One family ran the Stanley Woolen Mills for more than a century. The Wheelocks kept them in operation longer than almost any textile mill operation in the Northeast. They finally had to close about twenty years ago.
The beauty of the site beside the Blackstone River and straddling the diverted Blackstone Canal makes this picturesque mix of clapboard, shingle and brick buildings exceptional.
404 windows, timber construction allowing almost continuous glass, look out on wonderful views up the canal, which is now the Blackstone River & Canal State Park , or look out on the campus’s own front lawn and the wooded Blackstone River flood-plain.
Earliest-industrialized in the young United States, the valley is the place where water-power drew the man who brought mechanization from England by memorizing the designs for machines to spin yarn in his head. And here investors built the Blackstone Canal.
Sleuthing economic historian Jill Dupree has unearthed indications that the canal’s life was so short – it opened in 1828 and was bankrupt in under twenty years – for more intriguing reasons than the usual competition from railroads. Maybe there was little real need for water transport, but because we had laws to encourage canal-building, a group of schemers built it to wrest water-rights from other private owners to power their own factories.
Water rights from the bankrupt canal passed into the hands of an investment group that diverted the last hundred yards of the canal to a dam and turbine powering the first part of the mills that the Wheelock family would buy and expand later in the century.
Most natives of Uxbridge know someone who worked in the mill or worked there themselves.
Warm feelings for the enterprise are proof of the admirable way that the Wheelocks ran it, with respect for the workers and their stake with the owners and customers.
Vertical integration was complete – taking raw wool, carding and washing it, spinning it into yarn, dyeing the yarn and weaving sophisticated tweeds and patterned fabrics.
Scrapbooks – in the literal sense -- recorded each run of fabric with a sample of the raw wool, the thread, the thread after dyeing (and the detailed dye-chemistry) and the fabric itself. We rescued them and they can now be seen at the Lowell Textile Museum .
The film sequel to Love Story has scenes set in the Mill and on the sweeping driveway under its venerable trees.
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