Updated: Apr 27, 2021
Hiking along the Rochester Land Trust’s Church’s Field will lead you down to the Mattapoisett River. It is very scenic with benches provided to sit down and enjoy the view. Do a little more exploring and you can find the remnants of a sawmill. There is a large iron water wheel sitting in what appears to be the foundation of no longer existing structure. A beam or two lies next to it. Evidence of human life and industry in a now quiet and seemingly natural setting.
A sawmill and gristmill were built sometime before 1732 on Pine Island. In Rochester, in 1815, there were thirteen or 14 sawmills with several more grist mills. At that time Rochester included Mattapoisett and Marion as well. By 1875 there were 13 sawmills in use in just Rochester.
This particular mill on the land trust property appears on maps in 1856 and 1879 on property owned by the Church family. A history of Old Rochester from the early 1900s says that around 1725, Richard Church came from Scituate and bought a large tract of land in Rochester. A few years later he would build a sawmill on the Mattapoisett River on Wolf Island. A mid 19th century map notes two sawmills on Wolf Island. It isn’t clear if the sawmill further south was a Church sawmill. A road leading to it would suggest that it may have belonged to the Ellis family which could place the Church sawmill site as old as the 1720s.
Richard Church, the old history says, was a cousin of Benjamin Church. Benjamin had fought during King Philip’s War and had led a militia that tracked down and killed Metacomet. A more recent news article says that Benjamin was given the land in Rochester in 1676 by the King of England for his service in the war. However, the earlier mentioned history book notes that land was given to solders after the war through a colonial act but the history says Rochester land wasn’t included. In any case the land has been in the Church family for a long time.
Back to the ruins in the woods. It’s likely this sawmill site has been around since the mid-1720s. By the 1870s many sawmills in Rochester had begun manufacturing box board which is what George F. Church was doing with the site by the turn of the century.
George, who was born in 1875, most likely took over this mill from his father, Joseph Earl Church, who had died in 1892. George ran the box board business until sometime before 1916 when he seemed to have taken on a partner, George Bumpus who lived on Cross Road in Rochester. It’s not clear how long the partnership lasted. By 1928 the business wasn’t being listed in the directory and George F. Church was not listed as having an occupation but evidently he was still running the business. He was noted as running a sawmill and farm in the 1940 census. He passed away in 1958. His son, George E. Church, ran the sawmill for a time.
Decades later the memory of the sawmill remains and baffles hikers as they make their way along the Rochester Land Trust’s trail gazing out at almost 300 years of family history.
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