Mary A. W. Sowle

Mary A. W. Sowle was interviewed by Mary Giles on December 4, 1975. She spoke about her life in Westport.

Interview with Mary A. W. Sowle, one of Westport’s Mayflower descendants.


I was born on Cornell Road, and when I left there I was 22 months old. I went to live with my grandmother on the Main Road, just South of Cornell Road. The Gelpkes live there now.


My father was a farmer, and after my mother passed away, he went to New Bedford and worked on trolley cars. After he came back from New Bedford, he did more gardening and farming, and we lived here at 1881 Main Road, across from the Point School. We moved here in 1917. We raised vegetables, just for our own use as far as I know, and we did some canning of cucumbers and beets and tomatoes. Our food came from Central Village or down here (Westport Point) or Adamsville. We had delivery routes way back. Yes, someone came and delivered our groceries. We got milk at the neighbors; we didn’t have a cow, I don’t think.


Years ago, a stage went to New Bedford and picked up mail that was put in post office boxes. Our box was in Central Village. I don’t know whether it came down Drift Road or just Main Road. It came to the Head of Westport, then Central Village, and then to the Post Office in the store down there, so it must have come most of the way down Main Road.


When we wanted to go anywhere, we went on the stage to Lincoln Park and went in on the trolley to New Bedford. We shopped in New Bedford for clothes and things, and then we’d take the trolley out and then the stage. My father may have taken vegetables in to New Bedford to sell, I don’t know.


The magazines we subscribed to were The New England Homestead, and the Saturday Evening Post, and perhaps one other. That’s about it; they didn’t read a great deal.


The games we played growing up were Parcheesi and Checkers. We put puzzles together and played cards once in a while. I had cats for pets, one cat mostly, a tiger cat. The animals are just about the same, deer, not very often, a fox once in a while, and pheasant. We saw bluebirds in those days, which we don’t anymore, robins, orioles, and I suppose, sparrows.


My aunt sewed. You see, I don’t remember about my mother. I really grew up with my grandmother and my aunt, and my aunt was the one that sewed. This was down at Gelpkes.


Way back, we used Dr. Macomber. They had a school doctor at that time, and it was Dr. Tupper. He came from the Head of Westport, and there was Dr. Dennett, who was the father of Borden Tripp’s wife, from Adamsville. There was also another doctor in Adamsville at that time, Dr. Walls. That’s the place where they seemed to settle; I don’t know why. Dr. King was in Adamsville and also Dr. Borden.


As far as children’s toys went, I had a wagon and a sled. They were all bought. The first ice skates I had, had spikes that stuck into the bottom of your shoes, and they were wooden. I was 10 years old maybe. After that, I had regular skates. I guess I had them given to me.


In the Paquachuck, there was a sail loft, and a millinery and dressmaking shop. Well, I don’t know, I think it was on the third floor where they did dressmaking. I think there were four floors. Well, on the bottom floor was the Post Office at one time, and then I think they sold groceries too, but I’m not sure about that. But the Post Office was down there way back.


I doubt whether the yard South of the Paquachuck was where they built the boats. They built boathouses there. I know my great uncle had a boathouse there on land to the east side of the bridge. Possibly they built the boats on this side of the street, where Leach’s is, somewhere along there. They had dances in that ‘Boat House,’ as they called it (Leaches’s). It was a long building. There was a place up on Drift Road, where they used to have dances, but I can’t remember the name. I should, but I can’t.


The Tripp Brothers had a grocery store where Tony’s (Westport Point Market) is now. Across the street was the other one (grocery), William Gifford’s. At the Tripp Brothers, I think they had the Post Office in the half this way (North), and they sold groceries there. In the other half, they had what was more like a, oh, where the men would go in and smoke and talk, and they sold hardware, nails, bolts, screws and things like that. Over in the Gifford’s Store, they sold groceries. When there was a Democratic President, the Post Office was in Gifford’s. When it was a Republican one, it (the Post Office) was in Tripp Brothers. I think I’m right. It cost two cents to mail a letter in my earliest recollection.


Ezra Cornell was born on Cornell Road. He lived down at Brayton Morton’s place, the second house down the laneway. It’s said that he was the Ezra Cornell that founded Cornell University.


I knew all the Macombers up by Dr. Macomber’s place. Hannah and Sam, yes, I knew them. I don’t know whether anyone bought it after Hannah Macomber before Mr. Feio.


I can’t remember any business going on down here at the Point, except lumber, dressmaking, sail making, grocery, and hardware. I don’t remember hearing of any blacksmith here or any salt works.


When you were growing up, how did they handle the cases of people who were so poor that they were destitute?


That I don’t know. I know they had a poor farm for people, who didn’t have anyone to take care of them, or had a home or had to dispose of a home or something. It was up on the Drift Road where the Dea Rest Home is now. Rather than send a relative off to the poor farm, they took care of each other. Yes, they took care of their own. Now, if they’re sick, they send them to a nursing home. They had hospitals in the city I suppose, but they weren’t like they are today by any means. I guess St. Luke’s Hospital (New Bedford) is a pretty old hospital, far as I know. And, in Fall River, I don’t know. Dr. Truesdale founded that Truesdale Hospital, and he and Dr. French were at Truesdale.


You said there weren’t too many diseases, except children’s diseases, and that your father had typhoid when he was young.


I remember hearing them tell about a typhoid epidemic, typhoid fever.


I played with dolls, had a rag doll. Well, I think you bought them printed or something. I think so. I had China dolls too, oh yes. The last doll I ever had, it’s disjointed now, it was strung on elastic, and it came apart, but I have it.


Oh yes, John Babcock, who lived down on the Drift Road, made that furniture (doll furniture). He built his own home; it’s right back of where Dr. Denton lives now, just this side of John Baker’s house. I don’t know who lives in the Babcock house now. Well, he used to make that furniture, and at one time he shipped it to New York and Boston and Mattapoisett. He may have made a dollhouse for his children, I don’t know, as far as I know, just the furniture. He made a whole set of furniture for Katherine Hall, made out of wood from her place, and she had, like a dollhouse, with each room furnished with furniture that he made. I don’t know where that is now. Katherine Hall had it in the library when she was here, but of course, there’s no more library there (the little building belonging to Priscilla Church, which is now rented to Katie Seal for her pottery studio). The library was moved up to the Town Hall, and then a new library was built on Old County Road near the Middle School. I think the present owner probably has the dollhouse with the furniture. I guess her mother had this library built set back from the street.


Some of the Hall or Wicks family must have that furniture now.


Or else, Prescilla Church, who owns the Library Cottage now. She may have it. I really don’t know. She lives in Lincoln, Massachusetts.


Well, I guess they called it a library where Chriselda Cory had it years ago. I don’t know if it’s Mrs. Adams (Kitty), who owns the home, or did own it, I don’t know. The library used to be in a part of that house. I think it was a Miss Cory, Chriselda Cory, who started that. I think the Corys owned a store and the Post Office used to be there way back, at the Paquachuck. I think it was Alexander Cory, but I won’t be sure. I know who could tell you all that, would be Mr. Kugler (Richard) at the Whaling Museum.


I went to school across the street from where I lived, Hicks Corner. Well, the building is there, but it’s a house now, and they’ve added on to it and put a porch on it, so it doesn’t look like a schoolhouse. It’s across from the Gelpke’s. I went there ‘til the 8th or 9th grade. The south room had five grades and the north room had five grades. There were two teachers.


I had button shoes for dress up and laced shoes to wear every day. In real cold weather, we wore woolen coats. My aunt may have made some of them, but she didn’t make all of them.


The ships that came into this harbor that I remember were coal schooners. They brought coal in, and then went up to Adamsville with coal. I don’t remember any other commercial boats. When I was young, they had sailboats and motorboats, both used to go out fishing. I guess they went fishing and lobstering. We ate quite a lot of fish when I was young. My uncle used to go fishing a lot, so we had fish and lobsters, herring. He’s no longer here; he’s gone long ago.


Who was William Sowle? William Sowle was my grandfather’s brother. According to what I’ve read, he was a great sportsman. He used to go out duck hunting, and get more ducks than anyone else. Could be, I don’t know.


As to crime in Westport, I think there was a murder years ago up at the Head of Westport. Lincoln Tripp should know about that, I should think, but I don’t know who it was. I remember hearing about it.


During the 1938 hurricane, I was right here (at home on Main Road). My uncle closed up the store and came home. I think he was still working, yes, I know he was. The windows were so covered with sand and salt from the wind that you couldn’t see out. You couldn’t see a thing, and about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, it began to be dark and I went to bed. Couldn’t see anything. My father came home and called upstairs and said that the church steeple had gone. They must have heard the crash or something. I don’t know. Then, the next morning, I was working up at the Stevensons. At that time, the Ackerstroms, a brother and sister, lived there with Mr. and Mrs. Stevenson. She taught school in New Bedford and he used to be a bookkeeper in New Bedford, but on account of his health, he came out there and raised there to help Mr. Stevenson with the poultry said to me, “Horseneck Beach is all gone.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘I mean Horseneck is all gone. There’s only one house left.’ It was way up at the very end. They were taken away or demolished so badly, that they couldn’t be lived in.


I remember I had one birthday party. I was in my teens I guess then. I don’t remember that we did anything except sit and talk. We used to make ice cream at home sometimes in an ice cream freezer.


Well, when we lived up the road, we kept our food cool in the well, down cellar. It was cool in the cellar.


When we lived up there, we had a plum tree, pear tree and peaches. We didn’t can them, not that I recall. I guess we did can some peaches and pears, and blueberries and huckleberries. I think my father and grandfather before him, planned to raise enough potatoes to go through the winter. We raised Macomber turnips. The Macombers originated those.


No, they were not the same Macombers as Dr. Macomber. This was Nason Macomber. They lived in that white house down the hill from Mary Hix Brown, in that pretty white house toward the north. He had an icehouse and he peddled ice, and he used to peddle fruit, and farm. I think some of the farms were big farms, and I think that years ago, they had a threshing machine come to thresh the oats, and he would go from one farm to another, and they would put him up (the thresher) wherever he was working, and then when he got through, he’d move on to another farm.


Nason Macomber’s farm went from the White house up to where we used to live, just before Cornell Road – not to Cornell Road, but at the school right across from Gelpke’s. (1421 Main Road, presently Clio Pope residence)


I had one teacher for a long time. Most of my teachers I liked very much. We studied reading, writing and arithmetic. We had Latin and English History after I came down here in the 8th or 9th grade.


I couldn’t name some of the early families, the Macombers, the Howlands. Of course, the Halls built their house for a summer home and then they made it a year ‘round home. The Giffords, the Corys, Philip Grinnell, he married a Cory, Manchesters, I believe there were Manchesters then. I didn’t know many people at the Head. The villages were pretty much separated. I knew more people at Central Village. I used to go to Central Village to Sunday School, the Third Christian Church, across Hix Bridge Road on the corner from the cemetery. That’s no more, it was burned. And then I went to the Friends Church to Sunday School. It’s all grown up to trees now, but they used to have a grove there South of the church. Well, first they used to have clambakes on Hix Bridge Road just about where you go into the dump. Later they had them in that grove South of the church.


Abram Potter’s store was across from the Third Christian Church, and there used to be a Post Office in there. The farm with all the black and white cows, well that’s the Woods, Alton Woods’ now. It was his grandfather’s. The Woods were quite a prominent family here in Westport. They’ve been here as long as I can remember, longer I guess.


I would think that the farm where we lived up the road, went through to about where Route 88 goes through. I would say for a guess. We weren’t on both sides of the road, just on the East Side.


My mother’s name was Rhoda Wing before she was married.


Any relation to Carlton Wing, who lived where John Pannoni lives now?


Well, Carlton and I discussed it one time, and we decided that way, way back, we might have been related. There were three brothers that came from England and one settled in Westport, and one in Dartmouth, I think, and one on the Cape. I think the Sowles, who came on the Mayflower, went to Plymouth first. They may have gone to Sandwich and then to Plymouth. They were Quakers, I guess, if anything. I read that the Sowles were one of the families that stayed in Sandwich, and then came down here to Dartmouth because Dartmouth was at one time part of the Plymouth Colony.


For a feast at Thanksgiving, we’d have chicken. No, we didn’t have turkey. We’d have chicken or roast pork or something like that, sometimes roast beef. Very much the same as it is today. We lighted our homes with kerosene until there was electricity. We got it (electricity) after we came down here. We had kerosene lamps here for several years.


Up at Cornell Road, we used a stove to heat our house. There were fireplaces, but I don’t recall that we used them. They’d put a fireboard up and put a hole in it and use a stove, mostly we’d use coal


Our flowers were peonies, nasturtiums, sweet peas, iris, asters, and orchids. Women didn’t spend so much time gardening as they do now.


Cape Bial Lane was here when I was young. As far back as I can remember there was a barn down there where Charles Macomber kept cattle, but I don’t remember any house down there. He lived on the Main Road. I think he had a barn North of where Dorothy Gifford’s house is, where the Judson property is (Norma Wilbur’s).


Valentine Lane has been here ever since I can remember, and I imagine Drift Road was built before Main Road. When I first knew it, the Main Road was a dirt road. When it was first macadamized, they had a steamroller going back and forth, and I used to ride on the steamroller. They’d harden it down by sprinkling it and then rolling it.


Now I’ll come in and get some lunch.