Albion Dam

Having purchased property on both sides of the Blackstone River early in 1822, details of which will be provided later, Abraham Wilkinson, Isaac Wilkinson, and Samuel B. Harris proceeded to build a dam to power their mill. The Providence Gazette of September 21, 1822, announced that the dam was then under construction, “six miles this side of Woonsocket.” The projected total fall of the river from Worcester to the dam was estimated at 385 feet.

On February 4, 1863, the Valley Falls Company released its rights to the dam to Harvey and Samuel B. Chace, granting them the right to maintain the dam at its established height. This was described in the Smithfield Record of Deeds No. 35, 1860-1863, page 552, as follows: “…the top of the Cap log of which is 3-805/1000 feet below the Centre of a certain Iron bolt, horizontally, in a Rock on the East side of the Blackstone River about twelve rods upstream from the said Albion dam. And 2-368/1000 feet below the top of a certain Copper bolt set perpendicularly in a rock about thirty three rods upstream from the East side of said dam.” Eight months later, on October 1, 1863, the Valley Falls Company agreed to let stand an agreement reached between the guardians of Mary Mann and the Chaces on September 28, 1863, to raise the height of the dam by 2½ feet [Smithfield Deeds 34, pages 466-468].

In the aftermath of the Johnstown flood on May 31, 1889, the dams on the Blackstone River were thoroughly examined and found to be in excellent condition. The Boston Herald on June 7, 1889, reported that the Albion dam had been “thoroughly rebuilt three years ago [1886], at the time when one end of the old dam was broken away by the flood. The present dam is of wood, with stone abutments, and, in fact, is built on the old-fashioned log dam principle, which, the mill superintendent says, is the best known. The dam is 200 feet long, with a fall of 13 feet, and the reservoir is extremely shallow, covering about 40 acres.”

Dam 1912

Building the new dam

In the summer of 1916, the mill owners found the old dam to be beyond repair and contracted for the erection of a new concrete dam.

On January 5, 1917, the Pawtucket Times reported that the new dam under construction by the Power Construction Company of Worcester, MA, was nearing completion. The Times published an article about the new dam on January 26, 1917. It is reprinted here in its entirety:

“Valley Falls Company Dam at Albion Finished.

Concrete Structure Built Across Blackstone.

Workmen On Job Live In Own Construction Camp.

   “The concrete dam across the Blackstone river at Albion, which has been constructed for the Valley Falls Company, was practically completed yesterday afternoon. About all the contracting firm, the Power Construction Company of Worcester, now has to do is to attend to several minor details and remove its building apparatus.

“Last summer the Valley Falls Company started to repair the present 80-year old wooden dam, but found that the wood in the dam was rotten in many places, so the contract was given for the erection of a concrete dam at an approximate cost, it was stated, of $40,000.

“The new dam is 217 feet long and 31 feet wide at the base. A total of 13,200 bags of cement have been used, which was equivalent to 3300 barrels. R.L. Doring is superintendent of construction.

“The work of constructing the dam was started last November and had there not been an unforeseen interruption the job would have been completed much sooner. During the daytime the mill uses the water of the Blackstone for motive power, the water being conducted to the turbines by a canal. At night the flood gates are closed and the water follows its usual course over the dam.

“But during the erection of the new dam the water was sent through wastegates in the above mentioned canal. The flow of the water through the waste passage undermined concrete abutments and they collapsed. As the abutments supported, at that point, rails of the company, the flood gates had to be closed, thus diverting the water back into its normal course over the wooden dam. This, of course, stopped temporarily the work on the new dam owing to the presence of the large volume of water.

“Workmen of the railroad are now engaged in repairing the abutments that were undermined. More than half of the concrete work on one side will have to be replaced. When the abutment collapsed, railway service was crippled for many hours. The trains are now required to slow down to five miles an hour when crossing the spot where the damage occurred and which will be repaired in a few days.

“It is expected that the water will be allowed to pour over the new dam in a day or two. The old wooden one will not be removed.

   “Fine Construction Camp.

   “The 25 or 30 men employed on the job live at a specially constructed camp close by the new dam. The ‘camp’ comprises two buildings. One contains the kitchen, food store room, dining room and sleeping quarters of the cook and his wife and the other structure is the ‘bunk house.’ The buildings, while roughly constructed, are made to withstand the elements and big round stoves provide warmth.

“The ‘bunk house’ is divided into rooms, two men to a room. The beds are equipped with mattresses and warm bed clothing and there is a window in each room. Usually ‘bunk houses’ have few windows and within consist of one big room. There is a large space in the centre of the building, provided with a big stove, where the men may lounge around at night and take things easy. The sleeping quarters are considered excellent for a construction camp.

“Sanitary conditions at the camp are carefully attended to, cleanliness being a particular object in its conduct.

“H.P. Wires is the construction engineer who assisted in the construction of the dam.”

The “H” in H.P. Wires is for “Henry,” added the Times on January 27th. Review of census and school records at ancestry.com, however, suggest strongly that his name was actually Harrison Parker Wires, an 1890 graduate of Worcester Polytechnic Institute [Register of Graduates, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Mass., 1871-1918, page 22]. He was born in 1867 and died in 1942. The R.L. Doring mentioned in the article was probably Robinson L. Doring, civil engineer, born in 1864 and died in 1936.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a preliminary permit for hydroelectric development of the dam to Albion Dam Hydro Watts Associates on April 15, 1991. The dam was owned by American Tourister, Inc., at that time. The permit expired without any action being taken (Blackstone River Restoration Study, US Army Corps of Engineers, New England Division, November 1994, page A-5). The dam, water rights, and abutting property were taken by the State of Rhode Island through eminent domain in 1999 for “highway purposes,” according to The Essex Partnership, a company working on behalf of Albion Hydro, LLC, for hydropower development at the Albion dam. The dam is currently owned by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT).  An application to FERC on behalf of Albion Hydro, LLC, for a preliminary permit for hydroelectric development of the dam was submitted on June 13, 2011. A permit was issued on September 15, 2011, with an expiration date of August 31, 2014.

December 29, 2011

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