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Posts tagged ‘Blackstone Canal’

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.

 

Winter Solstice – Griffin Museum of Photography

On display in the Winter Solstice Exhibition at the Griffin Museum of Photography, Winchester, Massachusetts, from December 8 through January 1.

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Blackstone Canal, Uxbridge, Massachusetts – 2016.

The Pull of History

One of my favorite books of all time was Time and Again, by the great Jack Finney.  The book tells the story of a young man who with a bit of assistance from the government (clandestine of course) was able to engage in time travel.  No equipment required though.  All he had to do was make himself open to the experience.  Time passes but it doesn’t really pass.  It is still there if we know how to relate to it.  The book’s star was residing, at the request of his coconspirators, at Manhattan’s famous Dakota building.   After quite some time trying to figure out how to be open to the experience, and many false starts, he simply woke up one morning, went outside and it was the later 19th century.  He had taken up the past’s invitation to visit.

It  reminded me of what I try to see when visiting a place with the past.  I do wish I could visit it for real (of course, I’m sure I would have no idea how to cope but what fun is it to think about that). Sometimes you can find a door or at least a window to the past, an object, an artifact, a story, a book.  Walking along what was once the Blackstone Canal ins Uxbridge, MA it’s easy to hear history’s rumblings.  In the Blackstone Heritage Corridor Park you’re walking along the towpath after all.  A team of mules pulled the canal boats along the journey from Worcester to Providence.  If it’s quiet, it is easy to ponder what it was like when the towpath was actually in use, in the early 1800’s.  For me, one of the windows into that state of reverie are the intense reflections that can be seen there on a calm day..  They are intense enough to be disorienting and I offer you a small collection here.  I resisted the temptation to turn them upside down.  You’re welcome.

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A Most Beautiful Battery

From art back into history and the environment….

As we dig into the story of the Blackstone River and Canal a bit more, it becomes that much more interesting. The Canal ran parallel to the River for most of the River’s length and only actually utilized the River as a resource in those places, few in number, where the River was navigable. The Canal ran from Worcester, MA to Pawtucket, RI and was a key means of transportation at a time when transportation was more than a bit challenging.  However, the Canal itself only operated for a relatively brief period of time, from 1828 till 1848, twenty short years.  Canal transportation was disrupted as a technology by the new high tech rage:  the railroad.  The trains began to run from Worcester to Providence in 1835 and in just a few short years the Canal was no longer financially viable.  That is a relatively short life cycle for such an expensive engineering project, costing at it’s construction $750,000. The Canal fell into disrepair in relatively short order.

One of the best places to see the Canal is the River Bend Farm, in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, now operated by the National Park Service.  When we first visited, the still water was striking, offering some of the best forest reflections I’ve ever seen.

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It is really quite stunning all along the old Canal.  It is also, however, quite pristine, leading to the assumption that it had been spruced up by the National Park Service.  That’s true, but there’s more to the story than that.  The Canal had been repurposed in the early 20th Center, converting it into a rather significant source of stored energy, a giant battery if you will.  About one mile north of the visiting center is a Dam diverting water from the River into what was at that a time a rebuilt Canal. The height of the walls was increased to allow for the storage of more water.  Moving further south from the Visitor’s center, about one mile, one finds evidence of it’s alternative purpose.

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These turbines are part of a complex power generation scheme designed ultimately to run the Stanley Woolen Mill in Uxbridge.

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Water from the Canal ran directly into the factory to turn the looms and related machinery.

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It must have been an impressive project, suggestive of some very visionary thinking, along with some very deep pockets.  The Mills continued on at this location until 1988, a much longer run than the Canal.  The story is an interesting tale of entrepreneurship.  Entrepreneurs often create products or services that are intended for one thing, but end up being far more valuable for another.  Think iPhone turns into camera.  Certainly not what I would have predicted.  The Canal was intended for transportation but it ended up facilitating the industrial revolution in the United States.  This of course involved massive exploitation of resources resulting in wealth creation, jobs, and environmental damage.  Note that this source of energy was, in fact, renewable.  That’s good right, but in fact damming a river even for useful power also has its consequences.  The owners of the Mill created a giant and now beautiful battery, but the truth remains.  There’s no free lunch.