Henry Milne Fenner.

History of Fall River, Massachusetts online

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brother Caleb, who had purchased a large part, erected a saw
mill there before 1691. A few years later a grist mill and a
fulling mill, the latter for cleansing home-grown wool prepara-
tory to spinning and "fulling " or thickening the cloth, were
erected on the west side of Main street, after the stream had
been dammed. About 1714 the Churchs sold their interest
to Richard and Joseph Borden, who thus secured control of the
water power, w^hich was retained in their family till the erec-
tion of the Troy mill and the Fall River manufactory in 1813.
Prior to the Revolution another saw mill and a grist mill were
erected at the foot of the hill, near the present No. 7 mill of
the Fall River Iron Works Company.

Early in the century, also, a tannery was established by
John Read on what is now called French's hill, where the
Westport Mfg. Co.,'s storehouse now stands. This was sold
in 1801 by his heirs to Enoch French, who carried on business
here till about 1840, and from whom the hill took its name.

Another tan yard stood on Bedford street, at the foot of
Rock, where it was started in 1810 and carried on for many


years by Edmund Chase and his son, Edmund Chase, Jr. , and
discontinued in 1888.

The principal occupation was farming, though many small
vessels were built and owned here, which gave employment to
a considerable number of the citizens. The population was
small, and a census of Freetown in 1765 showed but 1,492
inhabitants. In 1776 this had grown to 1,901 and in 1792 to
2,202. Tiverton about 1750 had 1,040 inhabitants, of whom
842 were whites, 99 negroes and 99 Indians.

The Friends were the largest religious denomination, with
a meeting house erected in 1714, not far from the present
location of the Crystal Spring Bleachery. The law of the
state, nevertheless, required the town to have a Congrega-
tional minister, and this was a frequent topic of discussion at
town meetings. Little sympathy was felt, apparently, with
the statute, for the town was frequently indicted for not com-
plying. The minister was at times also the school teacher, and,
in fact, the first mention of schools in the Freetown records is
in 1702, when Robert Durfee was authorized to secure a man
to dispense the gospel and teach the children reading and
writing. School houses first appear in the records in 1722
when two buildings were ordered erected. In 1727 a school
building was authorized to be built, 18 feet by 14. In 1791 the
town was divided into seven school districts and new buildings
erected. That in the center was but 24x20. A Congregational
meeting house had been built, in 1714, on the easterly side of
the main road a few hundred feet south of the present line
between Freetown and Fall River. It was 26x36 and was 18
feet between joints. The General Court contributed 20 pounds
to the cost. The town stocks, erected in 1690, for the punish-
ment of minor offenses, stood near.

Most of the Indians had met death in King Philip's War
or had fled from the section, and the few that remained were
friendly to the whites. Land for them was set aside on
Stafford road in 1704, but a few years later they were trans-
ferred at their request to the reservation on the east side of
the pond, called Indian Reservation. Here, however, through
removal and intermarriage, their numbers rapidly decreased,
until at the present time but one family remains on the reser-


Just before the Revolution, Tory sentiment was strong,
and at a town meeting on Jan. 26, 1774, resolutions were
adopted severely condemning the town of Boston for allowing
the destruction of tea in its harbor, and declaring that the
town of Freetown, "abhorred, detested and forever bore
testimony against such acts," as "riotous and mobish pro-
ceedings." By the late summer, however, the feeling had
changed, and at a town meeting on September 19, delegates
were selected to confer at Taunton with representatives of
the other towns as to "measures proper" in the situation.
At the meeting held in Taunton Sept. 28, resolutions were
unanimously adopted that those present were " determined at
the risk of their fortunes and their lives to defend their natural
and compacted rights" and to "oppose to their utmost all
illegal and unconstitutional measures which have been or
hereafter may be adopted by the British Parliament or the
British Ministry. ' ' Thirty-one men from Freetown responded
to the Lexington alarm on April 19, 1775.

On May 10, 1775, the town voted to care for the families
of poor soldiers. In March 1776, a committee of correspond-
ence, inspection and safety was elected and boats were ordered
built " To cross the river in, if our enemies should attack our
friends on the opposite shore." At a town meeting July 15,
1776, strong resolutions were adopted declaring that loyalty
to the king was treason against the people of this country and
that "We are ready with our Lives and fortunes to support the
General Congress in Declaring the united American Colonies
free and independent of Create Britain. ' ' The town approved
the articles of confederation Feb. 10, 1777.

Colonel Joseph Durfee, who had taken an active part in
the war, and who was afterwards to start the first cotton mill
here, formed a home guard in the fall of 1777. Quarters
were secured in a store near the shore, where the men met
every day and called the roll, and sentinels were placed each
night, to give an alarm, in case of the approach of the British,
who then held the south end of the island of Rhode Island.

On Sunday morning. May 25, 1778, boats were discovered
silently and cautiously approaching the shore. They were
challenged but returned no answer, and one of the guard,


Samuel Reed, then fired upon them. This gave the alarm,
and the whole neighborhood was soon in arms.

Col. Durfee stationed his men behind a stone wall and
kept up a constant fire on the British until the latter brought
their cannon to bear. The Americans retreated slowly to
Main street, near the present location of city hall. Here a
stand was made, and the enemy so roughly handled that they
soon retreated, leaving behind them one dead and another
dying, others wounded were carried with them.

The attacking force numbered about 150, and was com-
manded by Major Ayres. When they landed they set fire to
the house of Thomas Borden, near the northeast corner of
Pond and Anawan streets, and also to his saw mill and grist
mill near the foot of the stream. On their retreat they fired
the house and other buildings of Richard Borden, then an aged
man, and took him prisoner. As they made their way down
the bay the Americans continued to pour in a musket fire on
them, and one British soldier was killed in the boats. Mr.
Borden was released on parole after a few days.

In commemoration of this engagement Quequechan Chap-
ter. D. A. R., placed a bronze tablet on the southwest corner
of City Hall on May 25, 1899.


After the Revolution, the town of Freetown grew steadily,
and in 1800 had attained a population of 2,535. The residents
of the southern part were now pressing to be set off as a
separate community. Their chief argument, as set forth in a
petition to the legislature dated Jan. 12, 1802, and signed by
Thomas Borden and 155 others, was that they were nearly
eight miles from the town meeting house at the north end of
Freetown, that almost all of them were seafarers or trades-
men, who had no horses, thus making it difficult to attend
meetings, that the three principal settlements were at the
points of a triangle, and that owing to the long swamp which
ran through the center of the town, no location for a town
house equally convenient for all was possible.


At a town meeting on Feb. 4, 1802, a unanimous vote
against division was adopted, but later reconsidered and a
committee appointed to present a plan for division. That
committee suggested a line about where the boundary was
subsequently established, and the report was accepted.

The plan was opposed in the committee hearing at the
state house and leave to withdraw reported. The house,
however, appointed a special committee to visit the town and
consider the matter, and this committee on Feb. 5, 1803,
reported in favor of a division. A bill was presented and
passed, and was approved by Governor Caleb Strong, Feb. 26,
1803, which divided the town as desired and incorporated the
southerly part as Fallriver, spelled as one word. This name
was not pleasing, however, to those citizens who did not live
in the little community near the stream, and at a town meet-
ing on May 19, 1804, it was voted to change the name to Troy,
a word said to have been selected in consequence of a favor-
able impression made on one of the residents by the town of
Troy, New York. A petition to the legislature followed, and
the change was authorized on June 18 of that year. The com-
munity continued to be known as Troy for 30 years, till 1834,
when the present title was resumed. The change from Troy
back to Fall River was urged on two grounds, one that the
village where most of the business was transacted was known
as Fall River and the other that there was constant confusion
in mail owing to the fact that there were other towns named

The first town meeting was held April 4, 1803, at the home
of Louisa Borden, at which Simeon Borden, Thomas Borden
and Charles Durfee were appointed a committee to settle
affairs between the old town of Freetown and the new town.
A second meeting was held on Aug. 15, 1803, when it was
voted that the poor of the town should be put up at auction
and the contract for their support awarded to the lowest
bidder. This practice continued until about 1825, though an
almshouse was maintained during part of this time.

At the time Fall River began its history as a separate
town it had but about 1,000 inhabitants, and the village itself
only about 100. The census of 1810 gave Troy a population


of but 1296, while within a section a mile and a half square
there were only some 30 dwelling houses, three saw mills,
four grist mills, a fulling mill, a blacksmith shop and some
small stores. At the southwesterly corner of South Main and
Broadway, now Anawan, street was a schoolhouse, and on
the line dividing the states, a short distance north of Columbia
street, was an old, unplastered meeting house, occupied occa-
sionally and called the Line Meeting House, The regular
place of worship was at the Narrows, where a Baptist church
had been erected about 1800. The entire valuation of the
town was less than $500,000, and the total tax, in 1813, only

The first town house was erected in 1804-05, probably
at the corner of Main and Wilson roads, and this continued
to be the meeting place despite attempts to have it moved
till it was destroyed by fire some 20 years later. A post
office was established in 1811, but removed to Steep Brook,
two years later, and re-established at Troy, now Fall River
in 1816.

The custom house for the section was then at Dighton,
where it had been established at the beginning of the federal
government, and Fall River remained a part of the district of
Dighton till April 1, 1837, when the office was removed to Fall
River, which was made the port of entry in place of Dighton,
and the name of the district changed to Fall River.

There was no regular communication with Providence,
but vessels plying between Providence and Taunton called
here to take and leave freight. Stage lines to Providence,
Newport and New Bedford were established in 1825. A line
was also run from Newport to Boston, which made deliveries

During the war of 1812 the town purchased a supply of
guns and ammunition, but these appear never to have been
used, and were subsequently ordered sold.

In 1811 Col. Joseph Durfee had built the first cotton mill
in this section at Globe Village, then a part of Tiverton, but
this industry was small, and though it marked the real begin-
ning of cotton manufacturing here, it was not until two years
later that mills were erected on the stream in what is now the


center of the city. These were the Troy Cotton & Woolen
Manufactory and the Fall River Manufactory, with capitals of
$50,000 and $40,000, respectively, both started in 1813. They
gave a considerable impetus to the community and the census
of 1820 showed a population of 1594.

In the ten years between 1820 and 1830 the town experi-
enced a boom. The Fall River Iron Works, now a great cotton
manufacturing plant, began operations in 1821, for the manu-
facture of hoop and bar iron and nails, with a capital of $24,000.
The Pocasset Mfg. Co. was started by New Bedford capitalists
about the same time, Robeson's print works, and the satinet
mill, about 1824, and the Annawan in 1825. The Pocasset
erected a new mill in 1826, and in 1827 the small mill at the
west side of its main plant and still run by the company,
known first as the Massasoit and afterward as the Watuppa.
When built it was so great a wonder that people came from
far and near to see it, for its size was remarkable in mill con-
struction. It was so large that it was felt no one concern
would want to use it all, and having two wheel pits, it was
divided into sections to let to various persons. The Fall River
Manufactory at this time also built its "Nankeen Mill," oper-
ated by Azariah and Jarvis Shove in making nankeen cloth.
It was torn down when the corporation built a new mill,
known as the " white mill " in 1839. Oliver Chace's thread
mill, now the Conanicut, began operations in 1835.

The Fall River Bank was opened in 1825, the Fall River
Savings Bank in 1828 and the Fall River Union Bank in 1830.

The North Burial Ground was bought in 1825. The
undertaking business was then insufficient to make it profitable
for any man to keep a hearse, but the town maintained one
for free public use, in the "hearse house," standing until a
few years ago on the west side of North Main street, a short
distance north of Brownell street.

The Monitor newspaper began publication as a weekly in
1826, with its first issue appearing from an office on Bedford
street near Main.

The first steps toward a fire department were taken
the following year, when ten fire wards, or wardens, were
appointed, and in 1829 an engine was purchased and a house


erected for it. This supplemented a " bucket engine ** which
had been secured in 1818.

The churches had now become more numerous, and some
of the older structures still standing were erected between
1825 and 1850. Of these, the First Congregational, at the
corner of North Main and Elm streets, was completed in 1832,
the First Christian, on Franklin street, burned in 1843, had
been built in 1830 and the Unitarian, which originally stood at
the corner of Second and Borden streets, in 1835. A Methodist
church had been formed here in 1827 and had erected an edi-
fice south of Central street, and the Church of the Ascension,
the beginning of the Protestant Episcopal work here, had been
organized in 1836. The Friends Meeting House erected in
1821 on North Main street was moved and a larger one took its
place in 1836. The Baptist Temple dates from 1840 and the
First M. E. Church location on South Main street from 1844.
The first Roman Catholic service is believed to have been held
in Fall River in 1829, and in 1836 a wooden chapel, called St.
John's, was erected where St. Mary's cathedral now stands.

In 1841 the selectmen were instructed at Town meeting
to employ some one "to take charge of the clock of the Stone
church and keep it running," and this has been done by the
town and city up to the present day.

In the decade beginning with 1831 the town continued to
move forward and increased its population more than 60 per
cent, from 4, 159 in 1830 to 6, 738 in 1840. The American Print
Works began operation in January, 1835, with four printing
machines, and enlarged five years later. The machine method
of producing calico, a few years after, wholly superseded
block, or hand, printing. At first only two or three colors
were applied by machinery, but mechanical ingenuity soon
succeeded in multiplying them to such an extent and applying
them with so much precision that manual printing became

New streets were called for and provided. Pocasset and
Pleasant were opened in 1830, while in 1832, those laid out,
extended or accepted included Cherry, formerly known as
Tasker, Broadway, later called Annawan, Spring, Washington
and Union. In 1835 many others were laid out, and Rock,


which had been known as Exchange street, was given its
present title. The first public drain in the village, at the
"Four Corners," was begun in 1831, and in 1835 the poor farm
property, including what is now the North Park, was purchased.
The "Four Cornees " was the junction of North and South
Main, Central and Bedford streets. Here w^as the " cleft
rock" at the northeast corner, the place of evening gatherings
of the villagers to discuss public and other questions.

South of Central street was the ' ' Creek , " extending from
the present easterly end of what was formerly known as the
Metacomet Mill, westerly nearly to present Water St. The
width of this creek varied from 150 to 400 feet, the wider
portion being at the easterly end, where, near the shore, stood
a grist mill and saw mill.

This creek was navigable, and the Providence packet
came to the doors of the mills to receive and deliver freight.
On the northerly side was a landing from which large quanti-
ties of wood were taken, it being consigned to Newport and
other nearby points.

From the landing to the top of the bank, a short distance
south of Central street, was a wood slide having a bottom of
oak plank, with sides about 18 inches in height. Wood drawn
in from the outlying districts and thrown into this slide soon
found its way to the landing below, where it was easily loaded
into vessels.

A wood lot was considered as good as a bank account,
there being quite a demand for wood, and any person in need
of cash could, provided he had the wood, load his team, drive
* 'to town," and convert it into cash without difficulty.

At the westerly end of the creek, there were floating in
the water a large number of pine logs of various lengths from
which pumps were to be made as called for. The only method
of obtaining water for domestic purposes was by use of wells
or pumps, and there was a steady, though not great demand
for pumps. Two, or more, were installed in each sailing
vessel. The object of keeping the logs in the water was to
prevent cracking, as would have been the case had they been
exposed to the sun's rays. It was somewhat of a feat to bore
one of these logs and get the opening straight, and in the


center of the log. The " Block Shop " on the easterly side of
Water street, a short distance south of Central street where
these pumps were made, was in existence as late as 1870,

In excavating for a foundation for the stone arch to carry
Central street across the outlet of the creek, constructed in
connection with the work of abolishing grade crossings in
1903, large quantities of sawdust and numerous large logs
were found buried under several feet of mud. In excavating
for foundations for the No. 7 Mill of the Fall River Iron Works
Co., oak logs and sawdust were found ten to twenty feet below
the surface of the old pond which was west of the Annawan
Mill. This, without doubt, also came from the saw mill near
the foot of the river. In the early days there were several
" wash wheels " on the south side of the stream, owned and
operated by theTroy, Pocasset and Annawan companies, where
for a small sum the women of the community might have
their clothes washed in the river. The wheels were some
eight or nine feet in diameter, provided with boxes having
slats, in which the clothes were placed. They continued to be
used till about 1847.

A town house had been erected on a part of the North
Burial Ground soon after its purchase, to take the place of
the building at Steep Brook, which had been burned. In
1836 this was removed to Central street and continued to be
used for the meetings of voters till the erection of the new
town hall on the site of the present city hall in 1844.

The skeleton in armor, celebrated by Longfellow, and since
commemorated by a bronze tablet erected near by, was dis-
covered in 1832, in a sand or gravel bank near Hartwell and
Fifth streets. It was near the surface, in a sitting posture,
and quite perfect. On it was a triangular plate of brass, and
about the waist a belt of brass tubes, each four or five inches
long, about the size of a pipe stem and placed close together.
Arrow heads and parts of other skeletons were found near
by, and the skeleton was supposed to have been that of some
Indian, probably a chief. It was removed to the rooms of the
Fall River Athenaeum, and was destroyed in the fire of 1843.

That fire, still spoken of by the older citizens as ' 'the great
fire, " was a serious matter for the town. It occurred on Sun-


day, July 2, 1843, starting about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, in
a pile of shavings, from the premature celebration of the
Fourth by small boys. It began near the corner of Main and
Borden streets in the rear of a large three-story warehouse,
and almost instantly spread to the neighboring buildings. A
high southwest wind fanned the flames and carried the sparks.
No rain had fallen for weeks, and the buildings were very
dry. As a consequence the structures on both sides of Main
street were soon on fire, and the whole space between Main,
Franklin, Rock and Borden streets was burned over. A
change in the direction of the wind from southwest to north,
thus driving the fire back over the burned district, was
probably all that prevented the destruction of nearly the
entire village. The water in the stream had been drawn off
to allow repairs in some of the mills, and the only means of
fighting the flames were hand engines and bucket brigades.
About ten o'clock in the evening, a vessel arrived from Bristol,
with a hand engine, which assisted in saving houses on
Purchase street.

Nearly 200 buildings were destroyed, including 95 dwell-
ings, the "Old Bridge Mill," the Methodist and Christian
churches, the Annawan schoolhouse, the postoffice and custom
house and two hotels. The loss was estimated at $526,000,
about one-third of which was covered by insurance. A relief
committee was appointed, to care for those made destitute,
and an appeal for help sent to other towns. Almost $51,000
was received in response, of which $13, 165 came from Boston,
while Providence and New Bedford each sent about $1700.
New York also sent funds.

The town recovered quickly from the fire that at first
seemed a calamity, and the new buildings erected in place of
the old were substantial and, undoubtedly, a great improve-
ment on those which had been destroyed. They included the
Granite Block, and several at least, of the brick buildings now
standing on North Main street between Bedford and Franklin.
A new town hall, the walls of which are those of the present
city hall, was constructed, and dedicated, Dec. 30, 1845. This
had markets and offices on the first floor and a large hall and
town offices above.


In new industries a mill known as the "Massasoit Steam
Mill," because, unlike the other mills, it had no water power,
being operated by steam, was erected in 1845, on the west
side of Davol street, at the end of Cherry, and a mill was built
by Augustus Chace and William B. Trafford in 1845, for the
manufacture of cotton twine, batting and cotton warp. It
was later known as the Wyoming Mills. The buildings were
sold to James Marshall for the hat factory about 1896,

The years 1846 and 1847 saw the erection of two large
mills, the first of that type. The earlier factories had been
but two or three stories high, 40 or 50 feet wide and about 100
feet long. The Pocasset Company now constructed a mill of
five stories, 219 feet in length and 75 feet wide, and the Fall
River Iron Works Co. built the Metacomet mill, which it long
controlled and which was likewise a tremendous plant for
those times. Six years later the American Linen Co, was
established, with extensive buildings, and designed, primarily,
as its name implies, for the manufacture of linen goods, in
which it engaged for some years. Another considerable
industry had grown up at Globe Village, in the Globe Print
Works, on the stream from the Cook Pond into the bay. To
meet the increased business, additional banks had likewise

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Online LibraryHenry Milne FennerHistory of Fall River, Massachusetts → online text (page 2 of 10)