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Old Ashton–Quinnville

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On Lower River Road, along what still remains as a beautiful stretch of the Blackstone Canal, are the remnants of the mill village of Old Ashton, which steadily lost visibility after the brief heyday of the canal. This mere speck of a village has had many names. But it was once important, not only as a mill community—the first textile village in Lincoln, in fact—but also as a major crossing point of the Blackstone. Both the mill and the bridge have gone; the mill as an economic operation around 1870, the bridge replaced by the towering Ashton Viaduct of 1935, which now sails over it. And to complete its bypassed status, Old Ashton is located at the very end of a dead-end road. It got its start in 1810–1815 when the Smithfield Cotton and Woolen Company, established by a local consortium of leading commercial and landholding families, financed the building of a masonry mill on a site which eventually had the river on one side of it and the canal on the other. After a fitful commercial history (which is partially recorded in the earlier names Factory, Olney Factory, and Sinking Fund Factory Village), the Brown family acquired the mill and its village, which it renamed Ashton, as part of the expansion of its textile enterprise at Lonsdale, and assigned that mill to cotton sheeting. A new, enlarged mill, however, was built on the other (Cumberland) side of the river, and the village name went with it. What was Ashton then became Old Ashton, and its mill eventually a mere warehouse to the new factory. But even this reduced economic role had disappeared before the remnants of the vacated Old Ashton mill were demolished to facilitate the construction of the Ashton Viaduct.

Old Ashton may receive a new lease on life, however. Old River Road terminates in a forested glade deep in a gorgelike constriction and depression of the Blackstone, through which the canal squeezes beside the river, and out of which leaps the reinforced concrete arch of the Ashton Viaduct. As a scenic stretch of the national park known as the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, it provides the kind of confrontation of nature and technology in which Victorians would have delighted. From the verdant and watery shadow springs the rainbow of progress. This is the place to sense the scale and structure of the viaduct. Immediately downstream from the viaduct stands a simple Greek Revival house, which was restored with mostly new clapboarding as a feature of the national park. It was built by Captain Wilbur Kelley betweeen the canal and the river and immediately adjacent to the mill, which he owned during part of the 1820s and 1830s. Kelley had skippered the Brown family's Ann and Hopeon European and Chinese voyages before he followed the example of his employers and ventured into the textile industry. His difficulties in business provided an opening for the Brown family's Lonsdale Company to take over, and Captain Kelley went to work for a time as a manager for the company.

Quinnville, another name for this village, is actually a community of mostly early twentieth-century mill housing farther south with which Old Ashton has come to be lumped. But this final assault on the old village's identity is unwarranted, because Quinnville is oriented to the opposite side of the river. Most of its residents crossed another bridge to work in another Brown-owned mill at Berkeley (see CU8).

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.

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