Slater Mill Historic Site

67 Roosevelt Ave.

Pawtucket, RI.

October 11, 1999

Since we were in New England it was a must that we go to Pawtucket and Providence since those were the cities that Bob's parents were originally from. We figured if we could visit there and find a story it was a real plus. Well, fortunately we were able to find such a story. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take any pictures inside of the buildings.
The tour of the mill is conducted from the Pawtucket Visitors Center. Our guide was Joyce Gilbert. I have seen quite a few guides in our travels but Ms. Gilbert was one of the best. Not only did she act as guide, but was able to run the antique machines that were inside the buildings (no small task believe me).
The Slater Mill Historic Site is a museum complex dedicated to the preservation
and interpretation of the American industrial heritage. The programs examine the transition from manufacture to factory production and the role of water and steam power in the industrial revolution. It serves as a regional educational center, a place in which to study the fiber arts, the history of industrialism, and the way technology has shaped and continues to influence our culture. The Wilkinson Gallery houses temporary exhibitions on the arts; and the permanent exhibits interpret the past so that we may better understand the present and plan for the future.
When you first get to the visitors center, be sure and see the movie and look around at the various exhibits. Your guide will take you from the visitors center to the mill complex just a short walk across the street. There are 12 different items in the complex, five of which will be pointed out by your guide.
The first building we went into was the Sylvanus Brown House. This building was originally built
in 1758. From 1789 through 1791 the business relationship between Syvanus Brown and Samuel Alter was encouraged by Moses Brown, and solidified Slater's need for Brown's expertise in pattern making. By the 1870s the Sylvanus Brown House was moved to Marrin Street. in 1962 it was moved to Slater Mill Historic Site. In 1973, it was placed on its present foundation and restored. The house is a typical artisan's dwelling of the mid-to late 1700s. It is furnished based on Brown's 1825 probate inventory and contains a loom, spinning wheels, and other tools used to make cloth by hand. As we went through the house our guide pointed out various items of interest. One of which was the double kitchen in the basement level. The house when originally built was built for two families. Knowing that two women can't work in the same kitchen they constructed two working kitchen at right angles to each other. Also, our guide explained the origin of some common expressions we all hear. Such as, "sleep tight". This originated from the old rope beds having to be tightened before you slept in them. In addition she very aptly demonstrated how the women of that day spun cotton and flax. Brown's wife, Ruth and other workers wove cloth by hand at home for their own use and factory sale until after the invention of the power loom in the 1800s.
We next moved on to the Wilkinson Mill building. Surrounding the building
we saw the dam at Slater Mill and the Great Flume (also known as Slater's Trench). This trench was constructed by Samuel Slater to reroute some of the river water into a flume or trench so it could propel his water wheel used for power. This building contains an extensive collection of belt-driven machines that would have been used in a late 19th century machine shop. Once again our stalwart guide showed her expertise by running a drill press and showed how they would have used it to drill holes in boards, thus eliminating the cumbersome task of hand drills. It was amazing to see the number of operations that could be done utilizing water power and a series of inter-connecting leather belts. You have to remember that in addition to her demonstrating the use of various tools and machines, our guide also was able to answer any number of questions on the time period, the people, and the impact that this mechanization had on the people of Pawtucket as well as the nation.

Next we were off to Slater Mill. As you walk in the door of Slater Mill you are greeted by an office setting and a beautiful picture of Samuel Slater. The office would have been a typical one for that time period. Slater Mill houses a number of textile machinery such as stocking knitters, a thread winder, and a knitting machine that created very complex designs. Again our guide was actually able to operate several of the machines to show us how they would look in operation. On one of the machines that did the winding, she explained that small children were utilized to run behind the machine (very dangerous) if something broke and they had to tie it off to start up again. One of the things that struck me as I went along through the tour is the high cost that we as a society paid for mechanization. One of which was forcing very young children into the factories thus causing a loss of their childhood. It seems that progress always has a cost but sometimes I wonder if the end result is worth what we paid for it. As we finished up the tour I couldn't help but marvel at the skill with which our tour guide conducted our tour.
Was it worth the cost and time we invested in it? Most definitely. If you would like to know more about the Slater Mill Historic Site drop by their website at:

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