NORTH SMITHFIELD – A national effort to bring attention to the historical importance of one area of North Smithfield finally moved forward this week, with the installation of signs educating visitors about America’s first planned mill village.
Staff from the National Park Service installed five signs a varying sizes at locations throughout Slatersville with information on the significance of several well-known landmarks.
At Slatersville Congregational Church, a board documents the role the church played in the lives of mill workers, who crossed the common daily on their way to a day of labor.
“By design, mill owners sought to provide working families with room to pray and play,” notes the NPS sign. “In return for this stability, many families gave generations of service to the mill.”
Two signs on the property of Memorial Town Hall lay out the importance of the Commercial Blocks and discuss the village within the context of the larger Blackstone Valley, with information on points of interest in surrounding communities, such as the Kelly House Museum.
The two brick and stone buildings on Main Street – now the home of businesses including Herculese Pizza and Quick Stop Deli – have historically housed stores, a post office, a bank, a barber shop and other elements needed for life in a mill village. Upper floors were used as social halls for wedding receptions, concerts, dances, lectures, meetings and movies.
The area behind North Smithfield Public Library also hosts two signs, one with a wider view of Samuel Slater’s grand design, and another with information on the role of the waterfall in providing power to the mill.
It is a long-anticipated step toward recognition of the village, some nine years after Congress voted to create a national park in the Blackstone Valley. The village of Slatersville officially became one of six sites that make up Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park when boundaries were drawn in 2021.
For Christian de Rezendes, who directed a documentary series on the village that premiered on Rhode Island PBS last fall, the signs mark a confirmation of the value of a story he’s been working to tell for more than a decade.
“I am thrilled because they are brand new, and they call very clear attention to the historical significance of these locations, from the metal buildings, to the water power system that was created here,” de Rezendes said.
The director did note, however, that the area behind the library needs more regular maintenance. The space, known as Centennial Park, features stone benches and views of the Slatersville Reservoir, including two nineteenth century dams, and a manmade canal. It holds the former picker house, believed to have been built in the 1870s or 1880s and the site of the former West Mill.
The 1.2 acre park was deeded to the library in 1987 and became town-owned property in 2021 after library officials found their staff was unable to appropriately maintain the grounds. The area is open to the public and can be accessed by a short walking path from the library parking lot.
“This is a very important historical spot when it comes to the history of industrialization and how energy was used through water power,” said de Rezendes. “I hope we can come together as a town and continue to honor the locations in which these have been installed by properly taking care of the grounds and spaces behind the library parking lot.”
The park service offers occasional walking tours of the area and de Rezendes plans to take part in one as part of the town’s upcoming Heritage Day. The park ranger/filmmaker tour will take place on Saturday, July 8 starting at 9 a.m. at Heritage Hall at 101 Greene St.
Public Works Director Ray Pendergast could not immediately be reached to comment on maintenance efforts for Centennial Park, but NRI NOW will update this story pending contact