Slater Mill Historic Site, Pawtucket, Rhode Island
Slater Mill was another place I had always meant to visit while living in Rhode Island but never did. The mill is part of a historical complex that includes the Wilkinson Mill and the Sylvanus Brown House, and is famous for being the first water-powered cotton mill in the United States. The mill contains both actual and replica cotton spinning and textile machines from the era of operation, making the historical site a valuable piece of American history as well as a really interesting place to visit since the tour guides actually operate the machines to show you how they worked. Hands down the best part of the experience visiting Slater Mill Historic Site are in fact the tour guides; they really bring to life the reality of millwork, by literally bringing the machines to life and thtough their in-depth knowledge of all aspects of mill operation. The tour included extensive discussion of mill workers and the functions of the machines as well as the histories of the mill owners, Samuel Slater and David Wilkinson, and their respective innovations and contributions to the cotton and manufacturing industries. It was all really fascinating.
My favorite part of the site was the Wilkinson Mill, built in 1810 as a combination machine shop and textile mill. The huge waterwheel in the basement at Wilkinson powers all the machines in the woodworking and metalworking shops on the first floor of the mill using gear shafts and leather belts – even to this day. It was awesome to watch the gear shaft start up and the belts begin to turn. We saw demonstrations of a few different machines and received a thorough explanation of the others.
The last building on the site is the Sylvanus Brown House, built in 1758 and moved from its original location to the Slater Mill site to serve as an example of a typical house in which cotton cleaning and spinning by hand took place prior to industrialization. The house contains many original artifacts but hands down, the coolest thing was a block of tea on the kitchen table (you can see it in my picture of the table below); it was common apparently to buy tea in blocks and then scrape off the desired amount into tea. I clearly missed that in U.S. History class. This one features a beautiful Chinese-inspired pattern.