Mill River Remains An Important Asset To Milford, Hopedale
By Gordon E. Hopper
difficult to find it. It has a historical background and has always been important to the economy of the local
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. (The Hopedale Machine Company was one of a
number of companies that were later organized as Draper Company, and by 1916, Draper Corporation.
The dam referred to would be the one at Freedom Street, which forms Hopedale Pond. The dam and pond
at the Dutcher Temple Company was a short distance downstream. By sometime in the 1890s it was
drained as water power was no longer needed, but room for more shops for the expanding business was
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
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
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
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
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.