LINWOOD, RIVERDALE AND ROCKDALE by Don Gosselin

(The Linwood Mill)

Above all other mills, the Whitin Machine Works grew from 2 machinists in 1831 to the textile machinery giant of precision and quality, especially during the 1950’s.

An abbreviated timeline of the Riverdale and Rockdale Mills follows:

In 1814 the former Riverdale Mill (now as Riverdale Mills Corporation) was originally a small, wooden mill first owned by David and Henry Dunn.

A mill privilege at Riverdale (meant for saw and grist work) was purchased from Colonel Ezra Wood of Upton, MA by Henry Dunn, a miller.

In 1821 Silvanus Holbrook (owner of the previous “Cotton Mill”- the original Paul Whitin Manufacturing Co.) or the Rockdale Mill, rented this mill and he operated it until owning it outright in 1822.

In 1826 this mill burned. ( It had been erected on the East Side of the Blackstone River.) In 1852 Silvanus Holbrook builds on land at Riverdale on the West Side of the Blackstone River; a one-story structure of stone for Harvey Waters, who wanted to make scythes by machinery. (Waters was a native of Millbury, MA and an inventor and a mechanical engineer.) Machinery for scythes was adapted to making bayonets at the opening of the “War of the Rebellion” (Civil War) for the US Government’s Union Army. In 1856 Paul Whitin and his sons purchased all real estate belonging to Silvanus Holbrook at both Rockdale and Riverdale. Then in 1857 Whitin builds a new mill at Rockdale of stone, having attics for machinery. The firm was dissolved 7 years later.

In 1864 Paul Whitin Jr. owns both properties. He then passes them later on to his oldest son, Charles E. Whitin, of Uxbridge, MA. He becomes Superintendent also of the Uxbridge Cotton Mills.

In 1865 the lease of Holbrook’s Mill expired. Machinery is removed. Then Paul Whitin enlarges it by adding a story and an attic, widening it also. He uses brick in the new construction. (The first story was kept as stone. This is seen today.) Then in 1870,  the business is organized as a joint stock corporation, with the name of the Paul Whitin Manufacturing Company. The officers were Paul Whitin, President and Charles E. Whitin, Treasurer and agent.

Did you remember that in 1864, Betsy Whitin’s “4 active sons” divided up their holdings? John Crane Whitin got the WMW “proper”; Paul Jr. got the Rockdale and Riverdale Mills; Charles P. got the Whitinsville Cotton Mill and the “Little Brick Mill” and James F. got the Crown and Eagle Mill of North Uxbridge, along with land for the Linwood Cotton Mill.

(Photos of Rockdale Mill (1870) and Riverdale Mill (2007).

In 1884, Paul Whitin passed away at the age of 84. He had devoted much of his leisure time to agriculture and horticulture, and he belonged to the State Board of Agriculture, having been appointed by the Massachusetts Legislature for successive terms in his later years. One can note the flowers and the re-landscaping today along the East Side of the Blackstone River near the storage sheds.

Around 1890, Rockdale Village was called Holbrook’s Upper Village and Riverdale Village was named Holbrook’s Lower Village. The Village of Rockdale grew as a result of the original Northbridge Community which was founded in the section we now call Northbridge Center. The Bean Family Farm on the Main Street and the Fowler Farm on School Street are 2 of the oldest home sites in Rockdale. The Bean residence is still located on Providence Road and was owned by a Mr. Charles Flamand until quite a few years ago. The Fowler home site (barn shown below) is better known as the Koopman Farm and is now the location of Clarke’s Dog Training Center.

By the middle of the 19th Century, the Rockdale Mills brought an increase in mill workers with their families, and the small Catholic Community started to grow. As the years passed on and the Whitins continued to add to the mills, more and more families moved into Rockdale Village. In 1901 the parish of St. Peter’s got its first appointed full-time pastor, Fr. Joseph Rice. Then a bit later, a plot of land near the village was donated to the parish by the Paul Whitin Manufacturing Company and a new church was built where it now stands today.  It was done and dedicated in 1913 at a cost of $50,000.00.

 

(photo of St. Peter’s Church)

The stone building (pre-dating Whitin Property circa 1795-1800) that stands today at the edge of the Rockdale Common, was given to the parish of St. Peter’s by the Whitins about 1920 to be used as a hall. Before that, it had been a 2-family house for mill employees and their families. This house had one way in, with 2 inner doors, a kitchen, and a sitting room on each side, and 2 bedrooms upstairs, in addition to the “outhouse”. This “Cercle Lacordaire” (as it was called then) was a temperance society which promoted abstinence from alcohol among all of its male members, who would take an oath. Of course, this was during the time of the Prohibition. The organization of members was named after a French priest, Jean-Baptiste-Henri Lacordaire (1802-1861) who was then a famous preacher and the author of a book on St. Dominic, the founder of his Order. He was so well-known that he was elected to the renowned Academie Francaise, to which only the best writers are appointed.

In 1940, Paul Whitin IV, who was now 64 years old with his wife Rebecca , lived on Main Street in Northbridge. Paul Whitin V who was 30 years old then, lived with his wife, Ruth on Fowler Road in Rockdale. This location is now a home for the handicapped. Richard Whitin Jr., then 31 years old, lived with his wife Ina (Watson) on School Street. This location is now occupied by the Morrisette, Turner, and Thibeault Families.

 (map: Before St. Peter’s Church- Rockdale)

 

There have been some prominent Franco-Americans (French Canadians living in New England) : Calixe Lavallee, a soldier of the Civil War, wrote a poem of the Franco-Canadiens, and the music of “O Canada”, the National Anthem, was written by him. His brother, Peter Lavallee, although blind at birth, was caretaker of Richard C. Whitin, at the former Wayside Manor in Rockdale. (show photo ) Alan Blizzard the “Popcorn man” of Whitinsville had a son who married the daughter of Lucien Thibault, who sang in St. Peter’s Choir and who became the Rockdale “Popcorn Man”. Conrad Thibeault was a singer who sang, “ The Town I live In, That’s America To Me”. Eddie (Dalbert) Dowling was a Director and Actor on Broadway, and the male star of Tennessee Williams” Play, The Glass Menagerie. Leo DeOrsey was a prominent attorney, who lived in Washington DC, and served the 7 original Astronauts. Upon his death, they became his pall-bearers. And finally, Dr. John Bouvier and his Father (as listed in a reference book, 1925: Le Guide de Franco-American, published in Fall River, MA ) has a listing for every town. (1946- contains listings for Linwood and Rockdale Villages of Northbridge).

 The Town of Northbridge is about half-way between Woonsocket, RI’s “ Union of St. Jean de Baptiste” and the research library of Assumption College of Worcester. This is ideal for the research work done by Dr. James P. Gilroy, Ph.D. of French Literature (U of Denver) when he is “ at home in Rockdale”.

Beaumont, home of Paul Whitin IV, was built on a hill where the existing Whitin estate overlooked their mill below. In 1909 Beaumont construction began, having been designed by Paul Whitin IV for his upcoming marriage to Rebecca Dulaney Carter of Credanal, Upperville, Virginia. Here they raised their 5 children and they resided here until 1955 when Paul and Rebecca moved to Whitinsville. Sophie Draper Whitin, one of their 5 children, said that Beaumont was “a livable, comfortable, wonderful house”.

 

Wayside Manor, until the construction of Beaumont, was home to the Whitins who lived in Rockdale. Remember that Wayside was built by Silvanus Holbrook in 1824. It was the very first of the great houses to be built in the Valley and it became a nice home for the Rockdale Whitins. Wayside, which was located at the bottom of the hill, was taken down in the 1980’s.

If you go to Beaumont Nursing Home today it will be hard for you to realize that it has passed through 3 generations. Bought in 1960 by Dan and Helen Salmon ( it had only 28 residents then) and later in 1965 when it was purchased by Daniel Jr. and his wife, “Dottie”, today it is managed by Kate-Salmon Robinson and her brother Matthew. The tradition hasn’t changed. “It’s families caring for families…” says Kate Salmon-Robinson. There are 4 “campuses” (and plans for a fifth ): Northbridge, Westborough, Natick, and Northborough. Upon leaving the foyer of Beaumont, if you visit, you will come to the reception area, having a grand fireplace, which served the same function to the Whitins who lived there. There is a change, and it’s the door that leads to the back of the Nursing Home, which had been the main entrance before, and it had a large porch and beautiful and extensive stone work. The Salmon Family has served and managed health care for over 50 years.

According to Elizabeth Watson Whitin, who visited our house this Summer (2007), this writer has her grandfather down right, but his “older brother was born in 1876 not 1896”. She goes on to say that Paul Whitin IV had 5 children and now has a “bevy” of grand and great grand grandchildren. Her father is the eldest son of Richard Courtnay Whitin, and he worked at the mill when he lived in this writer’s house ! (several years, in the 1950’s). He quit to become a high-risk venture capitalist and he was instrumental in the development of Cable TV and the “CD” disc, among other things. He married Elizabeth Walsh and had her older sister, Susan Whitin, herself, (Elizabeth Whitin Kiritani) and Leland (Lili) Whitin. Susan now has 2 children and Lili also has 2. Her father’s brother, Thomas Whitin, had 4 children. Charles Pinkney Whitin is the eldest with 1 daughter Sophie. Sonia Whitin Inoue is his sister who now has 2 girls with her Japanese husband. There is Holly Whitin and Richard Courtnay Whitin III (neither of whom have children). Elizabeth Whitin’s grandfather’s third child was Mary Whitin Rockwood, who bore 3 children: Tim, Jake, and Catherine. Tim has 2 children, and Catherine has one. So there it is ! And incidentally, Charles Pinkney Whitin, her cousin who must be around 55 years old now, is very interested in family matters. He lives in Little Compton RI and spends time in Providence.

 

(photo of Elizabeth and Itsuo)

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