Rehoboth Residents Enjoy Traditional Clambake to Celebrate 375th
The Rehoboth 375th Committee held another successful event last month to celebrate the town’s anniversary. Nearly 200 people gathered at Francis Farm on Saturday, July 21 for the 375th Clambake.
It was a traditional New England clambake with music, children’s games and plenty of food – from the customary clam bake feast of clams, fish, sausage, sweet and white potatoes, onions, corn, watermelon and brown bread to barbecue chicken, hamburgers and hot dogs. “What a wonderful day . . . from the weather, food, music, games, and camaraderie, it was a wonderful event. The feedback from the attendees was delightful! It was not a huge money maker, but we did make a lot of people happy and it will be an event that will forever remain in Rehoboth’s history,” said Laura Schwall, chair of the event and member of the 375th committee.
Music was provided by DJ Heather Newell and her assistant and there were live performances by Richard Barrett and his band (John Dino, Al Pixly, Ernie Brough, Roger Rebeiro, and Victor Wortherspoon) as well as Rehoboth’s Got Talent winners Zachariah Paden and Benjamin Foss. Librarian Whitney Pape exhibited the new telescope that is available to borrow at Blanding Library. Displays were also set up from the Rehoboth Antiquarian Society, Carpenter Museum, Blanding Library and Hornbine School. “It was a success because of all the people who helped and donated their services,” Schwall said.
Like clam bakes in the past, it was a family event, with people of all ages enjoying the festivities.
There were many games such as giant checkers, dominoes and jenga for the children. Dave Downs of The Hornbine School brought some vintage games such as wooden hoops that the children roll. (The hoops originally came from the rings that held large wooden barrels together.) Another game involved wooden cups with a wooden ball tied to the handle that children must swing and try to get the ball in the cup. Children seemed to enjoy learning how to play them, said Schwall.
The event brought back memories of past clambakes. “It was unexpected and very gratifying to see how many people shared their fond recollections of attending clambakes many years ago with their family and friends. It was great to see how this event offered a link between Rehoboth’s past and present,” said Selectman Gerald Schwall, who is also on the 375th Committee.
The 375th Clambake was one of more than 25 anniversary events or programs that have been held since September 2017, either sponsored by the town anniversary committee or community organizations. Most have been fundraisers to support the 375th Parade scheduled for October 7. “We have received lots of positive feedback on events held this year,” said committee vice-chairman Connie Wenzel-Jordan. “Many have suggested the clambake, costume ball, talent show, and Taste of Rehoboth become annual town events.”
A Little History of Rehoboth Clam Bakes
The summer clambake is a time-honored tradition in southeastern New England, but perhaps no town is more well-known for its bakes than Rehoboth. In the beginning, clambakes were private events organized by families, churches and local groups. The Goff family held a clambake for its second annual family gathering/reunion at the home of Isaiah Goff in Pawtucket in 1871 according to Rehoboth’s 325th Anniversary booklet. The family event was held in different locations, including the Carpenter Homestead and the Anawan Grange Hall. After 1917 it was held at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Peleg Francis, now known as Francis Farm.
Churches in different parts of town held clambakes for their congregations, including the First Baptist Church and Society (also known as Hornbine Church) which held its first clambake as early as 1825. Postcards of the Anawan Baptist Church and Anawan Grange clambakes on display at the Carpenter Museum show informal gatherings adjacent to the church building, which became the Grange in 1908. A flyer from a clambake at the First Baptist Church in 1872 lists the ticket price as 75 cents.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s in Rehoboth, clambakes were the social events of the year, wrote Laura Napolitano, former curator of the Carpenter Museum, in an article on the history of clambakes in Rehoboth. Large public clambakes began in the mid-19th century, according to Carpenter Museum materials. One of the most popular was the Antiquarian Society’s annual bake. Shortly after the Antiquarian Society was established in 1884, it held its first clambake in the orchard opposite Goff Hall in August 1886.
In the early days, the bakes took place under a huge tent nicknamed Mount Hope. In 1915, a permanent eating pavilion was built with open sides that men would stretch canvas over.
More and more people attended over the years. Trolleys would bring guests from Providence and Taunton. At the 30th Antiquarian bake in 1915, it was reported that 1,700 people were in attendance. "The tradition of the clambake was a significant one for Rehobothites. The event connected people to their geography, as they enjoyed the bounty of New England's coasts, and, perhaps more importantly, it connected them to one another. The ritual of gathering with neighbors year after year and meals helped to solidify a sense of community and belonging," said Elyssa Tardif, Director, Carpenter Museum.
The clambake feast has not changed since those first clambakes in the late 1800s. The community ate clams, fish, sausage, potatoes, etc. in the 1800s just as they did at the 375th event. At Francis Farm, owner Ken Foley and his family have been using the same recipe and cooking method that Peleg Francis did when he began serving clambakes to private parties in the 1890s. Foley’s uncle George Taylor and grandfather Frank Miller purchased the farm from William Francis in 1959 and Foley and his wife Linda purchased it in 2004. “We still do the bakes and we do it the old, traditional way,” Foley said.
Francis Farm does 50 clambakes a year for groups in sizes from 50 to 1500 people. The bakes were overseen by the “bake master” says Foley. First stones and firewood are arranged in a pile. Foley says his grandfather came up with the idea of using cast iron ingots which holds the heat better than the rocks that were used in the first clambakes. When the rocks and ingots have been heated to the correct temperature, they are raked out and topped with rockweed. Foley says they gather fresh rockweed from Newport before every clambake. Then all the food – the clams, fish, potatoes, corn, everything – is placed on the rockweed and covered with canvas until it is cooked. “If you’ve never had a clambake, it’s like nothing else you’ve ever tasted. People love it,” Foley said. “We are keeping the tradition alive. Hopefully it will go on for years,” Foley added.
Upcoming 375th Events include: Golf Tournament on August 13, participation at the Larry Procopio Harvest Block Party on Saturday, September 15, Historic Timeline Encampment on Saturday, September 22, Lecture about New History of King Philip’s War on Thursday, September 27, the 375 Parade on Sunday, October 7, Ghost Stories and Cemetery Walk on Sunday, October 14, and a Painting Party on Saturday, November 24.
The photos of the 375th Clam Bake are courtesy of Kevin Hebert and Jeff Greenberg. The historical photos are courtesy of the Carpenter Museum Collections. The historical information was taken from an article written by Laura Napolitano, former curator of the Carpenter Museum. Special thanks to Elyssa Tardif, Director of the Carpenter Museum, for her time and help.