Home Town Hero

Every town should have its very own super hero. Henry Huttleston Rogers was Fairhaven’s.  If you’ve never heard of him, that’s an indication that you don’t live in Fairhaven  and you probably took I-195 from Providence to Cape Cod, instead of the more scenic Route 6. Sure, I-195 will get you to the beach faster, but what you miss is a chance to see the impact one of Standard Oil’s “robber barons” can have on a sweet little town.

Henry Huttleston Rogers Memorial on Huttleston Avenue
Henry Huttleston Rogers Memorial on Huttleston Avenue

After you clear the bridge from New Bedford, the highway’s name changes to Huttleston Avenue, and if you look to your left, you’ll see one of the many reasons the town has chosen to honor its home town hero.

Fairhaven High School
Fairhaven High School

The gorgeous Elizabethan stone structure, completed in 1906, is actually Fairhaven High School, Henry Huttleston Rogers’ last gift to the town before his death in 1909. I have never been inside–I attended a regional high school–but my sister Sue (the source of all my inside information) tells me the school has marble floors, wood paneling, and carved gargoyles in the auditorium.  The adolescent version of me probably wouldn’t have noticed these grand architectural features anyway.  I would have been too busy hoping one of the other auditorium “creatures” would ask me out after the assembly ended.

I DID pass many afternoons during my teen years as a volunteer at Our Lady’s Haven.

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Completed in 1905, the building was originally known as the Tabitha Inn.  Designed to resemble a Shakespearian era Inn, it was described as the grandest hotel outside of New York and Boston.  Samuel Clements, better known as Mark Twain, was one of its frequent guests. It became a home for “the elderly and infirm” after it was purchased by the Catholic Diocese in 1944.

I stopped in to say hello and to take a look around the lobby.  Back in my day, it was run by the Carmelite nuns, but today only one nun remains.  Lovely Sr. Eileen from Ireland is now running the show, making sure Fairhaven’s senior citizens receive tender loving care.

Next to the Tabitha Inn is  a red brick schoolhouse, another gift from Rogers.  The school’s last class graduated this year, and the building is now closed, so all future students will be studying in a more modern building.

Rogers Elementary School, closed in 2013
Rogers Elementary School, closed in 2013

From June through September, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the Fairhaven office of tourism offers 90 minute guided tours, starting at 10 AM  from the town hall — and yes, Rogers donated that too.  Click on this link for more information about the tour and the town.

Fairhaven Town Hall
Fairhaven Town Hall

I wasn’t crass enough to photograph the interior of Our Lady’s Haven, (not everyone enjoys getting their image blasted into cyberspace) but the interior architecture of the town hall is very similar…so you get the idea of how lovely both places are.

Town Hall Interior--grand staircase, with arches and carved wooden railings
Town Hall Interior–grand staircase, with arches and carved wooden railings

My very special childhood place is across the street from the town hall.  The Millicent Library was built in 1890 as a memorial to one of Rogers’ daughter’s, who was 17 when she died.

Millicent Library
Millicent Library

I don’t think this is a statue of Millicent.  Pretty racy for a small town in the 1900’s, wouldn’t you say?

Statue in the library reading room
Statue in the library reading room

My summer days were spent in the children’s reading room, where  I discovered that “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was only the first in an entire series L Frank Baum wrote about the magical land of Oz.  Those books kept the 9 year old me entertained for an entire summer!

As I was leaving the library, one of the friendly residents (did I mention that Fairhaven people are VERY friendly?) asked whether I had noticed Dante atop the library.  I never had before–but here he is, for your viewing pleasure.

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So, who was Henry Huttleston Rogers–and how did he amass such a huge fortune? Rogers got his start in Pennsylvania, where, in 1861, he and a partner started a small business refining oil. By 1885, he had joined with John D Rockefeller, eventually becoming one of the three key men of Standard Oil. Known as “the Brains of Standard Oil Trust” and “Hell Hound Rogers”, he was a captain of industry.

He was also a generous man who befriended Booker T Washington and paid for Helen Keller’s Radcliffe education.

The “giving” tradition continued with Rogers’ granddaughter, (official name when she died: Mary Millicent Abigail Rogers von Salm-Hoogstraeten de Peralta-Ramos Balcom, but she went by Millicent Rogers–and who can blame her?) who founded the Millicent Rogers museum in Taos, New Mexico to house native American art.  The daughter of Rogers’ only son, she was quite a fascinating character–but that’s a subject for another time.

Visitors to Fairhaven should stop at Margaret’s or Elizabeth’s for a great meal. The restaurants are side by side, near the waterfront.  If you are lucky, you might get lovely Kristen for your server, and Kevin may be your chef!

 

Home Town Tourist

Whenever we travel to another country, we pay close attention to everything the area has to offer. We ogle the architecture, read all the signs at monuments (well, Mike does) visit museums, battlefields, parks, churches–anything and everything that could possibly be of interest.

But what about our own surroundings? I realized that I certainly take them for granted. Now that I am a retiree, however, I have the wonderful gift of time, so I can slow down, and really LOOK at everything I never fully noticed before. Mike and I won’t be traveling for a few more months, so in the interim, I’m going to be a “day tripper”, a local tourist.

First stop, my childhood town of Fairhaven, Massachusetts.

In 1775, shortly after the battles of Lexington and Concord, General Gage sent the British ship Falcon to Martha’s Vineyard to rustle up some food and supplies. Something tells me he left his MasterCard at home, figuring this “shopping excursion” would indeed be price-less, or at least payment-less.

When the Fairhaven militia discovered two of the Falcon’s tenders anchored off nearby Buzzards Bay, they grabbed their muskets, set sail and returned with “more than 25” members of His Royal Majesty’s marines as their captives. According to local lore and immortalized on a stone tablet, this was the first naval battle of the revolution. Would it not therefore be the first naval battle of what would eventually become the United States of America? Why didn’t THAT fact make it into the history books? We Americans are inordinately fond of firsts. So, we Fairhavenites should all feel rightfully proud!

The Fairhaven locals soon realized they needed to protect their harbor and nearby New Bedford, so they spent the next two years building this fort.

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General Gage, understandably miffed at the township for the ignominious defeat his mighty navy suffered at the hands of the Fairhaven militia, waited till the fort was finished. In September of 1778, he returned with 4,000 troops to set the town and its ships aflame. He really must have been intimidated by those plucky militia men, because it was highly unlikely that the entire Fairhaven population back then was anywhere close to 4,000–even counting the chickens and cows.

Although the vengeful Gage succeeded in destroying the fort and, in general, creating a huge mess, he was stopped from sacking Fairhaven by a great soldier with an even better name. Major Israel Fearing marched 15 miles from Wareham to save the day–and the town. Try as I might, I couldn’t get a head count for Major Fearing’s fighting force. But I DID confirm the distance between Wareham and Fairhaven with Mapquest, so it has to be right. Funny, as a kid, I always thought Wareham was a lot further away than a mere 15 miles. Maybe it only FEELS further on a Sunday drive, when you are sitting in the back seat, being tormented by your younger brother. P1030227

You can’t keep a Fairhavenite–or a fort–down, so in record time, like the mythical Phoenix, it arose from the ashes, ergo its name. Despite living in Fairhaven for over 20 years, I never made the connection until I read yet another on site stone tablet. P1030239

Right by the fort is another important protective structure, the hurricane dike. It might not be as big as the Great Wall of China, but like that other wall, you can stroll along it to get a view of the surrounding area and watch the fishing boats sail through.

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The dike also allows you to peer into the back side of the stately old homes near the Fort. The one below has”widow’s watch”, a small room at the top of the house with windows on all four sides. The story goes that back in the whaling days, the lady of the house would scan the horizon, watching for her husband’s ship.

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