From The Reservation to Old Ironsides: What you didn't know about historic Mattapoisett

By Andrea Ray | Aug 13, 2017
The original location of "Anchorage by the Sea," in Shipyard Park.

Mattapoisett — How did Reservation Golf Course get its name? How many shipyards could you find along Water Street in its peak years? Did British troops ever land in Mattapoisett? What didn't the Hurricane of 1938 destroy?

On August 12, Mattapoisett Historical Society president Seth Mendell led curious citizens through a tour of historic Mattapoisett Village, peppering interesting facts about local history through his talk.

1. Mattapoisett Historical Society building

The Historical Society church was built to replace another church, built in 1737, which was destroyed in a hurricane in 1815. That church was located on the corner of River Road, in the district known as "Hammondtown".

In its life, the Historical Society Museum has been a meetinghouse for a number of different sects of Christianity, and at one point would have been used to conduct other types of business as well. "That's why it was called a meetinghouse," Mendell explained. "Any meeting the town had would have been held there."

2. Mattapoisett Town Hall

Mattapoisett's Town Hall is a newer building. In previous years, it was also home to the fire station. "I can still see the two fire trucks parked beneath the portico," Mendell joked, "and the firemen sitting around waiting for a fire."

The Town Hall was also home to the town's police force; at one point, it even housed a jail cell. "It was literally a metal cage in the middle of the room," Mendell said. "If you were out late at night and being rowdy, into the slammer."

3. Anchorage-by-the-Sea

This restaurant, located in the house on the far end of Main Street, next to the Church Street turn, was once Anchorage-by-the-Sea, a well-known seafood restaurant run out of the home of owners Arthur and Edith Barrows.

The Barrows' home was actually the second location of the restaurant, a popular stopover from New York to the Cape. The first was a building located roughly where the Shipyard Park gazebo is now. "It had these tall glass windows," Mendell remembered.

The building was lost in the Hurricane of 1938. "The waves were so tall," Mendell continued. "I don't know, but people said the building almost exploded under their force."

4. Changing topography

Topography always changes in a century or two, but visual comparisons somehow make it easier to see. One of Mendell's favorite examples is the marshy area across from the corner of Church and Main Street.

"In the 1800s, a 44-ton vessel was built right here," he said. "Obviously there's been a lot of fill-in since."

5. Charles King's "Reservation"

In 1887 Charles King, a wealthy entrepreneur from Boston, purchased a large tract of land at the mouth of the Mattapoisett River. It being the 1880s, the subject of forced removal of Native Americans to reservations was hot news.

The land that Charles King bought had been used by Lakeville-based Native Americans as a summer ground for thousands of years. There were, according to Mendell, hundreds of Native American burial mounds on the property. The Native American connection ensured the King mansion's title of "Reservation." The golf course currently on the property uses the same name.

6. Mattapoisett in the War of 1812

The War of 1812 (which actually lasted three years, 1812-1814), and was fought between England and the United States, came to Mattapoisett.

The British ship Nimrod had been charged with burning American shipyards along the East Coast; in 1814, it appeared on Mattapoisett's horizon. The ship had already besieged Wareham two years previously.

When the ship was spotted, anchored off of Nye's Ledge, a young lawyer's wife, Sarah Willis, ran directly to a nearby school to ring the bell and alert residents that the British had arrived. Mattapoisett's militia was able to successfully repel the British soldiers. The Nimrod pulled anchor and sailed away.

7. Mattapoisett's connection to "Old Ironsides"

A Mattapoisett resident contributed to the construction of what is currently the world's oldest commissioned naval vessel still afloat- the USS Constitution.

Shipbuilder Benjamin Barstow, who owned a shipyard near Mattapoisett Town Beach, was so well respected as a merchant shipbuilder that he was called upon to help build the USS Constitution in Boston.

"Mattapoisett's ship-building skills were so well-known, they contributed to America's most famous ship," Mendell enthused.

8. The Lone Tree

Look down Church Street, and you'll find one interesting survivor of the Hurricane of 1938 - a lone elm tree, near the intersection of Church and Baptist Streets.

"It's the last remaining elm of all the elms that shaded Church and Water Street and all of the connecting streets," Mendell said. "Most of them blew down in the Hurricane of 1938 and subsequent noreasters. Several died of disease. But this one keeps going."

He chuckled and said, "If you're ever feeling weak, go hug that tree."


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