Slatersville is acknowledged as the first planned industrial village in the United States. Ten years after helping to establish the first successful spinning mill in America in 1793, Samuel Slater was eager to set out on his own. His brother John scoured the countryside for a location for the new enterprise and settled on Branch River where a few water-powered mills were then in operation. What the new site did not have, however, was people.
Workers would have to be imported to the remote location and so the Slaters would construct not only a new stone mill in 1807 but homes nearby for their workers, stores where they could buy supplies and eventually a meetinghouse where they could worship. This “mill village” model came to be known as the Rhode Island System and proved that manufacturing could thrive outside establish population centers: “If you build it, they will come.”
John Slater managed the mill and the surrounding village as it expanded until his death in 1845; Slatersville remained in the family until 1900 when it was sold to James R. Hooper. Hooper bleached and dyed cloth for a while and in turn sold the village to Henry P. Kendall in 1915. Kendall’s was more interested in preserving the village than wringing profits from the mill. He fixed up and landscaped many of the workers’ homes and crafted Slatersville in the image of a postcard New England town.
Most of what we see on our walking tour of this pioneering American mill village is a testament to Henry Kendall’s vision nearly a century ago, a foresight that enables us to look back more than 200 years...
North Smithfield Public Library
20 Main Street
The public library is housed in an old rubble-stone store house that is a remnant of an eight-building mill complex constructed in 1821.
WALK DOWN MAIN STREET WITH THE RIVER AND THE LIBRARY ON YOUR RIGHT.
Second Commercial Block
11 Main Street
This 11-bay, three-story commercial block was built in 1870 of rubble-stone with a brick facade. Mill workers would congregate in the upper floors after hours for dances, lectures and, in the 20th century, movies.
First Commercial Block
7 Main Street
The first commercial block was constructed for the mill workers in 1850. It included the company store and the First National Bank - on the western side you can still see the locked night deposit vault that was installed when the bank became the Industrial National Bank.
WALK DOWN THE HILL ON RAILROAD STREET TO SLATERSVILLE MILL.
Railroad Street Bridge
To produce power for their textile mill the Slaters built dams on the Branch River that eventually created the 170-acre Lower Slatersville Reservoir. Raceways like this one that funneled water from the reservoir to the water turbines at the mill were common sights around Rhode Island during the Industrial Revolution.
10 Railroad Street
The first textile mill erected by John and Samuel Slater was completed in 1807, the largest and most modern industrial building in America. It burned in 1826 and was quickly replaced by the current four-story stone building that stands today. The five-story tower on Center Mill was used for stairs to access the upper floors. Behind the main building, the Spinning Mill was constructed of a similar design in 1843. The former “Weave Mill,” built in 1893, was where threads were once woven into cloth. In front of the complex is a wooden office building that is the only structure that remains from the original complex. The property has been restored for luxury apartments.
WALK BACK UP THE HILL TO MAIN STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
North Smithfield Town Hall
1 Main Street
Henry Kendall bought the village in the early 1900s with a mind for preservation and renovation. He added a great deal of Greek Revival architectural trim on the mill houses to make them less distinct as mill housing as he did not believe in class distinctions. You can see his handiwork up ahead on mill houses built on Green Street. In 1921 he donated this land for construction of the North Smithfield Town Hall. A hotel and boarding house had previously occupied this property.
Elisha Bartlett House
2 Green Street
Elisha Bartlett was born in Smithfield in 1804 before the Slaters arrived. After preliminary study in Quaker schools and private study in medicine, he entered the medical department of Brown University, and graduated in 1826. He spent enough time home in Smithfield to meet Elizabeth Slater, the daughter of John, who he married in 1829. He took up practice in Lowell, Massachusetts and was elected the first mayor of that city in 1836. Afterwards he began a peripatetic teaching career that took him to Kentucky and New York and Vermont. Along the way he published the first thesis on typhoid in America. In 1850, his health broken, he returned to his hometown and this substantial Greek Revival house. He died five years later on July 19, 1855.
WALK OVER TO THE SLATERSVILLE COMMON.
The small triangular Slatersville Green was laid out in 1838 by the Slater family, providing the town with one of the very few town commons in Rhode Island. Many of the houses around the green were already here when it was constructed.
Slatersville Congregational Church
At the same time the Slaters created the green the family erected this Greek Revival Congregational Church to match it. John Slater had started one of America’s first Sunday Schools shortly after founding the village in 1806 and the village meetinghouse was non-denominational, served by itinerant ministers of various faiths who visited the village to Baptize, marry, bury their dead and lead Sunday services. Congregational missionaries became the most prominent group, and with fifteen persons, formed the Slatersville Congregational Church on September 8, 1818. The three-stage belfry with octagonal spire is a replacement; the much larger original was toppled in the Great Hurricane of 1938.
WALK OVER TO SCHOOL STREET ON THE OPPOSITE SITE OF THE COMMON FROM GREEN STREET.
John Slater House
16 School Street
John Slater’s house originally stood across for Memorial Town Hall where the Bartlett House resides today. It was moved here in the 1840s and attached to a 1780s house and picked up modest additions on either side. While many houses in the area were drastically renovated, losing many of their original elements but the privately owned Slater house has been maintained for two centuries.
WALK BACK ACROSS THE COMMON TO GREEN STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
This is the final resting place for many of Slatersville’s most prominent citizens - the Slater family plot is behind a wrought iron fence at the center.
Union Grange Hall
The building began life in 1897 as a chapel for the St. Luke Episcopal Missionary; it has been used as a social hall since 1920 when the name was changed to Union Grange Hall.
TURN AND WALK BACK DOWN GREEN STREET TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.