West Kingston, RI – Samuel Slater

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

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

Built in 1793, the original Slater Mill was a modest 29 foot by 42 foot, 2 ½ 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

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.

Son of a yeoman farmer, Samuel Slater was born in Belper, Derbyshire, England on June 9, 1768. He become involved in the textile industry at the age of 14 when he was apprenticed to Jedediah Strutt, a partner of Richard Arkwright and the owner of one of the first cotton mills in Belper. Slater worked for Strutt for eight years and rose to become superintendent of Strutt’s mill. It was in this capacity that he gained a comprehensive understanding of Arkwright’s machines.

Samuel Slater

Believing that textile industry in England had reached its peak, Slater emigrated secretly to America in 1789 in hopes of making his fortune in America’s infant textile industry. While others with textile manufacturing experience had emigrated before him, Slater was the first who knew how to build as well as operate textile machines. Slater, with funding from Providence investors and assistance from skilled local artisans, built the first successful water powered textile mill in Pawtucket in 1793.

By the time other firms entered the industry, Slater’s organizational methods had become the model for his successors in the Blackstone River Valley. Later known as the Rhode Island System, it began when Slater enlisted entire families, including children, to work in his mills. These families often lived in company owned housing located near the mills, shopped at the company stores and attended company schools and churches. While not big enough to support the large mills which became common in Massachusetts, the Blackstone River’s steep drop and numerous falls provided ideal conditions for the development of small, rural textile mills around which mill villages developed.

Old Slater Mill

One of the earliest of these mill villages was Slatersville. Located on the Branch River in present day North Smithfield, Rhode Island, Slatersville was built by Samuel Slater and his brother John in 1803. By 1807, the village included the Slatersville Mill, the largest and most modern industrial building of its day, two tenement houses for workers, the owner’s house and the company store. In the early twentieth century, industrialist and preservationist Henry P. Kendall took a personal interest in the village and initiated many of the improvement projects which give the village its traditional New England Charm.

Samuel Slater was the founder of the American cotton textile industry in America.  While others with textile manufacturing experience had emigrated before him, Slater was the first who knew how to build as well as operate textile machines.  The 1793 opening of Samuel Slater’s cotton mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the first successful water-powered textile mill, ushered in a historical phenomenon now known as America’s Industrial Revolution.  Along the banks of the Blackstone River, for which the region is named, dozens of factories sprung up, employing generations of working-class families and drawing thousands of immigrants from around the world.

Slater divided factory work into such simple steps that children aged four to ten could do it — and did. While such child labor is anathema today, American children were traditionally put to work around the farm as soon as they could walk and Slater’s family system proved popular.



West Kingston, RI – Can I Publish?

Again I seem to be having trouble posting my journal to Google from the software that I use. Sometimes it works such in the previous blogs and sometimes it does not – like yesterday. I am trying to publish this short note to see if this works.

West Kingston, RI – Buyin’ that Yacht

Looks like a beautiful day – let’s go to Newport and buy our yacht. We’ve heard that there is a great sale going on and we don’t want to be left out.

And, while we’re there, let’s drop in on our good friends, the Vanderbilts, at their summer ‘cottage’ the Breakers.

Oops, I’m thinkin’ we couldn’t even afford the taxes on that yacht and the Vanderbilts left long ago. I guess we’ll tour the house, walk the Cliff Walk and then swing through the yacht sale. Sounds like a plan.

Newport, RI was the summer playground for the wealthy around the turn of the 19th Century. Their ‘cottages’ along the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic were some of America’s grandest private homes. With WWI, the depression and WWII they became extremely difficult to maintain and there were fewer who could afford them. Now, many of them are the property of the Newport Preservation Society and open to the public. I toured the Breakers long ago when my mother visited Rhode Island from Iowa. But, Gary hasn’t and I’d like to see it again. The inside pictures here are from the website of the Society since we could not take pictures inside. (One of the guys standing next to me in one room must not have heard this since he very obviously took a picture. He had a strap holding his camera on his chest, he looke down, touched the button on the top and I head a tell-tale click. Funny, I thought the warning was quite clear.)



The ‘cottage’ was built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II, the son of the founder of the New York Central RR system, to reaplace a wooden house called the ‘Breakers’ which had burned in 1892. He hired Richard Morris Hunt to design a villa built to resemble an Italian Renaissance palace and it was built, decorated and furnished in 2 years. Actually some rooms were built in Europe, divided and transported to America in pieces – only to be rebuilt here. It had 70 rooms, 300 windows and 750 door knobs. (Aren’t you glad that you know all that?) Unfortunately Vanderbilt suffered a dibilitating stroke in 1896 and died in 1897 only enjoying his home for a year. 4 of his 7 children died before his wife, Alice Claypoole Gwynne Vanderbilt died in 1934.

One of his daughters, Gertrude realized at the age of 19 that she was an heiress and wanted to be poor so that she could be loved for who she was and not for her money. She married a young man named Whitney who was wealthy in his own right and she then went on to found the Whitney museum in New York. She was an accomplished sculptor and actually studied in Europe. Her family and her husband never appreciated her abilities. Initially she worked under an assumed name but later exhibited under her own name.

Another daughter, Gladys married Count Laszlo Szechenyi of Hungary and inherited the house when her mother died in 1934. In 1948 she opened it to tours and to raise money for the Preservation Society. In 1972 the Society purchased the house from the remaining heirs and opened it for tours in their own name.


The tour was self-guided and we each had headset to give us commentary as we walked from room to room. Very opulent and well gilded. But the Preservation Society has done a reamarkable job in preserving the house. The tour was very interesting and not only told about the home and the owners but also spent time telling us about the servants who kept the house. They told about the daily life of one of the female servants: plumping, dusting, drawing bath water, laundry, etc. They changed the sheets on each bed twice a day – since the family took a nap in the afternoon. Female servants were never to be seen by the public, onlythe butler and the footmen, who were chosen for their height. Tall and lean with perfect posture.

If your were the footman who was in charge of the clocks, you wound clocks all day. If you were the footman in charge of brass shining, that’s what you would do all day. There were 30 servant bedrooms, all in the top two stories of the house – with little ventilation and only a small window on the 4th story.

It’s time for the Cliff Walk a walk along the cliffs of Newport, in front of the mansions. Anytime the wealthy mansion-owners tried to limit access, the fishermen of the village went to court and preserved public access under the ‘fishermen’s Rights’ section of the Colonial Charter of King Charles II. Now. centuries of use have guaranteed public use although it is really a public walkway over private property. Of course, lots of tall hedges were built along the cliff walk. But, what a walk. The picture below is from the Newport Cliffwalk website and shows the path along the cliff. Watch out for that 70’ drop. Most of it is alphalt or cement although the southern edge is much rougher and is over flat-topped boulders. Thre is a tunnel and several bridges over chasms and large boulders near the southern edge but the view is spectacular all the way.


Here are some of my photos.

Now for the yacht sale. We walked through some of the town of Newport and happened upon this yacht sale.

Croton-on-Hudson, NY – ‘He Hung the Moon’

Is it really Tuesday? Monday seems like a year away. In these two days we have:

        toured the FDR home

        toured the FDR Library and Museum

        walked over the Hudson River

        heard a bridge sing

        toured a Vanderbilt mansion

        ate lunch at the CIA

        got caught for an hour in an elevator at 212’ up above the Hudson River

        had to give our names to the Poughkeepsie Police for the daily blotter

Whoo-eee, no wonder I’m weary. But, we do it to ourselves. Why are we both Type A’s? But, the goal is to see as much as we can and, though we know we’re not going to see it all, we’ve got a good start. Our campground is half-way between New York City and Hyde Park where the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Library and Home are and also the Eleanor Roosevelt Memorial. I won’t deny that I am an admirer of both and wanted to the homes and museum. It was a nice short drive north along the Hudson River and we got there about 9:30 and took the first tour of the home. Considering the wealth of the Roosevelt’s, this was the antithesis of ornate. Quite a contrast with the gilded, ornate Vanderbilt home, our next stop. I suppose it is the difference between old and new money.


These are all original furnishings and thus I could not use the flash on my camera. Pictures of family everywhere. The house has 35 rooms and 9 bathrooms.


There are several wheel chairs in the home, designed for and some delisigned by Roosevelt. Note the ashtray on the side, for the ever present cigarette in the long holder.



Here’s a picture of Franklin as a young man and soon after he married Eleanor. The picture is really a spoof since he’s actually holding her knitting – but he looks so serious.


Roosevelt had an idyllic childhood, was educated in the finest schools and had a remarkable political career – until 1921 when he was stricken with polio which left him paralyzed below the waist. His political career would seem to be over but he waged a mighty battle to come to terms with his disability. At one time he said he would not return to politics until he could walk to the end of the driveway. It is a long driveway and it took many tries but he succeeded and at the age of 50 was elected President.




Here is one of the 4 photos of Roosevelt in a wheel chair.


Eleanor had her own hardships to overcome. She was the niece of Teddy Roosevelt whose brother was her father. He was often drunk and had bouts of depression. Her mother thought she was not pretty and kept calling her ‘Granny’. Unfortunately both of her parents died before she reached the age of 10 and she went to live with her grandmother. She was educated by private tutors until she was sent to a private girls school in England where she gained a great deal of self-confidence.

Roosevelt was elected President 4 times. In the language of the 30’s ‘he hung the moon’ – although not everyone thought he was a great President. Eleanor herself had a lot of detractors also. During the was, she went to visit the troops in the South Pacific even though the Generals didn’t want to bother with her. However, she was such a morale booster to all the troops both in the field and in hospitals that the Generals wanted her to come back.



When President Roosevelt died she thought it was all over but she found new missions and even became an ambassador to the United Nations. ‘First Lady of the World’ President Truman called her. At first even some in her own delegation thought her undequal to the task, but she gained their heartfelt admiration the way she marshalled through the Human Rights documents.

When the Daughters of the American Revolution who owned Constitution Hall refused to let Marian Anderson sing there because she was African American, Eleanor resigned her membership in that organization and arranged for Anderson to sing at the Lincoln Memorial.



Again, as I said she had many detractors – one of whom was J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI who started to compile a file on her activities because he thought she was a Communist. In the end, the file was 3271 pages. Imagine that. What a waste of time.


My favorite picture of her is when she is returning from one of her many journeys, walking across the tarmac carrying her own suitcase. In fact, the museum had that same suitcase, not fancy, but pretty common.


We really enjoyed the museum and the Roosevelt home. We learned a lot but then we’ve learned a lot from all the other Presidential libraries that we have visited from Nixon to Eisenhower to Johnson to Truman.

At the end of the day, we headed towards the Walkway over the Hudson, the longest walking bridge in the world. We’ve got to get in our daily walk and this way we can do it in style. Originally built as a railroad bridge in 1875, it was not only the longest bridge in the world but it was the first bridge to span the Hudson and it was wide enough for 2 tracks. It served well and was a key transportation link between the eastern markets and the western raw materials – until it burned in 1974.

Now, what to do with it? Demolition would cost $50 million. Aha, transforming it into a linear walking park would cost only $38 million. A bargain. It’s 212’ above the Hudson (a fact which will become much more personally important tomorrow about 5:00) and has great views no matter where you stand on it – even if you merely stand on one end and look. out across it. And off we go. I’m just going to show some pictures that we took as we walked over. I could have wished for a sunny day but, hey, this gives some interesting shading.



At the end, we turned south about 1/2 mile to the Mid-Hudson Bridge, the car and walking bridge from Poukeepsie to western New York. Here we heard ‘Bridge Music.’ This guy, Joseph Bertolozzi used the bridge as the instrument. He took rubber hammers, regular hammers, whatever he could to make sounds on the bridge and recorded it and released it as an album.


Here he is ‘playing’ the bridge.


Here are others getting the bridge ready for its ‘songs’.


At one point he released hundreds of little metal balls down the hollow towers of the bridge – and they sound like a metal waterfall. You can buy his CD or you can walk the bridge where they have listening posts and headsets to listed to the songs that you wish to. Gary and I enjoyed walking the bridge and also enjoyed the Bridge Music. Not really our kind of music but very interesting. Bertolozzi now wants to use the Eiffel Tower as his instrument to make, maybe, Tower Music.

We crossed and headed back to where we had started. Time to head back to the hotel.