As we have
seen, the Charles River served vital functions in the economic
life of Native Americans. So too, Europeans in Massachusetts
relied on the Charles to support their livelihoods. From the
earliest settlers, to the momentous days of the industrial
revolution in the nineteenth century, the Charles River drove
the economic development of Massachusetts and New England.
Early Mills and Dams
The textile mills along the Merrimack River in Lowell, Massachusetts
are widely heralded for beginning American industrialization.
Yet they were not the first American mills, nor even the first
textile mills. Before Francis Cabot Lowell founded the town
that carries his name, he set up a similar factory in Waltham,
along the Charles River. But even this was not the first commercial
use of the Charles. Some of the first settlers to the Boston
area built mills along the Charles. There were two major types:
grist mills to process grain, and saw mills to cut lumber.
As early as 1634, Thomas Mayhew built a grist mill at Watertown,
believed to be the first in the colony. The photograph below,
from the Watertown
Free Public Library shows a view of the site of this old
mill from the Galen Street Bridge. The two-story building
on the left was the barn of the original 1634 grist mill.
A quick search of the world wide web reveals that mills played
a role in the colonial economic history of nearly every town
along the Charles River. Here are just a few references to
mills in Needham, Medway and Boston.
The Industrial Revolution on the Charles
The Slater Mill, on the Blackstone River in Pawtucket, RI,
was the first American power-operated spinning mill when founded,
in 1793. Textile mills soon followed along the Charles River.
The Charles River Museum of Industry, located in the old buildings
of the Boston Manufacturing Company in Waltham and immediately
adjacent to the Moody Street Dam (pictured below), tells some
of this story of the rise of New England textile factories.
Web Links on Mills and the Industrial Revolution in New
The Slater Mill in Pawtucket, RI:
The Boston Manufacturing Company in Waltham, MA:
The Charles River's influence on the mills of Lowell,