For centuries, people utilized the power of water falling – the power of gravity – to turn wheels and belts and make products from paper to textiles. Early industrialists harnessed waterpower because it was available and plentiful.
In 1793, Slater’s Mill began making cotton textiles utilizing the Blackstone River in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Samuel Slater, the mill’s founder, had served as an apprentice in the English hydropower industry. When he immigrated across the Atlantic, he brought the designs and created North America’s first water-powered industrial mill.
Slater’s innovation quickly traveled north, up the Blackstone River valley where mills opened at the dawn of the 19th century and eventually to Lowell, Massachusetts. There, utilizing the Merrimack River, entrepreneurs created an ambitious complex of canals and diversions that powered numerous factories making it the heart of the American Industrial Revolution.
Meantime, smaller mills emerged on riverways across the northeast. Nantanna Mill harnessed Vermont’s Dog River to produce wool products for New England.
As technology advanced, electricity became a more valuable and versatile product. Many mills converted from mechanical power to electricity. Just downstream from the Slater Mill, the Bridge Mill Power Plant utilized the Blackstone to become the main source of electricity for the city of Pawtucket in 1893. The building is now home to the Pawtucket No. 2 hydro station.
From Niagara Falls to the Columbia Gorge, hydropower grew in size and spread across the nation. And the distributed hydro stations that began it all? They persisted.
Gravity Renewables’ mission is to preserve and celebrate America’s original clean energy facilities for generations to come. As we do so, we remain committed to the people and communities who built and sustained them over the decades. Small, distributed hydropower has helped shape communities’ past and, under careful stewardship, can be an important contributor to their future.