The Stanley Woolen Mill is one among many textile mills that used to create valued textile products and provided essential employment throughout New England. The mills went into decline in the early 20th century and most of the infrastructure of these mills has been put to alternate use, abandoned, or demolished.
The Stanley Woolen Mill is one of those buildings that has been put to a different use. Much of the infrastructure of the mill remains. The Blackstone River flows underneath the building as it did when the looms worked to weave wool into fabric. Additional cement structures remain in the land behind the mill.
The Blackstone Canal tow path is walkable from Riverbend Farm down to the back of the Stanley Woolen Mill. Parking for this southern end of the tow path is directly behind the mill, accessed from Cross Street, just off of Rt. 16 in Uxbridge, MA.
Visitors to the tow path can expect to find a very level, about eight foot wide path raised above the Blackstone Canal. Benches have been placed along the path, affording travelers a place to rest. Several lock structures remain, remnants of the multiple locks that were essential in helping boats navigate the 450 foot drop in elevation between Worcester and Pawtucket.
Access at the other, Stanley Woolen Mill, end of this one mile stretch of tow path requires climbing up several granite steps, then taking a high step onto the bridge that takes you over the canal to the tow path. This tow path access has no railings to assist in climbing the steps. Riverbend Farm offers handicapped-friendly access to the tow path.
We visited on a brisk early spring morning. Shrubs along the path were just starting to bud. Most tree branches were essentially bare, but hints of red on the tips of branches had begun to show. Several benches have been placed along the tow path providing weary visitors to rest.
We walked only about half of the distance to Riverbend Farm. In that section several fallen trees had damaged the tow path. When the Blackstone Canal was in operation (1820s-1840s), the tow path would have been clear of trees to allow a tow rope to connect from the canal boat to a horse or mule, which provided the towing power for the barge.
The canal and tow path were abandoned for nearly 150 years after the company that operated the tow path went bankrupt in 1847. The Blackstone Heritage Corridor was created by the U.S. Congress in 1986. The tow path and canal next to Riverbend Farm and the Stanley Woolen mill were threatened by floods, and impassable because of trees that had grown in since the canal had been abandoned. Portions of the tow path have been repaired and turned into popular walking spots. The tow path in Uxbridge is one of the best restored sections of the Blackstone Canal system.
Floods washed away many portions of what was initially a nearly fifty mile stretch of canal that reached from Worcester, MA to Pawtucket, RI. Throughout the valley are small remnants of canal and tow path structures, once was an essential form of transportation that allowed valley businesses to deliver their goods to market.
This one mile stretch of tow path transports visitors from the rural (Riverbend Farm) to the industrial (Stanley Woolen Mill). When visiting the tow path you are truly “walking in the steps” of those who have gone before us. Your visit can be a simple outing, or an opportunity to step into a time machine. Enjoy, and Happy Trails.
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a writer who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed, and Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. Her memoir, the backstory of Easy Walks, is My Liturgy of Easy Walks: Reclaiming hope in a world turned upside down.