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In 1790, young British engineer Samuel Slater arrived in Providence with the knowledge he gained from apprenticing in English cotton mills. It was a crime to export machinery designs for cotton-cloth making, but Slater had memorized much of what he saw. He found backers, and partners and three years later a mill opened at Pawtucket Falls in the Blackstone River. Eventually hundreds of mills
were operating up and down the river from Worcester to Providence, transforming a young nation’s agriculture-dominated economy and launching an industrial revolution. The Blackstone Valley helped make America the world’s industrial powerhouse for a century and a half, luring immigrants to the region to work in its factories to make textiles as well as barbed wire, space suits, and even Mr. Potato Head. Much of that industry is now gone, and many old mills have been renovated and converted to condominiums, offices, and gallery spaces. But the scenic river, the focus of ongoing environmental remediation efforts, remains a main attraction to the region, which includes the Rhode Island communities of Woonsocket, Pawtucket, Central Falls, Cumberland, Lincoln, North Smithfield, Smithfield, Glocester, and Burrillville. The Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor designation aims to preserve and interpret the area’s landscape and history.