From the Files of the Rochester Historical Society

            Previously, I wrote about Rochester’s Bicentennial which was commemorated on July 22, 1879. This date was chosen because it was 200 yrs. from the signing of the “Sepecan Purchase” in Plymouth. The 200th was a one-day celebration which according to reports of the day was attended by 6000 people.

            As years passed, it was once again time to plan a birthday celebration; this time for the town’s 250th. There are many interesting differences between the two celebrations. The first being that the 250th anniversary in 1936 was actually 57 years after the 200th. This was because the planners used the date of incorporation, June 4, 1686.This was only one of the differences. Rather than a one-day celebration, there were events on June 4, as well as, July 4 and 5.

            While the 200th’s activities (speeches and a clam bake) took place in Marion, the events of the 250th were spread throughout Rochester, Marion and Mattapoisett. Also, this time more of the key pieces took place in Rochester Center.

            In 1935, as the 250th drew close, Town Meeting’s moderator, George Cowen, appointed a five-member committee to prepare a “suitable programme of commemoration”. As with the Bicentennial, Wareham, Marion and Mattapoisett (Rochester’s “daughter towns”) also formed committees. Unlike in 1879, there women were given a place on some of the committees. Both Wareham’s and Rochester’s committees included two women.

            The appointed Rochester committee was made up of Mrs. Louise Westgate, Mrs. Marion N. Peirce, Mr. Louis C. LeBaron, Rev. Harry L. Coole and Mr. Sanford Robinson. Planning began in 1935 and originally, there was talk of marching militia and cannons for June 4, but by 1936, the activity for that day was an Antique Exhibit. Pictured here are Mrs. Minnie Fuller, chairman, and Mrs. Alberta H. Gerrish. Many of the items on display dated from the early days of Rochester as did many of the ladies’ colonial gowns. There was also a Colonial Tea in the First Congregational vestry put on by the First Congregational Sewing Circle.

            At various times during the day, school children dressed in colonial clothing “sang songs of the early days” under the direction of Mrs. Arthur G. Webber and Mrs. Andrew H. MacGregor. The children also danced the Minuet on the grass in front of Town Hall. By the end of the afternoon’s festivities, over 400 people had signed the “Guest Register”.

            On the evening of the 4th, a banquet was held at the Rochester Women’s Club. There was music by the Marion and Mattapoisett bands and speeches representing Wareham, Marion and Mattapoisett were given.

            The next rounds of birthday events happened on the weekend of July 4th and 5th. On the 4th, there was a parade in Mattapoisett. It began at 9:30 am. There were many floats of all kinds, representing area businesses and organizations and several, bands. Prizes were awarded in different categories.

            At 1:00 following the parade, it was back to Rochester’s Women’s Club for a clambake. Then it was on to Marion for 2:00 swimming and running races at the “Marion Public Bathing Beach”. There was also a baseball game between the Wareham and Rochester town teams.

            Back in Rochester at 6:00 pm in the field behind Town Hall, an historic pageant was presented jointly by the four towns. There was a cast of 175, an orchestra and a male chorus. The pageant highlighted important events, beginning with Capt. John Church’s meeting with the Native American, Queen Awashanks, and moved on to scenes from the arrival of the first settlers, the first meeting in the church, the start of the Revolutionary War, arrival of the stagecoach running between New Bedford and Plymouth, the division of the town and a grand finale with birthday greetings and floral tributes from Wareham, Marion and Mattapoisett. It was said that the audience numbered between 3500 and 4000.

            The end of the pageant was not the end of the day’s events. It was back to Marion for the 8:15 awarding of prizes for all of the contests. These were given out at the Marion Bandstand before a band concert and the “largest display of fireworks ever seen.”

            On Sunday, July 5, there was a service at the First Congregational Church of Rochester with seating both in and outside of the church. Following the service, tea and refreshments were provided by the “ladies” of the North Rochester, East Rochester and First Congregational churches.

            This is truly just an outline of events. There is even more information in the exhibit at the Rochester Historical Museum. My favorite quotation from the Anniversary Record is how they dealt with the possibility of inclement weather, “They just proceeded to vote, unanimously, that there should be no storm allowed here at all during the celebration of the Rochester Bicentennial.”

            The sun shone all three days.

By Connie Eshbach

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