By John Anderson
The success of the Blackstone Valley can be traced back to 1790 when the first textile mill was put into operation in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. This mill harnessed the power of moving water to power the machinery within, and the technology spread like wildfire throughout New England and changed the region from farming to manufacturing.
The John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor stretches from Leicester, Massachusetts in the northwest to East Providence, Rhode Island in the southeast and includes the National Park Service’s Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park. In 2014, the Town of Auburn became the newest member of the corridor.
Each Thursday evening during the summer months, Park Rangers offer “Walkabouts” in different areas of the corridor. On June 25th, Auburn was the destination and about 35 people gathered at the Worcester Hebrew Cemetery off of Stafford St. in Worcester to hear local historian Ken Ethier talk about the local area and especially the early railroads.
The Great Western Railroad began in 1839 and ran from Worcester to Springfield at a top speed of 15mph. It then became the Boston and Albany Railroad which transitioned to Conrail. The line is currently owned by CSX Transportation and also hosts Amtrak passenger trains.
As railroad technology increased, rails were spiked into ties that needed to stay in place on the rail bed. This was accomplished by spreading ballast between and around the ties. Ballast was crushed rock and the resulting pieces were smaller than a baseball. The rock on Deadhorse Hill was perfect so a stone crusher was built west of the railroad near the end of what is now Courville Rd.
Little remains of the stone crusher, which went out of service in the 1920’s, except for the stone foundation, and it’s about a mile hike from the cemetery. Ethier’s stories make history come alive and seem like it was only yesterday that workers were dynamiting the hillside to produce the huge amounts of stone needed.
Walkabouts continue until August 27th and will occur in Worcester, Millbury, Providence, Whitinsville and Pawtucket. A schedule and information can be viewed on the National Park Service’s web site www.nps.gov/blac
This is a great way to get some exercise while learning about this important region in the history of New England and the United States.