South Worcester:
A British Enclave in the Heart of the Commonwealth

Holy Cross and Its Neighbors Home
Schools, Libraries and Women
The Carnegie Library
Transformation and the Present
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Introduction by Dan Ricciardi

Before Rotman's, Wendy's and Culpepper's, Whittall was the name that dominated this quaint neighborhood in South Worcester. Matthew Whittall was a British born businessman with a vision. In the midst of the industrial revolution in the United States he decided to join the bandwagon by building his own industrial complex in along the Middle River in Worcester. (See also factory complex of Washburn and Moen) At that time Worcester was very different from the city that we know today. Without the highway system or even the automobile the city consisted of what was, in a sense, a series of small, self-sustaining villages. Each village existed for a specific purpose and, more often than not, was extremely homogenous in terms of ethnic groups. When Whittall committed to constructing his mill with it he ushered in a new village, a British enclave in the shadow of a Catholic institution on the hill. Not having access to automobiles, the village developed around work in Whittall's factories.

As the factory owner and operator Whittall lived out the role as "lord of the village" in a sense. With this, he also had his castle. On the plot of land that is now a shopping plaza was the Whittall Residence. An impressive mansion with carefully manicured grounds, an entrance gate and a long driveway, the structure gave off an air of power and wealth. For some it may have been an inspiration. If they worked hard perhaps someday they could have a place like this. For others it could have a matter of social order. Just as the landscaping and garden contributed to the beauty and success of the residence, the families and the workers contributed to the success of the community. Above all, however, it was a matter of pride. While they did not live there, the Whittall residence was theirs; it was their village's centerpiece. With this, however, Whittall developed an obligation to his employees and the residents of the village. He needed to assure, though his wealth, that they were well taken care of and their needs were attended to. This "noblesse oblige" was evident through Whitall in his efforts to build up a community.

To deal with his own spiritual needs, as well as those of the village, he donated a significant amount of money for the construction of St. Matthew's Episcopal Church. Directly across the street from Whittall's home, the church was a satellite congregation to All Saints Church in downtown Worcester. While "officially" named after the apostle Matthew, Matthew Whittall undoubtedly had some influence in naming process. The next essential part of the community was a school. The Cambridge Street School was next door to Whittall's residence and focused on educating the younger members of the community on how to be Americans. In the shadow of Whittall's gardens, the students were permitted once a year to walk through them.

Whittall's obligation to provide an example undoubtedly influenced this factor, as well as his decision not to put a fence up surrounding the lands. With the factory, school, church and "castle" in place, the workers made their homes on land immediately surrounding these destinations. While humble, each residence was in close proximity to everything. Life flowed through the neighborhood in a way much different than cars speeding through it. Everyone depended on each other and, essentially, they all lived the same way. In the morning machine operators in the mills walked to work, children walked to school and, on weekends, the entire family would walk to church together. Meals were always shared together as everyone was so close by. The community was also incredibly strong. Your neighbors were your associates, classmates and, in some cases, family. These were the people that you lived your life with. It is a far cry from urban life today. All in all the community was shaping up nicely, with the exception of one other important building. While residents had a place to work, worship and be educated, the neighborhood was badly in need of a library.

In his 1909 article in Worcester Magazine, City Librarian Robert K. Shaw extolled the virtues of Branch Libraries. While Worcester had a well-established main branch, without automobiles it was rather difficult for residents of the various villages that made up Worcester to utilize the full potential of its collection. Therefore the city, through the efforts of Mayor James Logan, was able to secure a grand from Andrew Carnegie for the construction of a number of branch libraries throughout the city. The South Worcester Branch Library was one of three Carnegie Libraries and was built chiefly to serve the surrounding community. The land, donated by Matthew Whittall, is another exemplification of his devotion and obligation to the people of South Worcester.

The addition of the library to the community was an important one for the people. It was centrally located and easily accessible and provided an escape through literature that everyone could enjoy. In the 1914 Worcester Magazine article announcing the opening and dedication of the library a number of references were made to children rushing in and crowding the Children's room after school. Undoubtedly this was important in that it helped their continuing education. In addition to providing another outlet, it helped to further the intellectual development of the community thus serving Worcester on a number of fronts. As time passed the community continued to boom. Generations of families worked in the Whittall factories, some even inheriting jobs from their other relatives. Even after Whittall's death his legacy and "noblesse oblige" lived on through his family. One such example is their furnishing of St. Matthew's with rather impressive Tiffany Windows. While production in the factories continued on strong through World War II, however, the dynamics of the community and its people were changing, commencing the slow degradation of what was once a strong self-sustained community.

Architectural Forms of South Worcester's British Enclave by Kristen Rohde

The Carnegie Library, built in 1913 beside St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, is a true "sacred space" in its own right. This structure is an example of Neoclassical style giving a sensation of seamless horizontality through a single story and functional basement design, which creates a rectangular box form envelope. The yellow brick, limestone railings and granite promenade place emphasis on an "elevated air" among the redbrick industrial structures and Cambridge School which lay in close proximity. Although the structure can be classified on the smaller end of the scale in stature, it certainly lacks nothing in the realm of distinction as a symbol of "higher intellectual learning and discovery." The simple "Tuscan-style" columns frame the ornamental façade and create a clean sense of architectural beauty, complete with an inviting and grand staircase engaging curious eyes upward towards the entrance, which resides off the road in a splendidly elevated fashion. The monogram "WL' (Worcester Library) appears in a classic coat of arms bas-relief which during the Renaissance was labeled a cartouche, "perhaps bearing a family seal, a symbol of emphatic identity of a classical Palazzo façade, typical of the 16th century in Rome" (Stokstad 704). The cartouche is bordered by winding and intricately carved garland, all quintessential components of the aesthetically pleasing and carefully designed horizontal frieze.

It is only about a three minute walk to the Cambridge School, which playfully peeked above the Whittall's grand estate, complete with its naturally landscaped "English-style" gardens bursting with exquisite flowers. The Library's small yet economically efficient construction can be summed up in the description, "understated elegance." It was inviting and comfortable for those who wished to take their minds to "the next level" as well as neighboring college students and inventors who also frequented the new establishment in hopes of bettering the world around them. Carnegie quoted, "Through books our world is enlarged and by these new friends who are introduced to us through the printed page, purifying and making clear our ideals" (Worcester Magazine, 1914: 90). Here, the community could gather including; children, women and the "promising youth" who were then able to meet with "more senior" members of the area and "share their mutual love of knowledge with one another, resulting in positive and unifying encounters" (Shaw). After receiving notice from ex-Mayor James Logan, philanthropist and steel-giant Andrew Carnegie felt that "The Heart of the Commonwealth" was indeed, ready to receive not one, but three fine satellite establishments- all of which were dedicated on the same day!

The addition of the South Worcester Library on property allotted by Matthew Whittall and Alfred Thomas, aided the progress of intellectual growth in this British immigrant community by assuming a "mediator" role between "immigrant parents" and their children who were essentially "American citizens-in-training." The library also injected a sense of pride and identity into the community as well. The Renaissance/ Neo-classical styles in which this structure was derived, evokes a sense of superiority while also displaying a Roman "temple like" reverence for learning. Imagine this building facing the front of Whittall's grand estate- of course it had to blend cohesively with the classical style of the mansion, creating a sense of balance and harmony among the closely positioned "all inclusive" (church, school, factory, library and mansion) buildings of the area. The Cambridge School boasts a simplistic redbrick design and is strikingly similar in appearance to the nearby Whittall factory buildings.

In contrast to the library, the three building's "main structure" is comprised of three stories, complete with a fully functional and decorative Mansard roof whose peaks emphasize the verticality of the structure. Cambridge's large windows are arranged in a simple yet pronounced plan emitting an aura belonging to that of a "work establishment," much like the adjacent mills in which an environment of labor was also fostered. The front building facing Cambridge Street bears a gold and green sign and lattice faux porch in a Neo-Victorian style, in attempts to intermingle with the more formal architecture of the library and Whittall estate. The stanchions holding up the porch are about as close as this building gets to possessing "classically configured columns." Although the design is clearly more "basic" in nature than that of the Carnegie Library, lacking lavish granite and limestone accents, it fit the qualifications necessary for a communal "utilitarian school." The school worked to further the development and "Americanization" of this "thickly populated suburban district of South Worcester," as displayed by this particular British enclave. This complex which worked to promote "universal education" was certainly situated in an intriguing geographic location.

Standing in front of it, one was able to catch a sight of the library in its entire splendor and steal a glimpse of Holy Cross, Fenwick in particular, as a separate entity and goal to strive for, although it was reserved only for the elite Catholic students of the time. "It is not a distant prospect of Eton College that salutes the eye, turned towards yonder southern hillside, but rather one of Holy Cross College, up to which many of Miss George's boys cast aspiring glances, cherishing ambitions which she was wont to foster and further" (Worcester Magazine, 1902:104). The Cambridge School was a communal space the people of South Worcester were sincerely proud of. Recall that during this time (1890's to WWI), it was unusual for a family to up and relocate, as most people formed firm roots in their hometown and left their mark by way of subsequent generations. Both the Carnegie Library and Cambridge School in their architectural form and important function, served as extremely central components of this "industrially based" ethnic neighborhood at the turn of the 20th century in the area of South Worcester, Massachusetts.

Schools, Libraries and Women by Jacquelyn McEttrick

A study of the people within the Carnegie library and Cambridge Street school exemplifies widespread ideas and ideals about education and the role of women. The late 19th century saw school reform due largely to the demand for an educated citizenry to staff the positions created in the American industrial expansion exemplified by Whittall's mills (Brinkley 526-8). The state of Massachusetts, in particular, placed special emphasis on the value of education and the importance of making education available to all. (Indeed, in 1647, Massachusetts had passed a law that required each town to support a public school, the first state to do so [Brinkley 88].) Massachusetts at this time expanded its public school system to provide more specialized training and include more scientific knowledge in its curriculum (Brinkley 523).

The reform also reflected political realities for Worcester, which like many other American cities was experiencing huge waves of immigration in the second half of the 19th century. The city was clearly divided into neighborhoods of immigrants hailing from similar homelands, such as the English enclave of South Worcester. Such communities seldom required their inhabitants to leave, at least not on a daily basis. Indeed, the South Worcester neighborhood of English settlers contained its own factories (the Whittall Mills), family homes and a school that provided for its residents.

In 1875, this school became known as the Cambridge Street school (formerly, South Worcester school) and came under the charge of "Miss Carrie A. George." Ms George taught at the school until her death on June 20, 1892. Her life paralleled the lives of many of her fellow teachers at the end of the 19th century when women were sought after as educators, one of the very few professional jobs open to them. Indeed, it is estimated that as much as ninety percent of all professional women were involved in the field of education (Brinkley 581). Carrie George had been educated in New Hampshire before coming to Worcester. She never married, as was custom with many professional women of her day who clearly saw their lives as being a career of marriage or a working career. It was not considered appropriate for women of the middle-class (most teachers fell into this category) to have both a family and a career outside the home (Brinkley 660-2). Lower class women, however, often worked as maids, laundresses, and seamstresses apparently without being considered negligent mothers.

The obituary article in the September 1902 edition of the Worcester Magazine for Ms George reveals the virtues considered important for a school teacher at this time. For example, Ms George is remembered and celebrated for her family' s honorable past, including a grandfather who served in the Revolutionary war and a mother and a father who hailed from the great state of Massachusetts originally and had considerable family ties back in Britain on her mother's side (Worcester Magazine, 1902:102-6). Such an extensive review of Ms George's ancestors reveals the belief of many 19th-century people that the virtues and vices of one's predecessors could be passed through a family. As a political unit, the family was highly operative in interactions at this time- operative both as constraint and facilitator. Essentially, Ms George was seen as possessing female virtues; she "loved her work and her pupils, and in return they loved her" (Worcester Magazine, 1902:104). Ms George could still exercise maternal values even without a husband and children of her own; she had her school and her students and she devoted her life to them.

An example of the reciprocal relationship among economic and social patrons and the leaders of education, such as Ms George, was the annual walk through the gardens at the Whittall mansion, located right beside the Cambridge Street school, that Ms George started during her tenure at the school. Ms George had suggested such an excursion to Mr. Whittall's as an enjoyable and inspirational activity for her pupils. Indeed, this annual tour provided the students with an image of what hard work brings (namely, success similar to that of Mr. Whittall's) and also the importance of contributing to the community, again as exemplified by Mr. Whittall's generosity in allowing the students to stroll his gardens. Concluding the Worcester Magazine tribute article is a sentence that certainly applied to Ms Carrie A. George, but also to the wider population of female educators in turn-of-the-century America: "She will ever be the type and ideal of a good teacher and a noble woman" (Worcester Magazine, 1902:106). The choice of words in this sentence is very deliberate and telling of the fact that American women in general, and American teachers in particular, were expected to produce successful, patriotic and loyal American citizens. Thus, the mention of Ms George's grandfather as a veteran of the Revolutionary War at the beginning of the article has additional meaning, since it was men like her grandfather that Ms George was expected to produce through her teaching.

Ms George was not able to enjoy the expansion of the Worcester library system that similarly occurred as a result of the increased demand for learning in the wake of the industrial expansion and that played a key role in the creation of American citizens. In 1913, Andrew Carnegie, a man who made his fortune as a result of the steel industry, financed the building of three new libraries in Worcester. Worcester was not unique in this gift of libraries from Andrew Carnegie. Indeed, Carnegie was a devoted philanthropist throughout his life. In 1901, Carnegie even wrote the book The Gospel of Wealth, in which he states that wealthy citizens should use their money to better the community. Carnegie continues by stating that a wealthy man is actually an agent for his poorer peers. Carnegie considered himself to be an agent who could help the poor help themselves and so he donated much of his money to the construction of libraries throughout the country (several thousand in total) (Brinkley 488-89).

One of the libraries he donated in Worcester was erected on Southbridge Street on a parcel of land donated by Mr. Whittall and Mr. Thomas, a prosperous supervisor in the Whittall Mills. New libraries were greatly needed in Worcester, as attested by a 1909 article in the Worcester Magazine that described how the prosperous city of Worcester had outgrown its one previous library and was desperately in need of branches in other neighborhoods (Shaw 178-82). Quinsigmond Village also saw a Neoclassical library, this one in red brick. The inclusion of a library within the South Worcester community spoke to the status of the area and to the status of the neighborhood's wealthy benefactor, Matthew Whittall.

Transformation and the Present by Dan Ricciardi

With the widespread adoption of the automobile the dynamics of the community changed dramatically. While quite expensive at first, as time progressed it became more and more affordable to buy a car. It was a wonderful way to travel, indeed, but now members of the community were no longer tied down to their own village. They had the ability to get up and go whenever they desired. While it was a trend followed by most of the country, it challenged the strong cohesiveness of the community that had characterized it many years before. As the population of the city grew so did the opportunity for new jobs. Residents of South Worcester now had other job opportunities aside from working in the Whittall Mills. With this, residents left the community for different jobs and some even moved entirely. While production was ramped up for World War II, the post-war years proved too much of a strain for the Whittall Mills to handle. The changing trends in local economies placed the New England Textile industry into a state of general malaise. It became more and more expensive to handle the day to day expensive of producing carpets and increased pressure was placed upon the factory to produce. While the Whittall family attempted to breathe life into the dying factory through the purchase of new machinery to upgrade the mills nature was not on its side. A bad storm caused the flooding of the Middle River, by which the Whittall mills were built, and destroyed most of the machines. By 1957, almost eighty years after Matthew Whittall's first factory opened in 1880, the Whittall Anglo-Persian Carpet Company went out of business.

Without the Whittall Carpet Mills the community slowly began to drift apart. For the construction of Route 290 the City of Worcester took the Whittall's private residence by eminent domain and demolished the building. To the British residents of the community this was a horrible blow. The Whittall residence had always been the prized possession of the village. It was a symbol of strength, power and wealth. While in its later years it had lost quite a bit of the splendor of its earlier days, it was still a dominant presence in the community. After its demolition the remainder of the land not used for the highway was sold for the construction of an A&P Supermarket, a replacement for some of the smaller shops also lost to the highway. As time went on more and more people left. The highway and other changes for the sake of "modernity" began to cut the community apart. The congregation at St. Matthew's slowly shrank and, in the late twentieth century, both the Cambridge Street School and South Worcester Library closed its doors. In search of new jobs many of the British residents of South Worcester moved elsewhere. Today Whittall's factories are a furniture store, the Cambridge Street School is low-income housing and the library has been recently sold and is undergoing renovations to become condominiums. While all of these important buildings in South Worcester are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, their condition and use today somehow mutes their importance in the development of an important part of Worcester's past and the adjustment of an important immigrant group. Amazingly, however, there are no markers signifying the historical importance of these buildings. While the dynamics of the South Worcester Community have changed dramatically its legacy still lives on in role that it has played in the development of Worcester.


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