Viva Fall River

A Groundwork Tribute to Fall River History

Sep 5, 2023 | Small Business, Visit, Viva Downtown

by Nicole Cosme, Community Manager at Groundwork

Publisher Note: This blog was written for the Groundwork co-working website and highlights the unique historical signifigance of the iconic building in which it resides, the recently renovated former Bradford Durfee Textile School. Read for some interesting Fall River history and be sure to check out Groundwork for co-working or to view their rotating art exhibits by local artists.

On my first visit to Groundwork in Fall River, I passed a list of familiar names displayed on a chalkboard wall amidst the whorls and eddies of Brooke Mullins Doherty’s artwork.

Sarah, Groundwork’s Co-founder, explained that they were collecting suggestions for meeting room names. Over the next few weeks, more ideas were added to the list, most of which tipped their hat to Fall River’s rich history. The names included Braga, Metacomet, the Spindle, Troy, Granite Room, the Battleship, Quequechan, Lizzie, and Durfee, among others. We ended up with twenty-seven suggestions.

We narrowed it down to four choices for each meeting room, then we sent out a poll asking members to choose up to two favorites.

Our members liked “The Battleship” and “Granite Room” for the large conference room. They liked “the Spindle” and “the Braga” for the smaller zoom room.

In this blog, we will explore the stories behind the names we decided on: Granite Room and Eaton.

A Common Ground

To truly appreciate the significance of our meeting room names, let’s explore the shared history of the two Groundwork locations starting with the cities where they reside.

May 2023 Issue of SouthCoast Almanac

Despite the often contentious, yet hopefully healing, relationship between Fall River and New Bedford, there is no denying the similarities between these areas. From their shared history as booming mill cities with their influx of immigrant workers, to the eventual downturn in their textile industries and its resulting economic hardships. Fall River and New Bedford may have different “vibes” but they share common ground. That is particularly true right here at Groundwork, where our two locations were once “sister schools” having been commissioned at the same time under the Act of 1895.

At the height of textile manufacturing, Fall River and New Bedford had over a hundred mills between them. Originally, skilled labor was imported from England, while unskilled jobs were usually filled with local residents and immigrants who sought employment opportunities in the growing textile industry. 

In order to create its own skilled labor force, mill owners petitioned the legislature to open state-funded textile schools. Three were chartered in 1895 to provide “instruction in the theory and practical art of textile and kindred branches of industry.”  

Sister Schools

A postcard of New Bedford Textile School.
Photo courtesy of UMass Dartmouth

The New Bedford Textile School opened in 1899 and Bradford Durfee Textile School opened five years later in 1904. Both schools went through several iterations and name changes over the years, reflecting the shift in focus from textile schools, to technical schools, to degree-offering institutions.

In 1960, a merger was approved to consolidate the two schools, forming the Southeastern Massachusetts Technological Institute (SMTI), which would eventually become UMass Dartmouth.

Bradford Durfee Textile School postcard, c. 1906
Photo courtesy of UMass Dartmouth

Today, New Bedford Textile School is now called the Quest Center, an initiative focused on providing support and training for entrepreneurs and start ups. The Quest center has been home to Groundwork since 2014. The Bradford Durfee Textile School became The Creative Class, an apartment community with aims to “provide small business incubation, workforce development for the neurodiverse community, and a nonprofit children’s theatre.” Groundwork opened its doors there in October 2022.

That Groundwork should find a home in each of these schools, with their intertwined past, is quite the coincidence. It’s intriguing to think that the bond between these buildings reflects potential for the unity we strive to foster within our two communities and the cities they belong to.

Now that we’ve explored some history of the Groundwork buildings, let’s dive into the stories behind our meeting room names. Starting with Eaton, a name that was not on the original list of suggestions. Eaton came on our radar a bit later, while researching the history of Bradford Durfee Textile School.

Fall River Granite, from the ground up

“It’s all around- under the city, on the ledges, in the buildings, and in the memory of Fall River. It’s invulnerable granite. The rock everlasting which literally makes the city.” Herald News, 1978

Some Fall River granite was quarried from Beattie’s Ledge, Photo courtesy of The Herald News, September 1941.

“Granite Room” was one of the most popular names for the large conference room, second only to “Battleship.” We ultimately decided on Granite Room, in part, because Bradford Durfee itself was constructed from Fall River Granite, some of which is exposed in the very conference room that bears its name.

Additionally, the name seemed fitting due to the ubiquity of Fall River Granite in shaping the…CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST OF THE BLOG ON THE GROUNDWORK WEB SITE.