By: Kira Emily
Looming quietly on the banks of the Blackstone River, in the heart of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, sits the legendary Slater Mill. Built in 1793 and the first water-powered textile mill in young America, the pale yellow, three story structure is commonly referred to as the “birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution.” It was added to the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark in November 1966. It sits on a five-acre plot of land along the river.
Adjacent to the renowned landmark, roughly fifty feet away, is the three-and-a-half-story Wilkinson Mill. Built in 1830, an offspring of its sister mill’s conception, it, too relied on the energy of the mighty Blackstone to power its massive machines. An eight-ton wheel, capable of churning two thousand gallons of water per minute now sits dormant, though functional beneath the mighty workshop. The walls are made of flagstone, three-feet thick, built to withstand the thunderous vibrations from the immense wheel. Both mills continue to maintain operational machinery, though days of textile production are long past.
The Sylvanus Brown house also sits on the five-acre span. Sylvanus Brown was highly notable in the establishment of Slater Mill. He was proficient in the production of machine parts suitable for Samuel Slater’s equipment. The Brown house was once reported to be Samuel Slater’s first hospitable accommodations in the Ocean State. It was moved to Slater Park in the late 1960s to provide for the expansion of Interstate 95 and to preserve its rich local history. The house was restored to reflect its 18th century furnishings, complete with a spinning wheel and a loom to hand produce cotton cloth. Now, more than 200 years later, the triad of American industrial history serves as a museum providing a living archive for tourists and local history buffs.
It’s also remarkably haunted.
There was a dark truth associated with the industrial pair on the Blackstone River, one that literally haunts the area to this day. Samuel Slater and David Wilkinson, mill owners and operators, employed young children to work in their bustling factories. Reports suggest that children as young as three year old were not free from the grasp of taxing labor. Younger ones were put to work collecting cotton scraps from the floor, and the children who were seven years or older were able enough to run the heavy machinery. When the monstrous looms and spinning machines would jam or their threads would suddenly snap, the children were the only workers small enough to scurry under the machines to fix them. Time and precision were vital to repairs. If the children were too slow with repairs or with their retreat from the machine, maiming or death were sure to occur. Though inconceivable now, child labor was common centuries ago and also responsible for many young lives.
Paranormal activity is a more than normal occurrence in Slater Park. Witnesses report hearing the frightening screams of children tearing through the long abandoned mills. Ghostly mill workers have been seen walking around the machine shops and peering through the long, narrow windows. Machinery springs to life, seemingly by itself, creating phantom textiles and footsteps are often reported through otherwise empty rooms. Some visitors have reported seeing the full-bodied apparition of Samuel Slater himself, roaming through his machine shop and around the edges of the river.
Wilkinson Mill’s wheel room buzzes with its own separate energy. The river is rich on minerals that, combined with the quartz-laced flagstone walls, provide an exceptional environment for paranormal events. The low-grade electro-magnetic field produced by the natural conditions is believed to be a vital source of energy for spirits to manifest. Visitors report an uneasy feeling in the wheel room and some have reported scratches from unseen entities. One young girl fled the wheel room in terror as scratch marks appeared across her cheek. Energy in that room had often been reported as dark and sinister.
Not to be outdone in ghost stories, the Sylvanus Brown house presents another side of spectral energy. Guests have reported seeing the spirit of a little girl wandering through the house and looking out the windows. Many report hearing the laughter of a little girl, ringing through the tiny rooms. People have been touched by small, unseen hands and taps on the walls and tiny footsteps are often heard. The staff at Slater Mill Museum has named the child apparition “Becca,” based on an EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon or, for our purposes, “Ghost Voices”) captured during a paranormal investigation. Becca’s age, 7 years old, was also captured on paranormal equipment. No other information is known about the life or death of young Becca. However, simply due to her light-hearted and playful demeanor, Becca may be considered the one ray of light in the darkness that plagues Slater Park.
At least, she was my one ray of light in a night of pure darkness. I’ll save that story, though, for another time.