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Posts from the ‘Sustainability’ Category

Mills and Dams – The Bernat Mill

Chris, my wife, remembers going to the Bernat Mill store in Uxbridge, Massachusetts to buy yarn.  She certainly isn’t alone.  If you were into knitting, that was what you did in this area.  At one point, the mill was the third largest yarn mill in the U.S.  (Note, the brand still exists and is in use by another yarn manufacturer, Bernat.)  The mill itself had a long and exemplary career in the Blackstone River Valley.  The first iteration of the Mill was built there in 1820 by John Capron.  Why that location?  Falling water.   This is the current dam along the Mumford River that creates Capron Pond.  It’s quite a lovely place with a very nice park, a nice place to think, or have a picnic.

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Capron evolved to the Backman Uxbridge Worsted Company.  They were the first manufacturers to utilize power loops in the U.S., a staggering change moving the industrial revolution forward.  Their ability to engage in mass production doubtlessly lead to their ability to land contracts for the production of Civil War uniforms, World War One Khakis and World War Two U.S. Army uniforms.  Those familiar with the U.S. Air Force dress blue uniform can take note, it was probably manufactured in that mill.  That blue was chosen from the Backman Uxbridge catalogue.

As it did with so many large manufacturers in the Valley, the bust stormed into town in the form of international competition, technological change and an aging plant.   In 1964 the assets were sold to the Bernat Company which refocused the mill on yarns.  As manufacturing declined, the mill was repurposed over time in what was actually a very successful conversion.  The class mill repurposing involves creating small spaces for retail, office and creative studios.  They must have worked quite hard on the conversion because by the night of July 21, 2007, something like 400,000 square feet which had been devoted to manufacture was productively employed by numerous small businesses.  Hundreds were employed there.  Unfortunately, that night and for several subsequent days the mill burned.

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Hundreds of firefighters fought the blaze.  The complex was almost completely destroyed.  Most of the businesses, worth millions, were lost.  There are I would stress still a number of businesses remaining in a portion of the mill complex, but nothing like the number there prior to the fire.

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The damage is still stunningly visible.  Government on several levels planned to help but those plans seem to have floundered.  This is of course not the first mill to burn in the Blackstone Valley.  Many of those mills absorbed a century or more of a variety of chemicals.  Some thought the fire at the Bernat Mill was almost inevitable.  The bust of an economic surge, particularly one that lasted as long as large scale manufacturing in the Blackstone Valley is extraordinarily difficult to manage.  These were very big businesses, not just for their time, but for any time.

The Anthropocene

Relating to or denoting the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.  

Have we crossed into a new geological and biological epoch?  Perhaps.  There is some debate as to when humans began to overpower the earth, at least the surface 1% of it.  Global warming has only been on the radar screen, for most of us, for a few decades.  Some scholars though date the anthropocene from the onset of the industrial revolution, and perhaps even the dawn of agriculture thousands of years ago.

Traveling around the Blackstone River Valley of central Massachusetts, one gets the definite sense that it’s been going on for a while.  I’ve been immersed in issues related to sustainability for the past year or so as part of my work at Babson College.  This valley, where I now live, reveals an interesting story of the industrial revolution and its impact, one that I will be talking and photographing more about over the next several years.

I’ll with just a simple image of a rather iconic location in the Valley,  the dam at the Mumford River that created the mill ponds that powered Whitin Machine Works.

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The Whitin Machine Works was founded in 1831.  It ultimately became one of the largest textile machinery factories in the world, employing over 5000 people at its peak in the late 1940’s.  It’s been out of business since 1976, victim of changing business conditions.  Obviously, here, there was an impact on the environment, though nothing we aren’t used to seeing.  Perhaps not such a big deal, though we can imagine that the river was ultimately quite polluted. Consider though, courtesy of Google Earth, the bigger picture.

Whitten Machine Works

When I took the first image I was standing on the sidewalk of the roadway you see in the lower right hand corner.  Note how the dam has changed the surrounding geography, for miles.  The dam no longer provides power for the mill, but it shaped a landscape that those in the community came to accept and with which they are now powerfully linked.  The next time you see a dam, consider what’s behind it.  This is one dam.  More to come.

(I want to give full credit to my colleague at Babson College, Professor Joanna Carey, for the fundamental ideas behind this series on dams in New England.)

Blackstone Heritage Corridor NPS Calendar

I’m honored to have had two images chosen by the Blackstone Heritage Corridor and National Park Service for inclusion in their 2018 Calendar.  Both are from the River Bend Farm National Heritage Corridor in Uxbridge, Massachusetts.  I’ve mentioned this location before.  This portion of the National Heritage Corridor explores the Blackstone Canal, which was constructed in 1827-28 running from Worcester, Massachusetts to Providence, Rhode Island.  The Canal was open for only two decades and was considered a business failure.  Inspired by the success of the Erie Canal in New York, the Blackstone Canal was to provide relatively inexpensive and fairly rapid transportation along this developing corridor.  It’s history turned out to be torturous as it was initially thought to be a boon for the growing cotton mill industry along the Blackstone River.  Soon however, the Mill owners were suing the Canal owners over the use of water from the River.  This on the heels of the conflicts between the areas farmers and industrialists over water use.

This section of the Canal has been restored.  The tow path runs along the Canal and was used by Ox and Mules to power the boats that navigated the canal.  For July:

Blackstone Canal and Towpath in Spring -  2016

Both of these images show an unusually wide portion of the Canal which was for the most part extremely narrow.  For November:

Dock along the Blacksstone Canal in Fall - 2016

The work of the National Park Service as well as the states of Rhode Island and Massachusetts here in the Blackstone Corridor helps us to try and grapple with the very complex intersections between the natural environment, entrepreneurship, social policy and social justice that took place and still are in play in the Corridor. As I’ve pointed out, the Blackstone River was one of the Rivers that actually provoked the Clean Water Act, signed by that noted environmentalist, Richard Nixon…(hey, he signed it, so good for him).  The lessons from the Corridor are lessons that evolve over hundreds of years.  It is not easy for us to understand those lessons for that very reason, but by holding the discussion, we can perhaps make progress.

Yesterday, we had the pleasure of attending the second annual Biodiversity Festival hosted by the Corridor, in Lincoln, Rhode Island.  It was inspiring to see so many people, including our wonderful daughter Molly, who are engaged in trying to protect our environment.  Molly works at the Northern Rhode Island Conservation District. These folks engage in a wide variety of environmental and educational activities with the goal of protecting the drinking water for a large number of Rhode Island citizens.  Drinking water….kind of important I think.  One lesson is clear:  protect that which is essential to our lives.

 

Earth Day and the March for Science

Congressman Jim McGovern and colleagues did a nice job of nurturing hope and resistance at today’s March for Science held in Elm Park, Worcester, Massachusetts.  I have studiously tried to avoid launching into rants on this blog in recent years, largely on doctor’s orders.  But, as McGovern said, and I have to paraphrase rather than quote, if you asked me twenty years ago if I would have to help stage a march in favor of science some day, I’d say, ‘what are you, nuts?’  But here we are.Hunt_170422_1004176It is worth reminding ourselves that the E.P.A. was created during the Nixon Presidency. You remember Nixon, the well loved republican.  Oh, wait….  Even that guy, expletive deleted that he was, couldn’t hold a candle to our current expletive deleted.  Trump’s efforts to lower the collective IQ and fire up the coal industry have left me feeling a sense of deja vu and I have finally figured out why.  He’s building up an industry for which there is little or no market.  It reminds me of the golden days of the U.S.S.R., which is probably no coincidence.  In that centrally planned economy, they would crank out concrete that wasn’t ever going to be shipped anywhere.  No customers.  So we mine coal and further screw up an already vulnerable planet while the UK celebrates their first day of using no coal, anywhere, for anything.  I would not call the UK a bastion of liberal thought.  Perhaps they just know how to do business.  But, here we are.

It was encouraging to join the assembly today.  The weather was dreadful.  There is a far bigger march taking place in Boston.  No matter.  Sometimes you just need to rant.  Sorry doc.Hunt_170422_1004177

 

Photoessay: The Blackstone River and Route 146

I’ve mentioned here that my current project focus is on the Blackstone River.  For those who don’t know, the Blackstone flows from Worcester, Massachusetts to Providence, Rhode Island.  It’s strategic importance as a source of power led to rather extreme levels of both entrepreneurship and exploitation spanning nearly two hundred years.  It remains in content with humanity even as interest in its natural potential grows.  That tension is most acutely visible, to me at least, along a two mile stretch of the river in Millbury and Worcester, Massachusetts. There the River contents with a super highway and a very active freight railroad line.  Being in the city, it also contends with city life and the best and worst that the city existence has to offer.  Here’s a portfolio of images from my travels there over the past year.

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