The Cordage Community
The company encouraged emulation among its tenants. It gave annual prizes for the best-kept garden and the best poultry yard. It held a fair every Labor Day, at which prizes were given for vegetables raised by the operative, cakes, and embroidery made by their wives. More houses were built between 1910 and 1920, so that by 1924 the Company owned 125 dwelling houses, containing 351 tenants (including original ones then almost a century old), renting from $1.20 to $4.50 per week. In addition, land was procured and lots were sold at cost to employees who wished to build for themselves, and building loans were made by the Company at a very low interest.
After housing, came educational activities. The earliest free kindergarten for employees' children opened in 1900; a special building was constructed for it later, and the enrollment reached 90-100.
A carpentry school was opened for boys and classes in sewing, dressmaking, basketry, and drawing for women and girls. A cooking school was opened by the Company in 1901, "to teach young girls how to prepare good food economically"; the average attendance between that year and 1927 was between fifty and one hundred. At various times, classes in canning and preserving were held.
For seventy-five years the Company's employees went home for their meals if they lived nearby, or brought their lunches in the traditional dinner pail, which was supposed to be full only when the Republican Party was in power. In 1902, one floor of their Superintendent's office was fitted up for the men to eat their lunch in. First hot coffee was provided, and then sandwiches and fruit were added, at the request of bachelor workers who had no one to fill a dinner pail for them. These earliest quarters were too small to accommodate more than a fraction of the employees, but this innovation was so successful that before the end of the year Edward R. Harris, the largest stock-holder of the Company and son of the second Treasurer, built Harris Hall at his own expense. This was a company restaurant where light refreshments could be had, a complete dinner was served for 25 cents, or a worker could eat his own lunch. Harris Hall had to be enlarged twice before 1920 by the late 1940s it served an average of 225 dinners a day in addition to about 525 sales of light refreshments. In addition, a cafeteria in Mill 2 served meals for the force in that building, and there is a traveling milk and sandwich service brought to the workers at their machines.
The earliest service of a medical nature provided was a nutrition clinic established by Augustus P. Loring at his own expense around 1900. Here, children of employees could be examined and their parents were advised about diets. Some years later he was immensely gratified when a state inspector declared the Plymouth Cordage employees' families to be unusually well nourished for factory workers. Following a scarlet-fever epidemic in 1903, the Company hired two visiting nurses to constantly be in residence. They conducted a clinic and classes in nursing and infant care, and later a resident doctor was hired to direct the clinic and the nurses.
In 1920, when the Pilgrim Tercentenary was approaching, the Company built an auditorium where visitors to Plymouth could be entertained. The celebration passed but the auditorium remained as a place where concerts, lectures, and theatricals could be given by and for employees. A gymnasium class was organized there, and equipment provided. Even earlier a community bathhouse had been built on the beach owned by the Company, within easy walking distance of the operatives' homes; by 1924 there were sea bathing facilities for 750 persons a day, with a swimming instructor provided by the Company.
Instruments and uniforms were provided for the Plymouth Cordage Band, an excellent outlet for the musical tastes of the employees, and a community asset. A nearby colonial farmhouse was purchased in 1921 and turned into a men's club with bowling alley's, pool tables, and other apparatus for indoor sports. Membership in this Cordage Club was available to all male employees at a very moderate rate. The Plymouth Cordage Company also had various sports teams including basketball and baseball.
The Plymouth Cordage Company built a sports field with wooden bleachers that sometimes hosted over 1,000 people. Aside from sporting events and a variety of games that took place here, motion pictures were also played on summer nights beginning in 1908.