NORTH SMITHFIELD – It’s official: landmarks throughout the Blackstone Valley are part of a national park, including many sites in the village of Slatersville.
The U.S. secretary of interior signed off on the boundaries for the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park last week, connecting places of significance throughout the region, from Old Slater Mill in Pawtucket, to the Little Red Shop Historic District in Hopedale, Mass.
The park was established in 2014 as the 402nd unit of the National Park System, and NPS has since acquired some buildings in the region and is working to take over responsibility of the historic sites. The agency now has 13 full-time employees in the Blackstone Valley, overseeing landmarks that aim to tell the story of the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution.
To officially establish the boundaries of the park, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland held a special signing ceremony in Sen. Jack Reed’s Washington, DC office on Tuesday, July 27.
In Slatersville, those boundaries weave through a historic village center, encompassing portions of School, Main and Greene Streets, and folding in a portion of the Branch River via Graham Drive. The NPS website offers directions for a self-guided tour of the locations, listing eight locations in a one mile radius.
“At first glance Slatersville appears to be a classic New England small town—crisp white houses stand neatly aligned along quiet streets that merge at the town common and the Congregational church,” the site notes. “In reality, Slatersville is America’s first planned industrial village and its true heart is not the quaint common, but the massive stone mill along the river.”
The first stop on the tour is behind North Smithfield Library overlooking the Slatersville Reservoir and the dams that once provided water power to the Slatersville Mill.
The library itself, once a store house for the Western Mills complex, also makes the list. The only other structure still remaining in that complex, a former picker house, can be seen down the stairs to the left of the library.
Central to the town’s historic sites, of course, is the former Slatersville Mill, which now serves as an apartment housing.
Slatersville Congregational Church and the Common are within the newly established boundaries of the park, as are former worker houses along Greene Street, along with the John Slater House. Back on Main Street, the park includes Memorial Town Hall, a building now run by the North Smithfield Heritage Association, as well as two buildings known as the Commercial Block.
Reed, who sponsored and promoted legislation to establish the region as a national park, said the signing was 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,” Reed said. “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 Sen, Sheldon Whitehouse. “This designation will encourage residents and visitors to discover the history and natural beauty of the Blackstone Valley.”
A release on the signing notes that the National Park System oversees 423 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 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.