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5 things that are so Northbridge; History is in harmony with present.

Byline: Susan Spencer

NORTHBRIDGE - Once the heart of Blackstone Valley's bustling industry, Northbridge still tells the story of ingenuity, creativity, family roots and scenic beauty. We've selected five unique, inspiring, quirky and appealing aspects of the town that make it special.

Lookout Rock

Standing on Lookout Rock, an outcropping off Quaker Street, one can imagine the Nipmuc chief, King Philip, setting up camp here while running from the colonists during their 1670s war. The view of the Blackstone River through Northbridge and Uxbridge is expansive.

While the King Philip encampment story is unproven, Lookout Rock is a popular destination for hikers.

"It's one of the few spots where you can really get a sense of the river valley and how broad the river is. You can see how it has changed over the years, as well," said Kevin C. Klyberg, park ranger with the John H. Chafee National Heritage Corridor Commission. It is a short walk from a marked parking area off Quaker Street or a longer walk from the state park parking area Hartford Avenue.

Whitin Park

In 1872, Whitin Machine Works founder John C. Whitin built an estate overlooking the factory and town center. Portions of the elegant gardens that surrounded the 29-room mansion exist today, featuring a weeping beech, a Japanese katsura tree, American yellowwood and a prize-winning cherry tree.

Barbara H. Gaudette, a Whitinsville landscape designer, said the Whitins "were dealing with a landscape architect from Newport. They were at that level and demanded the best."

The mansion was razed in 1943, and the Hill Street property was deeded to the George Marston Whitin Memorial Association, which operates the Whitin Community Center.

The Gerry Gaudette Pavilion, built in 2006, is near the site of the former tea house that Mr. Whitin's second wife, Sarah, used as a place to relax.

The Bette Davis connection

When Sandra and Richard Hubbard moved into their home at 3 Chestnut St. in Whitinsville 15 years ago, elderly townspeople stopped by to share stories of having met movie star Bette Davis there.

The house formerly belonged to Harmon Nelson, a Whitin Machine Works employee whose son, Harmon O. Nelson Jr., met Miss Davis while a student at Cushing Academy in Ashburnham. The couple was married in 1932 and occasionally visited Whitinsville.

Legend has it that Miss Davis named the Academy Award statuette after her first husband, whose middle name is Oscar.

Neighbor Thomas "Tad" Wallace, 93, who now lives in Douglas, said he was introduced to Miss Davis as a teenager. But Mr. Wallace wasn't star-struck. While acknowledging the actress was extremely attractive and affable, he said, "It wasn't anything to stand up and cheer about. If it was Babe Ruth, it would have knocked my socks off."

Fine art

The work of some Northbridge artists receives wide acclaim. Maria Thomas and Pendragon Ink create hand-lettered invitations that have won prestigious awards and were selected by actress Catherine Zeta-Jones for her wedding to Michael Douglas.

Landscape painter William P. Duffy has developed a following from art collectors in such places as Mystic and Fairfield, Conn., Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.

Mr. Duffy, who works in a third-floor studio in the former Baker Building on Church Street, said he's regularly invited to paint for a few weeks at someone's vacation home.

"A lot of people who have homes in other places love to have artists come and interpret locations that they love so much," he said.

Carr Funeral Home

Carr Funeral Home, 24 Hill St., has been a family-owned business for 159 years, making it the oldest business in town. It is currently run by Douglas S. Carr Jr., a fifth-generation funeral director, and his wife, Jo-Anne Carr, and the sixth and even seventh generations of family pitch in.

Heather Carr Reiter, a former Spanish teacher and the oldest of Doug and Jo-Anne's four children, is working toward becoming a licensed funeral director and embalmer. She works in all aspects of the business, from embalming to meeting with families. She said, "I'm always amazed at the stories people have. You have no idea how people have touched those in their lives."

Mrs. Reiter's older sons, Andrew, 14, and Keith, 12, help with the doors at calling hours and shovel the sidewalk.

"In a family business, everyone helps out," said Mr. Carr.

Gerry Gaudette Pavilion in Whitin Park.

Douglas S. Carr Jr. and Heather Carr Reiter, fifth- and sixth-generation owners of Carr Funeral Home on Hill Street.

SUSAN SPENCER PHOTOS
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:May 14, 2009
Words:746
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