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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Impressions of the Blackstone Valley, Rhode Island

Article and Photo (of Pleasant View Orchards) by Eric H.

Initially, the Blackstone Valley Region didn't impress me. This northern Rhode Island region seemed full of faceless ranches, gritty small towns and cities and enough strip malls to have me just go back home and stay there for a good, long time.

Over time, my perspective of the Blackstone Valley changed, perhaps suggesting that you can't always judge a book by its cover. Soon, I discovered the quiet, rural back roads with farms and open lands that appeared to be endless -- how could they fit these long stretches of scenic beauty into such a small state, I thought? I also began to appreciate the historical significance behind those gritty towns and cities, and enough excellent restaurants, farm stands, antique shops and country stores to become even more of a fan of this underrated region.

Upon further inspection, I loved driving past through the pleasant, small town business district in Greenville, and the ancient community of Chepachet with the Brown and Hopkins Country Store (the oldest continuously running country store in the United States) and antique stores. Old Stone Mill Antiques and Treasures is a few steps from Brown and Hopkins and features a tremendous variety of antiques and collectibles in a quaint 1814 textile mill setting by the tranquil Chepachet River.

I found towns like Harrisville probably looking almost like they did 150 years ago, especially in the barren, laid back town center. In downtown Harrisville, there's a fascinating place called the Western Hotel, a former 1700s stagecoach stop that looks like something out of the wild west with its saloon-type look. The Western Hotel is actually quite family-friendly and serves excellent steaks, pizzas and Rhode Island clam chowder. I also love eating a reasonably-priced family-style chicken dinners at Wright's Farm in Nasonville, where thousands of people flock together for the weekend in this large restaurant with a gift shop. Then there's the Pawtucket Red Sox games at McCoy Stadium -- with parking, a family-friendly atmosphere, cheap general admission and the chance to see one of the best farm systems in Major League Baseball. Roadside farm stands like Pleasant View Orchards (with fresh-picked apples, homemade cider and pies, fudge, etc.) and salt-of-the-earth diners like the Pleasant View Diner, both on Pleasant View Ave. in Smithfield, bring me back to a time where simplicity and a Sunday family drive in the country helped contribute to a happy childhood. Another delightful place is the Ice Cream Machine ice cream stand in Cumberland where I have enjoyed some really great cinnamon and cherry chocolate chip ice creams, and look forward to trying flavors like pumpkin, green tea, ginger and apple!

I'm can hardly wait to further explore the Blackstone Valley. It's like an undiscovered travel treasure that bypassed me for 40-plus years. I'm particularly interested in visiting Pawtucket's Slater Mill -- the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. Here, I look forward to the exhibits, collections of artifacts, grounds and gallery, research library, theatre and gift shops, concerts, demonstrations, lectures, family programs, specialized tours, holiday programs and exhibits of fine craft and artwork. I didn't realize this historical community was so intricately developed yet so close to our home. We would also like to experience the Samuel Slater Canal Boat described on its Web site as a "British Overnight and Cruising Experience on the Blackstone River aboard this Unique Bed & Breakfast."

There's also the Blackstone River Bikeway, 10 miles of bike path are open to the public in Central Falls, Lincoln and Cumberland. I also came across a charming looking restaurant called the Tavern on Main St., in Chepachet, that was built in the 1700s and features what looks like a nice traditional restaurant menu of chicken, steak and seafood dishes.

Most importantly, we look forward to attending local events that bring out the true flavor of this region. Although cities like Woonsocket, Pawtucket and Central Falls have some city elements that are worrisome and downright depressing, all communities in the Blackstone Valley region that I have traveled so far seem to have some wonderfully friendly people as well as enough attractions and events to make for many return visits.

We highly recommend viewing the Blackstone Valley region Web Site for more information on this wonderful travel destination.
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