For much of its first 200 years this was a region of shifting identities. It was first known as Freetownin 1653 when it was settled by members of the Plymouth Colony as part of Freeman’s Purchase. It would later be known as Fall River from the Quequechan River that flowed through the village. Quequechan being a Wampanoag Indian word believed to mean “Falling River” or “Leaping/Falling Waters.” In 1804 it took the name “Troy” for thirty years before being officially changed back to Fall River on February 12, 1834. All the while Fall River wasn’t even entirely in Massachusetts - it was part of Rhode Island. The boundary creating Fall River, Massachusetts would not be settled until 1861.
Not long afterwards, however, Fall River had a very real identity - “Textile Capital of the World.” The Industrial Revolution came early to the Quequechan River with its eight falls providing power and the tidewater harbor of Mount Hope Bay offering ample transportation of goods. By the early 1800s there was a spinning mill and an iron works and a print works. The railroads arrived in the middle of the 1800s and by 1868 Fall River had surpassed Lowell as the leading textile city in America with over 500,000 spindles. And the boom had yet to occur.
By the 1870s Fall River was second only to Manchester, England in the production of cotton cloth and over the next 50 years the influx of immigrants to jobs in hundreds of mills pushed the population to over 120,000. worker housing in Fall River consisted of thousands of wood-framed multi-family tenements, usually three-floor “triple-deckers” with up to six apartments. The first mills began to close in the early 1920s and the Great Depression of the 1930s claimed many more. When the bump in demand from World War II faded by the 1950s the textile industry was gone.
With the wealth created by the cotton mills Fall River built like a big city. Impressive Victorian mansions populated the high spots above town and solid, impressive buildings - many constructed from native Fall River granite - line Main Street. The Fall River streetscape, however, has been a restless canvas. The first great fire in Fall River’s history roared through the town center in 1843. On February 2, 1928 fire erupted on the oil-soaked floors of an abandoned mill and were agitated by strong winds. Before fire departments from as far away as Boston and Providence could harness the conflagration six entire blocks of downtown were destroyed. More than $15,000,000 in damages were racked up but there was no loss of life.
The 1960s brought planned destruction when I-95 was routed through the heart of Fall River. The Quequechan River was filled in and re-routed for much of its length and many historic buildings razed. Our walking tour will cross over the highway to both sides of the city and see relics from the age of King Cotton and buildings constructed in the wake of the Great Fire of 1928 and a bit of modern design as well...
Fall River Public Library
104 North Main Street
The first books lent in Fall River came out of the local athenaeum, a private subscription library, started in 1835. It was succeeded by the Fall River Public Library in 1861 that operated out of City Hall. The present building is the library’s first permanent home, built in the Italian Renaissance style in 1899. A complete renovation in 2001 preserved the prominent rusticated base and pedimented windows outside while updating the interior.
WALK NORTH ON NORTH MAIN STREET.
306 North Main Street
On November 22, 1894 nine local businessmen gathered to form a gentlemen’s club. One of the first orders of business for the Quequechan Club was to find a clubhouse and the group ended up purchasing the estate of William Mason. Mason had begun his working life at the age of seven in a local cotton mill and worked variously as a shoemaker, grocer, and soapmaker before investing in the Union Mills and eventually rising to the head of Granite Mills. He built his North Main Street estate in 1861. The house was completely renovated and enlarged. One of the new accoutrements were bowling alleys constructed on the lower level by local contractor, Nathaniel Smith. Today they are home to the longest existing league on the East Coast. Through the years the Quequechan Club evolved into a restaurant and banquet hall for members and remains private, although no longer member-operated.
Bristol County Superior Court
441 North Main Street
New Bedford architect Robert H. Slack won the commission for the new county courthouse and after much discussion his creation of a brawny Richardsonian Romanesque public building rendered in bands of Maine granite was approved. The asymmetrical courthouse was in use by 1889 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
TURN RIGHT ON MAPLE STREET. TURN RIGHT ON ROCK STREET.
Fall River Historical Society
451 Rock Street
The home of the Fall River Historical Society today was originally the home of Andrew Robeson, Jr., a successful businessman in town. Robeson would not, however, recognize the Greek Revival mansion he built in 1843. He wouldn’t even know where to find it. In 1870 the house was bought by 44-year old Robert Knight Remington who began with a grocery store that became a mill supply company that became the Borden & Remington chemical company. He had the entire house dismantled and carted three-quarters of a mile north where it received a fashionable make-over in the Second Empire style of French emperor Louis XIV. Twice in his life Remington suffered severe financial reverses but was admired in the community because he paid all his debts in full as he climbed back to prosperity. One reversal, however, caused him to sell his house to textile magnate David Anthony Brayton and after remaining in the Brayton family for nearly 60 years the house was donated to the historical society in the 1930s.
B.M.C. Durfee High School
289 Rock Street
On June 15, 1887 the City of Fall River dedicated what must have been one of the most impressive public high schools in the country at that time. The date was the 44th anniversary of the birth of Bradford Matthew Chaloner Durfee. Durfee was the son of Major Bradford Durfee, a founder of the Fall River Iron Works. Young Bradford was the first president of the Durfee mills but died at the age of 29 in 1872. He left a portion of his estate to Fall River for science education. In the 1880s his mother, Mary B. Young, offered to build the City a much-needed high school in memory of her son. George Albert Clough, Boston’s first city architect, provided a French Renaissance design for the school situated on a prominent hilltop that gave the sports teams their nickname “Hilltoppers.” The first story is constructed of native Fall River Granite, while the stone of the upper portions is from Mason, New Hampshire. Every morning the bells in the tower rang out 29 times in honor of B.M.C. Durfee. A new Durfee High School was built in the 1970s and after an extended period of vacancy the building was taken over by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and restored for use as a Probate Court House.
First Congregational Church
282 Rock Street
With five members, the First Congregational Church in Fall River organized on January 9, 1816. By 1823 the church was able to erect its first meeting house and by 1832 the congregation was flush enough to build a fine Greek Revival church that served for 80 years. The present Gothic Revival sanctuary was constructed of rough-faced granite in 1913. The Boston architectural firm of Shepley Rutan and Coolidge, whose resume included many monumental projects across North America, provided the designs.
254 Rock Street
This unusual example of a Carpenter Gothic house from the 1870s has survived with its identifiabledecorative elements - quatrefoil windows, elaborative roof bracketing, small Palladian window in the gable - still intact. Especially impressive is the cast iron fence at the sidewalk.
Albert Winslow House
201 Rock Street
In the tradition of his Plymouth-based ancestors Captain Albert Winslow took to the sea at an early age, engaging in far-flung voyages that landed him in the California gold fields as a young man of 29 in 1849. The Fall River native did not take residence in the City until 1854. He built this Italianate house, which he also used to operate a grocery, around 1860. Winslow was a member of the common council and city marshal for a few years and remained active until the age of 88 when he died in his home of nearly 50 years at the age of 88 following an illness of only eight days. The house received an award-winning restoration In 2005.
TURN RIGHT AND WALK A FEW STEPS DOWN PINE STREET.
James D. Hathaway House
311 Pine Street
Russell Warren was born in Tiverton and, working out of Bristol, Rhode Island became the architect of choice for wealthy homeowners in the region looking for a stately Greek Revival mansion in the middle of the 19th century. This design was executed for James D. hathaway, a prosperous carpenter and businessman, in 1843.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO ROCK STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
Church of the Holy Spirit
160 Rock Street
The Church of the Ascension Episcopal parish was formed in 1835 marking the first known instance of Episcopal worship in Fall River. A church was quickly constructed for the growing congregation but it burned on Christmas Eve 1850. It would take 25 more years before funds could be raised to replace the wooden replacement with the handsome Gothic styled granite church with red brick trim seen today. In 2008 the Church of the Ascension parish signed a joint covenant with St. John’s / St. Stephen’s Parish and St. Mark’s Episcopal Parish to become known as the Church of the Holy Spirit.
Central Congregational Church
100 Rock Street
In its early days this church was known as the house of worship for Lizzie Borden and her family. In its last days the church was known as the setting for an Aerosmith video (Cryin’). The brick church was built in 1871 in the Ruskinian Gothic style with alternating bands of colors and textures. In the 1990s, the church and abbey were renovated into the International Culinary Academy, with the Abbey Grille and classrooms in the abbey and a large function hall in the main church. The company filed for liquidation in 2009 and the beautiful building - the only church in Fall River with gargoyles - was auctioned for $250,000.
TURN RIGHT ON BEDFORD STREET.
United States Post Office
2 Government Center
The first United States Post Office was established in Fall River in 1816, although mail had been handled in the town several years earlier. The current Neoclassical building that occupies a full city block opened in 1932.
TURN LEFT ON SOUTH MAIN STREET.
Citizens Union Bank
4 South Main Street
The Citizens Savings Bank received its Charter in Tiverton, Rhode Island in 1851 as The Savings Bank. Thirty-four accounts were opened on that first day - fifteen each by people from Fall River and Tiverton, two from Boston, and one each from Freetown and Middletown. It was chartered in Massachusetts in 1862. A four-story granite headquarters was erected on this spot was erected in this location; it burned down to vaults in a winter fire in 1928. The classically inspired corner building was rebuilt and re-opened on August 17, 1929. The smaller adjunct to the south had been acquired a few years earlier in an expansion.
CROSS OVER TO THE WEST SIDE OF THE STREET ON THE I-95 OVERPASS.
At just over a mile long, the truss-style Braga Bridge over the Taunton River is one of the longest spans in Massachusetts. It was constructed between 1959 and 1966 and named for Charles M. Braga, a Fall River native of Portuguese American descent who died in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
WALK A FEW STEPS DOWN POCASSET STREET.
207 Pocasset Street
The daily Herald-News has published since 1892 when three newspapers combined operations. The oldest was the Fall River Daily Herald that put out its first edition in 1845. During the Great Fire of 1928 the plant here suffered extensive damage, mostly from water.
TURN AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO SOUTH MAIN STREET AND CONTINUE ACROSS ONTO FRONTAGE STREET.
Fall River Government Center
South Main Street at South Frontage Road
The new city services building opened in 1976, designed in the Brutalist style and constructed of reinforced concrete and glass. It is the only city hall in America to be located directly on top of an interstate highway.
Borden Block/Academy Building
114 South Main Street at southeast corner of South Frontage Street
Boston architects Henry Hartwell and Alfred Swazey contributed this great commercial structure to the Fall River streetscape in 1876, erected for Simeon Borden. Adorned with High Victorian Gothic details in the manner of the architects’ Central Congregational Church, the Borden Block came to be known as the Academy Building after the 2,000-seat performance house that operated on its second floor. The Academy was a regular stop for nationally touring acts and later became a beloved movie house. When the building was restored and reconfigured into senior living space in the 1980s, the theater was removed.
City Hall Pillars
South Frontage Road at old Second Street
Like many cities in the 1960s, Fall River paid a dear price for its link to the new Interstate Highway System. When I-95 was cut directly through the heart of Fall River the Quequechan River was filled in and re-routed for much of its length. The historic falls, which had given the city its name, were diverted into underground culverts. Many historic buildings were demolished, including the City Hall that had stood since the 1840s. It had survived two devastating fires and picked up an elaborate Victorian makeover in the 1880s but couldn’t escape an urban planner’s pen. Two pillars were rescued and placed as sentinels to an earlier time.
TURN RIGHT AND WALK THROUGH THE PILLARS ONTO SECOND STREET, WHICH IS NOW A PEDESTRIAN WALKWAY.
92 Second Street
Andrew Borden, a Fall River businessman, purchased this gable-front two-family house, built in 1845, and converted it for use for just himself, his second wife, Abby, and his two daughters. Sometime during the morning of August 4, 1892 Andrew Jackson Borden and Abby Durfee Borden were murdered in this house with a hatchet. A week later his eldest daughter Lizzie was arrested for the crime, capturing the imagination of America’s sensationalist press. Lizzie Borden was acquitted at trial and no one else was ever convicted or arrested for the murders. After the trial Borden and her sister moved to a new house and the infamous murder site has remained a private residence; it has recently become a bed & breakfast.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS BACK TO SOUTH MAIN STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
Fall River Five Cents Savings
79 North Main Street
Much of North Main Street was swept away by the Great Fire of 1928 and many of the buildings along this stretch - such as the Neoclassical Fall River Five Cents Savings Bank - were rebuilt shortly thereafter. The bank was incorporated in 1855.
CONTINUE ON NORTH MAIN STREET BACK TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.