Friday, July 22, 2011

The Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in America

Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

In the Pennacook language Pawtucket supposedly means "place of loud noise" (referring to nearby falls), yet another resource claims that it means "at the falls in the river (tidal stream)" in Algonkian. Either way, my perception is that contemporary locals think of both the place and its name as unsexy. It's nicknamed, "The Bucket."
Pawtucket is actually an amazing place, filled with beautiful old buildings that reflect its glorious history. The first fully mechanized cotton spinning mill in the U.S. was built here in 1793 by Samuel Slater. It still stands as a fascinating museum, Slater Mill!
Evidence of the massive textile trade is still found easily all over the landscape. Did you know that Hasbro began in Pawtucket as Hassenfeld Brothers? They sold textiles, then pencil boxes & school supplies, and later toys! They incorporated as Hasbro in 1968 after the success of Mr. Potato Head and G.I.Joe.
The photo above and the photo below are of two views down intersecting streets at one corner, but there are SO MANY MORE square blocks like this. These aren't even the fancy ones!
After WWI and the Stock Market Crash of 1929, much of the textile industry around here declined. Many businesses lacked the capital or the foresight to invest in the future of textiles-- synthetics! Other businesses moved to the South.
The companies that filled the vacuums left in those vacated mill spaces were mostly focused on costume jewelry production. They didn't necessarily need to invest in massive machines like spinning and weaving equipment; much of the jewelry work at that time could simply be done by hand. Over the subsequent decades Rhode Island grew into the world capital of costume jewelry production and related processes (metal casting & plating, knife- making.) Who doesn't love a mural of an air compressor, lathe, drill press, chain- maker, engraver, and ? (One of those is a stranger I haven't met yet, but I bet their job has to do with folding and crimping.)

You can still find dumpsters and warehouses all around here filled with jewelry molds, buckles, beads, buttons, blades, and findings. This place is surely a heaven on earth.
Lots of these buildings continue to house working factories and businesses.
Unfortunately, many spaces are being razed, but some are also being preserved or re-developed. This is what is left of the Union Wadding Company on Goff Street. It was partially developed into lofts and studios, but an unusual arson last October destroyed more than half of the 450,000 square- foot complex. Noone lived in the parts where the fire started and I don't think anyone was injured, but all of the residents were displaced. From firsthand experience I can tell you that being forced out of your home is one of the worst feelings in the world.


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  3. wow what an interesting place to explore!

  4. There really is so much great stuff concentrated here in one very small place!


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