The Millville Lock is almost hidden away in another age when times were much busier and more active in this quiet area. The parking lot for the Millville Lock area once housed the Post Office, long gone but seen below in an old photo.
The historical perspective could almost be overlooked even with the magnificent railroad structures still looming quietly down the old path. A divergent path, the old Dean Street, was in 1820 known as a major highway for the area but is now barely noticeable. Times have certainly changed for this once thriving area, now sleepy with its vegetative cover.
Millville Lock is Canal Lock #25, the only intact lock, of 48 locks that allowed canal boats to climb or descend over 438 feet of altitude of the Blackstone River as it made its way back and forth from Worcester to Providence. These locks were constructed with large stones from the Farnum quarry, owned by the architect of these locks. The stones were delivered on rafts all along the River.
These locks were a key element in traversing the River as they filled up with water in a few moments to allow leveling so that a canal boat could continue its course. Though the wooden gates are long gone, the large slabs of granite remain as they were built in 1825-6. In its time, from 1828-1848 until railroads became the preferred mode of freight transport, these Locks allowed canal boats to run from sunrise to sunset, 6 days a week at about 3.5 miles per hour. The first canal boat, Lady Carrington, was recently celebrated on its October 7, 2003 175th anniversary. This canal boat traveled for 18 hours from Providence to Worcester and paid a tremendous dividend of $1. Freight included cloth, lumber and all types of household and building supplies that were excitedly received in Worcester. Prior to the Canal being constructed, Worcester was smaller than Sutton. In just a few years, Worcester's population tripled due to the commerce that developed through use of the canal boats transporting commercial freight.
Its historical presence, however, captures the unique three tier system and maximum 10% grade being utilized so boldly at the time. In 1916, all work stopped even though 70% of the railroad route from Montreal to Providence was finished. In the 1920s, streetcars became the trend for transportation.
Juxtaposed to this Millville Lock is the meandering River where the only appearance of modern day was the quick passage of a small motorboat passing by in early September. This is a great place for a stroll and/or a look back in time. The historical perspectives go much deeper on the summer's first weekend of each month guided tours by volunteers Steve Giordani and Ethel Halsey as they reveal more in-depth history of the times and look into the native wildflowers that line the path.
The work method of the old Blackstone Valley milltowns utilized the entire family unit, known as the Rhode Island system, unlike the Lowell Mill system separating children and just employing the Mothers as seamstresses. Millville was once the mill section of Mendon but Mr. Joseph Bannigan, mill owner created the New Village which housed his mill workers and directed their lives with a clock tower which demanded their lives 6 1/2 days a week with at least twelve hour work days. Most of the labor was French Canadian and church attendance was required to maintain employment. Stories of the 1895 "Ghost Train" that ran from Willimantic, Ct to Boston enhance the guided tour as does the ubiquitous wildflowers identified by volunteer Ethel Halsey. At least three dozen and perhaps many more native species were found along with a few invasive species, often generating historical insight as well. Plant uses of old were also identified creating thorough insight into the centuries past at this historic site.
The guided tour runs the first weekend of the month at 2 p.m. during the summer months. The tour is well worth the time but this moment in history is interesting enough to produce a fine and historical walk any time of the year. Enjoy!