By Rod Lee
The long effort to gain the Blackstone River Valley the recognition it deserves as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution and indeed as one of the country’s treasured historical parks hit another high point on October 12, with the unveiling of and ribbon cutting ceremony for new National Park Service interpretive signs on the Whitinsville Town Common.
Organized by Bonnie Combs, who is marketing director for the BRV National Heritage Corridor, the event drew dignitaries who have shouldered important roles in the region’s steady advance.
Present, for instance, was Devon Kurtz, the Corridor’s executive director, who offered welcoming remarks; former State Sen. Richard T. “Dick” Moore, chair of the Corridor’s Board of Directors, who expanded on Mr. Kurtz’s comments; Jon Niedzielski, representing Congressman James P. McGovern (who offered congratulatory words from Washington via Zoom); Eric Breitkreutz, superintendent of the BRV National Historical Park; Northbridge Town Manager Adam Gaudette; Jeannie Hebert, president and CEO of the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce; State Senators Ryan Fattman and Michael Moore; State Rep. David Muradian Jr.; town historian Kenneth Warchol; Blackstone Valley Tech Superintendent Dr. Michael Fitzpatrick; and Tom Lamont, instructor in the Painting & Design Technology program at BVT.
Three new signs help tell the story of Whitinsville’s significant contribution to the industrialization of America. In addition, Ms. Combs said, “the Northbridge Historical Commission’s National Register Historic District map sign located on Church Street has been restored.”
Locations for the new signs include one on the Town Common at the intersection of Church St. and Linwood Ave., another in front of the Town Hall Annex on Hill St., and a third in front of the 1826 Red Brick Mill building at the Alternatives’ Whitin Mill complex on Douglas Rd.
There were deserved pats on the back all around, on a warm early-fall morning.
“Thirty-five years ago, on November 10, the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor was established to celebrate the ongoing story of the American Industrial Revolution,” Mr. Kurtz said in a statement accompanying a press release Ms. Combs sent out. “Together,” he said, the BHC and the BRV National Historical Park “look forward to sharing more such milestones in the future.”
“Every single person here is a partner in some way,” Northbridge Town Manager Adam Gaudette said at the event, in acknowledging his introduction and deferring credit to the many who have been influential in raising the Corridor’s stature.
Echoing the thoughts of Dick Moore, Mr. Niedzielski reminded those in attendance that, while the Corridor has come far, “the work is not over.” Still ahead, for example, is completion of the bikeway in the BRV between Massachusetts and Rhode Island. But BRVNHC maps have been produced for a while, and walking tours of historic Whitinsville give participants a chance to “follow the path to riches in a company town.” Also, a Volunters-In-Parks” program affords interested residents the opportunity to “make a difference” by manning museums or historical sites in the BRV.
There has already been “a lot of grunt work” involved in reaching this point, Mr. Breitkreutz said.
In the press release, Mr. Breitkreutz said “it has been wonderful to reaffirm our national park’s partnerships with the town of Northbridge and the Northbridge Historical Commission…to finalize and install the important new wayside interpretive panels and refurbished map. Whitinsville’s key role in the Valley’s and America’s Industrial Revolution, and the amazing mill village system that remains preserved here, is a major part of our national park’s interpretive story.”
“This was a dream going back to the 1930s, looking for ways to improve the Valley coming out of the Depression,” Dick Moore said.
The push really acquired momentum in Congress in 2014 with establishment of the BRV as a national park, Mr. McGovern pointed out. “We have so many assets in Massachusetts and Rhode Island” to share, he said.
Dr. Fitzpatrick, Sen. Moore, Sen. Fattman and Rep. Muradian all pointed to the interpretive signs as another signal that the Corridor has arrived. With the signs, Sen. Moore said, “we are remembering the past and looking to the future.” Sen. Fattman noted that when he tells people “I’m from the Blackstone Valley and they say ‘where is that,’ I tell them and I say that it’s a center of commerce and culture.”
BVT students helped clean and refresh the Northbridge Historical Commission’s original map, and donated the newly printed sign. Sophomore students of the Painting & Design Technology program, led by Mr. Lamont, also repainted the existing sign frame. Additional photography and graphic support came from Corridor Photography Ambassador Bob Evans and Experience Design of Providence.
Exercising wry humor that drew laughs after Dick Moore praised the state senators for their contributions, Rep. Muradian said “it takes two senators to do the work of one state rep!”