Today marks the 63rd anniversary of the Incorporation of the Mattapoisett Historical Society, now known as the Mattapoisett Museum.
Francis Rowland, the organizing president, and Charles Mendell, the organizing director/curator of the museum, first opened the doors 1959. However, the gathering of Mattapoisett “history” proceeded the establishment of a society and museum by many decades.
The Semi-centennial celebration in 1907, marking 50 years since the separation of the town from Rochester produced “Mattapoisett And Old Rochester”, the volume which has been the “bible” of early Mattapoisett history for a century. Also, in the first half of the 1900s, Lemuel LeBaron Dexter, a prominent lawyer residing in Mattapoisett, collected many historical documents which are now in the museum archives. Harriet Mendell Hammond started compiling a list of the many vessels built in the shipyards on the Mattapoisett waterfront during the 1800’s, a list that Charles Mendell further researched
and published in a pamphlet “Shipbuilders Of Mattapoisett” in 1937.
Following the Centennial Celebration and Pageant in 1957, a group of like minded
individuals, Minerva Sparrow, Gertrude Dexter, Katherine Frizzell and Emma Abbe in addition to those mentioned earlier, met together and the Mattapoisett Historical Socieity came into being. The Trustees of the Christian Church were approached about using the 1821 building at the corner of Church and Baptist Streets as a museum. Francis Rowland, when he told the story, would always chuckle at this point and say “and, of course, it helped that I was a trustee of the church at the time.”
With the society and museum in place, the challenge was now to collect historical
documents and artifacts to tell the story of Mattapoisett’s past. However, it very
quickly became apparent as attics, cellars and barns produced a tremendous number
of items, that the Christian Church building was not large enough to house them all.
It also became apparent that Mattapoisett had two stories to tell – the maritime history
of the town was well known, but the rural and agricultural story of Mattapoisett had
never been told or documented. The day-to-day life on the many farms surrounding
the village in the 1800’s was vastly different from the activity in the shipyards.
Given the fact the New Bedford Whaling Museum was a world-class maritime museum
on Mattapoisett’s doorstep, it was the decision of the directors that the primary
objective of the Society should be to tell the agrarian side of Mattapoisett’s past.
With a leadership gift of $5000 from a bequest of Miss Gertrude Dexter, a capital
campaign was launched to raise $19,000 to cover the cost of construction of a two-story building measuring 42’ by 42’. Designed by Walter Channing of Francis Associates of Marion,, the structure was to be a replica of a 200 year-old barn or carriage house complete with interior balconies. The contract was awarded to Donald Chase of Mattapoisett.
At the ground-breaking ceremony in August, 1967, Charles Mendell, Curator, told the assembled crowd of supporters, “When the building is completed the museum will become not only an important civic asset, but an outstanding attraction of the town.” During the following weeks construction began on the plot of land directly behind the church building on Baptist Street. John Denham dug the foundation and Tony Andrews did the concrete work. Roundsville Saw Mill of Rochester supplied the timbers for the post and beam construction and Dennis Mahoney supplied the siding, shingles and windows. Cape Cod Cabinet made the cupola and Bill Wood was the painting contractor. All of the carpentry was done by Floyd Tinkham, Theodore Bradley and Donald Chase.
Structurely completed during the summer of 1968, the next task was to set up the
exhibits and displays. Out of storage, attics and barns, artifacts from years ago were
brought into the new building.
To quote from a letter of Phyllis Mendell, “From George Church in Rochester, Charlie obtained a heavy logging wagon and from Ellis "Ax Handle"Bolles in Mattapoisett, an ax handle lathe and forge" which Ellis invented and constructed himself.
On the balconies, the various shops were set up – carpentry, cobbler and harness along with a model of a salt works. From the town came Mattapoisett’s first fire engine, an 1821 pumper, a two-horse watering cart and a horse-drawn sidewalk snow plow.
The week of august 25-30, 1969 was designated as Carriage House Week by the Mattapoisett Board of Selectmen. At the dedication ceremony on Sunday, August 24, Charles Mendell said, “This remarkable achievement is due to the sustained hard work, interest and dedication of many people” and that he hoped “the Carriage House would become known as one of the finest small farm museums in the country.”
The Museum and Carriage House have been a major attraction in the Town. Special exhibits
during the summer months along with the core exhibits have been of interest to local residents as well as out of town visitors. The Society’s eight member Board of Directors dictate the Museum’s policies in accordance with the Society’s By-Laws. Annual fund-raising and the generosity of donors has enabled the upgrading of exhibits, programs and of the quarterly newsletter, the “Crow’s Nest”. Volunteerism is at a high level and further enables the Museum and Carriage House to operate in a fiscally sound manner.
In 1985, the Society named the lower room in the “link or wing” joining the Church building and Carriage House, the “Mendell Room” in honor of Charles Mendell who had passed away in 1975. At the dedication, Francis Rowland said, “Charles and I grew up together in this town and shared many research projects. We owe much to him and his wife Phyllis who visited many museums to get ideas to incorporate into this one. Charles was our Director and the people of Mattapoisett turned out to work with him to help lay the foundation for what we have here today.”
Six years later in 1991, the Directors of the Society voted to name the upstairs room in the
wing , housing the archives and curator’s office, in honor of Francis Rowland. At the Annual
Meeting, President of the Historical Society, Josephine Pannell, referred to him as the Town
Historian and added, “Francis was not only the founding President of the Historical Society,
but he has been the “watch-dog” of the Society over the years.” It was through his urging
and recommendation that Bette Roberts was hired as curator which greatly strengthened the
administration and organization of the Society and Museum. Francis Rowland passed away
in 2006 and a tree has been planted in his memory in front of the museum.
In recent years the Carriage House and Museum have been made handicapped accessible
in accordance with the Americans With Disabilities act. Many of our core exhibits have
been reorganized to make them more viewer friendly and the entire collection has been
digitized for easy reference.
It was decided in 2019 to simplify the name to the Mattapoisett Museum.
Today at “63”, Museum and Carriage House is well and healthy due to an active Board of Directors, Director Jeffrey Miller, and a membership who gives freely of their time, talent and treasure. Mattapoisett’s history will continue to be told.
If you would like to donate to our Carriage House Fundraiser you can do so here. Every dollar counts towards our $20,000 goal for necessary repairs to the siding and cupola.