National Park Service hopes to attract more tourists to Slater Mill

National Park Service hopes to attract more tourists to Slater Mill

The National Park Service officially owns the Old Slater Mill National Historic Landmark District in Pawtucket after a property transfer was completed last week. (Breeze photo by Melanie Thibeault )

PAWTUCKET – It’s official: The National Park Service is now in control of the Old Slater Mill National Historic Landmark District in Pawtucket after a transfer of the property was completed last week, and NPS leaders say they’re excited to begin drawing more tourists to the area.

With the transfer from the nonprofit Old Slater Mill Association, the property is now officially part of the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park, and the NPS will now own and operate the three historic buildings on the property, including the 1793 Old Slater Mill, the 1810 Wilkinson Mill, and the 1758 Sylvanus Brown House. Also included in the transfer are the approximately 3 acres of land surrounding the structures, which includes the raceway infrastructure for both mills and Hodgson Rotary Park on the west bank of the Blackstone River, states a release.

“We are honored to become the stewards of this incredibly important national historic landmark,” said Park Supt. Eric Breitkreutz. “We look forward to working with our partners, the Old Slater Mill Association and the city of Pawtucket, to continue the public interpretation of this seminal historic site on the banks of the Blackstone River.”

Asked about specific plans to bring more people to the site now that it’s under NPS purview, Breitkreutz said in the age of COVID-19 it’s a hard question to answer.

“Certainly, Old Slater Mill’s inclusion into the national network of NPS sites will raise its profile on a national scale, attracting more visitors,” he said.

The NPS has plans to provide informal outdoor education opportunities starting in May and will re-open the museum for small-numbered, safely distanced public tours as soon as it is safe to do so this summer and once they’ve hired new staff, he said. “We will develop special programs, tours and events as we establish ourselves on site and while we as a region and nation emerge from the pandemic.”

While in-person events remain on pause for now, he added that staff will continue to host online programming, with the hope of attracting people far and wide to visit in the future.

Slater Mill, which was completed in 1793 and was the first water-powered spinning mill in the U.S., has a reputation as a pivotal site in the Industrial Revolution, Breitkreutz said, and it’s linked with other regional NPS sites, including the Lowell National Historical Park in Lowell, Mass. “This synergy with other NPS sites will bring more visitors to our National Historic Landmark in Pawtucket,” he said.

Based on visitation statistics at Roger Williams National Memorial in Providence, he said, there are people who come to R.I. just to visit a national park.

“Those tourists are nearly guaranteed to visit another park 10 minutes away,” he said. “In fact, many people base their vacations on visiting NPS sites in particular in a given state or area, so Old Slater Mill will benefit from this brand of tourism given its location near the national parks of Boston, New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, Lowell National Historical Park and Cape Cod National Seashore.”

Now that the NPS owns the Slater Mill site, Breitkreutz said residents of Pawtucket and from all across the world are welcome to visit for the history, special events, picnicking on the green along the Blackstone River, and to visit the coming bike path.

The Old Slater Mill Association, which has maintained the site since 1921, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and leaders there and at NPS have said they will plan an event once it’s safe to do so.

“The Old Slater Mill Association has been an incredible steward of the property for 100 years, and we will continue their fine tradition of preserving the site and educating the public in Pawtucket,” he said. “Our hope … is that our national reputation as the keepers of America’s history and story will bring even more visitors to the site in person and virtually to appreciate the national and international significance of the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution.”

In addition to acquiring Slater Mill, the NPS also accepted a conservation and preservation easement on the 86 acres of the Blackstone River State Park in Lincoln from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, which will bring segments of the Blackstone Bikeway, a contiguous section of the historic Blackstone Canal, and the Captain Wilbur Kelly House Museum of Transportation into the National Historical Park’s boundary, according to Breitkreutz.

While RIDEM still owns the park, the easement allows NPS to help interpret, preserve, and protect the site and will bring more national recognition to the critical role in the early American Industrial Revolution played by Ashton village in Cumberland and the Captain Wilbur Kelly mills in Lincoln, he said.

Additionally, according to the NPS press release, four local historic districts have been established in four unique mill villages in the Blackstone River Valley including the Ashton Historic District in Cumberland, the Slatersville Historic District in North Smithfield, the Whitinsville Historic District in Northbridge, Mass., and the Hopedale Historic District in Hopedale, Mass.