In the 20 years after the Blackstone Canal opened in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1828, the town quadrupled in size.
The canal itself was not in use for long. It closed in 1848, made obsolete by railroads, and by the 20th century the portion that passed through Worcester had been paved over, relegated to use as a sewer.
But the idea of an urban waterway, in this post-industrial age, has seemingly universal appeal. Many current Worcester residents have lined up behind a proposal to resurrect theirs. The rallying cry “Free the Blackstone” has helped to turn a once blighted area into one of the hottest spots in this otherwise unassuming city of 180,000—despite the canal still being very much buried.
It’s a testament to the power of water, long the lifeblood of cities everywhere, even when the water in question hasn’t seen daylight in more than 100 years.
Mullen Sawyer, the recently-elected president of the alliance, grew up poor in the 1960s in the neighborhood that would become the Canal District, and watched with sadness as it decayed into a “wasteland” by the 1990s.
Now, “if you walk down Water Street, probably every fourth business is new. Every building is undergoing renovation, including some that haven’t been used in generations.”