Mill River Remains An Important Asset To Milford, Hopedale

                          
                                  By Gordon E. Hopper

    Mill River is not a very enchanting name. It is not even a large river. In fact there are places where it is
    difficult to find it. It has a historical background and has always been important to the economy of the local
    area.

    The stream follows a southerly course from its point of origin through Hopkinton, Milford, Hopedale,
    Mendon, Blackstone and Woonsocket, RI. From there it runs to the tidewater at Pawtucket and Providence.
    The river starts somewhere under Lake Maspenock (aka North Pond) in Hopkinton and forms its outlet at
    the Milford dam. Around 1880, the height at this dam was determined as 452 feet and 9 inches above the
    Atlantic Ocean tidewater at Providence.

    Before the river leaves Milford it falls 136 feet and 9 inches reaching a height of 316 feet above tidewater.
    That is about 8 feet and 3 inches higher than the Charles River where it leaves Milford. There were eleven
    mill sites on the Mill River in the Milford-Hopedale area at that time, six of which were in use. The first three
    northernmost sites were not occupied and they lowered the river by 33 feet.

    The fourth dam where a miller named Fisk once operated a grist and sawmill had an 11 foot fall. There
    was a six foot fall at the so-called “City” which was idle. Hopedale Machine Company occupied the sixth
    privilege with a 12-foot fall, the next site being occupied by the Dutcher Temple Company in Hopedale,
    probably using a large dam, as it had a 16-foot fall.

    Samuel Walker’s grist mill with a 9-foot fall occupied the eighth site. The ninth was at Spindleville with a
    drop of 11 feet. The two remaining sites had a drop of about 13 feet. Another drop of 25-feet is absorbed by
    ponds and slack water.

    In 1667, the early Mendon authorities provided for the erection of their first corn mill on the Lewis B. Gaskill
    property where Mill River left Milford. Benjamin Albee or Alby, was engaged to maintain the mill for the
    convenience of the public on a piece of land that was granted to him. It is believed that he built the mill, but
    it, along with most all of the buildings built by Mendon’s first settlers, were burned during King Phillips’s
    War.

    In 1708, a road was laid out from the iron works in Mendon to Dedham. The iron works probably was a
    forge owned by Jonathan Richardson on the Mill River and this road probably is the present Bellingham
    Street.

    In 1753, there was a gristmill located on the Mill River in Mendon owned by a Quaker named James
    Cargill. From him it passed to Seth Kelly and was known as Kelly’s Mill. Although not verified it is possible
    that a sawmill, three or four cotton mill, and a machine shop did operate in Mendon on the river.

    The name of Mill River has never changed since the founding of Quinshipaug Plantation (Mendon or
    Mendham) around the year of 1633. Its many mill privileges led our early ancestors to give it the name it
    possesses, although Maspenock River would sound more graceful.

    The river had several usable fords that were familiar to the Indians and used for many years by the early
    white settlers before any bridges were built.

    The dams and mill privileges along the Mill River have remained and today they are still there although the
    purposes they serve has changed. From an early requirement of providing power for mill operations it has
    changed to become a means of providing various cooling processes in modern day industries. Water
    levels of Lake Maspenock and a small mill pond on West Street at the Milford-Hopedale town line, and
    Hopedale Pond, are raised or lowered as the industrial needs of the Draper Division require, or as rainfall
    conditions dictate. Amounts of water storage and runoff are controlled by gates installed in the dams.

    A tour of the dams between Lake Maspenock and Freedom Street reveals that they are still in place, that
    they are still functional, and that they are being used. The dam at Lake Maspenock in Milford, owned and
    maintained by the Draper Division, is in first class condition. Without doubt it is the longest in the Mill River
    network of dams, being 400 to 500 feet long, but not the oldest. It was there at least a hundred years ago
    and was rebuilt during 1901. There is a concrete dam and spillway section in the long rollway and the dam
    is equipped with a set of gates.

    Downstream from the source, the first dam encountered retains and controls the water of Fisk Mill Pond.
    (where the Nipmuc Rod & Gun Club is located) There are two eight foot long concrete dams and spillways
    in an earth rollway that is several hundred feet long. However the height of this pond cannot be controlled
    except by using sandbags as there are no gates. Around 1730, a miller named Fisk operated a saw and
    grist mill at this site. These mills and others at this location were always called the “Fisk Mills.” As late as
    1900 they were still owned by descendants of the founder.

    Next in the chain is a very serviceable dam on Mill Pond located at the Milford-Hopedale town line at West
    Street. (Route 140) All concrete construction, approximately 25 feet long, the dam section is probably eight
    feet in length. The height of the dam is manually controlled by the manipulation of gate sections, one on
    top of each other and held in a framework.

    The last dam north of the Draper Division is at the plant itself. It is a concrete dam, with rollway and
    spillway located at the southern outlet of Hopedale Pond. The approximately 30-40 foot long dam and
    spillway section utilizes a flashboard and is located under the Freedom Street bridge. A long rollway
    extends from the dam to either side of Hopedale Pond. The spillway extends from the dam to a nearby
    building of the Draper complex. Water is channeled under the plant and continues south as the Mill River.
    There is a network of pipes leading from the bottom of the spillway into the mill.

    As the Mill River flows south, it passes the old Westcott Mills in Spindleville where it was once utilized,
    through Mendon and Blackstone where industries long ago flourished along its shores, and finally it
    empties into the Atlantic Ocean via the tidewater at Pawtucket and Providence, Rhode Island.

    Near the end of July in 1938, continual torrential rains required the control of water in the ponds north of
    the Draper Division plant to prevent flooding in Hopedale and in particular, at the Draper plant and
    adjacent property. It took the vigil and efforts of 10 men to control the safety of the area. The gates and
    flashboards at Hopedale Pond, Mill Pond and Lake Maspenock were manipulated for several hours to
    keep the water level down. At one time, water levels reached new heights and sandbags were used as a
    precautionary measure at the West Street dam and at Lake Maspenock. The flashboards at Hopedale
    Pond were removed and the level of this pond was lowered somewhat. This was an instance where the
    dams were used as a flood control device although that is not their primary purpose. In the past, these
    dams provided waterpower to operate the machinery in the many mills which were located along the Mill
    River.

    Later, and at the present time, some of the water being retained by these dams is used by the Draper
    Division (currently about 275,000,000 gallons or more, per year from Mill River flowage) for personal and
    plant sanitation, along with foundry operations and various cooling processes. The flowage rights are very
    important to the corporation because water for high speed machinery cooling is a must.

    Mill River along with its dams and historical background, still remains a very important asset to the
    economy of Hopedale and other towns in this area. Milford Daily News, October 17, 1974

              Where the Mill reaches the Blackstone            Flood, Draper Corp.1955         1955 Flood in Spindleville   

                                                   
Park, Pond and Sports Menu                                    HOME   

    Mill River (Hopedale Pond) at the Draper
    plant, Freedom Street, Hopedale.
    .

    The Mill River, below Route 140,
    upstream from Hopedale Pond.
    .

    I found the second paragraph of the discussion of Mrs. Dennett's paper particularly interesting.
    Assuming that Charles Merrill retired at the age of 65 (not necessarily true, but probably not far off), the
    water wheel or turbine would have been available for use up until around 1946. I wish someone was
    taking pictures before and while they removed it, but so far none have turned up. In Reggie Sweet's
    memories of the Westcott Mill in Spindleville, he mentioned that the water wheel there could still be
    used in his time which went up to the closing after the flood of 1955..

Adin Ballou, History of Milford.