VOICES FROM THE PAST: OUR READERS CONTRIBUTE AND PROVIDE INFORMATION
A - JAMES HOFFMAN METCALF
It started May 6, 1998. An acknowledgment of my letter to the defunct Northbridge Times resulted in a letter from the above gentleman about his relationship to one of the Whitins. Catherine Haven Leland, John Crane Whitin’s wife, was an ancestor of Mr. Metcalf and also one of his great-great grandmother’s sisters. And that makes him a direct descendant of the Leland’s of Sutton, MA. Although out of Whitinsville for almost 50 years, Jim has kept in touch with members of the Whitin R.O.S.E.. He has attended the Fall Reunion and Luncheon and constantly sends this writer emails. For example, he knows George Trowbridge Brown, the grandson of Charles Trowbridge and founder of the former Whitinsville Spinning Ring Company. He made references to knowing his address and also information about his former company, which was sold and moved to North Carolina. Finally, his positive outlook and his eagerness to help this writer have been the attributes so noticeable. Jim "Hoffy" Metcalf is always ready to fill me in on anything about Whitinsville. After all, he was one of the 4th generation to work in "THE SHOP". And his father, Robert, was the famed photographer of "THE SHOP" during the 1900’s way before Malcolm Pearson came upon the scene.
B - J. HAROLD BASZNER
Admitting that his father drove wagons full of wood at Castle Hill Farm, J. Harold replied to Article 5’s story about the ethnic groups. Then he wrote a letter to the Northbridge Times and it was published during the Spring 1998. This writer then sent a 2-page letter to J. Harold Baszner and he responded with a letter of the same length! He was saddened to hear about the end of the Times. His family was very pleased that I was still interested in the "Whitin Shop", etc. and they hoped that I would find help in continuing my project. He connected right away to Jim Metcalf by saying that his sister, Alice, graduated with him from Northbridge High School in the Class of 1930. He mentioned that he had so many things to remember about Whitinsville, Plummers, Linwood, Rockdale, and Riverdale. He said that if he got the chance he’d make a trip back home from Absecon, N.J. Sad to say, he never got the opportunity. J. Harold Baszner passed away the next year. His family sent this writer a sad note. It was more than about a man who spent 33 years in the Freight Department of the W.M.W. He had been General Foreman of Packing, Shipping, and Receiving and also the 2nd President of the Whitco Foremen’s Club after Mr. Henry Kooistra.
C - THOMAS "TAD" WALLACE
In order to get some background and information, I mailed a questionnaire to "Tad" Wallace, who had been General Chairman and a singing member in the Whitin Male Glee Club. The questionnaire came back with not only plenty of information that this writer was longing for about C. Alexander Peloquin and the Glee Club, but with a 2-page letter as an addition on May 19, 1999. Tad’s conscience compelled him to divulge that the director, C.Alexander Peloquin, did not play the selection, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue , as listed on the Program as well as told about in Article 11 about the Whitin Male Glee Club. This was the debut of the group, said Alex, and he wished "their lights to shine". Instead he did play a group of shorter and less showy selections. He was modest, says Tad. And this was so despite the fact that C. Alexander Peloquin had planned to be a concert pianist himself and was taught by the brilliant Brazilian pianist, Jesus Maria San Roma.
However, Alex’s greatest achievement was to produce the Berlioz Requiem. This tough task demanded an 800-member chorus including musicians. Instead, Alex put together a cast of nearly 300 when it was performed in the cathedral of Sts . Peter and Paul in Providence, R.I. The cast included the Whitin Glee Club Chorale, and glee clubs from Salve Regina, Emmanuel, Boston College and Providence College. And this vocal ensemble was augmented by a large section of the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra, and brass bands from Boston College and Providence College. Tad admits to experiencing many thrilling musical events in his lifetime, but none ever compared to having done two splendid performances of the Berlioz Requiem. These were inspiring and very motivating events, and it was an uplifting experience also to sing under the direction of C. Alexander Peloquin.
Another positive contribution came from Tad less than 2 years after the above narration. In compiling material for Article 19 : Loyalty, Service and Commitment of W.M.W. Employees, this writer singled out two gentlemen who achieved milestones in seniority: Jim Ferry and Al Brown. Having known both of them well from working in "THE SHOP", Tad was quick to point out their admirable and contrasting personalities. Jim was known as a man who was "gruff and hard to get to—he always dotted his ‘i’s and crossed his ‘t’s." Unlike Al Brown, who ran the Pattern Loft and knew it like the inside of his pocket. Always the perfect gentleman, he was gracious, soft-spoken, and kind.
D - RUSSELL BAILEY
As was previously stated in Article 13: Some Creations and Collections of Mill Workers, not enough good things can be said about this individual. This poetic genius contributed copies of The Gift and Death of a Company Town. During June of 1999, I received a handwritten letter from Russ. He was unable to attend evening meetings due to health reasons, as he opened his letter by saying that "problems come in bunches". But his poetic works, The Gift in memory of John Laselle, and The Rag Man, which tells of life in the New Village section of Whitinsville many years ago, have been included in a memorial album containing over 200 poetic works, which was published to raise funds for the Whitin Social Library.
E - ARTHUR SHEVCHENKO
It was a Friday evening on July 9, 1999. The telephone rang and my wife said, "it’s someone who visited a relative and found out about your articles on "THE SHOP" from the Blackstone River National Heritage Corridor in Woonsocket, R.I. He’s calling from Florida." This man had worked in the Repair Department for parts in Overseas Sales. Richard Rawlinson had been his boss. He knew Jack Roth, Eugene Kennedy, and J. Harold Baszner. I told him, after speaking at length, that I was very grateful for his conversation and his interest, and I promised him a typed copy of my next article, then to be Article 12. Two weeks later, to my surprise, a check came in the mail. Then I called Arthur back and told him, after his approval, the amount would be given to the Northbridge Historical Commission for completion of the renovation of the James Fletcher House.
F - W. CHARLES COMMONS, JR.
September of 1999 was our first encounter. This visit in his home yielded almost an hour of audio-taped comments about Charlie’s early days in "THE SHOP", as well as character profiles of many colleagues with whom he had worked. Although not in the best of health, Charlie delighted in telling his story about Whitinsville and also of his other duty, the Air National Guard of Rhode Island. On other occasions, this writer sought his advice about the search for a 1939 automobile. Charlie was able to remember quite a bit about the Shop Garage and also the names of the chauffeurs. Towards the middle of the month, I got a handwritten note from Charlie saying there was a conflict and he could not attend the Breakfast at the Bell Tower Café on the 25th of that month. He wished me well in completing my history project about the "Brick Academy", as ‘Hickey’ Healey often described it.
G - MISS PRISCILLA MASON
(Quote): "This is just a short note to tell you how much I appreciate your continuing interest in the History of the Whitin Machine Works and all you are doing to record that history for posterity. On behalf of the Whitin family of whom, I believe, I am the oldest direct living descendant. I thank you for your interest and your hard work, and shall look forward to seeing the finished product." Sincerely yours, (SIGNED) Priscilla Mason November 15, 1999
H - ROBERT HAMBLIN
On January 24, 2000, I got a correction in the form of a news clipping from this former supervisor who had worked in "THE SHOP". He recalls being involved in a series of weekend incidents during the second SHOP Strike in 1952. In Article 14: The Labor Movement, Unionism, and "THE SHOP", I had mentioned that this major labor dispute took place in 1953, and it had lasted longer and had more violence than the strike in 1946. Again I stand corrected.
I - JACK RATCLIFFE
In addition to participating in two sessions at the Whitin Community Center, Jack has helped this writer in other numerous ways. He offered his ideas about the Fifth Annual Whitinsville Track and field Association All-star Meet, which was held at Lasell Field on June 8, 1957. Robert A. Gibson, former Traffic Manager of the W.M.W., Norman Wright, Spindle Editor, and Sam Currie, Whitinsville Postmaster, were in charge of organizing the track and field. Bob Gibson was always trying to get Jack to run, and he was interested as to how fast he could run around the bases! Track proved not to be his interest, but along with his baseball team mates Harley Buma and Ernie Bonoyer, they joined with other local people to act as officials and supervisors at the track meet. The N.E.A.A.U. and the Massachusetts Secondary School Principals’ Association sanctioned this meet, and it was said, at that time, to be the best conducted meet during the past 40 years! Don Coyle, Chairman of the Trophy Committee, was another outstanding local athlete. And as a point of interest, Jack Ratcliffe’s Manager, when he played in the Blackstone Valley League as a star center-fielder, was Bob Williams. Jack contributed all of this information on June 2, 2000.
J - RAYMOND H. RONDEAU
Having written first on September 29, 2000 Raymond’s sister, Doris, had sent him a few clippings about "THE SHOP" from the Northbridge Times about a year previously. They all pertained about telling about life in "THE SHOP". Raymond finally finished a piece that he said could be added to my collection. To honor his request as well as to showcase his work, I will quote his first paragraph with some of my comments and then his last paragraph from his well-written, two-page, and typewritten discourse. (QUOTE): "THE SHOP…just writing the words can awaken many memories of a time when life was fairly simple and definitely not extravagant. I recall debating with Mr. F. Sumner Turner, school Guidance Counselor, about the merits of having a Machine Shop Course in High School. His counterpoint was that it wouldn't be enough to get into college. I replied that most of us would be going into "THE SHOP" and only a few of us would be going to college. (But who in 1939 could predict that we would be involved in World War II and a G. I. Bill would open college doors for many guys to enroll who otherwise could not afford the tuition.)"
As it turned out, Ray quit school after the first year of the machine shop course, and he got a job at "THE SHOP". His boss was the Personnel Manager, Mr. Norton, and he hired Ray on the 5th day as a lathe operator earning a wage of $.48 an hour! He was a month past his 17th birthday, and the course he had advocated in High School paid him dividends. Working in "THE SHOP" on the Picker Job with Bill Hartley as his Foreman, Ray found out that the real learning began. He honestly believed that the one positive aspect of "THE SHOP" was its apprentice program for young people. Ray offers his final views: (QUOTE): "Even though there is a high rate of employment today, there is a shortage of highly qualified skilled craftsmen. Too many companies have opted out of apprenticeship programs, hoping that someone else will do the training. But all is done to move the skills and work to other countries—a sad commentary for the companies. We can’t bring back "THE SHOP" or its programs, but I’m glad it was around when I started my career. It has served me well and I’m sure it has for many others. Over the years that "THE SHOP" was operating, it was often criticized for being unfair to its employees and the disenchantment was probably justified in some cases. But if there was a ledger sheet on the pluses and minuses of "THE SHOP", the ledger would put "THE SHOP" on the plus side. And as an everlasting gift, it gave us Whitinsville."
K - SUSAN PRICE
On the morning of November 5, 2000, I opened an interesting letter. It said to the effect that this young lady read with interest my Articles on the Whitin Machine Works at the Northbridge Virtual Museum site on the Internet. She went on to say that she was seeking descendants of Katherine Leland Whitin and E .Kent Swift, Jr. The latter was a nephew to her great-great grandmother, and she mentioned also that she has some family correspondence dating from 1845-1911. Susan expressed a concern about sharing the documents. This writer later emailed her to thank her, first- for her interest in my work on the Whitin Machine Works, and secondly- for her willingness to divulge her ancestry within a charming and fascinating letter.
L - MAUREEN DOWD
About 3 weeks after I was contacted by Susan Price, another lady sent me an email about family genealogy. Although she lives in a suburb of Boston earlier ties led her to Northbridge. Her paternal grandfather worked in the cotton mill in Rockdale, or at that particular time, at the Paul Whitin Manufacturing Company , known to most as the Rockdale Mill. She requested some information about Rockdale and its main mill. I emailed her a short history of Lower Holbrook Village (Riverdale) and Upper Holbrook Village (Rockdale). I also sent her attached photos of the Rockdale Mill. I am still in the process of searching for information and exchanging emails with her. So, I have thanked her for her interest, although not in the area of my forte, namely that of the Whitin Machine Works.
M - HARRIET ROCKWELL
On November 20, 2000 a reader emails me, and she mentions that Arthur Fletcher Whitin was her grandmother's second cousin, once removed. Her grandmother's kinship is through Arthur Fletcher Whitin's mother, Sarah Jane Halliday. Her grandmother, whose name is Euphemia Paulding Gregory, enjoyed a close relationship between the Gregorys and the Hallidays. Worth noting also is that Euphemia's sister was named Mary Halliday Gregory, and that after Euphemia married, she gave one of her sons the name Whitin. Harriet Rockwell goes on to say that her dad talked about spending summers with 'cousin Arthur', at a camp on Bisby Lake in the Adirondack Mountains in New York when her father was a boy. She concludes her letter by mentioning my Articles about the Whitins, the history of their mills, and the development of Whitinsville - all she says is fascinating reading. And then she asks if, as stated in Article 2, "Arthur Whitin's mansion on Linwood Avenue", was in fact Arthur Fletcher Whitin's home. She desires to know more, and I furnished her with some facts about Arthur's family which I obtained while visiting the Historical Room of the Whitin Social Library, a gift from Arthur and his brother Edward.
N - WALT SAMMIS - THE SAGA OF THE 1939 PACKARD COUPE
During the late Spring of this year (2001), an ad was placed to run 2 weeks in the Blackstone Valley News Tribune. The main intent was to find the car’s history and to identify the family that gave away the car. As events began to unfold, Walt Sammis, the present owner of the fully-restored 1939 Packard coupe, began to email me and "Tad" Wallace, who also got involved in the search. What was established after 14 months of investigative work was that Josiah Laselle definitely owned a ’39 Packard Coupe at the time of his death in 1939. He had bought the car for his wife, Mary, to drive, but when he died he had 6 cars, so his wife chose to get rid of 5 of them, including the Packard, and she kept just one. Because the Packard was practically new, Ralph Lincoln bought the car for his wife, Leslie, and it was the main car she drove throughout the 1940’s. In the early 40’s then they had 3 cars: the Packard, a Pierce Arrow, and a big Lincoln. The Lincoln was Ralph Lincoln’s main car until later in the 40’s when he got a green Chrysler. His granddaughter called the Pierce Arrow their "toy car" because when they went to the Cape, the family would drive down in the Lincoln and the Pierce Arrow would haul all of their baggage, including the children’s toys. Ralph’s son, Richard, got a 1947 Buick coupe in the late 40’s and that was also around the Lincoln house for many years. Richard gave it to his daughter, Sally, in 1957, and she drove it until 1965. Leslie Lincoln died in 1958, and it must have been a year or two after that when Ralph got rid of the Packard by selling it for $1 to Clayton Cleverly. Now the problem was, as Walt Sammis would say, this: confirming that Josiah Laselle’s Packard was the same one that was sold to Clayton Cleverly. He wanted very much to find someone who remembered the car during the 1950’s, perhaps sitting around the Lincoln house, in the Whitinsville Fire Station, or someplace else. He asked "Tad" Wallace and I to search the Spindles. We did so, without a clue. I thought of seeing W. Charles Commons, Jr., who was the former Highway and Shop Garage Superintendent. He did remember a Graham-Paige sedan, but not the 1939 Packard coupe. I telephoned Cornelius P. Madigan, the retired Northbridge Fire Chief, and also Walter Doble, retired Assistant Fire Chief, and they gave me names of the Shop Garage chauffeurs. They also could not recall the Packard. Then I decided to check out the names of the chauffeurs who are still around. First, I visited Maurice Morin. He remembered several cars, but not the Packard. Then I called on Chester E. Roaf. He had worked at the Shop Garage for 23 years, and he distinctly recalled servicing an old Buick and washing other cars, but not the Packard. My last contact for this charade was John Grocki. From a telephone conversation on June 25 of this year (2001) he stated: (QUOTE) " Ralph Lincoln always bought secondhand cars. I would drive him to the car auctions, and I would also drive his wife Leslie and his redheaded daughter to Providence many times. They trusted no one else. Besides the Packard, there was a 12-cylinder car stored in the Shop Garage too." This last effort was a Godsend, and I knew the saga of the 1939 Packard coupe ended.
O - Home page : THE REUNION OF SHOP EMPLOYEES (The Whitin R.O.S.E.)
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