One of the best things about living in my part of New England is the number of old mill buildings that still exist. A fair number of them have been converted to condos or offices, but Slater Mill Museum in Pawtucket has preserved both the Slater Mill and its sister site, the Wilkinson Mill, as if they are still working mills.
The Wilkinson Mill still has a working water wheel downstairs in the wheel pit. The 16,000-pound wheel is fed by the Blackstone River, and the pit is lit like it was in the early 1800’s (not very well). The darkness combined with the squeaking, clanking, and groaning of the gears and wheel makes for a disconcerting experience. The wheel pit isn’t a place you want to hang out for very long.
Upstairs is the machine shop, where Wilkinson Mill workers fabricated parts to keep the Slater Mill going. The belt-driven machines are still in working order and are used for demonstrations during guided tours. The shop floor is also lit like it was in the 1800’s, with just a few overhead lamps and whatever sunlight makes it through the 6 small windows. The overall effect is eerie. It’s almost like the workers put down their tools and walked out, never to return.
Speaking of machines, I found my new favorite piece of machinery from the Industrial Age: the Maypole Braider. The handle crank on this looks like it was made to cause carpal tunnel, but otherwise it’s a very cool machine that replaced the need to hand-braid things like cords and shoelaces. The spools move around like one would dance around a maypole. Not sure why that was so fascinating to me, but it was.