Romance isn't dead, it's history: Mattapoisett man shares love of past

By Tanner Harding | Sep 07, 2017
Photo by: Tanner Harding Seth Mendell admires some of the old farming equipment in the carriage house of the Mattapoisett Historical Society.

Mattapoisett — There are multiple Mendell Roads throughout the tri-town. There was once a Mendell Electric Company. The captain of the Mattapoisett militia in the War of 1812 was a Mendell. For pretty much as long as there have been settlers in the area, there have been Mendells.

“The Mendells were some of the early settlers in [old] Rochester in the 1680s,” Seth Mendell said. “We were part of the villages on the water.”

That hasn't changed much in 300 years, according to Mendell. Though now a resident of Florida, Mendell, the president emeritus of the Mattapoisett Historical Society, spends summers with his wife on the shores of Mattapoisett.

Life for Mendell isn’t so different now from when he was young – summers in Mattapoisett and the rest of the year in Florida. “I thought everyone lived like that,” he laughed.

After his idyllic childhood, Mendell went to Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. He graduated in 1956 and then “did a stint in the service for Uncle Sam, like everyone had to in those days.”

He spent two years in Germany with the Army, and then started teaching history at Avon Old Farms, an all-boys private school in Avon, Connecticut. While teaching there, he got his Master’s Degree at Trinity College in Hartford and married his wife Alice.

Mendell left his job at Avon Old Farms after about 30 years and moved back to Mattapoisett.

“We lived at 28 North St.,” he said. “That house had been in my family for years. My folks lived there.”

After returning to Mattapoisett, Mendell became involved in the historical society, a group his father was instrumental in forming in 1957. Mendell said he had always done well in history in school, but credited his years in the Army with really sparking his interest.

“During my stint in Germany, I would go into the base library and read. I read a book about Napoleon,” he said. “During leave, I traveled and learned in Europe.”

Since becoming involved in the historical society, Mendell is known for giving lectures and historical walking tours of Mattapoisett.

“Mattapoisett kind of has two sides to it’s history,” he said. “One side is the waterfront, where there was shipbuilding and whaling history, the other is the rural history. My father had a lot of agricultural artifacts.”

Mendell said his favorite topic is Russian history, and tends to favor European history in general, but said Mattapoisett’s whaling history does interest him.

“Mattapoisett built all sorts of whaling ships,” he said. “That gives the history a little more oomph and interest than just a little podunk town here or there.”

It’s learning about interesting pasts like Mattapoisett’s that make history such a passion of Mendell’s.

“In other disciplines there is no meat, no romance,” he said. “In history you can tell stories, get people’s interest. You can make it come alive.”

Mendell added that it was getting other people to see this that is what made him enjoy teaching, and now lecturing, so much.

“There’s nothing like talking to a group of people and then seeing their eyes come alive with interest,” he said.

Currently, Mendell lectures both in Mattapoisett and Florida. In between speaking events, he is orating his lectures to be transcribed for a book, so people will be able to read his historical lectures for years to come.

“It would be nice if all of it could be preserved and not taken to the grave,” he said.

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