Sunday, March 11, 2018

Touring the Slater Mill

Last weekend we took a family trip to tour the Slater Mill in Rhode Island.  We had been reading a lot about the Slater Mill while studying the Industrial Revolution and they were open for tours on weekends in March.

We had a great time learning about the first textile mill in America!

The mill tour includes a walk through three buildings: The Sylvanus Brown house, the Slater Mill and the Wilkinson Mill.

When we arrived we had about 15 or 20 minutes until the next tour time so we walked around the grounds and spent quite a bit of time watching the rushing water over the falls.  With all the rain we've been having the waters were really high.

A turbine on display 

We all thought it was pretty neat to read that George Washington and his troops crossed this very river in the very spot we were standing on during the revolutionary war.

We headed back just in time and we learned all about the Brown House.  Brown's house had been moved from it's original spot to the Slater mill property when it was threatened by modern times and growth.  The Brown house is the house where Slater spent his first night in Rhode Island and led to the development of the mill system.  This house is a typical artisan cottage of it's time and would have held two complete families.  We were told Brown lived there with his wife, brother, sister in law and their assorted dozen or so children.

Before the mills a typical family would spent one year harvesting wool from their sheep, flattening it out, spinning it into thread, weaving the thread on a loom to make cloth and then cutting the cloth for the families' need-- clothing, household goods, etc.  All in one pattern and often even one color unless they took the time to dye the thread.  All the children to put to work helping from the age of 5 or 6 up.

The garden would have helped feed the family and also allowed them to grow berries and things for dying their cloth.

The kitchen was located in the basement and had two hearths.  Keeping the kitchen separate from the living quarters allowed them some protection from a possible kitchen fire but also helped keep the house cooler in the warm summer weather.

From there we went on to tour the Wilkinson Mill.

This giant 16,000 pound water wheel powers all of the machines in the machine chop  located in the mill above
The shaft that goes up through the ceiling reaches all the way through to the top floor of the mill and powers all the machines inside. 

They had a mini wheel model on display so we could see how the reverse wheel worked.

Wilkinson was a blacksmith and both he and his son helped make Slater's Carding mill.  This is the first floor where we got to see some of the machines working.  There was a very large pulley system put in place to operate all the machines using just the power from the water wheel.

See all the pulley's and belts along the ceiling?

This area is set up for school groups; kids can try their hand at making wooden spools using the technology available at that time

We finally entered the Slater Mill.  The bell in the tower would alert all the workers when it was time to wake up, when it was time to work, to take a break, and to go home at night.

A bale of cotton 

We get to see Eli Whitney's cotton gin in action; all the seeds are separated from the cotton fibers and they land in the basket on one side while the cotton fibers come out the other. 

A carding machine that stretches the cotton fibers out. 

A machine that breaks up the cotton plant and fibers 
 Once we saw how the cotton was processed and talked about the process of getting cotton to the mill we moved onto the spinning machine and how they progressed over time.

One of the very first spinning machines 

We also talked a lot the jobs children had in the mill and how mills changed over time.  The very first textile mill only made white cotton thread and only operated when there were orders waiting to be filled.  By the end of the Industrial Revolution mills were making cloth and clothing and finished pieces and often had goods ready to ship before orders arrived.

As machinery advanced and the need to run on water power was eliminated many mills moved to the south to be closer to the cotton fields.  Not needing to pay shipping costs and an abundance of cheap labor made the move south a lucrative one.

We learned so much about Slater and the Industrial Revolution!  It was such a fun and fascinating trip.

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  1. Love it! What a fun field trip. When I was a child, I went to see the mill museum in Lowell. The machines were deafening.
    Blessings, Dawn

    1. It was a lot of fun! I was surprised by how many mill museums are available to tour around here and just love how much it brought history to life for us.

  2. Definitely a place we'd enjoy! Very interesting.

    1. It was so interesting! My husband got a real kick out of all those old metal working machines in the machine shop.

  3. Wow, what a fascinating day out. I'd love to take the kids here... all those old machines and history... oh I love it! #explorerkids

    1. It was so neat that so many of the old machines were working too and we got to see them in action.

  4. What an interesting place. I used to live in the old milling towns here in the U.K. The difference in buildings is vast! So much heritage to learn about on your doorstep. Fascinating. ‪Thank you for linking up to the #familyfunlinky‬

    1. It was really interesting. I find that now that I'm older I am really fascinated by history.

  5. What a great place to tour. I would love to visit it. Thanks for sharing it.

  6. This looks like such an interesting place to visit! You are very lucky to have so much nearby. #ExplorerKids

    1. We really are! We are equally located between 3-4 decent sized cities so as long as we don't mind a 45 min- 1 hour drive there are tons of opportunities for us to learn.

  7. This looks like such a cool, educational place. I agree with Su, amazing. #ExplorerKids

    1. It was really neat. I really didn't know much about the history of this area and am finding it really fascinating.

  8. I find places of industrial heritage like this utterly fascinating - all that big machinery, etc. My gang would really enjoy the Slater Mill. Some of your pictures remind of a 19th century utopian milling community I visited in northern France many years ago. The buildings look kinda similar.

    1. I had no idea that all that machinery was still in place and it was so neat to see most of it still worked!