Historical Background

A canal from Providence, RI, through Worcester, MA, was proposed by John Brown of Providence in 1796. Authorizing legislation was approved by the Rhode Island legislature, but blocked in the Massachusetts General Court. In 1823, the canal was finally authorized in both states and construction began the following year.

In 1828 the Blackstone Canal opened a direct trade route from Worcester to Providence. For the next 20 years, boats carried farm products, raw materials, and manufactured goods to markets up and down this canal greatly enhancing commerce in the valley and causing Worcester to mushroom into New England’s second largest city.

Forty-nine masonry locks ten feet wide by seventy feet clear length helped boats negotiate the 438 foot descent along the canal’ s 45 mile course. Narrow boats were pulled by two horses walking along the towpath. Although a great improvement over the existing roads, passage on the canal was slow and often interrupted by flooding, freezing, or low water. When the faster, more efficient, Providence and Worcester Railroad was completed in 1847 the Blackstone Canal could not compete, and it closed in 1848.

Since closure, much of the lock masonry has been sold as building material and parts of the route have been obscured by progress. After the canal closed, several sections were converted to supply water to mills. Two of these sections remain in water and are now included in the Blackstone River State Park in Lincoln, RI, and the Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park in Uxbridge and Northbridge, MA. Many other sections remain intact although dry or overgrown.