HISTORICAL TOUR OF

ROCHESTER, MASSACHUSETTS


By Judy Gurney

 

This is the written transcript of a historical bus tour of the town, taken in the late 1980's.

The tour begins in Rochester center [at the town common], which is appropriate, since Rochester's history began here. Here the original proprietors built their first meetinghouse. It was 28 feet by 28 feet, unheated, and served as a town hall, church, and social center. The land it was built on was and is a triangular shape. To the colonists it resembled their flat irons, which they call "heaters," thus the old deeds always refer to this plot of land as the "heater piece." A stone marks where the first meeting house stood. A second, larger meetinghouse was built about 20 years later, and was two stories tall, like most meeting houses of that day. Much later, it was cut down to one story, and a chimney added. This cut-down version of the old town hall or "Town House," is the one that appears on the town seal.

As we head west [right] along New Bedford Road, we pass through the Haskell neighborhood. All the old houses here, except the parsonage, were built by descendents of Mark Haskell. Mark came here to avoid being a juror in the Witch Trials in Salem. He was an educated man who could read and write, something rare in early Rochester. He was promptly put to work as Town Clerk. His home burned down before 1700. The oldest Haskell house still standing is at 561 New Bedford Road, built about 1800.

Witch Rock, on the next corner, was so named by the Indians, who believed that witches rose from the crevices.

Before we take a right turn, we'll look ahead to a place not on our path (at the junction of Mattapoisett Road and New Bedford Road). It is the Wheel of Fortune Corner. This was so named because a tavern stood here in the days when Rochester was a "dry" town, and liquor could not be served. Patrons at this gathering spot would lay their money on a Lazy Susan, which would turn into a hidden back room. When the Lazy Susan turned back, a drink would appear in the place the money had been. It was said that many a farmer's fortune was lost on that "Wheel of Fortune."

Going north [right] on Vaughan Hill Road, we are traveling on one of the earliest of the original proprietors' roads, laid out to divide very early land divisions. Most Rochester roads are laid on Indian trails or cow paths, thus they meander a bit. But Vaughan Hill, though old, is straight and true.

Left onto Rounseville Road, and we approach Whittredge Mill area. The little bowed roof house was probably built in 1707 by William Whittredge, and you have to look closely to notice the bow. The road narrows and turns, and here William built his mill. He dammed a little stream in "The Mirey Meadow" and created a fine mill pond, which ran a mill that grew through the ages, stood for over 250 years, and burned down about 1940. If you should go downstream and look back, you would see that this old mill stood on not one, but two, arched bridges. In the 1950's a developer built houses on the hill overlooking the millpond, and advertised a water view. This angered the owner, who was already angry at state regulations governing maintenance of dams, so he pulled the planks, and the pond was gone and the mirey meadow returned.

Right on Cushman Road to Hartley Mill. This originally was the Winslow Forge and Forge Pond. Major Edward Winslow dredged the bottom of the pond for bog iron and his forge produced necessary tools for the early settlers. He was a very important man in his community and must have been in his family, too, for seven of his grandsons were named after him. This mill grew, and at various times has been a forge, grist mill, saw mill, and a box board mill.

Edward Winslow built Slim Bernier's house (84 Robinson Road), just west of here, and his grandson, with the same name, built Tripp's, overlooking the pond.

Left on Pine Street. The Fire Station [which was once the Police Station] was once a one-room schoolhouse, and was moved here from North Rochester.

On the left, in Sherman Cemetery, stands a tall spire that marks the grave of Charles Bryant, the first Governor of Alaska. He grew up in this neighborhood and carried berries and produce down to the shipyards in Mattapoisett for the workers there. He fell in love with the ships and in his teens, went to sea, whaling on trips that went into the Pacific and up to Alaska. He loved going ashore and meeting the natives, and learned to speak their language. He retired from the sea. When we purchased Alaska, the Treasury Department was looking for someone who knew the people and language of Alaskan Eskimos to serve as Governor, and no one was more qualified than Rochester's own Charles Bryant.

Left up Snipatuit Road, through what we call the Crapo neighborhood, for it was first settled by Peter Crapo. Peter was a ten-year-old boy when his brother's ship wrecked off Cape Cod. Peter was French, spoke no English, and couldn't even tell the settlers his name, so they translated Pierre the Frenchman into Peter the Frog, and frog was supposed to be Crapeaux, or a word something like that, in early slang. So Peter Crapo he became, and all Crapos today are his descendents. His grandson built Bill Deakin's house [386 Snipatuit Road].

This land was not part of the purchase from Plymouth that became Rochester Center. This was purchased from Chief Tispaquin by three men, one a Lothrop, and two Thompsons. Thus it was the Lothrop and Thompson purchase, later designated North Rochester and sometimes Snipatuit Quarter or Pond Village.

On the left, the Town Pound. Every village had at least one. Rochester had three. It was used to temporarily confine any stray farm animal until its owner could claim it. A wandering, grazing animal could do great damage to a garden, so it would be impounded until the owner could claim it. It is not, nor ever was, a dog pound. On the corner, the big house of Skip Mull was once a stage stop [780 Snipatuit Road].

Right on North Avenue, we pass over a small brook. Once it was much bigger, and was the only herring weir for the entire town. The site was entirely inconvenient, so one spring about 1740, after the herring had swum up the Taunton River, into Assawompsett, into Quittacus, down this brook called Tapatuck, into Snipatuit and laid their eggs, the men of Rochester dug a channel at the south end of Snipatuit so that when the fingerlings hatched they went to sea via that route, thus returning that way next spring and thus forming a new and convienient herring run on which were built three weirs. It worked perfectly but lowered the level of the pond.

Bennett Farm on the left, was given to Esther Thompson by her father, (one of those who bought the land from the Indians), when she married Ebenezer Bennett in 1747. It stayed in that family until about 1940.

Across from it stood the schoolhouse, which was moved to where the Fire Station is now, and is part of that building.

All the land about, including Old Orchard Estates, was part of Bennett holdings.

The corner of Neck Road and North Avenue is Bisbee Corner. This land was given to Sir Thomas Bisbee by the King of England, for meritorious service. This gift seems to have been overlooked by the Indians, by Mr. Lothrop and Thompson, yet it was built on by the Bisbee family and stayed in the family until 1987. [For more information on the Bisbee family, see the book Blessings of a Legacy by Vera Underhill. This book is available to check out or to purchase at the Plumb Memorial Library.]

South [right] along Neck Road, we come to the causeway over Snipatuit Pond. This is a relatively new road, built when the people of North Rochester felt isolated. They requested a Town Meeting at the southern shore, then waded across the pond to attend, thus demonstrating how shallow the pond was, and how easy building a causeway would be. It was built by hand with wheelbarrows and tip carts, taking soil from each side. The first carriage across contained the Cowen family. Young George would later become a millionaire and it was he who gave the Annie Maxim Home to Rochester, named in honor of his late wife. (You can see it over the pond, looking north across the smaller section of the pond as you cross the causeway.)

The hill overlooking the pond, facing the setting sun, was where the Indians buried their dead. No gravestones--they didn't use them until much later when they copied the white men.

This is Neck Road, named for any one of several reasons. On a map, it is a narrow neck of high ground between pond and swamp. Called Scraggy Neck on old deeds, some call it Horse Neck. The Indian word Hassa Necht is where Horseneck Beach got its name, named for a rock building that served as trading post there. Here on this hill is a rock shaped like a house, so perhaps it was for the same reason called Horse Neck (Hassa=rock, Necht=house).

Left on Burgess Avenue, this is Cowen's Corner, named for the Cowen family who were carpenters and made sea chests for all the whaling men. They also made fine furniture.

Right on Alley Road. Here on the little triangle stood one of the many local schools.

Right on Walnut Plain Road, past the Miss Eugenia Haskell House, built by Captain Nathaniel Haskell, a sea captain who raised this house the day his daughter Eugenia was born. She was beautiful and well-educated in Philadelphia and Boston, but came back here because she loved it. She had many suitors, but never married. She entertained with lots of gay parties, and President Cleveland attended, and even slept here. She is said to still haunt the house. There is a jail cell built into the cellar because Captain Haskell served as Sheriff, but there is no record of it ever being used.

Left on Hiller Road, to Eastover Farms. One man built the stone walls, carefully cut and always level to the road, regardless of what the land behind them does. This farm and the mill were always here since the earliest days, when the settlers desperately needed a blacksmith and gave the land to Anthony Coombs, if he would serve as blacksmith for seven years. The estate grew over the years. When owned by the Leonard family it was glorious, with gazebo, horse racing track, formal gardens, arbors, fountains, etc. [See picture]. There was a horrible fire, which destroyed all. I believe that only one well house is original.

North of here is Mary's Pond. Some say it was named for a Mr. Merry who lived near it, so it should be Merry's Pond. But I have heard that it was named after a squaw named Mary who drowned there. It was used by the early settlers to soak their flax until it rotted, which was when it could be beaten to remove the very tough outer substance and get at the linen fiber inside.

Mary's Pond Road was a gift to the town from that wealthy Leonard family, who paid to have the road raised out of the swamp. Many attempts had been made to make a road here, but the swamp always claimed it. These same people also gave the Town Hall to the town, in it our first library, endowed by Mrs. Leonard. [Portraits of Mrs. and Mr. Leonard now hang in the Plumb Memorial Library located on the Rochester town common.]

Gifford Memorial Park was named for Selectman Raynor Gifford.

Carr's house [1 Mary's Pond Road], built by Stephen Winslow, great-grandson of the great Major Edward Winslow on Mendall Road, was moved to the foot of Mary's Pond Road, using 20 team of oxen, pulling the house in two sections across frozen fields.

In Rochester Center, there is a Memorial to World War II, and the old cemetery which started when the town started. Early stones across the front date back to 1707.

The Big House, now Dempsey's Village Sampler, was built by Charles Bonney. He was a trader, and it was he who bought fabric in the south, brought it here for the ladies to make into clothing for the slaves of the south. He took it back and sold it to wealthy slave owners. This was the first ready-made clothing the United States ever had. This house was built in 1825. For many years it was owned by the Holmes family and was always called "Holmeland."

Updated 6/28/2006     feedback:  info@plumblibrary.com     Back to the Plumb Library