The Magical History of Heritage Starlight Celebrations

2010 Starlight Heritage at Riverdale Mill

2010 Image at Riverdale Mill’s Heritage Starlight Celebration

For the last 6 years, the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce has hosted one magical event each year, and that is the Heritage Starlight Celebration. Each year a mill in the Blackstone Valley is highlighted, decorated, themed and brought alive for an evening of festivities. Here is a glimpse back at those years:

Belinda Mazur has led the decorating committee from the beginning! She shares, “I have been involved since the first Heritage Starlight held at Alternatives. We featured artists and food…. with a touch of wines and so forth. Many local students had entered their pumpkins into a contest, these were featured that evening.”

Whitin Mill

Many of us in the Blackstone Valley are familiar with Alternatives and the beautiful restoration it has achieved. So, what a wonderful place to start the Starlight Heritage Celebration.

The Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce will mark the 2nd annual Heritage Starlight Celebration on Friday, Oct. 24, 7-10 p.m., hosted by Manchaug Mills.

The 2nd year was entitled, “Manchaug Night Under the Stars”. The evening under the stars featured musical entertainment and merriment. Sutton Wines & Liquors provided a beer and wine sampling featuring more than 50 wines from around the world. “Taste of the Valley,” a culinary event, included a menu from culinary resources of the Blackstone Valley donating their time and talent to the evening.

Performances by well-known jazz saxophonist, Clyde Wheatley, often referred to as “the British Kenny G with a hint of Benny Goodman,” as well as local pianist MacKenzie Mazur, will perform.

Belinda shares the third year experience. “Onto the Whitin Mill…. where we visually uplifted the space with paint and lots of cleaning. Our theme to this point had remained pretty much consistent…. Heritage Starlight…. a celebration of the the mills in the Blackstone Valley. Again we had many artists, foods and wines etc, plus many dressed in period costume. Mackenzie Mazur played the piano that evening.”

Different years require different levels of work from the few volunteers that bring together the magic of the evening. This yearly event draws 300-500 people who enjoy wine tastings, food samplings, fine music and extraordinary vendors.

Riverdale MillOur last venue stuck for 3 years! “The Riverdale mill had been more than a gracious host to the Heritage Starlight for the past three years….. antique cars, live music, food, artists and wines…. I believe many enjoyed the event at Riverdale over the past three years.”

Jim and Betty Knott, our hosts at Riverdale, have been extremely gracious, even lending their employees as helpers. The warehouse portion of the mill, where the themes were created each year, suddenly had streets created with tape, rivers with paint, street lamps appeared with stars named for streets. Every year was different and Belinda led the transformations! Here’s our album from the 2012 event!

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And so, here we are, at our 7th Starlight Heritage Celebration! Our theme this year? James Bond, From Connery to Craig! The venue? Felter’s Mill in Millbury, and Oh My Goodness, what a beautiful job the Romeo brothers have done changing the mill into a shopping and service mecca. Here is a recent story about the successful renovations.  Every space on both floors is already enjoying shop tenants of all kinds.

Picture entering the large foyer through double doors and facing a grand open staircase. Picture Dale Lepage and Dale LePage and the Manhattansthe Manhattans, (entertainer of the year three years in a row), playing on the second floor with a view to the whole foyer. We expect many Bonds in costume as well as Bond girls! The paparazzi will be in full stealth mode, photographing away.

Food sampling vendors include; Valley Cafe,  Wicked Good Treats, Goretti’s Supermarket, Salmon Health & Retirement, Longhorn, Lindt, Feng, Calabria, Pizza Chef, Red Rock, Elm Draughthouse and Devine Thai.

Merchant vendors include; Expressions of You, Blue Dragon, Lia Sophia, Sugarplums Dance Studio, Denjise’s Gift Baskets, Paul Robinson Photography, Leeward Interiors, Sparkleberrys, Thirty-One Gifts, Lynne’s Crafts, Traci Lynn Jewelry, Beautycounter, hannah Jane Jewelry! This has always been an awesome venue to get a jump on that holiday shopping!

And, please pass on that Veterans are always welcome at no charge!

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For details and to register for Thursday, October 24th! Hope to see you!

Michelle Fontaine

Fisherville Mill in South Grafton

Fisherville Mill

The era of the great textile mills of South Grafton lasted from the early 1800’s to the mid 1900’s. During those years, the mills located along the Blackstone River provided employment for thousands of Polish, French Canadian, and other immigrants, and produced millions of yards of cloth for a growing nation. The Fisherville Mill was one of the largest of these mills.

Prest Wheel

In addition to textiles, in later years a company called Prest Wheel that produced tubular aluminum webbed chairs and other fabrications was located on the site of the Fisherville Mill. Here are some comments from people who actually worked there. These comments may take some of you back!

Larry Legassey shares, “They manufactured lawn chairs and made their own foam rubber in the basement. I worked in the foam department making foam buns and all the various jobs required to make foam cushions.

They employed most of the kids in town at one time or another.

The open pit was the end of the conveyer belt. That is where they brought the freshly made buns of foam rubber up to the first floor. When they were making foam they would cut to a certain length downstairs and run it up through the floor. We would grab the buns and flip them up on their sides on these little wheeled dollies They couldn’t stop the conveyer once they started making foam, so we would have to keep up.”

Gail Witham offers, ” I worked there in High School screwing the webbing onto lawn chair frames. It was a dirty, greasy gross job, we made 35 cents a chair, so if you wanted any real money, you had to bust your ass! This was around 1978 or ’79. You learned real quick to wear your worst shirt, those drills sprayed a mist of oil everytime you put in a screw Hot as hell in there too!”

Ann Leblanc shares, “I still have the scars on my thumbs to prove it….was in 1969…worked there during the summer….3rd floor and so hot! I’m sure we all smelled like the Mill when we left. Student hours were 3:30 to 8:30.”

Fisherville Mill Fire

After Prest Wheel closed its operations in South Grafton, the mill remained empty until the devastating fire that destroyed it in 1999. This was the Fisherville Mill fire, Grafton’s largest fire on record, which destroyed the abandoned mill on Aug. 3, 1999 and required assistance from fire departments in 22 towns — an estimated 250 firefighters were on the scene.

Brownfields Site to Park

According to this Grafton Daily voice article from 2009, “The mill site is a state Brownfields site due to contaminants in the soil and the centerpiece of a plan to revitalize South Grafton through the development of both business and residential units, as well as green space, on the property.”

Today, after much hard work by the Fisherville-Farnumville Streetscape Committee and former mill owner, Gene Bernat, a lovely park for the public to enjoy called the Mill Villages Park sits on the former brownfield dumping site across the street from the Fisherville Mill.

livinghistory

This year on Flag Day a dedication and concert was enjoyed by the public. Other public events and concerts are scheduled at this site once considered a hopeless wasteland.

dedication

Adjacent to the park is the Living Systems Laboratory, located on the banks of the Blackstone River and historic Blackstone Canal, the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution and nicknamed “the hardest working river in America”. Generations of use and misuse have left the Blackstone contaminated with diverse industrial pollutants. LSL is utilizing innovative green science techniques in effectively cleaning up the river

7-31-2013 7-08-40 AMIt explores the fundamental science, practice and application of sustainable solutions to two hundred years of environmental degradation.

Project partners include the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce, the National Park Service, Clark University and Brown University.

This area is perfect for informative educational field trips and should be a top priority project supported by the people and businesses of the Blackstone Valley. The practices presented here can be duplicated to clean up polluted waters across the country.

Hope you enjoyed our trip down memory lane!

Jeannie Hebert
Jhebert@blackstonevalley.org