Posted on June 28, 2014 by Jenny ONeill
This research category encompasses a variety of resource types including taverns and guesthouses, recreational facilities, and summer home communities. Broadly defined, these categories are tied together by their function within the Westport community as places where people traveled to and from, either for short periods of time, as would be the case with taverns and recreational facilities, or for longer periods as with summer home communities and estates.
The earliest taverns recorded in Westport were located near village centers and provided entertainment for area residents as well lodging for visitors passing through or for residents traveling from outlying sections of the town. These facilities functioned in a similar manner to the general store of later periods, and were probably run out of family homes in the colonial period. These structures were almost exclusively located on major roadways, often at intersections or midway points between distant locations.
Westport’s eighteenth-century taverns can be partially documented through town liquor license records. James Sisson and his son Richard held a license from 1725 to 1730 and appear to have operated a tavern at the Head of Westport. Historian Henry Worth suggests that there were few if any other licenses issued around the mid-eighteenth century (1908:20). The lack of known taverns in this period could represent a gap in the documentary record. In 1801, John Parker held a liquor license for a building located west of the landing at the Head. The property and license passed to Isaac Howland who kept an inn there for some time. Adam Gifford ran a store on the east side of the river, and ran a tavern in his home located east of the store (Worth 1908:21). A Revolutionary War-era tavern was located in William Watkins’ home at the Point (Hall and Sowle 1914:21).
These types of structures were present in each of Westport’s historic villages, and are best documented through historic records and oral histories associated with older homes used for these purposes. Archaeological deposits may also help to identify private homes used as taverns. Trash middens including caches of liquor bottles have been identified at colonial-era tavern sites, along with domestic features such as privies, wells, storage sheds and outbuildings, and food refuse pits.
Summer tourism in Westport began in the 1870s around Westport Harbor and Cockeast Pond, and almost all of those who came to the beaches were part of Fall River’s wealthy merchant class. Some of the first to visit Westport rented rooms from coastal farmers, then boarding houses began to develop around the Harbor. Most of these facilities rented rooms by the day, week or even the season. In 1873 Captain James Sowle established a boarding house along the river that looked out to Horseneck Beach. Sowle’s Boarding House could accommodate up to 65 people and offered fishing charters off a private wharf as well as a large hall for social events and religious services. The facility operated into the early twentieth century, when the building was dismantled (Maiocco 1995:57).
The premier summer reservation at the turn of the century was at Howland House, located on a ridge above Cockeast Pond with sweeping views across Westport’s coast. In its prime, the Howland sponsored masquerade balls and lawn parties and catered to the wealthiest of the summer tourists and seasonal visitors. The Acoaxet Club was built on land that was formerly part of the Davis Farm (B. Wyatt, personal communication 2004). The club served as a social center for the community during the modern period, offering sailing, tennis, and golf in addition to dinners and dances for its members (Maiocco 1995:58, 63).
Other early-twentieth-century summer gathering places at the harbor included the Casino, a community center that sponsored concerts, dances, church services, and clambakes. The Pavillion was a bathhouse built in 1894 that also hosted annual children’s events. Neither building remains today (Maiocco 1995:58).
The visitors tended to be part of close-knit social groups in Fall River and attempted to maintain a separate community in Westport that developed at Acoaxet. Unlike the grand mansions at the Point and above Cockeast Pond, these more modest homes were referred to as “cottages” and were clustered together along a network of narrow roads.
The late-nineteenth- and twentieth-century lure of Westport to summer day-trippers and seasonal residents led to the establishment of numerous support industries. Clambakes were popular, and casino-style restaurants were located all over town. Among the well known were Remington’s Clam Bake at Hix Bridge, Potters on the Noquochoke (later the Fireside) on Drift Road, and several spots on the Point (Maiocco 1995).
Some of the earliest summer visitors to the Point were housed in elegant coastal hotels, and the Point was home to the Hotel Westport. This structure was built on what is known as “Hotel Hill” in 1889 and was advertised in newspapers as far away as Washington D.C. The hotel offered daily transportation by carriage across the bridge to Horseneck Beach, and sponsored clambakes in the field at the base of the hill. The building burned in 1920 and was replaced by a private home (Maiocco 1995:48). Several boarding houses were operated seasonally near the coast, including a Frederick Head’s building on East Beach that lent rooms to duck hunters (Maiocco 1995:46). The hotel lobby was saved and reportedly forms part of the current structure (B. Wyatt, personal communication 2004).
The Surfside, also located at East Brach, included a formal dining room for guests (N. Judson, personal communication 2004). A rail connection between Lincoln Park and East Beach was proposed by a company formed for that purpose, but never got beyond the planning stages (B. Wyatt, personal communication 2004).
Some of the wealthier returning tourists decided to purchase property and construct their own large summer estates. The Hall family estate, known as “Synton,” is one of the better-known examples in Westport. The Reverend Charles C. Hall of Brooklyn, New York built the massive home in 1889 after summering at the Point for several years. “The Junipers” was located just south of Synton and was built by George H. Southard, another Brooklyn resident. By 1889 the estate extended all the way to Cape Bial Lane and included a house, barn, and water tower as well as manicured grounds. Although fire destroyed most of the buildings in the 1960s, the water tower remains today (Maiocco 1995:49–50).
Summer estates were not limited to Westport Point. In 1918, business tycoon Earle Perry Charlton built a 22-room mansion at the Harbor known as Pond Meadows. The structure boasted six marble fireplaces, an eight-car garage and a bowling alley. Pond Meadows was built on the site of an earlier summer estate that had been built in 1890 but later burned (Maiocco 1995:59–60).
A turn-of-the-century amusement park was established near the Westport/Dartmouth town line in 1894. The Dartmouth and Westport Street Railway Company built the facility, known as Lincoln Park, as a destination on the streetcar route. The park included picnic grounds and at one point housed a wooden roller coaster (Glennon 2001:419–420).