Updated: Jan 21, 2022
This article originally appeared in the July 2021 issue of The Crow's Nest.
Mellie Masterson stood in nearly constructed Carriage House gazing up at the ceiling. It was March 1, 1969 and it had been a particularly rough winter. An early February storm started out as snow and then heavy rains fell for hours before changing back to snow closing schools.
Bad weather continued to plague the area for the next several weeks with the Presto Press noting the only events that had not been cancelled was “the snow storm which rages with only slight pauses.”
Mellie was looking up at the newly formed wet stains on the rafters. During the February storm, Mellie came in with other board members to move some of the newly installed items out of the way of the leaky roof. The contractor, theorized that cracked shingles could be the culprit, but the weather was preventing him from accessing the roof to fix the problem.
“What else could possibly go wrong,” she may have been thinking. Before the hardware could be installed on the Carriage House windows, they began to pop open about an inch or two; enough to let blowing snow drift through. The delayed arrival of the hardware for the large Carriage House double doors caused a similar problem with snow getting in the building. The cost of construction kept rising and ended up costing over $9,000 more than the original estimate.
There was also the break-in the previous summer that Mellie said was still a “nightmare” for her to deal with. She testified before a Grand Jury in January and the case was going to go to trial in May in Superior Court. One of the accused burglars was released on bail. He immediately parted for Texas and signed aboard a tanker.
Not long before the break-in, the Mattapoisett Historical Society lost one of its most devoted supporters. Minerva Sparrow, the driving force behind the establishment of the historical society, had passed away at the age of 85.
Yet, she knew the community was have something great to be proud of. It had been a long-time planning for the Carriage House. In the summer of 1961, the Mattapoisett Historical Society held their annual meeting. The historical society had been organized in May 1958 despite not having a home. Locations were limited for the upstart organization. The basement of the library was one possibility. However, funds were limited, and it was estimated it would cost around $8,000 to renovate the basement to make suitable for a history museum.
In May 1959, a deal was struck with the Trustees of the Christian Church for the use their small building on Church Street as home to the Mattapoisett Historical Society.
The Board of Directors went into the Annual Meeting that summer of ’61 knowing they had a problem on their hands. They were running out of space to house and display the museum’s collections. After a discussion during the meeting a vote was held to form a study group to consider the possibility of constructing an addition to the museum.
However, there were obstacles to expanding the museum. One of which was money and the other was that the historical society did not own the building. In 1965, these obstacles became easier to navigate. The Church Trustees agreed to lease the land behind the church to the historical society to build on. A financial jump start on the project was provided by the bequest of Gertrude Wood Dexter who left the museum $5,000.
The lot behind the church was large enough the board decided rather than building a modern building for the collections, they would build a replica 19th century carriage house. It would be two stories with wide carriage house doors facing Baptist Street. The building would house sleighs, carriages, and farm equipment. Not only did Mattapoisett have a history in shipbuilding there was also a rich history as a farming community. With $5,000 already under their belts the board formed a fund-raising committee with plans to match that amount.
The board decided to cancel the annual summer exhibit in 1965 and focus on a fund-raising drive during the month of August. Letters went out to Mattapoisett residents asking to help build the new “Carriage Shed Museum.” With the community’s help, Mattapoisett could be home to an “outstanding museum of antique agricultural implements in Southeastern New England.” In addition, press releases were sent out and ads placed asking for donations and volunteers went door to door asking for funding. They were sure that the money would be raised by the end of the fall and construction would begin in 1966.
By October over $2,000 had been raised and the board had approved plans for the so called “carriage shed” designed by Walter Channing, a local mechanical engineer. Channing was known for his meticulous research of whaling ships and the detailed architectural drawings he created from his research.
Donations continued to come in and in June letters went out to local contractors asking for estimates on building the carriage house. The lowest bid came back at around $8,000 more than had been raised. The board voted to postpone construction until more money could be raised. A “Country Style” auction was held in the fall in which donated goods were auctioned off. “Nothing from the Historical Society itself will be supplied” a press release reassured people. The auction netted around $1,200. This, along with a new fundraising drive and an anonymous donation of $2,000 brought the carriage shed closer to construction.
After discussions with Donald Chase, a local contractor, to find ways to cut costs, a budget of $14,000 was approved for construction at the Annual Meeting in June 1967. On Sunday, August 20 a groundbreaking ceremony was held, and the carriage house was finally underway. During the ceremony, museum curator Charles Mendell spoke saying, “When the building is completed, the museum will become not only an important civic asset, but an outstanding attraction of the town.”
By early November the foundation was in place and the framing was to be in place before winter set in. However, there was only enough money to build the exterior of the building. The Historical Society was around $3,000 short of the money need to complete the interior of the building including the addition of utilities.
At the June 25 board meeting there was discussion on what to call the carriage shed. Minerva Sparrow’s name was brought up and debated. The consensus was that there were so many people involved in bringing the building to life that it should not be named after anyone. The term that was used throughout the process of the project, shed, connotates a small structure to store rakes and tools. However, the society decided to keep the official name simple. The meeting minutes stated in dramatic fashion “that the new building would henceforth be called the CARRIGE HOUSE!”
Minerva Sparrow, a founding member and passionate supporter, had passed away on May 4, 1968, six days before her 86th birthday. Sparrow conceived the idea of forming a historical society for the town along with Francis Rowland in 1957. After the Mattapoisett Historical Society was founded in 1958, Sparrow would negotiate a home for the historical society at the Christian Church on Church Street.
When she passed away, a memorial fund was set up asking for donations which would be used to create a memorial for her. By August nearly $300 had been donated and the board voted to use the funds to have a pair of lanterns designed and placed outside the Carriage House doors. The lanterns were designed to historically match the Carriage House, made out of wrought iron, painted black with copper along the sides. However, the lanterns would be electric and wired in to the Carriage House.
Museum records or news articles do not indicate who designed the lanterns other than it was a Mattapoisett resident who handcrafted them, was trained in Italy, and “stretched” the donation so that wiring could be added.
In addition to the lanterns, a brass marker stating “Carriage House Lamps Given in Memory of Minerva M. Sparrow 1882-1968” would be placed inside the building. The marker is now located inside the museum near the front entrance.
A final push to complete the Carriage House was made during the summer of 1968. In June, another “country style” auction was held in Shipyard Park. The bid calling was done by “famed auctioneer” Florence Cornell, a well-known auctioneer from Lakeville who owned the Double C Auction Gallery.
Again, donated household items were requested for the auction. On June 7, the day before the auction, Mellie Masterson, Dorothea Tripp, and Peter Briggs made a television appearance on the “Community -Bob Bassett” program on WTEV. They promoted some of the donations going up for auction such as a 100-year-old organ, “an almost new electric dishwasher,” and a ready to cook live lobster.
An additional donation that likely didn’t appear on the Bob Bassett show were the Cackle Sisters. Henrietta, Hortense, and Harriet were hens from the farm of Barney and Mary Helfand of Crystal Springs Road. It is not known how much the Cackle Sisters fetched but the Historical Society netted well over $1,200. This, along with donations already received were enough to pay for the interior of the Carriage House.
Electricity or not, the Carriage House was ready to open! The official opening would take place on August 23, 1968 with a costume ball, a fundraiser to raise money for the electrical fund. Rides would be provided to the Carriage House from the Town Wharf by horse and carriage. Over 250 people attended the ball, and enough money was raised to complete the project which included an auction of murals that were created for the ball as well as a cake decorated with a horse and carriage large enough to serve 35 people.
Any worries Mellie Masterson may have had as she stood in the Carriage House on that March 1969 day would soon pass. The money was raised to install electricity, and the leaky roof, faulty windows, and Carriage House doors would be repaired. In May, a dedication ceremony for the Minerva Sparrow memorial lanterns was held. Around 50 people attended including Ms. Sparrow’s niece, Mary Lee Sparrow Dingman and her daughter Gretchen who took part in the ceremony.
From May through July, volunteers, mostly Mattapoisett teenagers, organized the collections and installed exhibits which included farm tools and equipment, the town’s 1821 fire engine, and historic household items. The official dedication of the Carriage House took place on Sunday, August 24, 1969 and the Selectmen signed a proclamation declaring that week as Carriage House Week.
In Charles Mendell’s Curator’s report on the activities of 1968 he noted; “The museum is the Society’s most important activity, yes. But the opportunities for the Society to contribute to the community and its people is endless.”
“A Citizen of Note Departs.” Presto Press. 15 May 1968, p. 4.
Burr, Gertrude T. “Meeting Minutes of the Mattapoisett Historical Society.” Mattapoisett Historical Society. 25 June 1968.
“Carriage House Lanterns Lit.” Presto Press. 21, May 1969, p. 9.
“Costume Ball Friday!” Presto Press. 21 Aug 1968, p. 5-6.
“Costume Ball Opens Mattapoisett Museum.” Standard Times. 24 Aug 1968.
“Cover.” Presto Press. 12 Feb 1969, p. 2.
Fox, Dorothy L. “Meeting Minutes of the Mattapoisett Historical Society.” Mattapoisett Historical Society. 20 Aug 1968.
“Ground Breaking Ceremony of New Carriage Shed Museum.” Sippican Sentinel. 17 Aug 1967.
“Historical Society Annual Meeting.” Presto Press. 24 June 1965, p?
“Lanterns for Carriage House.” Presto Press. 30 Oct 1968, p. 8-10.
Masterson, Earl (Earl Edgar). (1986). Oral History Interview with Earl Edgar Masterson. Charles Babbage Institute. Retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy, hdl.handle.net/11299/107468.
“Mattapoisett Ground-Breakling Held.” Standard Times. 20 Aug 1967.
“Mattapoisett Historical Society [Timeline].” Records of the Mattapoisett Historical Society. Board Meeting Minutes, 1958-1969.
Mendell, Charles. “Curator’s Annual Report.” 25 Oct 1965. MHS 1958-1968, p. 116-117.
Mendell, Charles. “Curator’s Report.” 1966. MHS 1958-1968, p. 128.
Mendell, Charles. “Executive Board Meeting Minutes.” Mattapoisett Historical Society. 8 Aug 1967.
Mendell, Charles. “Mattapoisett Historical Society Curator’s Report, 1968.” Mattapoisett Historical Society. 15 Jan 1969.
Mendell, Charles. “Will you Help Build the New Carriage Shed Museum?” 29 July 1965. MHS 1958-1968, p. 106.
Nahigyan, Verna P. “Secretary Minutes of the Annual Meeting of the Mattapoisett Historical Society.” Mattapoisett Historical Society. 18 June 1968.
New Bedford Whaling Museum Research Library. “Inventory of the Walter E. Channing Papers.” whalingmuseum.org/explore/library/finding-aids/mss90 Accessed 13 March 2021.
“New Carriage House Houses Unique Variety of Farm Tools & Old Vehicles.” Presto Press. 27 Aug 1969.
“Something to Crow About.” Presto Press. 29 May 1968, p. 2-3.
“Storm Scheduled as Usual.” Presto Press. 5 March 1969, p. 2
“Townfolk Talk Up the Action on TV. Presto Press. 5 June 1968, p.
“Where the Auction Is.” Presto Press. 5 May 1968, p.