In 1826, the Whitin Family built the Brick Mill and forge that stand today as part of Alternatives’ Whitin Mill complex. In doing so, they ignited in Northbridge a transition from farm to factory and established the Blackstone Valley as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution. As their business empire grew, the Whitin family gave back to their community in many ways, great and small.
The Whitin family fortune took root in 1809 when Paul Whitin and James Fletcher established the Northbridge Cotton Manufacturing Co. In 1826, Paul Whitin bought out the Fletcher shares in the company and built the brick mill that stands today on the Alternatives site.
By the 1830s, John Crane Whitin, the son of Paul and Betsy Whitin, patented a new, more efficient cotton picker. With this revolutionary development the now Whitin Machine Works expanded into a creator of textile-making machinery designed so precisely that it could run around the clock for decades.
Growth continued. In 1845, Betsy Whitin and four of her sons, Paul, Nathaniel, John and James, built the Whitinsville Cotton Mill (now Cotton Mill Apartments). 1847 they built ‘The Shop’ – four times larger than the brick mill. The Shop became the new home of the Whitin Machine Works, which went into full textile machinery production that year. In 1875, the Whitinsville Spinning Ring Co. was established at the site of the Brick Mill and began making machinery that would again revolutionize the textile industry.
The Whitin companies and the Whitin family were known for how well they took care of their workers. Paychecks at The Shop might not have been the highest, but the amenities the company provided its workers – both directly and indirectly – enhanced their standard of living. Spaces were created where workers could meet and mingle, regardless of religious or cultural differences. The Whitin’s supported ecumenical services, harvest festivals, and pot luck suppers. In 1922, the family built the Whitinsville fire station – any worker living in company housing who joined the fire department got free rent.
Today, land and buildings donated by the family are home to many viable enterprises, among them the Beaumont Adult Day Center and the Whitinsville Community Center. The Whitin’s also built Town Hall, Whitin LaSell High School, the Aldrich School, and the Whitinsville Social Library.
The Whitin family legacy of sustainable investment lives on in its contributions to the town, and in spirit.
Today, Alternatives has captured that spirit – and the strength of its community!