By Dave and Cath Whitcomb, with photographs by Kate Ewald
On September 28, 2014 – a glorious fall day – a contingent of amateur historians and interested residents followed David Whitcomb of Witt Hill Road on a tour through industrial ruins of the Ringville section of Worthington, Massachusetts, at the convergence of Watts Stream and Ward’s Stream.
The headwaters of Watts and Ward’s streams spring from the foot of Knowles Hill, the second-highest point in Worthington, at an elevation of 2,011 feet. By divergent routes the streams flow to Ringville, where they merge to become the Little River. These waterways were critical resources to the Ringville hamlet, providing both power and potable water. Water privileges for dams and mills could be sold independently by property owners.
The Ring brothers, Elkanah (1809-1899) and Thomas (1812-1863), saw the hamlet’s industrial potential and bought an old oil mill (perhaps linseed oil). The Rings added floor space and began manufacturing window shades (resembling venetian blinds) in 1830. Later they entered the lucrative business of manufacturing “Ringer” wagons, forerunners of Conestoga Wagons. They also made baby carriages and children’s sleds, sold nationally. The brothers were active in town affairs, developing houses in the area and starting a mail route between Worthington and the railroad’s mail drop in Huntington. It was around this time that the hamlet became known as Ringville. (A joke ran that Elkanah had three wives, thus three rings, thus “Ringville.”)
In 1858 the Ring brothers’ operation in Ringville, which employed nearly 50 people, was destroyed by a fire. (By this time the Ring brothers had expanded their operations to Knightville.) After the fire, the Ringville mill site was sold. A new mill was built and then sold in 1878 to Hayden & Sons, sled manufacturers. By this time Ringville was considered the industrial heart of Worthington, supporting a number of mills. Ringville had its own post office (one of four in Worthington) and one of the Town’s twelve schools, located on property currently owned by the Rida family.
Another lucrative business of the late 1800s was the harvesting of pond ice to cool milk and cream in summer. Traces of an ice pond can still be seen in Ringville, on Watts Stream, just upstream from the Ring brothers’ factory dam. Axe handles, sledges and buggy whips were also manufactured at various times in Ringville. The hamlet’s last viable manufacturing operation was a creamery whose 1903 output was 6,500 pounds of butter. The Ringville Cemetery, established in 1866 on Witt Hill Road, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS
Dave Whitcomb has been making summer visits to “Aunty Flo’s” house and exploring the Ringville property since his childhood in the 1950s. He and Cath have been Worthington residents since 1974.
Kate Ewald, an amateur photographer and assessor of human health risk for hazardous waste site cleanup, lives in Worthington with her husband, Evan, and serves on the WHS Board.
Posted January 19, 2016.