Nov. 16, 2011
ATTLEBORO — Attleboro was once considered “the Jewelry Capital of the World,” employing thousands of workers at area factories making pieces such as college rings and money clips.
George Shelton, the executive director of the Attleboro Industrial Museum, said it was a classic mill town where everyone lived right around the corner from where they worked. “The downtown coexisted with the factory areas,” he said.
Today there are very few restaurants in downtown Attleboro. A century ago, said Attleboro Historical Commission Director Marian Wrightington, it was a different story.
“The factories downtown would run 24/7,” she said. “We were told that there were 27 diners that would be in downtown to feed all these workers.”
But then came the Great Fire of Attleboro in 1898, where 19 factories burned down. Though many were rebuilt, downtown would never be the same.
Changing times change a town
“Those that were destroyed pretty much all came back but not in the same location,” Shelton said. “So the core of the downtown with the factories and stores changed.”
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Eventually those factories moved even farther away. Like so many manufacturing cities across the US, jobs have gone overseas, leaving plenty of empty buildings behind and many blue-collar workers looking for work.
Wrightington has lived in Attleboro most of her life and has seen firsthand how the once-bustling downtown has evolved.
“We used to have neighborhood stores,” she said, “and then we got malls and everything moved out of the main streets.”
New appeal in a new era
However, Attleboro has one big advantage today. It splits the difference between Boston and Providence — making it an ideal commuting town.
The commuting convenience was one driving factor for Jeanine and Michael Levinson who moved to Attleboro a few years ago.
“There’s a lot within a short distance to Attleboro,” Jeanine said. She has a finance job in town. Her husband is an attorney in Providence. They moved from Dighton because they believed the schools were better here.
Michael said, “I am a product of public education and I am a believer in public education and wanted to send my kids to a public school system. Attleboro was one of the leaders in the state. It was on the upswing, which I was really happy about.”
Another attraction for the Levinsons was the cost of living. The median price for a single-family home in Attleboro is about $280,000. And while they don’t have children yet, they are already concerned about saving for college tuition.
Michael said, “We are savers anyway and we invest and plan for our retirement. It is just another area we are saving so we don’t saddle our kids with a lot of debt.”
So they may not have a dog, a white picket fence or kids just yet, but the Levinsons feel that with a lot of hard work they will have the American Dream.
“I think if we are not living the American Dream we are well on our way as a young couple,” Michael said. Jeanine called it “a dream in process.”
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