Slater Mill Historic Site

The Slater Mill Historic Site offers visitors a unique opportunity to see how the Blackstone River Valley was transformed from a series of small farming and milling communities into one the nineteenth century's great industrial centers. The site contains three buildings - the Sylvus Brown House (1758), the Slater Mill (1793) and the Wilkinson Mill (1810) - which illustrate the progression of textile manufacturing from a hand craft to large scale industrial enterprise.

The Sylvanus Brown House

Sylvus Brown House
Sylvanus Brown House

The Sylvanus Brown House, the oldest building at the Slater Mill Historic Site, is a typical dwelling of the mid-late eighteenth century. A small, solid looking building, the house was moved to this location in the late 1960's. Except for the basement and chimney, the original structure is intact. The sparse furnishings conform to those of Sylvanus Brown's 1824 estate inventory and include a loom, spinning wheel and other tools used to make cloth by hand.

In this house, and others like it, women and children did the slow tedious work of cleaning and carding wool, spinning yarn and weaving cloth. It is interesting to watch this process by hand since the machinery in the Slater Mill duplicates many of the same operations, often with equipment that looks much like the hand tool original.

The Slater Mill

Slater Mill
Slater Mill

Built in 1793, the original Slater Mill was a modest 29 foot by 42 foot, 2 story structure now obscured by later additions. Built of wood, it looked much like the farmhouses, barns and churches of the day except for its size. Posts were mortised into heavy beams on which plank floors were supported. The long narrow shape facilitated the transfer of power from the water wheel to the machines and made the most of natural light. This basic design was repeated frequently throughout the Blackstone River Valley.

Today, the Slater Mill is a museum dedicated to the history of textile manufacturing in America. It displays 24 machines built between 1775 and 1922 which demonstrate the process of turning cotton into cloth.

The Wilkinson Mill

Wilkinson Mill
Wilkinson Mill

The Wilkinson Mill demonstrates the changes in mill design after twenty years of industrial experience. Built in 1810, the building is significantly larger than the original Slater Mill and has exterior walls built of stone to reduce the chance of fire. As it appears today, the mill includes a brick tower added in 1840 and a belfry recreated from an 1870 photograph.

Designed as a cotton mill, it also included a machine shop on the first floor where mechanics built or repaired whatever machinery the mill required. A magnificent waterwheel still provides power to the machines in the machine shop. When built, the mill performed all stages of cloth manufacture except weaving. By 1817, it is likely that weaving was also introduced, possibly on looms built in the mill's own machine shop.

The Slater Mill Historic Site is located on Roosevelt Avenue in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Tours are given by guide only. For additional information call (401) 725-8638.

This page utilizes information from:

  • History You Can See - Scenes of Change In Rhode Island 1790-1910 written by Hadassah Davis and Natalie Robinson and published by the League of Rhode Island Historical Societies, Providence, 1986.

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