Wednesday, July 1, 2009

South Middleborough National Register District Tour

Below is a portion of the text of the South Middleborough National Register Historic District nomination relating to the history of South Middleborough which I wrote between 2007 and 2009. The full text of the nomination may be found at the Middleborough Public Library.

One of several historic villages that comprise the Town of Middleborough, South Middleborough is located nearly at the extreme southeastern corner of Middleborough near Carver, Wareham and Rochester. The designation “South Middleborough” historically has been used interchangeably to refer to both the village of South Middleborough centered upon the junction of Locust Street with Spruce and Wareham Streets, as well as the entire southern portion of the town of Middleborough, an area including the Highlands, France, Mad Mare’s Neck and Rock Village.

During the Contact (1500-1620) and First Periods (1620-75), though South Middleborough’s Native population was minimal, English exploration of the area was limited. Residential growth first occurred along the west bank of the Weweantic River at an area known as Fresh Meadows a few miles east of modern South Middleborough following the division of the South Purchase in the 1690s. The community became a center of Baptist activism within the area (in distinct contrast to the Congregationalist-dominated Middleborough center) and would become the home of the Third Baptist Church of Middleborough in the mid-eighteenth century at which time the locus of settlement came to reside near the present intersection of Spruce and Locust Streets. Denominationally-distinct and geographically-distant from Middleborough center, South Middleborough would cultivate an historical tradition of independence. Mid-nineteenth century economic growth followed the arrival of the Cape Cod Branch Railroad in 1848, during which time South Middleborough developed as an agricultural community dominated by the extensive production and milling of lumber. The surviving architectural legacy of this industry includes several nineteenth and early twentieth century homes associated with mill owners and operatives, as well as the church, school and stores which they attended and patronized.

Later, the decline of lumber milling in the first two decades of the twentieth century would be followed by the most significant period of development within the district, a result of the reconstruction of Wareham Street and its designation by the Commonwealth as Route 28, one of two routes linking Boston with summer resorts on Cape Cod. With the rapid growth in the number of automobiles passing through South Middleborough, the community’s economic attention became focused upon the provision of businesses and services to motorists who passed in large numbers through the village in the years surrounding World War II enroute to tourist destinations on Cape Cod. Extant resources associated with this development include two filling stations, two commercial garages, a number of roadside stands, a diner and two restaurants.

Development to 1848

South Middleborough initially developed as the community of Fresh Meadows along the west bank of the Weweantic River following the initial division of the South Purchase in the early 1690s, with English settlers being attracted by the naturally-occurring meadows located in the vicinity. There they established homesteads as well as routes of transportation linking Plymouth with New Bedford.

The first century and a half of South Middleborough’s settlement witnessed the development of a conservative religious and social ethic as the community developed as a center of Baptist activism separate from the Congregationally-dominated center of Middleborough then located at the Green. This denominational difference, coupled with the distance between Middleborough center and South Middleborough would foster at South Middleborough a long-lived tradition of conservatism, both political and social, which would distinguish it from Middleborough center which historically would be more diverse, more liberal, more permissive, more industrialized and more commercialized.

South Middleborough’s early separateness, however, also encouraged an historical spirit of independence, individuality and self-reliance first seen tangibly in the foundation there of a distinct and independent church, the Third Baptist Church of Middleborough, and the community’s subsequent designation as a poll parish. Self-reliance and independent community action came to be deeply-held values at South Middleborough, and are reflected in recent history there as evidenced by the 1938 establishment of the Precinct Three Improvement Association, the creation of the South Middleborough Protective Association in 1945 and completion of an addition to the South Middleborough School in 1952-53.

During the first half of the eighteenth century, the original settlement locus of South Middleborough began shifting from Fresh Meadows to the vicinity of present-day Wareham and Locust Streets, land largely owned by Consider Benson, an early leader of influence within the community. Here were established a cemetery (1768), parsonage (circa 1773), church (1774), and schoolhouse, providing institutions anchoring a new community center. Conflict within the original Baptist Church between its minister Reverend Ebenezer Jones and a group of parishioners led by Consider Benson, however, resulted in several years of turmoil within the newly relocated community.

One significant outcome of the conflict, however, was the construction of the South Middleborough Baptist Parsonage (circa 1773), 16 Spruce Street and the Parsonage Barn (late 18th century), 16 Spruce Street. Following the community’s discord with Reverend Jones which had been triggered by what Jones felt to be the inadequacy of the community’s financial support for the ministry, efforts were undertaken to obviate this as a future source of potential conflict with the creation of a ministerial lot, a lot of land which would be devoted exclusively to the support of the local Baptist ministry. In 1773, Consider Benson, James Shaw and Ebenezer Hackett purchased a forty-five acre lot on behalf of a group of forty-six individuals from Middleborough, Carver, Rochester and Wareham, and the parsonage constructed thereon. However, with the departure of the Baptists for Rock Village in January, 1795, the location of the ministerial lot was considered too inconvenient, the parsonage and barn were abandoned and ownership reverted back to the original group of forty-six purchasers. Ultimately, however, the property was acquired by the First Reformed Methodist Society of Middleborough for renewed use as a ministerial farm and parsonage. In 1867 the Methodist Society purchased the nearby Sears House for use as the South Middleborough Methodist Parsonage and sold this house to Olive B. Shaw (1836-1927), the wife of E[lkanah] Howard Shaw of Carver in 1867, who in 1900, served as the local mail carrier. Shaw’s son, Henry H. Shaw (1856-1942) was engaged in a number of occupations including that of produce dealer and livery stable operator, running his business from the Parsonage Barn during the late nineteenth century. Henry H. Shaw’s son, Arthur B. Shaw, later owned the house.

Further anchoring this area as the new village center of South Middleborough was construction of the so-called Spruce Meetinghouse in 1774, a school of unknown date and establishment of the South Middleborough Cemetery (1768), 565 Wareham Street upon land provided by Consider Benson and others. The oldest recorded burial is that of Joseph Harris who died November 21, 1771. In 1893, the Cemetery was incorporated. In 1923, the Cemetery Association undertook construction of the South Middleborough Cemetery Receiving Tomb (1923-24) which, from its inception as a proposal in 1907, took 17 years to accomplish, largely due to a dearth of funds. In 1929, the Cemetery Association voted to discontinue the sale of lots. “Due to the lack of any plan of the cemetery or any record of the place of burials, it often happened that lots overlapped and some of the earlier graves were disturbed.” Gifts of land by Mrs. Florence A. (Hunt) Williams of South Middleborough in 1946 and 1954, however, allowed the cemetery to expand.

The development of a new village center attracted residents anxious to be near both church and school. A number of houses were constructed in the vicinity of the church including the Smith-LeBaron-Hunt House (circa 1800), 6 Locust Street. This house has connections to three of South Middleborough’s noteworthy families: the Smiths, LeBarons and Hunt-Williams. The original owner appears to have been Israel Smith who farmed the property which extended northwards to the South Middleborough Parsonage and whose family later became prominent in the development of nearby Rock Village in Middleborough. The Smiths were succeeded as owners by Cyrus LeBaron (1808-97) who owned and resided in the house between 1840 and 1888. In 1888, Charles E. Hunt (1865-1942) purchased the house and surrounding property which he operated as dairy farm for nearly fifty years (1888-1936), using the existing rear ell of the house for a milk room and housing his herd in a barn (no longer extant) which stood to the rear of the Hunt Barn (19th century), 6 Locust Street. Hunt was also a lumber mill owner, operating the Gammons and Hunt mill with partner Ephraim H. Gammons of South Middleborough. There was little distinction between the position of mill owner and the role of mill operative in South Middleborough’s lumber mills, and Hunt frequently was engaged as the chief engineer in his mill which was located near Houdlett’s Corner (the junction of Wareham and Pine Streets) just east of the district. The mill, the last active lumber mill on Wareham Street at South Middleborough, was destroyed by a fire in 1924, at which time Hunt chose not to rebuild. Following this, Hunt remained occupied with his dairy business which he sold in May, 1936, and retired. Since that time, the house has been occupied by the family of Hunt’s son-in-law, Harold A. Williams (1892-1964).

Another house built in the early years of South Middleborough’s development is the Smith-Wallen-Ryder House (circa 1803), 36 Spruce Street which appears to have been built by Caleb Maxham [Maxim], Jr. who acquired the property at the corner of Spruce and Locust Streets in that year, and eventually established a twenty acre homestead. Maxham worked as a cordwainer, locating a shop as early as April, 1803, on the property and producing shoes for his South Middleborough neighbors. In 1823, the property was acquired by Chandler R. Smith (c. 1797-1887), the son of Revolutionary War patriot Samuel Smith, with the elder Smith occupying the house following 1830. It was undoubtedly here that Samuel Smith produced his Memoirs of Samuel Smith: A Soldier of the Revolution (1776-1786) which were first published at Middleborough in 1853. Smith’s son, Chandler R. Smith would eventually become prominent in the community as an entrepreneur, operating a mercantile store and entering into a partnership with Stillman Benson. The house was later occupied by Smith’s son-in-law Zalmon T. Wallen (1835-90), operator of a billiard hall in 1890 at Middleborough and son of Jacob Wallen, one-time pastor at South Middleborough. Following the death of Zalmon Wallen, the house was occupied by his son, Frank Wallen (1859-1930) who served as the South Middleborough station agent from 1876 until his retirement in 1922. Wallen’s widow, Mary, occupied the home until her death in the early 1950s, during which time she sold land for the site of the South Middleborough Fire Station.

Romaine’s History of the Town of Middleboro recounts that the middle portion of the “Stone House” (1828), 567 Wareham Street, was reportedly built by a “Mr. Manning, a man of Dutch descent” who “disappeared from the community” shortly thereafter. Lorenzo Sturtevant added the wings on either side of Manning’s house, but apparently ran out of funds as they were left roofless. Stillman Benson completed the house, coating the stone walls with white plaster and adding a decorative red bargeboard along the eaves. The first family to actually reside in the house was that of Calvin M. Gammons, and the house was subsequently owned by his son Ephraim Gammons and granddaughter Jennie (Gammons) Phillips who rented portions of the “Stone House” as tenements to local residents. In April, 1932, Jennie M. (Gammons) Phillips sold the house to Mrs. Katherine W. Allen of Northbridge, Massachusetts, who operated a restaurant there in 1934 known as The Old Stone House Tea Room. The property was acquired in 1935 by Harold A. Congdon, Jr. of Clinton, Massachusetts, and his wife Ruth A. Congdon, who operated a restaurant and overnight camp, and also retailed gasoline to passing motorists bound for Cape Cod. In June, 1946, following the war, the Congdons sold the property to Anna B. O’Grady of East Taunton, who conducted an antique business there and who was succeeded in that line in 1954 by Alexander B. Davies.

Growth in the community’s spiritual life during the ante-bellum period is represented by the construction of the South Middleborough Methodist Church (1841; remodeled 1874-75, 1879, 1929-30), 563 Wareham Street, built upon the site of the original South Middleborough church known as the Spruce Meetinghouse which had been erected in 1774.

The Reformed Methodist denomination was established in 1814 by Elder Pliny Brett who felt the established Methodist Church to be in dire need of reformation and in 1825, a Reformed Methodist congregation was established at South Middleborough and began holding services in the abandoned Spruce Meetinghouse (which had not seen regular use since the 1795 relocation of the Third Baptist Church to nearby Rock Village), engaging its own ministers for that purpose. The years immediately following the establishment of the church witnessed a local religious revival, sparked by the Brett’s preaching in 1827. Following Brett, Reverend Uriah Minor preached from 1830 through 1835, followed by Theophilus Brown, pastor from 1841 to 1858.

With the arrival of Brown, the Spruce Meetinghouse was razed in 1841 and the present church building erected in its stead. Despite the absence of records between 1848 and 1868 (Weston comments that “there seems to be no history of it until 1868”), the church appears to have been active. Both Parley Brown and Jacob Wallen are listed as Reformed Methodist ministers resident at South Middleborough in 1855, when they may have been serving as temporary pastors. During the mid-1850s, yet another small revival occurred with the local Namasket Gazette being “informed by Rev. Mr. Marks of So. Middleboro’, that some 20 of his Congregation have recently indulged hopes and the interest still continues.” The congregation may have had difficulties attracting Reformed Methodists as preachers for Marks was succeeded in the 1850s by “a clergyman of the Christian Baptist denomination”, Reverend E. W. Barrows who settled in the community to which he ministered for several years. Barrows had formerly held a pastorate at Lakeville where he had experienced “a pleasant revival, and quite a number of persons professed conversion.” Barrows witnessed a similar, though smaller, revival at South Middleborough, baptizing five candidates on June 20, 1858. It was recorded at the time that “prosperity and peace attend the society at the S[outh] M[iddleborough] Chapel. Mr. Barrows is held in high esteem by the people, as a worthy, efficient, and sound teacher of Christianity.” Under Barrows’ influence, the religious revival was still manifest in September, 1858. At the time, the church had some forty-five members and a congregation numbering between 150 and 200. Additionally, there was a large choir “that sing with such spirit”, a Sunday School and an “efficient” Ladies Sewing Circle – activities which provided an important social outlet for the community.

Significantly, also during 1858, the First Reformed Methodist Society and the Protestant Methodist Church merged to form the Reformed Methodist Church by which it would be known until 1869.

In 1869, under the direction of pastor John G. Gammons, the church was once more reorganized, this time as a Methodist Episcopal Church under the New England Southern Conference of Churches thereby severing its affiliation with the Reformed Methodists, a denomination which had begun to wane during the 1840s with its founder, Pliny Brett eventually leaving the church.

The South Middleborough Methodist Church was an important influence within the community, both religiously (as the arbiter of the community’s morals and values) and socially (as the sponsor of such organizations as the Ladies’ Aid Society, Epworth League, Methodist Youth Fellowship and Women’s Christian Temperance Union). Among its most popular events was its annual Sunday School picnic, generally held at such venues as Onset and Bates Pond in Carver, which provided the highlight of many summers during the first decades of the twentieth century. Additionally, the vestry of the church, particularly prior to 1916 when the South Middleborough Grange Hall was constructed, was frequently the scene of important community meetings. The church also conducted well-attended Sunday School classes and the maples in front of the church date from 1928, planted by members of the young men’s class.

Intimately connected with the church’s history is the South Middleborough Methodist Parsonage (circa 1845), 21 Spruce Street, which was originally the homestead of Nathaniel Sears, “the gentlemanly Depot and Post Master of South Middleboro”. Though Sears also engaged in the production of shoes, he failed to establish it as an industry, his South Middleborough factory being destroyed in the 1859 South Middleborough fire. In 1867, the house was acquired by the First Reformed Methodist Society of Middleborough and served as the parsonage for the South Middleborough Church until 1982. Because of the number of families inhabiting the house and the Methodist Society’s desire to provide, at least, a modicum of comfort for its pastor, the parsonage was the object of frequent renovations and redecorating efforts. It was not until 1925, however, that it was wired for electricity, and another four years before a bathroom was installed. The grounds of the property were the site of a community tennis court (1930-41), care of which was taken by the short-lived South Middleborough Athletic Association, formed in 1935 for that purpose.

Mid-Nineteenth Century Development 1848-1881

The arrival of the Cape Cod Branch Railroad at South Middleborough in 1848 (where a station was established largely through the influence of Stillman Benson) allowed local farmers to profitably exploit the region’s resources of standing timber. The general availability of rail transport following the mid-nineteenth century enabled South Middleborough’s staple products to find their way to a ready market throughout the northeastern United States, thereby fostering the development of a self-sufficient agricultural community dominated by the production and milling of lumber, but including the cultivation of hay and cranberries, and the production of ice and charcoal, and encouraging the growth of ancillary industries including trunk, box, cranberry implement and soap manufacturing, albeit on a much smaller scale.

Because of its superb railroad connections and extensive pinelands, Middleborough as a whole was able to become the predominant lumber producer in the Commonwealth, emerging in that role as early as 1880, with South Middleborough’s mills contributing much to this achievement. A number of houses of former lumber mill owners and operatives survive from this period within the district, and their relatively small scale is indicative of the fact that fortunes generally were not easily made in local lumber milling. Houses remained small and architecturally restrained as opposed to more architecturally-articulate residences being built at Middleborough center at the time.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the large parcel of land stretching from the South Middleborough Cemetery southwards towards Pine Street was owned by the Stillman Benson (1806-83), owner of the community’s earliest and largest saw mill which had been built in the early 1850s on Spruce Street near the Cape Cod Branch Railroad line. Following the loss of this steam-powered mill to fire in May, 1859, Benson raised a new steam mill on the south side of Wareham Street on the site now occupied by the Benson-Mostrom House. The construction of Benson’s new mill provided the impetus for the development of the opposite (northern) side of Wareham Street, and on this land, Benson’s son, John S. Benson (1834-1917) who was engaged with his father in the milling of lumber and the manufacture of boxboards, constructed the John S. Benson House (circa 1860), 577 Wareham Street. The house was later owned and occupied by John S. Benson’s son, John Loring Benson (1869-1958), who succeeded to the business of the Benson saw mill. The house had a number of subsequent owners including Charles E. Fitch, William MacNeill (who operated a blacksmith shop and a small store on the property during the mid-1920s), C. B. Van Dusen (active in the local Grange), Osmon E. Otis (who operated a road stand and filling station between 1933 and 1935) and Ira D. Fowler who was the owner until 1946 and who operated a gasoline station. In 1952, the property was acquired by Russell L. and Phyllis Smith who used the property as a poultry farm known as Smith and Sons Poultry Farm. In 1953, the Smiths opened a retail store in the east ell of the house, selling barbecued chicken, fresh and frozen broilers, fryers, roasters, fowl and eggs. By July, 1955, Smith had over one thousand chickens on the farm. Smith was also interested in the breeding of German Shepherds, as well and maintained a kennel on the premises.

The land to the west of the John S. Benson House was sold by the Benson family during this period as houselots for residential construction, and four houses were ultimately constructed:

The Ephraim H. Gammons House (circa 1870), 569 Wareham Street, was owned and occupied by saw mill operative and (later) owner Ephraim H. Gammons (1845-26) who was active in the South Middleborough church. Gammons learned the sawmill trade in his early years as an employee in the South Middleborough mills and in 1898, he entered business for himself at Benson’s Sawmill, later entering into partnership with Charles E. Hunt and constructing a new saw mill in South Middleborough. Gammons remained in partnership with Hunt until December, 1910, when he sold his share to his partner. Gammons also served as postmaster of South Middleborough (1892-1926), and was succeeded by his wife, Emma Gammons (1926) and daughter Jennie Phillips (1926-34) with this house serving as the post office between 1892 and 1912 when it was relocated to the South Middleborough store. The house was occupied by Gammons’ daughter Jennie until her death in 1964.

The Witham-Boutin House (circa 1862), 575 Wareham Street, was constructed by John Witham on four-and-one-half acres of land acquired in August, 1862, from Stillman Benson and was occupied by himself and later his son, Edwin F. Witham, owners of Witham’s sawmill at South Middleborough between 1884 and 1907. The mill, which is no longer extant, stood on Wareham Street immediately north of the district and initially manufactured trunks under the Withams’ ownership, but following 1889 focused upon the milling of box boards and the sawing of lumber. Edwin Witham ultimately relocated to Middleborough center where he acquired a more substantial home and served as Middleborough selectman from 1893 to 1906. In August, 1892, Witham sold the South Middleborough house to Adelard Boutin who had come to South Middleborough from St. Isidore, Qu├ębec, with his brother Joseph about 1888, and was employed as a laborer in the lumber industry. The local milling industry employed large numbers of French Canadians, primarily as wood cutters to harvest logs for the local mills. The house was occupied by the Boutin and Perry families through 1943.

The property on which the John Feltch House (circa 1871), 573 Wareham Street, stands was purchased in May, 1871, by Abiel N. Fuller of Middleborough from Stillman Benson. The house had been erected by April, 1873, at which time Fuller sold the property with buildings to Eli C. Adams of Sandwich who in turn in June, 1883, sold the property to Cyrus A. LeBaron of South Middleborough. The house remained in the LeBaron family until 1944 when it was sold by LeBaron’s daughter, Lotta A. (LeBaron) Feltch. Mrs. Feltch’s husband, John Feltch, was one of the few South Middleborough residents not engaged in lumbering or agriculture, serving as a clerk in James M. Clark’s store for twenty-eight years (1891-1919). Feltch retired from that business (then operated by Thomas Brothers) in September, 1919, to become a salesman in the clothing trade. In July, 1944, Mrs. Feltch sold the house to Thomas O. and Ruth B. Jefferson of New Bedford.

The neighboring Feltch Cottage (circa 1871), 571 Wareham Street, was built probably sometime about 1871 and shares a common history with the neighboring Feltch House, being owned consecutively by Abiel Fuller, Eli C. Adams and Cyrus LeBaron. In the spring of 1913, the cottage was sold by LeBaron’s daughter, Lotta A. Feltch to Ephraim H. Gammons who purchased the property as a home for his sister-in-law, Mrs. Mary (“Minnie”) Humphrey Shaw (c. 1857-1949), widow of Nelson Shaw, who occupied the home until her death in 1949. Following Mrs. Shaw’s death, her daughter, Ethel Maria Delano occupied the Feltch Cottage with her husband, Herman N. Delano.

Mid-nineteenth century residential development also occurred at the opposite end of the village on lands owned by the Methodist Society and others. Here too, near the intersection of present-day Spruce and Locust Streets, was located the commercial heart of the village with stores, a post office, Stillman Benson’s original mill, a small shoe manufactory operated by Nathaniel Sears (the location of which is uncertain, though believed to have been situated nearby the mill) and the original South Middleborough railroad depot. Though a devastating 1859 fire destroyed the industries here as well as the post office and railroad depot, development, both commercial and residential, continued in the immediate vicinity, and a number of resources remain attesting to the mixed residential and commercial nature of the area.

Little is known of the John E. Smith House (circa 1850), 15 Spruce Street, constructed upon land on the west side of Spruce Street long owned by the Smith family. Smith (1841-1913) served in the Civil War and, in 1889, was engaged as a teamster at South Middleborough. Smith’s wife, Sarah G. Smith was a long-time correspondent of the Middleboro Gazette, submitting South Middleborough items to that newspaper for some twenty-five years throughout the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.

Better documented is the Robert B. Hatch House (1869), 23 Spruce Street, located upon what was originally Benson Street before its relocation by the Old Colony Railroad in the late-nineteenth century which sought to eliminate a grade crossing. The house was occupied for nearly one hundred years by three generations of the Hatch family, each of which was engaged in lumber milling as mill operatives at South Middleborough and nearby Rock Village. Robert B. Hatch (1830-83) was engaged as a mill operative in Benson’s steam mill at South Middleborough, and the small house is reflective of the living circumstances of such men and their families. Though he had survived previous injuries at the mill, Hatch was tragically killed in 1883 while at work when struck in the head by a piece of flying wood, an incident indicative of the hazards of the milling profession. Hatch’s widow continued to reside in the house, later the home of her son Foster E. Hatch (1869-1950). Like his father, Foster Hatch was employed as an operative in the local lumber mills at South Middleborough and later Rock, working as a board jointer. For a short period (1902-04) Hatch was a partner with George H. Vaughan in the former Witham mill at South Middleborough. Foster Hatch’s only child, Elmer C. Hatch who made his home here until the early 1960s, was also employed in lumber milling at Rock Village, among other occupations.

Henry Kirk W. Ryder (1842-1916), like the other home builders on the east side of Spruce Street, purchased his house lot for the Ryder-Bisbee House (circa 1878), 14 Spruce Street, from the First Reformed Methodist Society in August, 1878, at a time when the Society was divesting itself of its various land holdings. Ryder was a sawmill employee who, in 1889, was employed in Atwood’s box mill at Rock Village and was deeply interested in the welfare of the South Middleborough Methodist Episcopal Church and the South Middleborough Cemetery Association. In February, 1921, Reverend Robert E. Bisbee (1858-1938), previously pastor of the South Middleborough and South Carver Methodist Episcopal Churches purchased the house from the Ryder estate, and resumed his duties as pastor of those two churches in April, 1921. During the time the Bisbees spent here, the Ryder House served as the South Middleborough parsonage. It was here that Bisbee, who held strong views regarding what he saw as the social imperative within Christianity, prepared the second edition of his Essence of Christianity, which was published in 1931. Following Bisbee’s death in 1938, the house was occupied by the family of Frank Graham.

The Ebenezer Smith House (1872), 8 Spruce Street, was built for Ebenezer (“Eben”) Smith (1841-86) beginning in June, 1872, upon land acquired that same month from the First Reformed Methodist Society of Middleborough, and stood directly across the street from the homestead of Smith’s father, Ansel Smith. Following Ebenezer Smith’s death in 1886, his widow Lucinda Smith (who was known affectionately within the neighborhood as “Aunt Lue”), lived here with her brother-in-law Daniel Smith until her own death. The house was occupied by the family of Frank Russell who had moved in in the spring of 1907, helping to care for the elderly Smith. The Russells continued to occupy the house until 1920 after which it had a number of occupants, including A. Tremaine Smith (a clerk in Thomas Brothers’ store and later Chief of Police in neighboring Carver) and Henry H. Shaw (the former livery stable operator at South Middleborough). In 1941, Shaw sold the house to Richmond C. Matthews, partner in Thomas Brothers and Company, the South Middleborough grocers.

The Edward E. Sisson House (circa 1883), 1 Locust Street, was probably built by Allen Chamberlain at the time that he operated the South Middleborough Blacksmith Shop. It is clearly described in the 1904 valuation list (at which time it was owned by Edward E. Sisson) as the “Chamberlain House”. At the time of its construction, the house resembled a simple Greek Revival style structure, but later additions altered its appearance. The interior of the house was remodeled by the Sissons on a number of occasions: 1905, 1910, 1911, and (extensively) 1922. During the summer of 1916, the main portion of the house was wired for electricity, and three years later, in 1919, the tenement which was rented to a number of South Middleborough residents over the years was similarly wired. The home was the residence of Edward E. Sisson and, later, his son Elmer A. Sisson, who were long associated with the business interests of South Middleborough as operators of the South Middleborough Blacksmith Shop, South Middleborough Garage and Filling Station, all of which stand nearby. Additionally, Elmer A. Sisson’s wife, Lucy (Braley Sisson), was the owner and operator of Lucy Braley’s Candy Kitchen.

The community’s mid-nineteenth century residential growth also spurred local commercial expansion. Among the remaining commercial resources is the James M. Clark House and Store (circa 1865), 28 Spruce Street. Previous stores had operated at South Middleborough in the vicinity of Spruce and Locust Streets, including that of Hiram O. Tillson which was acquired by Clark, a sea captain by occupation, from the Tillson heirs in 1864 or 1865. Clark would have been familiar with both South Middleborough and Tillson’s store, having wed Maria P. Benson, the daughter of Stillman Benson, as his second wife. The building housed both Clark’s home, as well as the relocated store. In 1873, Clark retired from the grocery business and in November of that year sold the store to his son, James M. Clark, Jr. The store remained in the Clark House until 1892 when it moved across what is now Locust Street to larger accommodations in the South Middleborough Store building. For a time, the South Middleborough post office was located here. It is from Clark that the intersection of Spruce and Locust Street takes the name “Clark’s Corner”.

Recognizing the commercial opportunity presented by the community’s residential expansion, in 1874 Stillman Benson and William H. Thomas had constructed Sisson’s Blacksmith Shop and Garage (1874; additions 1917 and 1923), which they initially leased as a business venture. During the 1870s, Edward H. Cromwell of Rochester served as the blacksmith, and was succeeded about 1876 by Allen Chamberlain. In 1886, Chamberlain quit the occupation due to ill health at which time the shop was acquired along by Edward E. Sisson whose “name will ever be associated with that of village blacksmith” of South Middleborough. Sisson served as South Middleborough’s blacksmith from 1886 until March,1920 when he retired for reasons (like Chamberlain before him) of ill health. The growing popularity of automotive travel (and the consequent increasing obsolescence of blacksmithing) encouraged Sisson’s son Elmer to construct an automotive garage in April and May, 1917, onto the front of his father’s blacksmith shop in order to cater to the automobile traffic which was increasing each season, a transition commonly made by blacksmith’s of the era. The Craftsman-style “fine large office” was added to the garage in 1923. The garage also included a service station which sold gasoline, fuel oil and kerosene. When the Wareham Street bypass was constructed in 1925-26, Elmer Sisson was forced to relocate the operation across the street, and the garage found other uses, housing Sisson’s oil trucks and later his bottled gas business.

Late-Nineteenth Century and Early Twentieth Century Development 1882-1924

Residential growth in the decades following 1848 ultimately necessitated the construction of a new South Middleborough School (1882; one room addition 1952-53), 564 Wareham Street. In 1882 when the schoolhouse was built, it was represented as a great stride forwards in providing for the educational needs of the community’s children. In its report for the preceding year, the Middleborough School Committee had discussed the poor condition of the existing South Middleborough schoolhouse which was located at Houdlett’s Corner, particularly critical of its hygienic deficiencies. Not surprisingly given the strong criticism of the South Middleborough schoolhouse, the Town of Middleborough voted the following year to replace it, selecting a new site opposite the Methodist Church purchased from Chandler R. Smith in May, 1882. Warren Homer Southworth (1835-1916), a member of the School Committee which had so roundly condemned the South Middleborough School, was selected to build the new successor schoolhouse. Southworth was a Middleborough builder and “was at one time one of the busiest of the craft in the vicinity.” A partial listing of Southworth’s Middleborough buildings include 43 houses, 13 barns, the Peirce Block, Middleborough Almshouse and three schoolhouses: Union Street (1875), South Middleborough (1882) and Wappanucket (1885). The South Middleborough School was recognized at the time as a thoroughly modern schoolhouse, reflective of the School Committee’s pronounced views on schoolhouse hygiene. As early as 1900, however, the one-room school (which housed nine grades) began facing overcrowding. Under the tutelage of Henry B. Burkland, teacher at the school from 1921 to 1925 the South Middleborough School flourished. Nonetheless, the physical structure remained archaic. The building was heated by wood and it was not until 1948 that a proper heating system was installed. For years, water had to be brought from neighboring houses to the building, until the completion of a well. When the well experienced problems during the winter of 1935 the school had to resort to the former practice of trudging water from neighboring homes. In January, 1942, a telephone was finally installed. Many of the improvements were financed directly by the students, responsible for various fund-raising activities. In 1920, the students were selling candy in order to finance playground improvements. In 1929, the building was re-shingled and a new fence was constructed about the schoolyard. The school continued to serve the southern portion of Middleborough until 1990 when it was closed during the centralization of Middleborough schools. The school was noted for its annual pageants, usually held at the Fire Station, each grade performing a separate work.

The community’s relative financial stability during this era and the location of the railroad station at South Middleborough permitted the community to emerge as an economic locus for residents from smaller nearby villages such as South Carver and North Rochester. Residents in those communities frequently shipped goods such as lumber and cranberries through South Middleborough (the closest point to Boston for them), and purchased goods in Clark’s Store. In 1892, growing business encouraged James M. Clark to his store across what is now Locust Street to the South Middleborough Store (circa 1890), 32 Spruce Street, where it was a landmark for over half a century. The new store, while providing larger and more modern accommodation, like the old served as a convenient and informal meeting place for the community which gathered there. In November, 1912, Clark sold the business to Robert McLeod, a clerk in the store since 1902. McLeod made immediate improvements including the electrification of the store in the late spring of 1913 and the construction of a barn (no longer extant) for the store’s delivery teams. McLeod’s Store continued to rely upon the horse-drawn order wagons to deliver groceries throughout the area including Carver, Tremont in Wareham, and Rock Village in Middleborough, and care of the store’s horses was taken by Arthur F. Nye until 1917 at which time Davis Wilcox took charge. In 1915, when McLeod retired from the business and moved from Middleborough, the store was purchased by brothers Alvin E., Alfred and Lyman P. Thomas. Alvin Thomas had been a clerk in the store for both Clark and McLeod, and was noted for the long tenure of his service, having been employed there since 1879. The store subsequently became known as Thomas Brothers Company, and under the Thomases a gradual, though thorough, modernization of the business was initiated. The firm relied solely upon the horse-drawn order wagons until May, 1919, when a truck was purchased for deliveries, driven by Ralph Tripp. A second truck was added in December, 1919, handled by Ernest E. Thomas, and in February, 1921, a new auto was acquired by the firm. In 1920, Thomas Brothers’ disposed of the firm’s grain business to the Narragansett Milling Company of Providence, Rhode Island. Following the February, 1929, death of Lyman P. Thomas, Thomas Brothers was reorganized in May, 1929, with the two remaining partners – Alfred and Alvin E. Thomas – taking into partnership clerks Elliott G. Beaton of West Wareham (who had joined the firm as a clerk in October, 1928, succeeding Thaddeus Tomasik) and Richmond C. Matthews. In 1938, Alvin Thomas and Beaton retired and six years later, were succeeded by Harlan L. Matthews who became a partner of his brother, Richmond. Following World War II, the South Middleborough Store building was considered out-dated and it subsequently was abandoned in 1948 by Thomas Brothers’ which relocated to the modern Thomas Brothers’ Store on Wareham Street. During 1948 and 1949, the vacant former store building was the home of a short-lived museum devoted to Charles S. Stratton, the diminutive nineteenth-century performer whose wife was a Middleborough native and who was made famous by P. T Barnum. A portion of the items exhibited later formed the basis of the Middleborough Historical Association’s current collection for which it is well known,

Despite the economic advances made by South Middleborough throughout this period, the outlying village remained on the periphery of Middleborough, the geographic distance between South Middleborough and Middleborough center creating a corresponding economic and psychological distance. The community also chafed under what it considered to be high taxes with few benefits, prompting efforts within the community to separate itself from the larger town, most seriously in 1884 and 1885. These efforts failed. The village remained part of Middleborough and one devoted to agriculture, a characteristic which further distinguished it from the town as a whole which was rapidly industrializing. Because of the agricultural basis of the community, land tended to be consolidated and remain in the hands of few families rather than being offered for residential development. The Middleboro Gazette, clearly cognizant of this tradition, asked in 1877, “who ever thought of having a real estate broker in South Middleboro, where the farms have been in the same family for three or four generations?”

With the arrival of the interurban street railway in 1901, South Middleborough became more accessible, and residents there could conceivably consider commuting to work in Middleborough center, thereby making it ripe for residential development. One extant resource reflecting this development is the Middleboro, Wareham & Buzzards Bay Street Railway Waiting Room (circa 1901), 567 Wareham Street. Ultimately, the street railway had little impact upon fostering residential growth at South Middleborough and potential property developers found themselves stymied by South Middleborough’s tradition of land consolidation and landholding. In April, 1908, the Gazette unfairly sniped: “We hear of parties who would like to buy land in this locality and put up nice houses, but those who have land to sell want it covered with money.” What residential development did occur was largely infill development which focused primarily upon Spruce Street and was conducted by individuals with existing familial connections to South Middleborough.

Frederick E. Braley (1869-1942) acquired his Spruce Street property in January, 1900, from Charles E. Hunt, constructing the present Frederick E. Brayley House (circa 1900), 22 Spruce Street, shortly thereafter. Between 1900 and 1926 the house was occupied by Braley and his family, including his father-in-law James (“Grandpa”) Messeroll, who served as the community’s mail carrier between 1900 and 1926. Braley was a shoe cutter, a fairly common occupation in Middleborough, but somewhat atypical for South Middleborough. In 1922, the Braley Garage (1922), 22 Spruce Street, was constructed to the rear of the house by South Middleborough contractor Clarence Ryder to house Braley’s new automobile. The house was acquired in 1926 by a Mr. Small of Dennisport, Massachusetts. Small conducted a clothing store at Dennisport for thirty-five years, retiring about 1916. The Smalls utilized the house periodically throughout the winters, generally returning to Dennisport for each summer.

The neighboring property to the north was also developed at this time. The original house to stand upon this lot was a “small house” constructed by Benjamin Allen Chamberlain, the original operator of the South Middleborough blacksmith shop, probably about 1883 at which time he purchased the lot from Cyrus LeBaron. About May, 1900, Edwin F. Witham purchased the Chamberlain House and following 1901, it was owned by George H. Vaughan, partner in the South Middleborough lumber milling concern of Witham & Vaughan. Sometime between 1901 and 1904, the Chamberlain House appears to have been replaced by the present George H. Vaughan House (circa 1904), 20 Spruce Street, which is noted in the 1904 Middleborough valuation list somewhat enigmatically as “unfinished house (Witham)”. Vaughan occupied the new house only until September, 1907, at which time he became the sole owner of the Witham Mill and sold this property. In 1923, the property was sold to James W. Haire of Lowell and occupied by Haire, his wife Florence and son Chester.

The Herbert W. Tripp House (1908), 31 Spruce Street, was built upon the site of the former homestead of Henry W. Smith by Herbert Welden Tripp (1866-1917). Preparatory to construction of the house, Tripp took down the former Smith barn, in April, 1908. The foundation for the house was constructed in May and June by Tripp’s brother-in-law, John Morrison, and father, Charles Tripp. Work on the house began a month later, but the use of old lumber possibly taken from the Smith barn, made “slower work.” The house was complete enough by December, 1908, for the family to move in, “though not really settled.” Tripp, a boxmaker by trade, died March 18, 1917, and the following year his sold the house to Nathaniel A. Shurtleff. Like others at South Middleborough, Shurtleff had at one time been a sawmill owner. Mrs. Shurtleff continued to live in the house until 1940 when Theodore (“Ted”) Travaglini of Rock Village purchased the house. Travaglini was a landscaper by trade and operated the South Middleboro Nursery, originally operating as a wholesale business which sold plants to larger nurseries, Travaglini expanded the operation into a retail business, operating from the large property to the rear of the house. It is probably during Travaglini’s ownership that the Barn (early/mid-20th century), 31 Spruce Street, was constructed.

Arthur F. Nye (1873-1927) of Plymouth purchased the vacant Spruce Street lot for the Arthur F. Nye House (1909), 10 Spruce Street, from the First Reformed Methodist Society of Middleborough on January 6, 1909, and the house completed that year by contractor Joseph N. Shaw of Middleborough. At the time of the house’s construction, Nye was engaged in the manufacture and peddling of essences having previously been engaged in the work in connection with his father at Plymouth where they operated Arthur F. Nye and Company. In Middleborough, Nye continued in this line of work, presumably manufacturing in the stable which he had relocated from Plymouth prior to the construction of the house. Nye was later employed by the South Middleborough store. In October, 1917, the house was sold to Fred Lamb of Detroit, who operated a small roadside stand, catering to passing motorists. In April, 1923, the house was acquired by Henry and Isabelle Donovan of Boston. Henry Donovan proposed to “carry on a similar business as Mr. Lamb and [moved] a portable store” to the lot for that purpose. The business was known as the Cape Side Shops. Because of the rerouting of the State Highway behind the Nye House during 1925 and 1926, Donovan was obliged to relocate his business following the close of the 1925 tourist season, reopening at a new location on the relocated portion of Wareham Street in June, 1926. As part of his business, Donovan operated a gasoline station with two gas pumps and a 50 gallon “oil buggy on wheels.” The Donovans used the house strictly as a summer home informally known as “Capeside”, returning each year to winter in Boston where they were teachers at the North Bennet Street School in Boston, the nation’s oldest school of industrial craftsmanship.

Following construction of the Nye House, few other houses were erected at South Middleborough which had fallen into an economic decline during the second decade of the twentieth century, brought on by the local demise of lumber milling which itself was a result of decreasing demand for white pine lumber and the growth of the cardboard packaging industry which obviated the need for the wooden box boards which the community had so prodigiously produced. The homes that were constructed, as before, by individuals with pre-existing ties to the community. The bungalow-style Benson-Mostrom House (1917), 576 Wareham Street, was the Benson family’s last home at South Middleborough and was erected upon the site of Benson’s Sawmill which was destroyed by fire December 7, 1915. There is no record of the construction of this house, built during the summer of 1917, save for the brief note that “J. L. Benson and family will … occupy their new house,” which they did about the start of December, 1917, moving here from the John S. Benson House just across Wareham Street. In April, 1920, the house was sold to Reverend Oscar G. Mostrom of North Middleborough who made a number of improvements to the house, including the installation of a “water system” by mid-December, 1920. Following their removal to Wareham in 1922, the Mostroms sold the house to Mrs. Mary A. Atherton of Dedham, Massachusetts. Mrs. Atherton was to name the house “White Arbor” and use it as a summer home, with other families occupying it during the winter months as caretakers. By 1927, “White Arbor” was being operated by Mrs. Atherton as a tea room known as The White Arbor Tea Room, catering to Cape-bound motorists. The tea room opened under new management in the summer of 1928, and in July, 1928, Mrs. Gardner of Philadelphia purchased the house. Guest accommodations were added and the property was operated as the White Arbor Inn. Besides overnight accommodations, the White Arbor also sold gasoline to passing motorists. In January, 1934, Mabel A. Brown purchased White Arbor which she proposed to “improve for a tea room later in the season.” During the spring, the Browns [H. D. Brown of Melrose] used it as a country house. In January, 1950, the house was acquired by Muriel M. Cammarata who with her husband Peter became proprietors of Pete & Muriel’s Restaurant which was erected upon the neighboring parcel.

South Middleborough contractor Clarence H. Ryder who was responsible for a number of structures including the South Middleborough Grange Hall and the Braley Garage, constructed for himself the Clarence H. Ryder House (1919), 33 Spruce Street. The house, may in fact, be a reconstruction of a previously extant structure known as the Tripp House possibly relocated from the Herbert W. Tripp House property at Clark’s Corner. Undoubtedly to facilitate the needs of his contracting work, Ryder constructed the Ryder Workshop and Garage (1920), 33 Spruce Street to the north of the house in 1920.

The Chester E. Smith House (1922), 9 Spruce Street, was erected by Chester E. Smith (1873-1934), son of John E. Smith. Chester Smith seems to have had no particular occupation and was engaged in a variety of lines of work. In 1897, he and his future brother-in-law Alfred Shurtleff who had been working as clerks at the grocery store of Thomas Spooner, Jr. at Middleborough, purchased the store. Later, Smith was president of the South Middleborough Band (1899), worked as a clerk with Middleborough clothiers Sparrow Brothers (1905), was engaged as a housepainter at South Middleborough (1911-14) and later found employment as a teamster (1920) and carpenter (1930). He was last engaged as a farmer at the time of his death.

Many, like Smith, continued to farm their South Middleborough properties, though agriculture was rapidly declining in Middleborough as a whole. As late as 1917 it was written of South Middleborough that “almost anyone who has a spot of land that can be conveniently used for farming are making the most of it.” Not surprisingly then, there was considerable community support for the establishment of a Grange at South Middleborough, particularly given the success of the Nemasket Grange which had been formed at Middleborough center in 1888. The South Middleborough Grange was organized with twenty-nine charter members on December 6, 1913, and a hall was fitted over John L. Benson’s saw mill at South Middleborough, located upon the future site of the Benson-Mostrom House. Following the December, 1915, destruction of the Benson Mill through fire, meetings were held temporarily in the vestry of the South Middleborough Methodist Church, but ultimately a decision was made by the Grange to erect the South Middleborough Grange Hall (1916), 570 Wareham Street. Preparatory to construction, the South Middleborough group was incorporated January 28, 1916, as South Middleboro Grange No. 337, Patrons of Husbandry. In order to finance the new hall, members were asked to contribute. The hall was built by local builder Clarence Ryder and was in use as early as August, 1916 The South Middleborough Grange Hall served as the venue for innumerable Grange and other social functions for the community since its 1916 construction. The Grange, itself, was well-noted for several traditional functions including Labor Day clambakes, December Community Christmas trees, whist parties, and agricultural fairs which have added greatly to the cultural vitality of the community. The South Middleborough Grange remains an active organization.

Early and Mid-Twentieth Century Commercial Development 1924-59

Just as a revolutionary transportation advance had inaugurated a new historical era in South Middleborough with the arrival of the railroad in 1848, so too would the appearance of the automobile at South Middleborough in the first decades of the twentieth century herald a new period of economic growth, one founded upon the automobile and the passing-tourist, and one which would rouse the community from the economic malaise into which it had slipped following the decline of its lumber industry after 1910. The appearance of the automobile would bring an end to the agricultural basis of the local economy.

During this period, separatist attitudes which had found expression during the previous decades at South Middleborough, though still extant just under the surface, would be largely overwhelmed by the growing interconnectedness of the town through novel advances in transportation and communication, as well as social changes including the centralization of Middleborough’s public schools. Nonetheless, the residual feeling of being eternally short-changed, would promote a political activism within the community which would be responsible for the development of local grass-roots organizations designed to promote the welfare of the community, most notably the Precinct 3 Improvement Association and the South Middleboro Protective Association.

Ironically, the instrument which was to prove to many the economic salvation of South Middleborough – the automobile – was initially regarded as an unwelcome intrusion into the peacefulness of the community. The automobile was considered annoying with its perpetual clouds of lingering dust and dangerous, jeopardizing the safety and lives of South Middleborough residents. Near weekly diatribes against reckless and inconsiderate motorists became a common feature of local news reporting. The routing of State Route 28 (initially one of only two through routes linking Boston with the summer resorts of Cape Cod) through the historic heart of the village at South Middleborough ensured a heavy volume of traffic, with the consequent accidents and fatalities.

This aversion to the automobile underwent a dramatic reversal during the 1920s when the community began to recognize economic opportunity in the increasing number of motorists passing through the village, and new residents moved in to take advantage of the opportunities thus presented. Following World War I, numerous auto-related businesses, catering to tourists bound for or returning from Cape Cod, sprang up in South Middleborough, including filling stations, tea rooms, restaurants, tourist camps, overnight cabins, motels and gift shops, stamping the community for the next forty years with a commercial vitality it had never before had. Existing structures including the Arthur F. Nye House, Frederick E. Braley House, “Stone House”, and Benson Mostrom House were converted to commercial purposes either wholly or in part and a number of new structures were erected to take advantage of the traffic which remained heaviest during summer weekends.

Many small roadside stands were hastily erected following 1924. Notable among these is Lucy Brayley’s Candy Kitchen (circa 1925), 562 Wareham Street, which originated as a small produce stand. Though an elementary school teacher by training, Lucy Braley began producing candy in the rear of her future husband Elmer E. Sisson’s South Middleborough Garage and Filling Station to sell to passing motorists before relocating here in the late 1920s. Known for her meticulous record keeping and innovative marketing practices which included the maintenance of summer delivery routes in the nearby resort communities of Onset, Wareham, Mattapoisett and Falmouth, modeled upon the delivery of ice (patrons placing a pink card in their window to indicate that candy was desired), Lucy Braley developed her business into a well-known landmark for travelers bound for the Cape. Mrs. Sisson became a noted businesswoman in the area, known for her devotion to South Middleborough. A vocal advocate of the rights of small business owners, she contested both the Commonwealth’s blue laws and its taxation code. The Candy Kitchen operated here until 1978 when it was relocated to the Edward E. Sisson House. Similar in scale is the 1930s roadside stand (1930s) at 575 Wareham Street, about which little is known.

While such stands provided welcome diversions along the road to the Cape, the relative length of time required to travel by automobile during the interwar period prompted motorists to demand more substantial services, including “food, gas and lodging”, all of which South Middleborough entrepreneurs sought to provide. Small tea rooms serving snacks and light lunches were established within existing structures which were converted for the purpose such as the Benson Mostrom House which operated as the White Arbor Tea Room and the “Stone House” which was known as the Old Stone House Tea Room. The most notable addition at this time was Sisson’s Diner (circa 1901; addition 1926), 561 Wareham Street which was established by Elmer A. Sisson as a money-making venture taking advantage of the section of Wareham Street constructed in 1925-26 to by pass Clark’s Corner. To establish the diner, in 1926, Sisson acquired a former trolley car from the defunct Middleboro, Wareham & Buzzards Bay Street Railway, and located it here on this property. A year later, Sisson had the stone and cement wall which separates the diner property from that of the neighboring church constructed. To operate the diner, Sisson engaged Harry Clark. Clark was later assisted by his brother, William (“Bill”) L. Clark, who would operate the diner until the age of 78, retiring in 1948. Clark was succeeded by Adrian Alberti until 1951, and by Alberti’s son, Alfred P. Alberti.

Filling stations were well represented in the 1920s when regulations governing the retailing of gasoline were less stringent. Occupants of the Arthur F. Nye House, “Stone House”, Benson-Mostrom House, and John S. Benson House all sold gasoline to motorists. More substantial was Sisson’s Garage on Locust Street. The rerouting of Route 28 in 1925-26 to bypass the center of South Middleborough at Clark’s Corner, however, forced Elmer A. Sisson to construct a new South Middleborough Garage (1926-27), 562 Wareham Street and South Middleborough Filling Station (1926-27), 562 Wareham Street, upon a prime location at the intersection of Wareham Street and the new bypass. The two building complex colloquially known as Sisson’s Filling Station opened for business in March, 1927, and included one pump connected to a 2,000 gallon tank, two pumps attached to a 1,000 gallon tank, and a large 15,500 gallon underground tank. Unlike other gasoline dealers in the vicinity, Sisson owned, rather than leased, the equipment, operating the station as an independent gasoline retailer. On the roof of the small wood-frame filling station, Sisson erected a large sign which advertised Sisson’s Diner and which became a landmark easily visible to motorists approaching South Middleborough on their return from the Cape. By 1950, Sisson had branched into the fuel oil and bottled gas business, serving Middleborough, Carver, Rochester and Lakeville with two oil trucks and one gas truck which were housed in the Sisson Barn on Locust Street.

Overnight accommodations at South Middleborough were provided by the White Arbor Inn, operating in the former Benson-Mostrom House, and the less formal motorists’ overnight camp at the “Stone House”. In connection with this last venture is the cabin (early 20th century), 567 Wareham Street which appears to have operated as part of the camp.

Though rationing of gasoline, oil and tires during World War II naturally greatly reduced traffic on Route 28, the number of cars traveling through South Middleborough following 1945 soon exceeded pre-war levels, providing impetus for continued commercial development of properties fronting Wareham Street. Land for the small Second Thomas Brothers Store (1948), 560 Wareham Street, was purchased December 1, 1947, by Harland L. and Richmond C. Matthews from Mrs. Florence Williams with the intention of moving their grocery business here from the former South Middleborough Store, undoubtedly encouraged by the modern development of the retail grocery trade. A modern store was quickly built and opened for business May, 1948, and the wood-frame building at Clark’s Corner abandoned. The new location had the added benefit of available parking for patrons. The business was discontinued in 1959, no longer able to compete with national chains such as the First National and A & P, both of which opened new “supermarkets” with ample parking lots at Middleborough center in the late 1950s.
Williams’ Trading Post (1949), 556 Wareham Street, was established in 1949 by Harold A. Williams, son-in-law of Charles M. Hunt, to take advantage of summer motor traffic bound for Cape Cod. Plants were propagated in the nearby Williams’ greenhouses (mid-20th century), 556 Wareham Street and the business offered fresh produce grown by the Williams family, much of which was retailed to passing motorists. Williams’ children, Harold Hunt (“Buzzie”) Williams and Ellen (Williams) Taylor assisted with the business. “Over the years roofs were added, leaving space for the trees to grow up through the roofline, and additional buildings erected. The ‘annex’ housed gift items, fabrics, and houseplants for many years. Textiles had been [Harold Williams’] original career.”

Roy’s Garage (circa 1935), 581 Wareham Street, may have been in operation as early as 1935 when Osman E. Otis purchased the site. It was operated between 1947 and 1950 by Clarence Greenleaf who conducted an automobile repair business at Middleborough center and would later manage Elmer A. Sisson’s gas and oil business. In 1950, the property was acquired by Roy B. Horton of Middleborough who operated it as Roy’s Garage until 1977.

Both “Pete & Muriel’s” Restaurant (1956-57; addition 1966), 578 Wareham Street, and the “White and Gold House” (circa 1958), 544 Wareham Street, were designed primarily to cater to summer traffic. “Pete & Muriel’s” was owned and operated by Peter and Muriel Cammarata, and generally operated from April through October. The “White and Gold House” was constructed about 1958 and operated as a restaurant catering to Cape-bound motorists, owned by Germaine Doucette and James Gotham, Jr. The restaurant took its name from the exterior color scheme of the building.

Mid-Twentieth Century Residential and Municipal Growth 1924-59

Despite this commercial growth taking place along Wareham Street, South Middleborough remained a primarily residential community, and the post-World War II era witnessed the construction of new residential housing, the expansion of municipal services and the creation of new social outlets. The interests of South Middleborough residents were represented during this period by two local organizations. The Precinct Three Improvement Association was organized in 1938 to foster the interests of residents of the southern section of Middleborough as represented by the third voting precinct, and though founded partially upon the issue of local dissatisfaction with taxation, over the subsequent years the Association would request the continuation of train service, an extension of municipal water, improved sidewalks, maintenance of its roadways, installation of traffic lights, and prohibition of the fluoridation of the municipal water supply among other concerns. The Precinct Three Improvement Association was historically significant, providing a link between the tax-based separatist sentiments of late nineteenth-century South Middleborough with the present-day South Middleborough Protective Association, a current advocate of South Middleborough interests and concerns.

One realized aspiration of the Improvement Association was the establishment of a branch library in South Middleborough by the Middleborough Public Library which was housed in the South Middleborough Scout Cabin (1909; rehabilitated 1938), 563 Wareham Street. The so-called cabin actually began its life as a “discarded shed” owned by the South Middleborough Methodist Church but would become, in essence, a small community center, hosting numerous local events and affairs, as well as providing a home for the South Middleborough Scouts and the South Middleborough branch of the Middleborough Public Library established in 1941. In March, 1938, the local Boy Scouts, with contributions from the Ladies’ Aid Society and others, began reconstructing the shed for use as a meeting place, having previously met in the vestry of the South Middleborough Methodist Church and the South Middleborough Grange Hall. During the 1950s, the cabin often hosted square dances and lessons for young people and adults. Many of these dances were conducted for the benefit of the South Middleboro Protective Association and became an important social outlet for the community. Other church-related organizations utilized the Cabin for their meetings, as well, including the Methodist Youth Fellowship.

Yet another goal of the Improvement Association was improved fire protection for South Middleborough, a project later undertaken by the South Middleborough Improvement Association founded in 1945. For generations, fire had been a constant threat at South Middleborough, not only to the village’s homes and saw mills (which were especially prone to fire), but to the great tracts of standing timber, the resource upon which the prosperity of the community was founded. To combat these fires, South Middleborough relied upon a community effort and often the goodwill of local workers. Though South Middleborough began to actively agitate for better fire protection in 1941, largely through the agency of the Precinct Three Improvement Association, it failed to secure a permanently-based engine. Consequently, the community took it upon itself to build a fire engine from scratch, employing donated parts. The completed engine was leased to the Town of Middleborough and the South Middleborough Protective Association organized in 1945 to attend to the community’s fire protection needs.

The South Middleborough engine was initially housed in the Sisson Barn (late 19th century), 1 Locust Street, and the letters “PRECINCT 3 FIRE STATION” may today still be discerned above the barn’s westernmost bay, though the painting is much faded. The Sisson Barn was ultimately succeeded by the South Middleborough Fire Station (1955-57), 566 Wareham Street. Construction of the station was undertaken by the Protective Association in 1955, and took some two years to complete since it was largely a volunteer effort. By 1956, the station was operating with one call captain and twelve call men. The fire station, since its construction, has served as a community center for South Middleborough, being the site of a number of events including community fairs and school pageants. Community clambakes were long held beneath the pavilion (circa 1955), 566 Wareham Street, which stands to the rear of the Fire Station.

Despite these changes, South Middleborough remained, above all, a residential community. Though no new housing was built during the depressed economic climate of the late 1920s and 1930s, two houses were constructed just prior to World War II, and a number following the war in the general spate of construction that occurred in the post-war era.

Though the Wilbur family which was prominent in South Middleborough and active particularly in the South Middleborough Church owned the land upon which the Alden D. Wilbur House (1940-41) sits as early as 1918, it was not until years later that the house was erected. At the time of the house’s completion, Alden D. Wilbur was employed by the Randall Motor Company. The Wilburs owned the home which was noted for its gardens until 1981.

The Everett W. Collins House (early 20th century), 11 Spruce Street was the last house completed at South Middleborough prior to implementation of war-time restrictions which would severely curtail residential construction work. The house was re-constructed from what appears to have been an earlier structure located upon Smith family land by Chester E. Smith’s son-in-law, Everett W. Collins (1914-81) of Carver. Collins was employed later by the John Hancock Insurance Company. In 1950 Collins moved to the Bump-Collins House (circa 1948), 26 Spruce Street. Built by Benjamin J. Bump, a nephew of Lavinia Warren (Bump) Stratton, a noted performer of the nineteenth century and the wife of Charles Sherwood Stratton (General Tom Thumb). The Bumps lived only briefly in the house, during which time they displayed their extensive collection of Tom Thumb memorabilia (much of which is now held by the Middleborough Historical Association) in the vacant South Middleborough Store which operated for a short time as a museum devoted to the Strattons. The house was subsequently owned by the Collins family from 1950 through 1985.

The property for the Melville T. Matthews House (1949), 10 Locust Street, was acquired in August, 1947, by Melville T. and Edith E. Matthews from Florence A. Williams, being part of the Smith-LeBaron-Hunt homestead. Matthews was affiliated with the firm of Thomas Brothers & Company. Located across Locust Street is the William L. Greeley House (1950-51), 9 Locust Street. Greeley (1917-1975) was an employee of Elmer A. Sisson for about forty years, serving Sisson in a number of capacities, including as driver of one of Sisson’s school busses for more than thirty-five years. Additionally, Greeley was well-noted in the South Middleborough community as a fireman at the South Middleborough Fire Station, lieutenant of Engine Six, secretary and treasurer of Engine Six for thirty-one years, and a member of the South Middleborough Protective Association. Greeley had been instrumental in the construction of South Middleborough’s first piece of fire apparatus. To be closer to his work, Greeley had this house constructed in 1950-51, relocating from Rochester where he had resided since 1938, building upon land acquired from Mary A. Wallen.

At opposite ends of the district are the Roy B. Horton House (circa 1950), 581 Wareham Street, which was constructed about 1950 and occupied by automotive repairman, Roy B. Horton, the owner of Roy’s Garage, until 1977, and the Winfred Perry House (circa 1952), 554 Wareham Street, which was owned and occupied by Winifred Perry proprietress of the first motel in Middleborough which opened in the summer of 1950 at South Middleborough and which included a portion of this building. The small ell which housed the motel rooms and which was constructed at the time is no longer extant.

South Middleborough Since 1959

As the opening of the railroad in 1848 and the reconstruction of Wareham Street in 1925-26 had inaugurated unprecedented economic and social change in South Middleborough, so too did the opening of Route 25 (now interstate Route 495) in 1966. While designed simply to facilitate the flow of traffic to and from Cape Cod and to ease congestion and reduce accidents along Route 28, the new highway completely bypassed South Middleborough and in so doing undermined the economic vitality of the community. The subsequent period of economic decline as businesses established during the first half of the twentieth century succumbed to the consequences of ever decreasing traffic was described by South Middleborough businesswoman Lucy Braley Sisson “as if a big black curtain [had] lowered.” Only those businesses that could rely upon a loyal local customer base such as Sisson’s Diner, Lucy Braley’s Candy Kitchen and Williams’ Trading Post would be able to weather the changing circumstances.

Contemporaneously, large-scale industrial operations incompatible with the residential and small business character of the district began to be established in the vicinity of South Middleborough, including the Southeastern General Lumber yard (1962) at Houdlett’s Corner. Because of its relatively sparsely–populated expanse, South Middleborough increasingly was viewed by outsiders as a site for developments which were not desired elsewhere in Middleborough. Ironically, the decrease in traffic congestion resulting from the opening of Route 25 also made South Middleborough attractive in the eyes of residential property developers, who regarded the large tracts of uninterrupted land as suitable sites for residential subdivisions. While the community successfully opposed what it feared would be a rash of uncontrolled mobile home development in the 1960s, areas immediately to both the west and north of the district did witness the construction of a number of small-scale residential subdivisions three decades later. Yet, despite the growing population of the area, the community was not able to maintain the school which for so long had helped foster its unique identity, and in 1990 the South Middleborough School closed when Middleborough’s public schools were centralized as a cost-saving measure.
In 2001, the early-nineteenth century Stillman Benson House at 582 Wareham Street immediately adjacent to the district’s eastern end was demolished for the creation of an industrial-scale loam operation, despite the wishes of the community as indicated by the South Middleborough Grange which called for the structure’s preservation. While the loss of that structure proved detrimental to the historic resources of the community, it did provide impetus for a renewed assessment and awareness of South Middleborough’s cultural resources. Since that time, efforts have been undertaken by the community to restore and rehabilitate various structures, most notably the South Middleborough School which is presently being rehabilitated under the aegis of the South Middleborough Protective Association for use as a community center and small museum. Sisson’s Diner has also undergone restoration work which has revealed some of the distinctive features of the street railway car which comprises its main section. A number of homes and structures in the area, including the Smith-LeBaron Hunt House, Arthur F. Nye House, Ryder-Bisbee House, George H. Vaughan House, South Middleborough Baptist Parsonage, Smith-Wallen-Ryder House, John Feltch House and the roadside stand at 575 Wareham Street have undergone restoration work in the past several years, reflecting the pride in the community which residents have traditionally held.


Newspapers and Periodicals
The Middleboro Gazette. Middleborough, MA.
The Namasket Gazette and Old Colony Advertiser. Middleborough, MA.
The Old Colony Memorial. Plymouth, MA.

Histories and Reports
Lainhart, Ann S. 1855 and 1865 Massachusetts State Censuses for Middleborough. Boston: 1988.
Romaine, Mertie E. History of the Town of Middleboro, Massachusetts. Volume 2. Middleborough, MA: Town of Middleborough, 1969.
“Valuations for the Town of Middleborough for the Year 1904”, in Annual Report of the Town
Officers of Middleborough, Mass., for the Year 1904
. Middleborough: The Middleboro Gazette, 1905.
Weston, Thomas. History of the Town of Middleboro, Massachusetts. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin and Company, 1906.
Wright, Carroll. D. The Census of Massachusetts: 1885. Volume 11: Manufactures, the Fisheries, and Commerce. Boston: Wright & Potter Printing Company, 1888.

The Plymouth County Directory, and Historical Register of the Old Colony. Middleborough, MA: Stillman B. Pratt & Co., 1867.
Resident and Business Directory of Middleboro, Mass. Needham, MA: Local Directory Publishing Company, 1884.
History and Directory of Middleboro, Mass. For 1889. Needham, MA: A. E. Foss & Co., 1889.
Resident and Business Directory of Middleboro and Lakeville, Mass., for 1895. Needham, MA: A. E. Foss & Co., 1895.
Resident and Business Directory of Middleboro’ and Lakeville, Massachusetts, For 1899.
Needham, MA: A. E. Foss & Co., 1899.
Resident and Business Directory of Middleboro, Mass. 1901. No. Cambridge, MA: Edward A.
Jones, 1901.
Resident and Business Directory of Middleboro and Lakeville, Mass. 1904-05. Boston: Edward A. Jones.
Resident and Business Directory of Middleboro, Mass. 1906-07. Boston: Boston Suburban Book Co.
Resident and Business Directory of Middleboro, Massachusetts. Boston: Union Publishing
Company (Inc.), 1916-17.
Resident and Business Directory of Middleboro, Massachusetts. 1921-23. Boston: Union
Publishing Co. (Inc.).
Crosby’s Middleboro, Massachusetts Directory. Wollaston, MA: Crosby Publishing Company, 1928.
Middleboro and Carver, Massachusetts, Directory. North Hampston, NH: Crosby Publishing Co., Inc., 1934.

"Map of the Town of Middleborough, Plymouth County, Mass." H. F. Walling. 1855.
"Middleborough, Mass." Atlas of Plymouth County, Mass. Boston: George H. Walker & Company, 1879.
Atlas of Surveys: Plymouth County and Town of Cohasset, Norfolk County, Mass. L. J. Richards Co., 1903.
Department of the Interior, United States Geological Survey. Middleboro. October, 1893.
United States Department of the Interior Geological Survey. Snipatuit Pond Quadrangle. 1962.
United States Department of the Interior Geological Survey. Snipatuit Pond Quadrangle. 1977.

Massachusetts Historical Commission
2002 Survey Form A for South Middleborough. Boston, MA: Massachusetts Historical Commission, June, 2002.
Plymouth County Registry of Deeds.
Plymouth County Registry of Probate.

Martha (Williams) Dupuis, South Middleborough, March, 2007
Henry Short, Middleborough, April, 2007
Edward Tomasik, South Middleborough, May, 2006


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