THE WHITIN HOME GARDEN CLUB

Originally, it was said that this was one of the ways that the Whitin Machine Works enabled its employees to live better on the wages that they earned. This popular club was initially formed in the summer of 1917 as the result of the food shortage during World War I. It soon became very popular after the war ended, due in fact to depressed times and the lack of plentiful work. As a rewarding occupation, the Home Garden Club’s membership also grew in size. There were times that as many as a third of The Shop’s families who lived in Company housing enjoyed the Club. That is considerable, when one realizes that the Whitins built about a thousand units for their workers. The original cost of raising a vegetable garden was only a dollar a year for membership dues, plus the price of the seeds, which the Company purchased separately.

The Whitin Home Garden Club had been organized since the days that President Woodrow Wilson made an appeal to all gardeners in the United States. At that time, they had been urged to grow their own vegetables to help feed the needy of Europe also. Front lawns of homes in America were even dug up to make "Victory Gardens". The Whitin Home Garden Club initially started with a membership of forty people. Each year it grew in popularity and size, reaching its highest membership total of 405 during World War II. There were twelve areas in the various sections of town intensively cultivated by the gardeners. Sizes of the plots ranged from 2,000 to 4,000 square feet. In order to become a member of the club, one had to fulfill two requirements: be a town resident, and pay a small fee. This membership fee went toward the payment of cash prizes for contests after each growing season. Naturally, the main sponsor of the club was the Whitin Machine Works, which also owned and provided all of the garden plots. The Shop also arranged for the plowing and harrowing of the grounds, and supplied each individual gardener with fertilizer. Any sprays and crop dusts were also furnished, but at a reduced cost. Seed potatoes were given to each gardener at cost. The Whitin Community Center donated its use of the gymnasium each year to hold the annual Home Garden Club Exhibition and all preparatory work for this event, including advertisements and materials, were sponsored and supplied by the Company.

A photo in the Whitin Spindle of Sept. 1948 has a double-spread sheet, entitled: "SO SHALL YE REAP…."that shows 11 club members with their bountiful crops and rich harvests. Pictured were the following: Martin Harringa-Brick School; Wilfred DuPont-Crescent St.; Andrew Ballantino-Linwood Ave.; Andrew Buwalda-Shaw’s Corner and Fairlawn; Ernest Chase-Johnston Ave.; Hugh Mateer-half-sized garden at Whitin Estate; Norman White-"Best Potatoes"; Joe Henault-Meadow Section; James F..Marshall-Whitin Estate; Wilfred Sampson-Lemoine Field; and Fred Muse- "Best Potatoes".

In the Garden Club’s years of existence there were 3 presidents: Harley Keeler, first to be President; Dana Heald, who was also later Treasurer, and the late Angus Parker, who served the longest tenure of the three. The National Garden Institute, a prominent educational organization, credited with promoting the Victory Garden Program to 22 million victory gardens in 1943, had informed the Whitin Home Garden Club that theirs was one of the largest of its kind in our nation! The culminating event of the gardener’s year was the excitement and pride of participating in an exhibition in early autumn, by entering results of home-grown vegetables, flowers, and even canned goods. A Harvest Supper as well as entertainment was provided after the annual show, which greatly interested even the children who attended. A rating list of those best gardeners who attained a score of 75 points or more was also published.
 

(This writer’s father had a garden plot for several years near the Sidney Mason home off Chestnut St., now the site of the Whitinsville Christian Retirement Society. As a youngster, I was often taken there, many times most unwillingly, in order to "weed the garden". How I hated it, and much preferred to play baseball on a warm summer day! The rear of the tennis courts beyond the Gym was a place that I got to dread. In spite of my stubbornness however, my Dad always had a good and bountiful harvest of fresh vegetables for our family, friends, and neighbors.)
 

REFERENCES: 1- Thomas Navin: The Machine Works Since 1831; Published by Russell and Russell: New York. Copyright 1950,pp.361-362;Chapter XVI. 2-The Whitin Spindle, Volume 1 #8: Sept. 1948, page 13.



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