The Mattapoisett Museum has over the past few years evolved from a collection of materials to a fully functioning museum offering a wide variety of programs and services.
This has been no small task. One can speculate easily that the original founding members would be amazed and very pleased to see the building and its uses come into the 21st century. It is a dynamic gem in Mattapoisett’s village.
But what makes the Mattapoisett Museum even more engaging are the volunteers. One such volunteer is Luke Couto, who has stepped up to give village walking tours based on the early writings of Francis Rowland. Couto used Rowland’s “Memory Lane” walking tour booklet, edited and updated by former and or current board members Carol Clifford, Jennifer McIntire and Jill Sanford.
Rowland was one of the founding members of the museum who was instrumental in forming the Historical Society, working with such notables as Charles Mendell and Lemuel Dexter. The former Baptist church building that eventually became a museum was a repository for letters, journals, farm equipment and tools, ship models, and antique dolls. Even a cot from The Wanderer, the last whaling ship built in Mattapoisett, is now on display in the museum’s “Weird and Wonderful” exhibit.
Couto began the tour explaining much of the history of the church/museum building before venturing on to individual homes that line primarily parts of Church, Main, Water and Canon Streets. Couto spoke to love letters written by Captain William Taber, whose former residence is located at 6 Church Street. Part of his letter reads, “Many kisses to you and to our little … how I would like to see both of you and hug you both …”
Rowland’s walking tours as shared by Couto were replete with anecdotal stories. Rowland seems to have had a wry sense of humor salted with historical points of reference. We learned that the house located at the corner of Main and Church Street was once known as the Anchorage by the Sea, a business that had to relocate after a massive hurricane swept it from its perch in what is now Shipyard Park.
Couto also explained that Mattapoisett was once part of Rochester, as was Marion until dissatisfaction due to differing religious points of view and possibly the distance from outlying Mattapoisett and Marion to Rochester center split the congregations.
Mattapoisett’s Town Hall was once the headquarters for the Fire and Police departments, Couto shared, and from Rowland’s tours, we learn that he was once held in the jail located in the Town Hall basement for stealing a watermelon. By the way, Couto said that the first fire engine is now in the museum’s carriage house on display.
Couto talked about the railroad that once ran between New Bedford and Wareham and the back story of Reservation Golf Club. Apparently, Charles King, a wealthy businessman who summered in Mattapoisett, had a private rail spur next to his residence, which is today the YMCA camp. From there, his well-heeled friends could disembark. The private car used to transport the guest was named The Dude Special.
Center School was discussed, having been built in 1898 and gifted to Mattapoisett by Henry Huttleston Rogers, whose grandfather Abisha Rogers lived at 10 Main Street. Couto told the story of Rogers walking around Mattapoisett village and commenting to his wife that he had a mind to build a central school for the residents. With her encouragement, he did just that. Rogers is also responsible for building Fairhaven High School (where Mattapoisett students could attend free of charge, thanks to Rogers), Millicent Library and the Unitarian Church, the latter two buildings also located in Fairhaven.
During a brief stop in front of what is considered the oldest continuously running inn in the country, the Inn at Shipyard Park, Couto noted that the park was once the location where whaling ships were built and launched. Ten Water Street was once the location of Harlow LeBaron’s dry good store, and 12 Water Street housed Dr. Sparrow’s patent medicine operation.
As the tour wound down, Couto ushered the group up Cannon Street, likely the quaintest street in the village. He pointed out that the street is lined with Cape Cod style cottages, with each petite structure having undergone renovations that added to the length of the buildings.
At the corner of Water and Cannon Street, Couto directed everyone’s attention to a large plaque placed in honor of Titanic victim Francis Davis Millet, a local born in Mattapoisett who became a well-known artist before his untimely death.
Walking tours are scheduled to take place every Friday through the summer. Visit mattapoisettmuseum.org for complete details. You can also purchase a booklet that details tours given by Francis Rowland.
By Marilou Newell