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..
Mill River Remains An Important Asset To Milford, Hopedale
By Gordon E. Hopper
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
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 needed.)
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
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
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
1955 Flood in Spindleville Mill Pond at Route 140
Park, Pond and Sports Menu HOME
Adin Ballou, History of Milford.
Where the Mill reaches the Blackstone Flood, Draper Corp.1955 1955 Flood in Spindleville
Mill Pond at Route 140 Park, Pond and Sports Menu HOME