Back to School & Back in Time: American Girl Grace Thomas Train Ride

A peek at the French-Canadian style Catholic schools historically in the area. This is a model classroom that is part of the Museum of Work and Culture.
A peek at the French-Canadian style Catholic schools that were historically in the area. This is a model classroom that is part of the Museum of Work and Culture in Woonsocket, RI.

As children are making the transition from carefree summer days to the structured days of school, you don’t have to put away your suitcases and bathing suits quite yet.  School-free weekdays may be over, but it’s still summer outside and a weekend trip here or there is a great way to tiptoe towards fall. Easing back into reading assignments and history lessons can be relished if you add in a trip or two especially if they tie in together.  American Girl actually does a pretty good job writing up stories for children that include historic references and one of their newest dolls happens to come from Blackstone Valley.

Slater Mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island
Slater Mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island

“We loved our visit to Versailles,” Mom said. “We did!” I added. “That’s where an angry mob stormed the palace at the start of the French Revolution.”  Grandpa leaned in. “that was a very different kind of revolution from what happened right here in Blackstone Valley,” he said.  “the American Industrial Revolution.”

I’d heard Grandpa give this talk before, so I knew what was coming. “The Slater Mill in Blackstone Valley was the first water-powered cotton-spinning factory in the whole United States,” Grandpa began, settling back into his chair.”

-Excerpt from Grace Stirs It Up by Mary Casanova for American Girl

Whether you visit Blackstone Valley on your own and bike along some of the rivers and canals to explore the area or you want to treat your child to a back to school train ride through the area for the American Girl Train ride through Blackstone Valley this is definitely a day trip worth considering.  The American Girl train ride includes a 60 minute train ride, photo ops, a gift bag, signature lemonade and cupcakes, Grace Thomas themed games and activities, and a guided tour through the area with costumed guides. Tickets can be purchased here.

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Just over an hour from Boston, the Blackstone Valley area of Rhode Island is a nice mix of history and nature.  The architecture and layout of some of these small towns still reflects the original mill villages that were built around industry.  I recently visited the area on a “fam trip”, which is a trip set up for press and writers to become familiar with an area and its offerings, and enjoyed learning a bit more about the history of the area.

Original mill towns are now being revived as apartments, but you still get a sense of what the mill towns were like.
Original mill towns are now being revived as apartments, but you still get a sense of what the mill towns were like.

There are rivers all throughout the Blackstone Valley and kayakers enjoy a paddle down them while bikers enjoy cruising along the rivers and canals on nice, flat bike paths that are perfect for even the youngest cyclists.  There are plenty of places to park along the rivers and hop onto a path for a family adventure.  Unlike the rail trail paths in the city that tend to get over-crowded these paths were peaceful and only had a few families at a time cycling by. Along the path are picturesque rivers and dams.  Once upon a time, there used to be a dam every mile, and there aren’t quite as many any more but the majority remain.

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Parts of the Blackstone Valley have been designated as a National Park so you will find knowledgeable rangers along your ride next to sites like this one.

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Every trip needs a treat pit stop and Wright’s Dairy Farm and Bakery fits the bill.  Wright’s Dairy Farm is known for their cream puffs but they have plenty of other treats as well.  For a true taste of Rhode Island you can’t leave without at least a little pint or 1/2 pint of coffee milk.

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You don’t have to spend a lot of time or money to continue traveling throughout the school year.  Just think local, get out and explore a little bit.

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