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Preserve America is a national initiative in cooperation with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation; the U.S. Departments of Defense, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and Education; the National Endowment for the Humanities; the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities; and the President's Council on Environmental Quality.

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Preserve America Community:
Northbridge, Massachusetts

The town of Northbridge (population 14,300), founded in 1772, has a rich manufacturing heritage, owed to its strategic location along the Blackstone and Mumford Rivers. Its National Register historic district of Whitinsville, encompassing 370 historic sites, is an example of a remarkably intact company town, built and controlled by the Whitin family for more than 100 years.

Town commerce, Northbridge, Massachusetts Town commerce, Northbridge, Massachusetts (Photo courtesy of Blackstone River Valley)

Colonel Paul Whitin apprenticed here at Fletcher's iron forge after the Revolutionary War, married into the family, and helped establish the Whitin and Fletchers Cotton Mill in 1815. He invented groundbreaking machinery to improve the production of cotton and developed the Whitin Machine Works, which became the world's largest textile machine shop.

Production expanded so greatly that additional immigrant labor from Ireland, Canada, Holland, and Armenia was necessary. Between 1820 and 1920, the Whitin family built nearly 1,000 worker dwellings as well as public buildings for the community, and ran many aspects of the town's political and social life.

Historic Castle Hill Farm was established in the 1870s to provide dairy products and produce sold to workers at the company store. Most of the town's architecture developed during the 1800s has been preserved and serves as a fascinating view into the past. Remnants of the 1871 Whitin Mansion, torn down in 1943, and its elaborate landscaping, have been incorporated into Historic Whitin Park.

Most of the mill buildings are no longer used to full capacity, however, they do offer valuable incubator space to small businesses and some have been renovated as housing. Northbridge's active Tourism Committee promotes local attractions and events that tell the story of the community's rural farming and American industrial past.

For more information

Town of Northbridge

Blackstone Daily/Northbridge

Updated April 29, 2009

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