Old Man Scanlon's

Ten Mile River

Ten Mile River, downstream, Balfour Park

The Ten Mile River was the river of my misspent youth, even though we got tantalizing glimpses of the Connecticut and Westfield on trips to the western Massachusetts hinterlands to visit grandparents, the Taunton on the way to the Cape, and the Blackstone in Pawtucket. (Come to think of it, seeing a river was almost as desirable as seeing railroad tracks.) Hands down, the Ten Mile was the biggest and best riparian attraction of North Attleboro. Our everyday experience of the Ten Mile, as we walked the 16 miles to and from School St. School, easily trumped the fleeting and infrequent sightings of more major rivers. It flowed right next to McNally's store, under the convergence of Park and North Washington Streets, and emerged beside another institution, the North End Social Club. We always had to stop and watch it, unable to resist the seductive hypnotism of moving water, noting the newest pieces of jettisoned junk and an occasional crayfish.

So it was that in a fit of unbridled nostalgia it came to me to photograph the entire river from every convenient access point, and, even more horrifyingly, to inflict the results on the public via the web. Since I've never had an original idea in my life, I can't really take any credit for this, but neither, unfortunately, can I convincingly lay the blame on Cav. He's been thinking of biking the route of the Gee Whiz Line, and I'm sure this contributed heavily to my flash of inspiration. But this is definitely a dilettante's project. How hard could it be to drive around, take pictures with a digital camera, and slap them onto a web page?

I didn't declare "road trip!" and grab the car keys. I didn't lie down until the urge passed. When I realized that I didn't even know exactly where the Ten Mile arose and ended, I went on-line to the University of New Hampshire's library of digitized USGS topographic maps, which refers to maps of around my birth date as historic. I love maps. I anticipated a handsome payoff from my visit to this purveyor of cartographic pornography, and sure enough, I found the river's headwaters in an unnamed pond in Plainville, about a mile north of Fuller's Dam, and followed it to Omega Pond in Rumford, emptying into the Seekonk River. To push my luck, I went to America's Running Routes, where you can point and click to trace a route and the software tells you how long it is, because something about "Ten Mile" had always nagged at me. The map orgy ended abruptly when the underlying Google Maps technology showed only ponds, no rivers. The next best thing, a MapQuest shortest-distance-avoid-highways driving route (well within a dilettante's capacity), suggested that the Ten Mile would be more aptly named the Fourteen and About a Quarter Mile River.

Even as the physical dimensions of the quest solidified, mission creep set in. There are changes to the Ten Mile over time that I find interesting, and I can think of dozens of boring anecdotes that all occurred within a stone's throw of the river. Though I keep saying "must ... control ... urge ... to blog" it seems highly unlikely that I'll be able to resist this cheap, wretched self-indulgence any longer. The camel has his nose under the tent, the cat's out of the bag, the dogs of war are loosed, the die is cast, I've crossed the Rubicon, and it's a slippery slope. The proof is right before your eyes. Can Old Man Scanlon's Reality Show be far behind?

In my day the Ten Mile was considered nasty, probably rightly, but the upper reaches supported fishing good enough to keep a young whippersnapper busy. Several government web sites describe its past, current, and possible future states in excruciating detail: Rhode Island Rivers Council, Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, and Southeastern Regional Planning & Economic Development District. You'll note that they all seem to have plagiarized freely from each other.

As it happens, I already have a Ten Mile photo off with which to kick this project. It's from December, 2003, looking downstream from the Balfour Park footbridge in Attleboro. The contrasting blue-grey sky and setting sun somehow attracted me; there were clear signals that the winter shortage of yellow photons was easing. Balfour Park and its stretch of the river bring me good, if recent, memories. It's where Mitt Romney made my granddaughters cry. My grandson heaved armfuls of dehydrated catalpa beans off the bridge and we'd watch them head to the ocean. Once we spied a muskrat cruising up-river, and we saw the helicopter fly-over — hard to miss, that was — at the 2007 POW-MIA Encampment.


Project notes

February, 2008 had record rainfall in Boston, and both February and March have had several single days of record rainfall. This bounty is apparent in some of the February and March photographs.

The Ten Mile River Watershed Council — they're new; they're serious (they have boats), not slick; and they have the best map of the watershed I've seen.

Another cooperative effort centered on the Ten Mile is the Ten Mile River Watershed page at Charles Adler's Citizens for a Sustainable Local Economy web site.




North Attleboro






Revision History

25 February 2008, revision 1.
Initial publication.
05 March 2008, revision 2.
February photos in Attleboro & N. Attleboro.
09 March 2008, revision 3.
March 9 photos at Wall St. in Attleboro.
12 March 2008, revision 4.
March 10 photos in Attleboro.
14 March 2008, revision 5.
March 13 photos in Plainville & N. Attleboro.
17 March 2008, revision 6.
March 16 photos in Attleboro.
03 April 2008, revision 7.
April 3 photos in Pawtucket; added Notes section.
01 June 2008, revision 8.
May 26 photos at Tiffany St. in Attleboro.
03 June 2008, revision 9.
Markup corrected.
14 September 2008, revision 10.
September 14 photos at Thacher St. in Attleboro.
17 April 2009, revision 11.
April 17 photos at West St. in Attleboro.
25 April 2009, revision 12.
April 25 photos in N. Attleboro.
23 November 2009, revision 13.
Link to Charles Adler's Ten Mile River Watershed page.
26 May 2010, revision 14.
May 25 photos at Central Ave., Pawtucket.