The Alternatives' Whitin Mill Complex is situated on a 1+ acre parcel abutting the Mumford River and the Ring Shop Dam. It includes five buildings totaling 32,000 square feet.
Building & Facilities
The Red Brick Mill
The oldest primary building on the site is the 8,100 square-foot, 4-story Brick Mill. Built in 1826, the Mill is believed to be one of the earliest cotton mills erected in New England, and is considered by the National Park Service to be one of the finest examples of original, undisturbed Federalist architecture in the country. The Mill is on the State Register of Historic Places.
Today, this building is home to artisan studio space and three, two bedroom apartments for people Open Sky serves with developmental disabilities. Counselors help the residents connect with neighborhood services, enjoy recreational opportunities and build relationships in the community. The individuals who live in the Brick Mill apartments regularly participate in events happening at the Mill. Future plans for the building include the addition of a museum that will educate the public about the Blackstone Valley’s rich industrial heritage and modern uses of historic technologies.
Originally built in 1782 with a reconstruction in 1875, the 900 square-foot Forge is a unique highlight of the property that, with the Brick Mill, will be part of a future museum. It is a historically pristine structure and is on the State Register of Historic Places.
The Workshop Building, 50 Douglas Road
Constructed in 1905, this 9,500 square-foot building is now home to an Open Sky administrative office location. The first floor contains the Aldrich Heritage Gallery, an art gallery named for Spaulding R. Aldrich, a long-time supporter and friend of the organization. It features an ongoing and ever changing variety of historic, artistic, and educational exhibits for visitors to enjoy.
Performance Center and Training Facility, 60 Douglas Road
This 9,000 square-foot multi-use facility includes space for the performing arts, community gatherings, and ongoing professional development. The first floor of this building houses an Open Sky Employment Program that provides job skills training and employment services for approximately twenty-five people with developmental disabilities. The first floor also has space designated for future development of a riverfront restaurant. The GB & Lexi Singh Performance Center, a state of the art, multi-use performance, training, conference center, and community events venue is located on the second floor.
The Center is a flexible space suitable for theater, concerts, trainings, professional conferences, and other community uses.
The Office Building, 70 Douglas Road
Constructed in 1944, this 5,200 square-foot two-story brick building is the newest building in the complex. The first floor is used for program offices. The downstairs is home to some of the Whitin Mill’s resident artists.
The Dennis H. Rice Community Plaza
Our 4,000 square-foot Community Plaza, overlooking the Mumford River, serves as a centerpiece for the site and is an outstanding community events venue. The plaza is open to the public and typically has a full schedule of events including the annual Valley Friendship Tour fundraising event, the free Summer Concert Series, the annual Valley Bag Toss, and the Worcester Shakespeare Company’s summer play festival.
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 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 Whitins also 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 Whitins 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.
Commitment to Renewable Energy
At Open Sky we see the use of renewable energy as a way to give back to the community. Our green renovation of the Whitin Mill earned LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold Designation from the U.S. Green Building Council.
The Whitin Mill complex draws energy from hydropower, solar power, and power from geothermal heat exchange. Approximately 88% of the Mill’s energy needs are generated on site, including 100% of heating and cooling needs – making it largely self-sufficient!
The renovated Whitin Mill includes three two-bedroom affordable apartments that are occupied by individuals we serve. They are supported by residential and employment services, as well as other programs individually tailored to their needs. Each apartment has a residential counselor to help the individuals we serve acclimate to the local community by finding employment, connecting with neighborhood services, enjoying recreational opportunities and building relationships in the community. The individuals who live in the Whitin Mill apartments also regularly participate in events happening here, for example, attending our Free Summer Concert Series, handing out programs at one of the plays, or even acting in one of the inclusive productions in the Singh Performance Center!
Artisans at the Mill
Bella Luce Art Cafe
The Bella Luce Art Cafe is a shared art studio space located in the historic 1826 Red Brick Mill Building at the Whitin Mill Complex in Whitinsville, MA and currently houses the following artists:
Cristi Winona Collari
Cristi Winona Collari received her B.A. in Studio Art from Wellesley College in 2002. After graduating, she managed the Applied Arts Program for the Wellesley College Art Department where she hired and assisted visiting artists with class instruction and Jewett Art Gallery Exhibits and Collaborative Projects. Cristi is now the Director and curator for the Spaulding R. Aldrich Heritage Gallery at the Whitin Mill (since 2015). She also founded and runs the Bella Luce Art Cafe art studios (since 2010).
Cristi has exhibited her work at the Jewett Art Gallery, the Davis Museum’s Collin’s Cafe Gallery and The Pendleton-West Studio Gallery at Wellesley College; The Photographic Resource Center at Boston University; the Spaulding R. Aldrich Heritage Gallery; Arts Worcester and several other locations in and around New England. She has won several juried submissions for her 2D and 3D work, has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions and has participated and collaborated with other fine artists in various art exhibits and installations in the area. Cristi has also judged exhibits for several art associations and galleries, including the Grafton Arts and Music Festival, the Blackstone Valley Art Association, and the Spaulding R. Aldrich Heritage Gallery. Cristi is currently an Arts Worcester member artist. For more information, contact: cristiwinona (at) yahoo (dot) com.
Kats Glass Studio
Kats Glass Studio is owned and operated by glass artist Kathy Olson, who specializes in Stained Glass Panels, Kiln Formed Glass Jewelry, and other functional glass art. Kathy offers classes and workshops for teens and adults in Basic Stained Glass (Copper Foil Technique) and fused glass. Her beautiful work can be purchased in her studio. For more information, contact: kuffy (at) lightband (dot) com.
Andy Volpe is an artist currently living in the Grafton area. He holds a degree in Fine Arts from Westfield State University, where he gained a deep appreciation for Art History and the Old Masters. He continues to research and work in traditional drawing and printmaking techniques. Andy is a Living Historian / Re-enactor, member of several groups ranging from the Ancient Romans, Medieval-Renaissance, Colonial America and American Civil War. He presents to libraries, schools, colleges and museums throughout New England as a Roman Legionary soldier and Medieval-Renaissance Artist. For more information, please visit his website.
Al has been a full-time professional photographer for well over 30 years. His area of expertise has been in the commercial, advertising and public relations fields, specializing in on-location photography.
He now brings his fine art photography to the forefront with usage of the beautiful space at the Whitin Mill that he shares with a group of wonderful artisans. Framed and non-framed images are available for purchase as well as assignments on commission. To learn more about Al’s background and other available images please visit his website.
For more information regarding the Bella Luce Art Cafe or if you are a regional artist interested in renting studio space, please contact Cristi at firstname.lastname@example.org.