Tuesday, September 7, 2010

In My Footsteps: Trip 67: Fairhaven, Mass.

In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund

Trip 67:  Fairhaven, Mass.
July 22, 2010

            With so many of the things that I look for in a place I visit Fairhaven ended up being one of my favorite spots thus far.  The beautiful architecture downtown, a view of a lighthouse in the harbor, and a tremendous piece of Colonial-era history are what makes up what Fairhaven is all about.
The Old Stone Schoolhouse
            Located just to the east of New Bedford, sharing the harbor with it, Fairhaven has a rich history intertwined with the whaling and fishing heritage of New Bedford.  The name most synonymously known with Fairhaven is that of Henry Huttleston Rogers.  He was a wealthy businessman as well as philanthropist.  Mr. Rogers was an original in oil refinery, first battling against John D. Rockefeller and his Standard Oil Company, and then later joining forces with him.  Henry H. Rogers’ philanthropic contributions to Fairhaven later in his life account for many of the incredible buildings in the downtown area.
            The first place I visited in Fairhaven however has nothing to do with Henry H. Rogers.  The Old Stone Schoolhouse, also called the Oxford Village schoolhouse, on North Street is a really small building built in 1828.  Incredibly the 20 ½ by 36 foot room could hold sixty-four students in its day.  The children must have been smaller in the mid-19th century.  By the end of the 19th century the population had grown such that a new Oxford Village schoolhouse was built and the tiny little stone building became little more than a meeting place for various religious and social groups.  It is a cool place to check out to give you some perspective on how little education was valued back 150 years ago.
Fairhaven Town Hall
            When I hit the downtown area of Fairhaven along Main Street I was amazed by the beauty of some of the architecture.  In a lot of ways it reminded me of my time in Easton, Massachusetts.  The buildings such as the Oakes Ames Memorial Hall in Easton designed by H.H. Richardson bare a striking resemblance to a few of the buildings in Fairhaven.  It is especially apparent when I looked at the Town Hall and Millicent Library.  The reason for this resemblance is that Richardson drew some of his style from noted 19th century architect Charles Brigham.  It was Brigham who designed the incredible Town Hall and Millicent Library in 1892 and 1893 respectively.
            The Millicent Library was donated to Fairhaven by Henry H. Rogers and his wife Abbie.  It was named to honor their youngest daughter Millicent who had died of heart failure at seventeen in 1890.  The building is exquisite and includes a sculpture of a man’s face above the Millicent Library name.  I do not have any idea as to whose face it is though I am checking.
Fort Phoenix
The final spot I visited is a virtually untouched piece of American history.  Fort Phoenix is located along the water of the harbor shared by Fairhaven and New Bedford.  This spot was built during the American Revolution in 1775.  The first naval battle of the Revolution was fought within sight of Fort Phoenix on May 14, 1775 and was led by Captains Nathaniel Pope and Daniel Egery.  It was destroyed by British troops in 1778 but was rebuilt so quickly that it was given the name Fort Phoenix after the mythical bird. 
In 1812 it was enlarged under the supervision of the future ‘Father of the Military Academy’ at West Point, Sylvanua Thayer.  It helped repel an attack by the British HMS Nimrod in 1814.  It remained in use during the Civil War with Union troops rotating between Fort Phoenix and Fort Taber.  Though not used since 1876, Fort Phoenix still bears the look of an active military institution with five 19th century cannons perched facing over the waters of Buzzards Bay as if ready for an oncoming battle.   On this day there was a man dressed in typical Revolutionary War soldier garb who was talking to any and all visitors about what it was like to serve on that very spot more than 230 years ago.  I was not aware of his presence until he fired off his musket for the people, needless to say that was a bit of a shock to me.
Palmer Island Lighthouse
The site is now a state park and the area leading up to the fort itself is covered with some awesome rock faces which when climbed give you a tremendous view of Fort Taber and Fort Rodman which are located across the water in New Bedford.  In addition to the Fort and the views of New Bedford there is another attraction not far away. 
Palmer Island Lighthouse sits out in the harbor and can only be reached on foot at low tide.  The island was used as an interment camp during King Philip’s War in 1675-76.  Made from rubble stone, scraps basically, Palmer Island Light was built in 1849 and is sort of a dwarf lighthouse as it only stands twenty-four feet tall.  Incredibly even though the island is only six acres there at one point was a hotel on it and later on an amusement park.  Getting to see this little known lighthouse after standing where Revolutionary War battles took place was a perfect end to a great trip to Fairhaven.
Fairhaven is a town where you can easily lose yourself all day visiting historic homes and sites and still not see everything there is to see.  A walk around the historic district of Main Street where the Town Hall and Millicent Library stand is a great start, but not the only place to start.  Fort Phoenix is a great historic site but is also a very popular beach.  I’ll bet some folks who go there fail to realize how much significance is so close to them.  Don’t forget about Palmer Island Light hiding out in the harbor while you are there.  Have fun and happy traveling!
DirectionsFort Phoenix:  From I-195 West take Exit 18 into Fairhaven.  Turn right to take Rt. 240 south.  A little more than a mile turn right onto Bridge St.  Bear right onto Rt. 6/Huttleston Ave.  Turn left on Main St.; left onto Church St.; and right onto Fort St.  Fort Phoenix is on the right as you approach the beach.
            Town Hall/Millicent Library:  From Rt. 6 heading west turn left at Washington St.  Turn left at Walnut St., turn right at Center Street.  The Town Hall and Library are across the street from each other.  There is a sign with all of the historic spots in front of the Town Hall which makes for a great walk.
            Old Stone Schoolhouse:  From I-195 take Exit 18 for Rt. 240, follow it south to Bridge Street.  Turn right, follow it to Adams St., turn right.  Turn left on North Street, the schoolhouse is on the right.
            Old Stone Schoolhouse History

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