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.
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.
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.
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.
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, Québec, 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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