Castle Hill Farm by Don Gosselin

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     In 1919, following the death of John C. Whitin's widow, the Company of Whitin Machine Works took over the historic Castle Hill Farm, and under the personal direction of E. Kent Swift, converted it from a hobby showplace to a paying enterprise. Milk and other dairy products were sold to the schools and homes of shop workers in addition to being sold within "The Shop," in the shop's cafeteria, and on the farm itself.


    Henry A. Kooistra, who had been president of the Whitin Foremen's Club, was born at Castle Hill. His grandfather was one of the originals who had come from Holland in 1886 to help in the early growth and development of milk cattle and the dairy business at Castle Hill Farm. Rumor was that Castle Hill Farm was bought from Indians for two kegs of whiskey. Not so, but it was a good legend at that. The farm tract was comprised of several parcels of land that were different forms. But there was one "Little Island" of land that was in the middle of a big field that John C. Whitin could not buy out after he had established the farm. He eventually combined the different areas of the small separate farms into the wide open expanse of farmland that made up Castle Hill Farm.


     The farm had a tremendous effect on the population of Whitinsville. After John C. Whitin passed away in 1882, the farm was left to his widow who ran it as a model dairy farm. But in early 1886, fifteen of her twenty-six registered Jersey cows got tuberculosis and died. In order to restock her herd, she sent for a number of Holstein cows from the Netherlands. They were shipped here, and a hired hand named John Bosma was sent along to care for the new herd. When he arrived in Whitinsville, he asked to be allowed to stay and to take care of the cows he had brought. The next spring, he sent home for his sister and her husband, William B. Feddema. Feddema’s brother, Peter, came over the next year, followed by his wife and their five children. Jake and William Feddema, who had worked in "The Shop," were two of those five children. Virtually all of Whitinsville's present Dutch families owe their existence in the town, through one connection or another, to the early start made back in 1886-1888 by Mr. John Bosma and the Feddema family.


     George Marston Whitin took over Castle Hill Farm after Mrs. Whitin and he carried on until "The Shop" management bought it. Very little is known about the early history of this farm. But it is established, however, that John Whitin started to clear the land during the Depression of 1874-1879. At that time, there had been so little work available. The work week at Whitin Machine Works was cut down to four days and John retained all the men who had dependents. The young and single men helped to build Memorial Hall and cleared stones from his 70 acre farm on Castle Hill.


      Most of the men who worked on the farm were paid only $1.50 per day in "The Shop," but John decided that $1.10 per day was enough for that kind of rough work in the field. Yet, the stone-clearing tasks had been voluntary and anyone who had wanted to could have worked there. "The Great Stone Wall" that still bounds the field was built at this time. Work was indeed difficult and the turnover among the men who labored on the farm was very high. They had worked there only when they really needed money. It was estimated that it cost John C. Whitin $13,000 to clear that field! It was completed in 1880.


      R.O. Robie came to Castle Hill as superintendent of the farm in 1920. Then, there were 60 head of cattle. They had produced 225 quarts of milk daily. But later, there were 175 heads of Ayrshires, all but three were bred and raised on the farm. They had produced in all, between 900 and 1,000 quarts of milk daily. Seven hundred quarts were distributed in "The Shop" and the rest sold elsewhere in the town. Castle Hill Farm supplied milk to the Blue Eagle Inn, the cafeteria, the Whitinsville Hospital, and the schools. This dairy barn was not destined to be productive for a long time, because a spectacular fire consumed it as well as all of its contents in 1957.


      The Armenian people who came to work in the Whitin Machine Works had also a unique history and were an integral part of the labor pool, both as craft employees, and later, as in the cases of Mr. Ira Naroian and Mr. Ira Maghakian, two outstanding individuals who rose to become presidents of their companies after the Whitin Machine Works was finally sold in its entirety in the 1960's. Attempts were made to produce offset duplicating machines, and other products affiliated with White Consolidated Industries, as independent managers tried in vain to keep "The Shop" going because the textile industry migrated south. (This writer needs to explore these developments along with unionism occurring from 1967 to the present day.)


     According to the foundry payroll book and its records, there were listed some older and still living Armenian laborers who started to work in "The Shop" during the early 1900's. One such person was Sarkis Assadorian who began working in the foundry as a laborer in 1909. His son, Varkis, also worked over 40 years, but mostly in the Core Room. Another Armenian was a draftsman in the Whitin Machine Works, who worked later on, from 1952 to 1958. His name was Sebouh Kalousdian, who was also a classmate of Spaulding Aldrich. And still another remarkable person and personality, who is very much involved in town affairs as well as the Greater Media Cable Committee, Jerry Baghdasarian, worked in the Engineering Dept., as the first Armenian prior to 1940. Warren Mooradian was the second one. An account is reliable as to representatives of Whitin Machine Works, with an interpreter, being in Providence, R.I. to welcome some of these immigrants, by offering them housing and employment, during the early 1900's. Many earlier Armenians belonged to the Knights of Pythia, a fraternal organization, organized prior to 1910, which met regularly near the corner of Cross St. on Linwood Avenue. The Pythian Building, purchased by the Kurzabohosian family (later changed to Kurzon), during the Depression of 1923, became a meeting place with socials taking place within the furnishings of a guilded ceiling in a grand upstairs hall. This unique building is occupied today by some local business people and is used now in a constructive as well as historical purpose.  (This writer recalls bowling on the candlepin alleys, in the basement, during the 1950's when there were leagues and human pin-setters). "The Shop" had many employees, both men and women, who bowled here in organized leagues. Indeed, the Pythian Building housed many memories and past events.

 

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