also created small company villages, where he built cheap housing for the workers, and a company store, all on site with the mill. Then he hired entire families and brought them to his mini-villages. This system, called the Rhode Island System, was then copied around the country. On the surface it seemed to be a help to the workers, but many of you know that it was really a way to make more money for the owners and to keep employees in debt like indentured servants.

Standing in front of Slater Mill, looking at the river.

In the foreground is the channel that powers the mills, and the Blackstone River is in the background.

Inside the Slater Mill we saw the equipment used in Slater’s textile industry.

I had heard of a cotton gin, and how it completely changed the textile industry, but until this one was demonstrated for us, I had no idea what a cotton gin did.

A mule spinner, that spun cotton into thread, was operated by two boys at once.

The museum inside Slater Mill includes more and more complex spinning machines, holding hundreds of spindles in some cases. The guide explained how the children’s small hands were the right size to reach in and replace a full spindle with an empty one while the machine was running. This often resulted in injures.

A large and complex spinning machine. In the very back you can see a weaving machine, that is weaving tubes of fabric that can be cut and used as the sleeves or torsos of clothing.

One more spinning machine.

After our tour we walked to the bridge above the river. From there we got a good look at the mill buildings from a distance.

Looking back at Slater Mill and Wilkinson Mill over Pawtucket Falls in the Blackstone River.

Cogswell Fountain topped with a heron at the end of the Main Street Bridge. An advocate of prohibition, Henry Cogswell built this and many other fountains to encourage citizens to drink water instead of booze.

We met a friend of mine for lunch after our tour, a classmate from Brandeis University. Then with the remainder of the day, we went to Roger Williams Park. It is one of several Roger Williams Parks, as the man is quite beloved in Rhode Island. This park is certainly the largest (at 435 acres) and most impressive, hosting a zoo, a botanical park, a carosel, a museum and planetarium, trails, wide lawns and barbecue areas, and a huge meandering lake that means one is almost always next to a beach. We drove for a long time so that I could see the extent of the place. Then we parked and walked in the pleasant evening.

Monument on the shore was constantly occupied with prom attendees and wedding parties, having photos taken, so I shot to the side of the building.

There were stunning views from many angles as we walked through the park.

High Rock Tower in Lynn, Massachusetts.

On our way out of Salem we made a fun stop in Lynn, Massachusetts, to climb up the hill at High Rock Tower Park. The tower is tucked into a densely populated residential area, and the approach that we used has no parking area (we found street parking). There are no informational or directional signs, so when we found it, then hiked up the hill to see it, I felt like we had discovered something special.

This approximately 5-acre piece of land has held an observation tower since the 1840s. The original tower was burned down in 1865. The current tower is 107 feet high and was built of granite in 1904. Since 2002 the observatory has been open to the public for views of the starry skies, from 8-10pm. It contains a 12-inch Meade telescope and visitors get a good look at the craters of the moon, the rings of Saturn and the great storms of Jupiter.

If a person were to approach from the other side of the hill, there are wide streets and parking spaces. I don’t know why the map app sent us in the back way, but it was more fun. Up on top we found a small city park there as well, with a jungle gym for the kids and grassy lawn to play in. A few parents and kiddies were running around, but it was mostly abandoned. No one was appreciating the beauty of the place, the tower itself, the gigantic boulders of fascinating porphyry rock (a reddish rock with big crystals embedded in it) all over the site, or the incredible views. Will and I did appreciate all of that, however.

View of the sea overlooks Stone Cottage, also part of the site. There is a clear view of Nahant Bay, and the community of Nahant, on an island.

The Boston city skyline appears to the south, while standing at High Rock Tower.

Will then took me to see a ball game in his hometown of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, at McCoy Stadium. That is the home (for now) of the Pawsox (the Pawtucket Red Sox), a team affiliated with the Boston Red Sox. Of course seeing a hometown minor league game was fun, but there was the added excitement that we might get to see one of the major league players on the field, while they got up to speed after an absence from the Boston team. Will thought maybe Dustin Pedroia would be playing that night. Pedroia is one of the players who was a star when I was watching a lot of baseball about ten years ago, so it would be super cool to be able to watch him play.

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Tickets for the game.

Pedroia would be playing!

It was a warm night. We parked in a neighborhood and walked to the stadium. It felt wonderful to be sharing a small-town experience with all the other happy people walking to the game with us. Once we got our tickets and got inside the stadium, I checked the roster. Yep, Pedroia was on there.

We were hungry and I had fun standing in line for deep fried food and beer, all the stereotypes of baseball you could ask for. We found our seats and settled in. By the time we sat down the game had already started.

The Pawsox played the Gwinnett Stripers, from Gwinnett County, Georgia. I didn’t know anything about either team, but you can learn the players pretty fast by watching them during a game. These days of course you get up-close photos of the players, their positions and their stats up on the marquee every time they are at bat or make a significant play. That helps you learn. Another fun tradition is that each player picks a theme song and a few seconds of it are played as they approach home plate to bat. I learned who the country guy was, the hip hop guy, etcetera.

Hoping for a Pawtucket Red Sox run.

We had a pretty decent view of the field from our seats.

Stripers pitcher fixin’ to let loose.

Even though I only had my phone camera, I thought it did alright with capturing the scene.

The Stripers started off strong with three runs in the first inning, and another run in the the second. Pawsox gained momentum as they played, and by halfway through the game were clearly putting their hearts into it. That isn’t a way to win a game though. We finally got two runs in the 5th inning, but never caught up, and we lost the game 5-2.

I’m glad I got to see a game there. The team has been sold and is going to move to the city of Worcester in 2021. Once they move they will no longer be the Pawsox. It’s a pretty significant loss for Pawtucket, a small town that really doesn’t have much to brag about, or for the citizens to come together and enjoy.

After the game we hung around for fireworks. It’s a summertime tradition at McCoy stadium. Will’s mom is not a fan of the fireworks I hear, because it makes a lot of noise when many people are trying to get some sleep. I recommend being AT the game for the fireworks, because then all the light and noise go together, and it’s a lot of fun. After the show we walked back along the sidewalks to the car, in among many tired happy families heading home.

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