A Tank Away

Pawtucket, R.I., reinvents itself as tourist destination

A scenic walk along the Blackstone River.
Blackstone Valley Tourism Council
A scenic walk along the Blackstone River.

This hard-working town, located near the falls of the Blackstone River and the upper tidewaters of Narragansett Bay, likes to reinvent itself. It was here, some 220 years ago, that the first successful water-powered mill was built, helping spark the American Industrial Revolution and transforming the once quiet, tiny town into a bustling center of commerce. While the city has weathered economic changes over the decades, it remains an active manufacturing center. Many of the older mill buildings have been restored, housing spaces for artists; the Blackstone River has been cleaned up, and the new Pawtucket River Bridge just opened, providing a striking gateway to the city. It’s a great place to gawk at fiery fall foliage as you hike or bike riverside and back-country paths or take a guided cruise down the Blackstone River.


Technically, there’s only one game in town: the Comfort Inn (2 George St., 401-723-6700,, rates hover in the $100 range), but it’s decent enough, has a convenient location, and offers free parking, free Wi-Fi, and free breakfast. There’s also an indoor pool and the popular Murphy’s Law Irish Pub and Restaurant is next door. You can get a basic, clean room at the Holiday Inn Express North Attleboro, a short drive from downtown Pawtucket (707 South Washington St., North Attleborough, 508-643-9900,, rates range about $110-$170), just off of I-295 and I-95. Downtown Providence is about five miles from Pawtucket and has a slew of hotels.


Rasoi (727 E. Avenue, 401-728-5500, www.indian, entrees $15.99-$19.99), which is Hindu for kitchen, leads the pack of interesting eateries. Led by chef Sanjiv Dhar, it features healthy, fresh ingredients prepared with creative flourish. The menu is extensive, including street food faves like lentil dumplings and potato dosas, and signature items like grilled shrimp marinated in mango and mint paste, Bengali seafood stew with a complex mix of herbs and spices including cumin, coriander, mustard, fenugreek, and fennel, and the mutton masala cooked slowly with hints of clove, cardamom, and star anise. There are lots of vegetarian and gluten-free options, too. The slightly shabby Modern Diner (364 E. Avenue, 401-726-8390, breakfast $2.95-$10.25), housed in an original 1941 Sterling Streamliner, is a landmark in downtown Pawtucket. Expect all the comfort food classics, along with dishes like the creamy lobster cheese grits with eggs and custard French toast. Locals love Heritage Tap (266 Grand Ave., 401-725-8245, www.heritage, entrees $7.95-
$15.95) a tiny, chef-owned neighborhood bar and restaurant, with tasty burgers, grilled pizza, tender steak tips, and fresh fish and chips.

Blackstone Valley Tourism Council
The Slater Mill museum complex showcases the industrial history of the Blackstone Valley.



In 1793, Samuel Slater fled England with copied plans for a new spinning-machine system. He landed in Pawtucket, where he built a mill on the banks of the Blackstone River. Dozens of mills would follow, located along a 45-mile stretch of the river. Costumed interpreters at Slater Mill (67 Roosevelt Ave., 401-725-8638,, open through Oct., daily 10-4, Nov. Sat.-Sun. 10-4, also open Nov. 12 and 23, 10-4, adults $12, ages 6-12 $8.50) bring that history alive as they take visitors through three historic buildings, offering plenty of fascinating facts and stories along the way. The museum complex includes the Old Slater Mill, the original site of the first successful water-powered cotton spinning factory in the United States, the Wilkinson Mill, built in 1810, and the Sylvanus Brown House, built in 1758. You’ll see a replica of an 1826 wooden water wheel, displays of 19th- and 20th-century machinery, and spinning and weaving demonstrations. Take an easy-going, guided bike ride along the Blackstone and Pawtucket rivers (Blackstone Valley Visitor Center, 175 Main St., 401-724-2200,, $20) to see great fall foliage and back-country scenery. The four-hour tour, sponsored by the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, stops by several historic sights, and includes stories and facts about the area’s colorful past. The council also offers weekly Secret Ingredient Food Tours (401-724-2200,, prices vary), showcasing Blackstone Valley’s popular restaurants. Tours visit a different restaurant each week and most include kitchen demonstrations, recipes, and a meal. The Slater Memorial Park (Route 1A, 401-728-0500), beside the Ten Mile River, is a great place for a stroll or picnic. Families with kids in tow especially enjoy a riverboat cruise on the Blackstone Explorer (45 Madeira Ave., Central Falls, 401-724-2200,, through Oct., $10), where they often see ducks, herons, turtles, and hawks, and plenty of riverfront scenery. Narrated tours take off from the boat landing in nearby Central Falls. If you’re a beer lover, take the one-hour tour at Foolproof Brewery (241 Grotto Ave., 401-721-5970, www.fool, Sat. 1-4, $10). Art-friendly Pawtucket has a designated Arts & Entertainment District spread across 60 downtown blocks. Unique artists’ live-work spaces are located in 23 restored mill buildings. Information and a map of the area are available at The Pawtucket Arts Collaborative located at Lorraine Mill (560 Mineral Spring Ave., has ongoing exhibits and showcases the work of Rhode Island artists.


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The renowned Sandra Feinstein Gamm Theatre (172 Exchange St., 401-723-4266, offers top-notch live theater. Stone Soup Coffeehouse at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (50 Park Place, 401-723-0354, is one of the oldest and largest coffeehouse venues in New England, presenting live music on Saturday nights from September through May. Several well-known artists have performed here, including Pete Seeger, Greg Brown, Patty Larkin, and Ellis Paul.

Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at