The last of the Tri-Town tours should have been the starting point. After all, Rochester was, in the beginning, the only town that existed in what we know today as the Tri-Town area. Marion and Mattapoisett were only villages within its borders. But that’s not all, Wareham was also once part of Rochester.
That aside, on June 29 the final installment of the Healthy Tri-Town Coalition’s walking tours stepped off at Plumb Corner in Rochester. Here, where Route 105 – also known as Rounseville Road –meets New Bedford Road and Mary’s Pond Road was once the beating heart of this rural community. There was a meetinghouse (or several as time went by), a school, a library, a water trough, a public fresh water pump, and a cemetery. Today, many of those features remain.
Leading the tour was retired educator and ‘home girl’ Connie Eshbach, and longtime member of the Rochester Historical Society, Susan LaFleur. In their tag-team presentation, they gave an impressive overview of Rochester’s past life.
Threatening skies may have kept sojourners home, but undaunted by clouds they persisted. On hand to thank them for their efforts was now the recently-retired assistant superintendent of the Old Rochester Regional (ORR) School District, Dr. Elsie Frangos, who assisted in the formation of the Healthy Tri-Town Coalition, a group focused on the physical and emotional wellbeing of youths and their families in the ORR system and partner in the Tri-Town tours.
LaFleur said that Rochester was incorporated in 1686 and the King of England distributed land grants. Those land owners were called “proprietors.” One such proprietor was Mark Haskell who received rights to lands along today’s New Bedford Road in 1692.
LaFleur shared that, prior to arriving in Rochester, Haskell had lived in Salem and was in the process of being conscripted as a juror in the Salem witch trials. Haskell did not believe in witches or in the guilt placed on those doomed women and girls. Thus, he hightailed it out of town, traveling to Boston and Lakeville before settling down in Rochester.
Haskell had a large family of six children, many of whom built homes near their parents on New Bedford Road. At one time in the town’s history, some 10 or more homes along the roadway belonged to a Haskell. Haskell served as the first town clerk and first record keeper for the town. It is also believed that he was the first person buried in the cemetery nearby. The first meetinghouse located in the area was his home.
LaFleur noted that today in the 21stcentury, not a single Haskell descendent resides in the area.
“They scattered with most going to California,” she said.
Eshbach added to the fabric of history being sown by LaFleur, saying, “Marion and Mattapoisett were known as ‘daughter towns.’” She explained that one of the rationales presented to Old Colony Court around 1680 for the separation of Wareham, Marion, and Mattapoisett from Rochester was the difficulty in attending town meetings. Such a large landmass made it difficult for those living farther away from Plumb Corner to attend those critical functions.
Of the early proprietors in Rochester there were the Hammonds, Winslows, and Ellises, surnames that can still be found in the town registers. Eshbach said that the first Ellis in Rochester had arrived in America on the Mayflower.
Eshbach asked the assembled to imagine Rochester at a time when the town greens were used to pasture farm animals or to collect fresh water. If modern day cars could have been erased, one could easily imagine those days. That intersection is now a major local traffic connector.
The first church erected in Rochester was located where the cemetery now rests, Eshbach stated. She said that pews in the church were sold to families and those monies were used to help support the church. She continued saying that tithing was a serious matter not taken lightly in those days as generous giving was expected.
Sunday church services were an equally serious affair, Eshbach said, with early morning services followed by a noon repast and then a return to the church for afternoon prayers. The entire day was dedicated to church without exceptions.
By 1714, the first meetinghouse was too small and was replaced, but not before serving the community for 94 years. In 1760 a third meetinghouse was erected. Being frugal New Englanders, several of the early meetinghouse structures were repurposed buildings moved and halved, giving them new life and new meaning to the locals.
Standing on the town greens, the tour group was led into what is today the Congregational Church built in 1837 by local builder and architect Solomon K. Eaton. It is a gothic revival, Eshbach said. At the time of its construction it cost $5,000, a rather princely sum, but money well spent considering the beauty and intricacy of the structure. It speaks to the skill held by those early tradesmen – deeply carved woodwork surrounding the organ gallery in a loft space, complete with an image of Queen Victoria and a cathedral-like ceiling. It was speculated that the structure needs approximately $100,000 in today’s money to finish all repairs and renovations.
Eshbach said that Rochester believed in educating its children and pointed to the adjacent building, saying it had once housed the Rochester Academy, the brainchild of Reverend Bigelow, Dr. King, and Dr. Haskell in 1839. The students were taught English, Latin, and Greek, but only in the winter months when farming was much less a pressing matter of life and death.
“Rochester was the highwater mark of country living,” Eshbach rather proudly added – a center of “high thinking” with an emphasis on being well informed on current events.
Rochester’s original town hall was built in 1854 and was also a school at one time where students who were not attending Rochester Academy could go. In 1892, the current town hall was constructed for $2,000. The building is a Queen Anne structure. At one time, LaFleur said, the police department was located in the basement, a tiny 16-foot by 16-foot room.
The Civil War monument placed in 1927 in front of town hall honors the 81 men who volunteered to fight. It cost $1,200 to build and consists of one large boulder weighting some 11 tons, flanked by granite wings. LaFleur shared that the last known Civil War veteran to have lived in Rochester was George Randall at the age of 90.
From the vantage point of the old horse trough, the tour guides directed attention across the road to two private homes. Eshbach said that 1 Mary’s Pond Road had been a store moved to its current location by 40 oxen. It also once served as a tavern and post office.
The large white clapboard residence adjacent to it was once a shop that sold ready-made clothing and cloth. But Eshbach said most of the cloth was shipped south, as were the finished goods, to be used as rough clothing or “slop” cloth for the salves.
In the cemetery itself where the tour ended, LaFleur pointed out one grave believed to be the resting place of Lt. Winslow who served in the French and Indian War. She explained that records were incomplete and held few details, but given the date inscribed on his headstone, 1756, he could have died in battle.
LaFleur said that many of the early slate tablets that mark graves have crumbled away over the centuries, making identification of the people at rest there nearly impossible. All things must come to an end.
To learn more about Rochester’s history you may visit www.townofrochestermass.com or www.plumblibrary.com/services/rochester-historical-society.
By Marilou Newell