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Resourceful: Exploring the Blackstone River

Videography by Halsey Fulton

Take a canoe trip along a section of Rhode Island’s Blackstone River—the first industrialized river in the country—to learn about its rich history and the efforts being made to restore it as a public and natural resource.

Throughout New England, rivers big and small have driven the course of history, moving people and products, facilitating commerce and migration. The Connecticut, the Kennebec, the Penobscot, and the Merrimack are all well known as mighty waterways that shaped our region as they flowed through Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Only Rhode Island seems left out of the picture. Or was it?


The Blackstone Canal connected the city of Worcester, MA, with Narragansett Bay.

The Blackstone River, which flows for some 45 miles from Worcester, MA, to Providence, where it becomes the tidal Seekonk River, played a key role in launching the industrial era in America. In 1793, English-born Samuel Slater helped establish the first water-powered textile mill in the country on the banks of the Blackstone, using mechanical engineering skills he had acquired in his home country. Other mills soon followed, popping up along the Blackstone and other rivers as the technology spread through New England.

The Blackstone’s industrial past led to yet another notable chapter in American transportation history. Beginning in 1825, a canal was dug alongside much of the Blackstone River to allow the transport of goods between Worcester and Providence. A series of 49 locks were created to deal with the changing elevation, the canal boats pulled by oxen and horses. The trip from Worcester to Providence took two days. The Blackstone Canal era only lasted 20 years, closing in 1948 when railway transportation became a more efficient means of transporting goods over long distances.

In this short film, we explore a section of the Blackstone with Mike Laford of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, starting at the Central Falls Landing launch area. As you’ll see, wildlife abounds along the heavily wooded banks of the river, as well as in the river itself. Paddlers can encounter great blue herons, egrets, kingfishers, redtail hawks, yellow-crowned night herons, and bald eagles along the river. Additionally, several species of fish can be found in the Blackstone, including largemouth bass, pickerel, carp, sunfish, and even trout.

It’s a natural wonderland for paddlers of all types and abilities, and the Blackstone River Tourism Council is helping to make more people aware of the river’s value as a recreational resource.

To learn more about the Blackstone River and how to access its waters, contact the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council. The organization also offers eco-tours of the river, as well as overnight trips aboard its European-style canal boat, the Samuel Slater.

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