Move is critical to preserving historic site and helping Blackstone Valley realize its future economic development potential

PAWTUCKET, RI — Noting the historic importance of Slater Mill and exciting new opportunities for conservation, historic preservation, tourism, economic growth, education, and recreation, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) today announced the U.S. National Park Service’s acquisition of Slater Mill and other key historic buildings that comprise the Old Slater Mill Historic District. 

Senator Reed, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, and former Chairman of the Subcommittee on Interior & Environment, wrote and passed a 2014 law, which was folded into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), directing the National Park Service to establish the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park, including requiring the acquisition of Slater Mill.

Completed in 1793, on the banks of the Blackstone River, Slater Mill is the first successful water-powered spinning mill in the United States, and helped set America’s Industrial Revolution in motion.  The other historic buildings within the unit being transferred include Sylvanus Brown House, built in 1758, and Wilkinson Mill, which was added in 1810.

The buildings are being officially transferred to the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) by the Old Slater Mill Association (OSMA), which acquired them a century ago.  The Park Service has already been working closely with OSMA for several years to take over responsibility for the historic district.

“The wheels of history turned right here in Pawtucket by individuals and workers whose innovation and ingenuity sparked advances in technology and forever changed America.  Slater Mill paved the way for America to become an industrial power.  The nation owes a debt of gratitude to the Old Slater Mill Association for saving and preserving this national treasure.  But COVID-19 has impacted them, just like other non-profits, and brought into stark relief the need for stable federal funding to maintain this nationally significant gem.  Now, through this transfer, the historic preservation torch is being passed to the National Park Service, which can bring new preservation and operating resources to the effort to permanently protect this special place and the natural beauty of the area and share it with future generations,” said Senator Reed, noting that the transfer will allow the federal government to support and protect historic Slater Mill and make it a keystone of the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park.  The national historical park is a non-contiguous string of museums, parks, historic buildings, and waterways that encompass areas of the Blackstone River, the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution. 

Senator Reed has worked for decades to create a national historic park in Rhode Island.  In addition to authoring the 2014 law to establish the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park, he has delivered over $6.5 million in federal appropriations since that time to help advance the national historic park.  When it is completed, the park will include Blackstone River State Park in Lincoln, Old Slater Mill National Historic Landmark District in Pawtucket, Slatersville Historic District in North Smithfield, Ashton Historic District in Cumberland, as well as Massachusetts sites that include parts of Whitinsville Historic District in Northbridge and Hopedale Village Historic District.  The national historic park will also provide protections and access to key parts of the Blackstone River and its tributaries as well as the Blackstone Canal.

“The historic and environmental restoration and preservation of this beautiful area is woven together with Blackstone’s economic future.  I will continue advocating for federal resources to preserve Rhode Island’s unique history, while also helping state and local leaders create new opportunities for tourism, recreation, and sustainable economic growth” said Reed.  “This federal transfer clears an important hurdle making Slater Mill eligible to receive new federal funding from the Great American Outdoors Act and other NPS infrastructure dollars.”

The National Park Service has taken a collaborative approach to establishing the national historic park by partnering with local citizens, communities, and organizations — on a voluntary basis — to acquire and convert several geographically dispersed sites into one operational national historic park.

Today, Senator Reed spoke with National Park Service officials who informed him that the Slater Mill acquisition has been approved by the U.S. Department of Interior.  This represents the last major procedural hurdle to establishing Blackstone as a formal unit of the National Park System and publishing its boundaries.  NPS plans to close on the acquisition in March.

Reed also encouraged the National Park Service to acquire the Slater Mill dam.  The dam is one of the most significant structures of its kind in the United States and is essential to the historic nature of the park and the story of the Blackstone River Valley as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution.  The Old Slater Mill Association, in conjunction with National Grid, have undertaken recent efforts to shore up and preserve the iconic, six-foot high 1792 Slater Mill dam.

“I would like to thank Senator Reed for his dedication to the preservation of Slater Mill and continued support for our community,” said Pawtucket Mayor Donald R. Grebien. “This iconic landmark of our city has been a source of pride for our community for years and, with the support of the National Park’s Service, can continue to be experienced by many generations to come.”

“The Old Slater Mill Association was established a century ago in 1921 for the purposes of preserving the mill and its associated resources for the enjoyment and education of the public. Today’s announcement represents a major step forward in the fulfillment of that mission.  We would like to thank Senator Reed for his leadership in the creation of Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park and his advocacy on behalf of the mill.  

He and his staff have kept us informed and offered encouragement throughout the acquisition process.  We look forward to continuing our work with our partners at the National Park Service to ensure the successful transition of the mill and are proud that it will be an essential piece in the full establishment of the park,” said Stephen A. Olausen, president of the Old Slater Mill Association, who was elected to the Slater Mill Board of Trustees in June 2014.

“The transfer of the Old Slater Mill Historic District is great news for both historic preservation and the economic future of the Blackstone River Valley.  I hope the dam acquisition will follow and encouraged the National Park to continue making progress on that front.  We are poised to provide a new stream of stable federal funding within the Blackstone River Valley that can help boost local economic development, preserve history, and really tell the story of Slater Mill and the surrounding community in a comprehensive way that is accessible to the public now and in the future.  This move will also help address deferred maintenance needs, and I hope we can get the wheels of progress turning so that the historic Wilkinson wheel spins again,” concluded Senator Reed.