Enjoying a Fair Day in Fairhaven
First of all, I want to say that I am very relieved that the tax cap override passed in July. People don’t like paying taxes, but the sorely needed funding wasn’t going to drop like manna from Heaven. A few points stuck in my mind: that Rehoboth has lower taxes than other communities around here and that Rehoboth teachers receive lower salaries than other teachers in our area. I could only imagine the anxiety of teachers and other school staff who faced a possible layoff. Also, education, like everything else, has become more expensive than it used to be. And finally, drastically cutting back school programs would not be good for the students, nor would it be good for the town.
Now on a lighter note, you know how they say that locals never visit places of interest near home? We recently visited nearby Fairhaven, across from New Bedford, after meaning to go there for years. It was a beautiful summer day, which added to the excursion. Apparently Mark Twain was so overcome with the charm of this small New England coastal town that he lost all track of proper grammar and said “I never had a delightfuler holiday in my life”.
Fairhaven is indeed a fair haven, but the most startling thing about it is the grandiose architecture that pops up in the midst of town, the gift of the very wealthy local philanthropist Henry Huttleston Rogers. It’s as if you were driving around Little Compton and suddenly saw Boston’s Trinity Church on the green. Henry H. Rogers was a local boy who made very good indeed, in Standard Oil and other 19th century money-makers such as steel, railroads and gas companies.
These imposing stone buildings, built between 1885 and 1904, include one of the most impressive-looking high schools you’re likely to see, which was built in 1906, and the Millicent Library, built in 1893 in the Italian Renaissance style (the building was named after Rogers’ daughter who died in 1890 at the young age of 17). This library is not only beautiful but as a frequent borrower, I can attest that the Millicent has one of the best collections in SAILS, the public library system of Southeastern Mass.
The Fairhaven Town Hall dates from 1874 and is in the French Gothic style. If you were to compare this monumental edifice to Rehoboth’s shabby and ever-deteriorating town office building, you wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry. If only Henry H. Rogers had lived in Rehoboth!
We visited the Unitarian Memorial Church while they were giving tours (Tues. and Thurs. 2-4 p.m. through August). It was dedicated in 1904 in memory of Henry Rogers’ mother. The church is built in the English Gothic style and its steeple soars 165 feet above the green. With its medieval Gothic design, ornate baptistery, stained glass windows, and unique and intricate wood carvings throughout, it seems much more high church Episcopal than Unitarian, at least in its appearance.
Rogers’ philanthropy also made possible other Fairhaven sites, such as the Masonic Building, the Tabitha Inn (now Our Lady’s Haven in the Fall River Diocese), the Rogers School on Pleasant Street, and Cushman Park. Rogers certainly did not forget his old home town when he became rich and famous. He died in 1909, forever leaving his legacy in Fairhaven.
Historical Fort Phoenix is another Fairhaven location worth visiting. It is the site of the first naval battle of the Revolutionary War and was in use up through the Civil War. The Fairhaven Office of Tourism is offering a ”Pirates & Privateers” presentation for all ages at the fort on Fridays at 10 a.m. through September; sounds like fun. There are also H.H. Rogers walking tours of Fairhaven at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays through September, starting at Town Hall.
A short drive down Route 6 from Fairhaven takes you to Ned’s Point Lighthouse in Mattapoisett. You can only view this lighthouse (built in the 1830’s) from the outside but it makes for a very picturesque scene. It is on the National Register of Historic Places. The park surrounding the lighthouse even has a tiny beach at one end.
On our way home, it occurred to me that in our travels we often end up visiting churches or cathedrals or, if near the shore, lighthouses. And here we were going directly from one to the other, stopping for a lobster roll for lunch. A perfect summer day trip. Mark Twain was right about Fairhaven (and indeed the South Coast shoreline). It is a delightful place to visit.