Thursday, April 29, 2010

Political Rivalry and Two Streets

The naming of two streets near Middleborough Four Corners in the second quarter of the 19th century was the product of a local adversarial political relationship between Peter H. Peirce (1788-1861) and his nephew, Philander Washburn (1798-1882).

Peirce, whose fortune would later benefit Middleborough as the Peirce Trust, was an astute businessman, operating a store on North Main Street and holding an interest in various industrial operations locally. Peirce was able to parlay his commercial success into an influential political position as a Democrat at a time when that party was noted for its conservatism. Nathan King later described Peirce as having “more influence than any other, perhaps, among his Democratic friends” while James Burgess flatly stated that “Peter H. Peirce ran the democratic party”. Consistently described as a “Democrat of the old school”, Peirce was likely to have supported typical Democratic issues including states rights, minimal government, and the Jeffersonian ideal of the nation as a populist agrarian society. And while many Democrats took a pragmatic stance upon what would become the key issue of the day, slavery, Peirce avowed in 1839 that he was “opposed to slavery in all its forms, and would, were [he] possessed of the power, remove the same from the Land and the World.” (This assertion notwithstanding, Peirce supported pro-slavery presidential candidate John C. Breckinridge in 1860).

Peirce would serve three terms (1826-28) as a Democratic state senator, and his dominance of local Democratic party affairs would help consolidate Middleborough’s position within Plymouth County as the “Gibraltar of Democracy”, a community which was regarded as reliable in its conservatism. The mid-1820s, however, would mark the peak of Peirce’s political fortune, and in the 1830s and 1840s, he would consistently be defeated in political contests by opponents, including representatives of a new political party – the Whigs.

Formed in 1834 as an opposition party to Andrew Jackson and his policies, the Whig party was a coalition of diverse forces united largely by their antipathy towards Jackson, though certain objectives such as support for the creation of a national bank and federal spending for internal improvements were generally commonly shared by its members. In contrast to the conservatism of the Democratic Party at the time, the Whigs became the liberal party of the era, promoting educational and prison reform, an expansion of the democratic franchise, and temperance, and opposing territorial expansion, capital punishment and (for the most part) slavery.

Representing these views locally was Peirce’s nephew, Philander Washburn, the son of Peirce’s sister Elizabeth (Peirce) Washburn. Though less driven by an entrepreneurial spirit than his uncle, Philander Washburn nonetheless owned a number of interests in burgeoning industries locally and he was a prominent economic force within the community. (His South Main Street home now houses the offices of the Middleborough Gas & Electric Department).

The characterization of Whigs like Washburn as richer and more urbane than the average American, though intended by Democrats to damage their opponents, did little to dissuade voters from choosing Whig politicians. (Peirce, in fact, was no less well off than Washburn).

Middleborough, traditionally conservative in its politics, continued to vote for Democrats throughout the 1840s, though Whigs increasingly made inroads with voters. In 1847, Whig William H. Wood who was elected as a state senator also defeated Democrat Eliab Ward for the position of Middleborough Town Moderator, sending a signal that perhaps the Democratic dominance of town affairs was in jeopardy. The following year, in 1849, Middleborough in a Congressional election voted Whig for the first time in its history. This upsurge in Whig support would also help sweep Philander Washburn into office as a state senator in 1849 and 1850.

Reflecting the disparate political views of Peirce and Washburn was the choice of the names they chose to bestow upon the streets they developed during the period.

In the 1830s, when Peirce developed the roadway linking his store on what is now North Main Street with the industrial operations on the Nemasket River (in which Peirce held an interest), he informally called it Jackson Street, named for Andrew Jackson, the hero of all Democrats.

Not to be outdone, Washburn later developed a street himself and named it for a favorite politician of his own. Running between the Central Congregational Church and Washburn's home, the street stretched southeastwards towards the Nemasket River from South Main Street. Though the street remained largely undeveloped until the 1870s, as early as the mid-1850s, it was known as Webster Street, named for Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, one of America's foremost Whig politicians.

Jackson and Webster Streets remain, equally distant from Middleborough Four Corners, a reminder of the 19th century political rivalry of both Democrats and Whigs, and Peter Peirce and Philander Washburn.

"Webster Street, Middleboro, Mass.", Taunton, MA: H. A. Dickerman & Son, publisher, picture postcard, c. 1910.
Webster Street is depicted looking northwestwards towards South Main Street. The street was named for Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts by local Whig Philander Washburn. Two blocks away, Washburn's uncle and political opposite Peter H. Peirce developed Jackson Street which he named for Democrat Andrew Jackson.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Walk Along the Plymouth & Middleboro Railroad, 1892

The following article was published in the Boston Globe sometime in or about September, 1892, prior to the opening of the Plymouth & Middleboro Railroad. Walking the yet open line, a Globe reporter and artist visited the proposed stations along the road. While North Carver attracted their greatest attention, Middleborough locales are noted as well, and the visit included luncheon with Albert T. Savery, chairman of the Middleborough Board of Selectmen and a director of the railroad.

Well may Carver citizens feel jubilant; well may the citizens of any town that has never had a railroad hail with joy the advent of the rails of steel.

Carver has changed its location as it were, and been lifted out of semi-obscurity and into the world. It is no longer "seven miles from nowhere," as one of its inhabitants so quaintly described it, for passing through the northern section of town is the line of steel which connects Middleboro with the sea - the Plymouth & Middleboro railroad.

Probably no section of New England has ever derived greater benefit from the building of so short a railroad than will the southeastern section of Plymouth county by the completion of this line.

To the west of Plymouth lies a stretch of country 50 miles in area, including Taunton, New Bedford and Fall River, and containing a population greater than the whole of Suffolk county, from which "forefathers' town" has been practically shut off; citizens of Carver have been obliged to travel seven miles to Plymouth or Middleboro to board a train, and have had to haul their freight the same distance, and East Middleboro itself was five miles from a railroad station.

All these disadvantages are made non-existent by the erection of a 15-mile road straight across the country through the wooded plains of Plymouth county.

A GLOBE reporter and sketch artist made a pedestrian tour over the new road one day recently, leaving Middleboro at 9.30 and arriving in Plymouth early in the evening, being in a condition at the end of the journey to make a sworn affidavit that the road was at least 100 miles in length.

But the trip was not in any way devoid of interest, though it might have been unexciting.

Out from Middleboro about half a mile the road makes a graceful bend under the Everett st. bridge, and from there the rails glistened in the sunlight straight on almost as far as the eye could see.

There is but one grade crossing on the line, four undergrade iron bridges, five overgrade wooden ones and one pile bridge, 180 feet long, over the Nemasket river, just out of Middleboro. There are four stations.

The first station is Putnam's at East Middleboro, that part of the town which is known as Middleboro Green.

Here years ago the business of the town centred, but the march of empire gradually moved westward two and a half miles.

Putnam's gets its name from one of the first pastors of the "old green meetinghouse," just back of which the new railroad runs.

Another stretch of almost straight track for three miles more and Mt. Carmel is reached, a station on the eastern boundary of East Middleboro.

We reach here shortly after 12 o'clock, and the artist, who is loaded with his sketch book and fall overcoat, suggests that we buy a dinner. So we strike the King's highway, or rather the President's turnpike, which in this instance is the "Plymouth road."

"Now we'll go to the first house we see and get a dinner," says the artist assuringly.

He sees the first house, but the inmates have just had dinner. We walk a half mile and the lady of the next house bolts the screen door and informs us that the men folks are all away and that she didn't cook anything today.

Two or three more attempts on the part of the artist and he gives it up in disgust, but suggests after looking suspiciously at the reporter, and muttering something about somebody "looking like a tramp," that he try it.

That settles it!

The next house we stop at the newspaper man receives the assurance, after agreeing to pay for his dinner in cash or by sawing wood, that he can have something to eat.

Mr. A. T. Savery is our host, and we find out later that he is a director in the new road, chairman of the board of selectmen, chairman of the board of assessors of Middleboro, ex-representative to the Great and General Court and several others.

The sweet-faced young lady who pours the coffee and the tall young fellow who sits next to her at the table have just returned from a wedding trip to Washington, and this fact we don't know until long after we have left the house.

Mr. Savery says the new road will increase the valuation of East Middleboro 25 per cent.

North Carver station is reached at 2 o'clock. It is a small wooden structure, with a side track for freight and a freight house adjacent, situated on what is known as High st.

The station is about five minutes' walk from North Carver, or "Carver Green," as it is called, and about three and one-half miles from South Carver.

A railroad through the town of Carver is a novelty, but it was here that the first public meeting was held March 13, 1889, to agitate the question of a new road, and now after more than three years the originators of that movement are about to see their hopes realized.

Carver has a population of about 1200, and in the vicinity of the station dwell about 400 people.

In South Carver there are one or two manufacturers, chief among these being Hon. Peleg McFarlin, recent nominee of the Democrats of that district for Congress.

The nearest railroad point to South Carver is Tremont, a small station in Wareham, about five miles distant.

North Carver is a clean, well-kept village with a post office, a church, the oldest house in town, now occupied by Mrs. Abigail Lucas and built about 1730, a store or two and King Philip Hall, where the imported cranberry pickers are boarded.

The post office is closed for a few hours while Postmaster Whitehead goes to Middleboro after a load of groceries, but when he returns he very willingly and sensibly talks about the new railroad.

Mr. Whitehead is a Yorkshireman, you can tell that by his speech.

The road, he says, in his broad dialect, will be of great advantage to the people living there, but he does not look for a business boom of very large proportions in Carver immediately.

"By the way, who is going to be station agent?" asks the reporter.

Mr. Whitehead laughs slowly and heartily.

"There be mony applied for 't." he says, slowly, "but I suppose B. Ransom 'll get it. He put in his say for 't fust."

While he talks the artist sketches, and it is safe to say that Mr. Whitehead will be surprised when he picks up this morning's GLOBE.

There is a contest over the station agency at North Carver, that is, there is only one agency and about a dozen applicants.

Mr. Savery told us that in Middleboro, and he also informed us that Mr. Fred Ward, one of carver's selectmen, wanted the position, but Mr. Wars was not at home when the reporter called, so that statement we could not verify.

A call on Mr. Ransom, however, "the first applicant," found him sawing wood in his barn yard.

Minus coat and vest, in his shirt sleeves, a broad-brimmed straw hat on his head, he looked very much what he is, a well-to-do country farmer, satisfied with his lot and evidently thoroughly at peace with the whole world.

"How do you do, Mr. Ransom? Hear your going to be station agent when the new road gets running."

"I want ter know," says Mr. Ransom. "Who told ye that?"

"Why the postmaster down here said you had the best chance," answered the reporter.

"Did Whitehead tell ye that? Wal, I put in the first application, if that goes any way. But I hear tell that they air goin' to have a telegraph there, and if they do, of course I can't fill the bill," and Mr. Ransom laughs as if it made no difference to him whether he was station agent at North Carver or not.

"Suppose this road will be a big thing for Carver?" interrogated the reporter.

"Why, yes," said Mr. Ransom, "twon't make much difference for the next five years, but in 15 or 20 you'll see a big change."

Somehow the conversation drifted on to politics, and from the tenor of Mr. Ransom's remarks the reporter inferred that he was a Republican.

"Wal, I guess I am," said he.

"So'm I," said the newspaper man.

"Be ye - let's shake," and we shake a good old Harrisonian shake that would have given Chairman Harrity the blues to have seen.

Mr. Ransom has carried the mail from Middleboro to carver in all kinds of weather, for 15 years, and, though he must be full threescore, looks, except for his white beard, as fresh as many a man of 40.

We met another Carver citizen, not unlike Mr. Ransom. A farmer, who had long passed the allotted time, but who possessed in truth that "touch of nature that makes the whole world skin;" a type of New Englander that you wouldn't find in carver today if the railroad had been put through there 50 years ago. Long life to him. We see him less frequently as the years roll by, and we appreciate him the more.

The next station on the new road is Darby, West Plymouth, and we count the ties from North carver to that point, a distance of 3½ miles through a partially wooded country, with an occasional cranberry bog by the track side.

The trees are rich with the deep, dark red coloring of these early autumnal days, and the landscape presents just such a picture as fancy might paint.

Darby pond is just to the east of the station, a picturesque sheet of water, and, thoroughly jaded and tired out, we rest here for a few moments.

Five miles yet to Plymouth.

A gravel train solves the problem, and we ride on a flat car to within a half mile of our destination.

Near the terminus of the line in Plymouth a glimpse of the sea is visible, with the lights of Gurnet's twinkling like two stars on the left.

The road began with the meeting in Carver in March, 1889, Dr. T. D. Shumway of Plymouth and Dr. George F. Morse of Carver being the principal instigators.

Eighty thousand dollars worth of stock was issued, and the road was incorporated by a special act of the Legislature, March 20, 1890, and the location survey made in 1890-91.

Of this $80,000 worth of stock Plymouth took $50,000, Middleboro $20,000, Carver $5,000 and private individuals $5,000, the whole being bonded for $225,000.

It is not a venture of the Old Colony road, but will be leased by them under an operating contract for a period of 99 years, with the privilege of purchasing at any time within that period.

The last rail was laid July 1, 1892, in a rainstorm and the last spike was driven by President Shumway. Since that time the contractors have been at work ballasting and surfacing the track.

The road will be formally opened about Oct. 15, the Governor will be requested to attend and Senator Aldrich of Rhode Island is also expected to be present.

The officers are: President, T. D. Shumway, Plymouth; vice-president, Leavitt T. Robbins, Plymouth; treasurer, jason W. Mixter, Plymouth; secretary, B. A. Hathaway, Plymouth; directors, T. D. Shumway, Leavitt T. Robbins, Nathaniel Morton, William P. Stoddard, Jason W. Mixter, Plymouth; William R. Peirce, E. P. LeBaron, A. T. Savery, Middleboro, and George F. Morse, Carver.

The advantages of this road are manifest. In the first place it opens up a direct line from Plymouth to Providence.

Old Roger Williams, the pioneer of Rhode Island, went direct from Plymouth to Providence, and now after so many years it seems fitting that the connecting link between the two places should be established.

Heretofore when Plymouth citizens wanted to go to Providence they first rode to Boston and then to Providence, a distance of 82 miles; now, or as soon as the road is opened, they can board a train at Plymouth and ride 49 miles in a direct line, save about two hours' time and $1.50 on the round trip.

Then, to go to Taunton, they first had to go to South Braintree: now the line is direct, and they save about $2.50 on the round trip.

Another great advantage, will be the direct line to Fall River and New York. The distance to the first named place is narrowed down to 30 miles, where formerly it was an 80-mile ride, and a change of cars at that.

A project of no little interest to South Shore people is the proposed plan of running a "boat train" direct from Boston to Plymouth on the South Shore road, and at Plymouth switching on to the Plymouth & Middleboro road, thence direct to Fall River.
It is the same distance from Scituate to Plymouth as it is from Scituate to Boston, the time would be the same, and added to this there would be no changing of cars.

Another great advantage the road will be to Plymouth is in the matter of freight traffic.

It is estimated that three to six days will be saved in New York transportation.

It is also proposed by the Old Colony to ship some of its New York freight by the South Shore and over the new road, thus relieving in a great measure the congested portion of the road above Braintree.

Boston Globe, "Carver's Cut", c. September, 1892.

"Glimpses Around North Carver", Boston Globe, "Carver's Cut", c. September, 1892.
The line drawings depict the sites about North Carver as seen by the sketch artist of the Boston Globe in late 1892. Among them is an unsuccessful attempt by the artist and reporter to obtain lunch at one East Middleborough home.

"A Three Mile Ride on a Flat Car", Boston Globe, "Carver's Cut", c. September, 1892.
Though the two men walked the much of the Plymouth & Middleboro Railroad line between the two named towns, they did secure a ride on a flat car between Darby and Plymouth, much to the relief of their weary feet.

"Postmaster of North Carver", Boston Globe, "Carver's Cut", c. September, 1892.
Whitehead was said to have owned the first store at North Carver, as well as serving as its postmaster. Follwing Whitehead's death, Benjamin Ransom succeeded as North Carver postmaster.

"He is Thought of for Station Agent at North Carver", Boston Globe, "Carver's Cut", c. September, 1892.
Benjamin Ransom was the earliest applicant for station agent at North Carver for the Plymouth & Middleboro Railroad. His manner of speech clearly amused the pair from the Globe, and he was captured at work sawing wood by the Globe artist. Ransom's grandson, Ellsworth C. Braddock, later left a delightful collection of stories about area entitled Memories of North Carver Village which included reminiscences of his maternal grandfather.

"President T. D. Shumway", Boston Globe, "Carver's Cut", c. September, 1892.
Plymouth dentist Thomas D. Shumway was the leading proponent of a railroad between Plymouth and Middleborough. largely through his efforts it became a reality.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Puffs from the Steamboat, 1877

The following poem was written by a man named Fish on the occasion of the construction of John Baylies LeBaron's steam boat Pioneer.

The grand achievements of noble men
Deserve the homage of voice and pen
Their hidden thoughts like diamonds bright
Astonish the world when they come to light.
We need not go to a foreign shore
To find such men at your very door.
They daily pass with a busy brain
Building something and not in vain.
Next to the Creator, man
Fulfills his part of the infinite plan.
Little by little along life's road
Every good deed, is a prayer to God.
Who would have tho't fifty years ago
This town would ever be built up so
Or any old settler, dared to dream
Old Nevertouch Pond would be sailed by steam.
Nemasket crooks, and bridges too,
How a steamboat's funnel poking through,
Or the beautiful Lake a thing so fine
As a male and female steamboat line.
Some folks laughed and gave a sneer
At the mad idea of a steamboat here,
Saying - the rocks she'll never clear
Nor the narrows either, you might as soon
Undertake a voyage to the moon
On a foggy night in a steam spittoon.
But it seems somebody understood
His business well, as others should.
For the town forked 700 over
To make improvement in the river.
All of the Lakeville points of law
Weighed in the balance, less than straw,
Were argued a little just for fun
By votes unanimous, all but one.
And the following day the work began
At Harlow's Mill the stuff was planed
And dried by steam whene'er it rained.
On the gently sloping western side
Of Nevertouch, where the billows glide
The keel was laid, with ease and skill
July 19th this proving still
There's a way, whenever there's a will.
And every day the people go
To the boat, as they would to Barnum's show
And not a few are inclined to say
I guess after all, the thing will pay.
Men of science, and ladies fair
Foreigners with distinguished air,
Lame, halt, and blind, and out of repair
Say! Where is the steamboat, oh! tell us! Where?
Most every body is wide awake
For a greater commerce on the Lake
And very likely within a year
An hundred souls may be running here.
There'll be no need of travelling round
To Saratoga and Vineyard Sound
In quest of high toned rustication
But take the quickest transportation
By river steamer at moderate price
For the pleasure seekers' paradise
Of picnics, clambakes, fancy balls,
Hotels, saloons, and fested halls.
Bazaars, and palaces, and bowers
Wherein to woo the rosy hours.
In the great lake city, sure to grow
For all the Second Advents' know.

"Steamer Pioneer", adapted from "Natchez Steamboat", photograph by
David Paul Ohmer, November 12, 2008, used under a Creative Commons license.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Nemasket Steamboats, 1877-95

Won’t it be fun to hear the boat’s whistle blow and see people hurrying with carpet bags, valises, trunks, etc.
Middleboro Gazette, July, 1877

The Upper Factory mill pond, the pond which is formed by the damming of the Nemasket River at Wareham Street, was once the site of Riverside Wharf, the embarkation point of Pioneer and Assawampsett, two small steam-powered side paddle boats which were operated as excursion craft in the last quarter of the century by owner John Baylies LeBaron (1845-1918).

When LeBaron first proposed the construction of a steamer to ply the Nemasket River, he had to address the matter of the three road bridges above Wareham Street. Waterman’s Hill Bridge (Grove Street), Alms House Bridge (Wood Street) and Vaughan’s Bridge (Vaughan Street) were all of low height and unaltered would restrict the passage of any steamboat underneath. At LeBaron’s request, Middleborough established a Bridge Committee comprised of A. C. Wood, J. G. Vaughan and J. H. Shaw to consider the matter. The committee reported favorably, and the town expended just over $900 to raise the bridges. Of this amount, $550 was paid to Samuel Clark, John Carver and Edgar Thomas for the work (exclusive of materials); $55.50 was paid for the services of the committee; $103.19 to Vaughan for lumber for the Waterman’s Hill Bridge and additional work on all three; $29.75 to Wood for additional work on Alms House and Vaughan’s Bridges; and $14.00 to B. P. W. Lovell for extra work on Vaughan’s Bridge. The balance, presumably, was spent on material.

It is likely that the town was motivated to expend the funds for the promotion of a strictly private enterprise by the prospect of Lake Assawompsett’s development as a local resort:

Picnic parties are all the rage now, from the village to the borders of these beautiful lakes, which we hope a recent act of the town meeting in voting to raise the river bridges to permit John Baylies LeBaron’s steamboat to pass under, will be made more accessible.

First built of LeBaron’s two steamboats was Pioneer in 1877 with lumber milled at the Ivory Harlow steam mill on Vine Street in Middleborough. Built as a flat-bottomed steamer, the boat had her forty foot keel laid on the bank of Nevertouch Pond on Middleborough’s West Side, and was equipped with a coal-burning upright steam boiler and a driving mechanism designed entirely by LeBaron. The boat was built to accommodate fifty passengers, though later reports reduced the number to forty as the optimal number. Following a successful test on Nevertouch, Pioneer, weighing some 4,500 pounds was hauled overland down Center Street and launched into the river.

Though Pioneer had been built expressly to be operated under LeBaron’s command, problems soon arose when it was required that LeBaron hold a fireman’s license in order to operate the craft. LeBaron, who did not have such a license, argued that since it was he himself who had built the boat and boiler, he certainly had an understanding of how the boat operated. Confronted with this logic, the license was duly granted.

Pioneer enjoyed a brief first season, being removed from the river in October, 1877, by William Downing who hauled the vessel to LeBaron’s yard where it was laid up for the winter. Pioneer was overhauled the following spring, with larger paddle wheels being added, as well as additional planking on the hull. She was repainted at this time, as well, and launched by Downing into the river from Rock Street in May, 1878, at which time the Gazette wrote that “we expect she will give greater satisfaction this season.”

In the spring of 1879, the boat was once again overhauled, refitted and repainted. The Old Colony Memorial reported in June of that year that Pioneer “has commenced making her regular trips to the lakes, and has had several excursion parties. Captain LeBaron is a first class hand for a ‘time,’ sparing no pains to please his patrons.”

An 1879 advertisement for Pioneer (which was later described as “very safe, though slow”) provides a wonderful prospectus of the typical trip on the river. Pioneer departed Riverside Wharf at one p. m. each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, to cruise the Nemasket River and Lake Assawompsett. Once on Assawompsett, the boat would touch at Stony Point (Nelson’s) Grove before crossing the lake and passing through the Narrows into Pocksha Pond. The return journey would stop at Sear’s Grove before arriving back at Middleborough at four p. m. The three hour round trip covered seventy miles and cost fifty cents. Moonlight excursions were conducted every month and “societies, families and Private parties [were] accommodated any of the remaining days of the week at reasonable rates.”

Despite the promise of a successful third season on the river, Pioneer was temporarily disabled when soon after these reports she broke her shaft in June, 1879, putting her out of commission until mid-August. LeBaron believed the accident was due to an undetected crack in the shaft which occurred in July, 1878, “when her paddles became locked in the river grass and her gearing broke….”

Two years after her construction, Pioneer was joined – and later replaced – by Assawampsett. Built in 1879, Assawampsett was a sixty-four foot long craft, alleged to be capable of carrying one hundred passengers and an orchestra. E. T. P. Jenks, in 1943, affirmed that indeed the boat had “carried a load of forty or fifty people on the regular excursion to the lakes, three times a week and … on special occasions carried as many as a hundred or more.”

The boat had a flat bottom with a shallow draft which enabled it to pass over obstructions in the river with relative ease. The coal-fired boiler built by Lebaron was vented by an adjustable smokestack which could be lowered to allow clearance beneath the bridges upstream. Some accounts indicate that the smoke stack “was hinged and as the ship neared the bridges, a crewman went on the top deck and laid it flat, until the bridge was passed. Then it was raised again.” Other records indicate a different design for the smoke stack:

To allow for the boat’s getting under [the bridges, LeBaron] rigged a recessed smoke stack, which was lowered into a pocket in the top deck, until they cleared the bridge, then it was raised again.

In either case, passengers located on the top deck were required to go below until the bridge had been cleared.

Two men were required to operate the steamers, LeBaron acting as captain and either one of his sons, Elric H. or Jesse acting as fireman fueling the boiler, lowering the smoke stack and performing other tasks as needed. Among these latter duties was the removal of floating logs which had the potential of doing significant damage to the paddle wheels. On these occasions, the engine was cut and Elric LeBaron, “equipped with a saw, would crawl alongside the wheel and saw the log in two. The boat meanwhile was drifting down stream, but when power was again applied, that was made up, and the upstream trip was resumed.”

A “settin’ pole” was used to maneuver the craft off rocks and shoals, as well as to navigate tight bends along the middle portion of the route. At these spots, the engine was again stopped and the vessel powered and guided by means of the pole. Enabling the steamers to pass up river was a canal which had been cut just north of Vaughan Street in 1816. Initially intended to increase the flow of water to mills located further downstream, the canal “straightened the steamer path. It was a shortcut around a river bend of such small axis that the steamer could not make the curves.”

Occasionally, the steamboat excursions were marred by difficulty. Sometime in the 1880s while on a Fourth of July excursion, “the steamer met with an accident, losing part of her smoke stack, which caused some delay. A bolt was also lost, which delayed the passage, and the passengers were not landed until about half past one o’clock.” A similarly fated excursion arranged by E. T. P. Jenks and Fred Holmes set forth on a moonlit night but ended disastrously when the ship grounded on a rock at the foot of Rock Street. Disembarkation for the worn passengers was delayed until nearly dawn.

The steamers were highly popular with local residents, particularly during summer holidays when river outings were made to social events on the shores of the lakes, including the numerous picnics and regattas once held there. Personal recollections which survive nearly all speak highly of the delights of the river steamers, including at least one happy meeting aboard the boat:

Capt. Ezra Pickens of Foxboro, while on a visit to Middleboro, took a trip up the river in a little steamer, and on the way pointed out to a friend the place where he lived and worked as a boy. On remarking that a girl who lived there used to ride a horse at work, a lady near by interrupted the conversation to say that she was the girl. Upon this the old acquaintance was very happily renewed.

Children in the neighborhood of Wareham Street also were fond of the steamboats as they were frequently given free passage between Wareham and Grove Streets through the generosity of LeBaron.

Mr. LeBaron was a kindly man, and after he had delivered a party of passengers from a trip to the lake at the wharf at Wareham street, he always invited all the “young fry” within sound of his voice to “have a ride” as he took the ship upstream to its regular mooring berth near the so-called Japan bridge [at Grove Street].

There were always plenty of kids to go along on the slow trip up river, against the current, and that slow ride probably repaid them amply as they ambled afoot back to their home across the fields from what is now route 28 to the Wareham street section.

Though LeBaron is credited with “the distinction of being the first, and only, man to navigate a steamboat up the Nemasket River”, such was not the case. In 1857, Dr. Ebenezer W. Drake and Robert S. Capen were owners of a 28 foot boat, Namasket which had a capacity of twenty. The boat made trips down the river to Assawompsett, including a journey for a clambake in August, 1857, which was documented in the Namasket Gazette at the time. It is not clear whether the craft was a steamboat, however. Vigers’ History of the Town of Lakeville also credits William Young as having navigated the Nemasket successfully in a forty foot stern wheel paddle boat built for excursions up the river. Supposedly this boat made two trips up river before being relegated to Long Pond where it remained in use as a pleasure boat.

Young’s boat is likely the same as an unnamed one which was recorded as having been built during the spring of 1882 with a reported capacity of 200 passengers. Though this boat was planned to be in the water by June 20 of that year, it is was not in fact ready until the following spring when the Old Colony Memorial reported that “a new stern wheel steamer is to be put into Assawampsett lake this season, running in the excursion business from Middleboro to the lake…” This steamer was completed about late May, 1883, and had a draft of only eight inches. Its capacity had been downscaled somewhat from the original plans, carrying 150 passengers “comfortably.” In 1885, there is mention of yet another steamer, Nemasket, though this may have been identical with Young’s boat.

The Nemasket passenger steamers were joined by the private steam yacht Lavinia which was owned by Charles S. Stratton (better known as General Tom Thumb) and which was launched on the Nemasket in June, 1883, making “a trial trip which turned out very successful.” Named for Stratton’s wife, Lavinia W. (Bump) Stratton, a Middleborough native, Lavinia had been built three or four years previously in Plymouth and was considered “very fast.”

The popularity of steam boating on the river during the last quarter of the 19th century prompted the Old Colony Memorial to report somewhat tongue-in-cheek:

Middleboro’ is going into navigation quite extensively. Another steamer for the Nemasket River has just been purchased. If she keeps on this way the town will get included in some future river and harbor bill.

Yet despite its growing popularity, steam boating on the Nemasket River was fraught with difficulty. Young’s decision to abandon his boat to Long Pond may have been prompted by navigational difficulties along the river where rocks, small shoals, fluctuating water levels and a prodigious growth of grass often made passage difficult. In the spring of 1883, the Middleboro Gazette was calling “for local action to assist in clearing Nemasket River of rocks and shoals, so as to make steam boating practicable between the town and Assawampsett Lake, a fine sheet of water near by,” arguing that “such an expenditure might prove profitable to the town by attracting excursions to the Lake, the railroad also becoming a sharer in the benefits by increased travel.” The Old Colony Memorial echoed the Gazette’s sentiments, arguing that clearing the river would prove obligatory in the interests of navigation. “With such an interest in navigation, the town will soon have to undertake improvement of [the] Nemasket River.” One who took up this call was Stratton who in early August, 1883, “had intended clearing out the grass and blasting the rocks in the river to make a clear passage to Assawampsett Pond for his steam yacht ‘Lavinia’.” Stratton’s untimely death, however, prevented the plans from being acted upon and no further action seems to have been taken except for in 1885 when a portion of the river was dammed and drained to facilitate the laying of water pipes across the river bed at which time a number of rocks against which the steamer Nemasket had scraped were removed. LeBaron’s boats, with their very shallow draft, remained the only steamers capable of navigating the river with relative ease. Nonetheless, the lush growth of river grass (which was mowed periodically to aid the flow of water to the municipal electric light station) could sometimes hinder the boats’ progress upstream as witnessed by the disabling of Pioneer in 1879.

The romantic days of the Nemasket steamers continued until 1895 when the City of Taunton erected its gatehouse at the head of the river, appreciably lowering the level of water in the Nemasket and denying the steamers sufficient draft, as well as barring access to the scenic pleasures of Lake Assawompsett. At the time, LeBaron lodged a claim against the city for damages “because of the doing away of his steamboat business” and the fact that LeBaron’s claim ran “well into the thousands” is indicative of the popularity of the Nemasket steamboats.

With the end of the riverboat excursions, Assawampsett was pulled onto the bank at East Grove Street and the engine removed by Lebaron for use in hauling ice at his icehouses at Clark’s Springs. At one time, the boat broke loose and was carried by the current downstream where she became wedged against the stone abutments and blocked the river. Following this misadventure, Assawampsett was drawn back upstream into a small cove opposite the East Grove Street pumping station where she was left ignominiously to molder and rot. The smokestack was removed and left in the adjacent meadow where it decayed. By 1909, the decks were gone from the boat, and during World War I the boat’s remaining iron fittings were stripped by two industrious boys who reportedly hauled them away for scrap iron, carrying them on a long pole between them. Eventually, all that remained of Assawampsett was its keel and seven long ribs, though even this wreckage was long recalled as a landmark by those who saw her.

, photograph, late 19th century
John Baylies LeBaron's steam boat, Assawampsett, is seen on the lake for which it was named. Assawampsett was one of a number of steam boats which operated on the Nemasket River in the last quarter of the 19th century. Built in 1879, the vessel remained in service through 1894.

Brockton Enterprise, "Nemasket River Once famed for Steamboat Excursions", August 11, 1949, and Steamboat Days on Lake Assawampsett", June 15, 1953.

Middleboro Gazette, "What the Gazette Was Saying Twenty Five Years Ago", April 16, 1920; "What the Gazette Was Saying Fifty Years Ago", July 8, 1927; ibid., July 15, 1927; ibid., May 11, 1928; ibid., May 24, 1929; ibid., June 28, 1929; "Enjoy Stories of Old Times", June 11, 1943, p. 2.

Middleborough Antiquarian

Old Colony Memorial

Romaine, Mertie E. History of the Town of Middleboro, Massachusetts. Volume II. Middleborough, MA: Town of Middleborough, 1969.

Standard-Times [New Bedford], "Steamers on Water Supply Ponds, Resorts Features of Olden Scene", September 26, 1935.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Lake Assawompsett from Sampson's Grove, 1910

The view looks southwards across the open waters of Lake Assawompsett towards the City of Taunton's pumping station (now the Lakeville Town Offices) built in 1894 on the southern shore of the lake. Just visible beneath the cluster of oak leaves at the left is rip-rap covered roadway which extends into the lake to access the city's intake. At center right, barely discernible on the horizon at the edge of the cleared fields is the covered roof of the stone tower which had been built as a water tank for the never realized National Sailors' Home. It now stands (without the roof) on the Heritage Hill golf course.

City of Taunton Pumping Station from Sampson's Grove, photograph by Fred F. Churbuck, c. 1910.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Warren's Mills

On the Nemasket River immediately downstream from the Murdock Street Bridge is an historic site about which very little is generally known and even less has been written. This is Warren’s Mills, site of a 19th-century dam, grist mill, saw mill, shingle mill and forge.

Sometime during the first years of the 19th century, between 1802 and 1812, a dam was erected across the Nemasket River near what would become Murdock Street by Beza Tucker of Boston and Daniel Warren of Middleborough. Today, the location of this dam, historically known as Warren’s Dam, is still visible during times of low water, marked by a band of weed clumps stretching across the river on the downstream side of the present bridge.

A grist mill was soon afterwards erected on the right bank of the river sometime about 1811-12 as a deed bearing the date of September 1, 1812, describes it as “lately built”. A saw mill powered by the impounded water of the river also stood nearby and was likely contemporary with the grist mill.

Sometime after the construction of the two mills but before 1822, a forge was established at the dam. This was located on the left bank of the river and included a “stove and shed”. The forge appears to have been a short-lived venture, having disappeared before 1855.

In the 1830s, the mill complex was acquired by John Warren and John Milton Warren who added a shingle mill on the river’s left bank sometime prior to 1855. In 1858, a new shingle machine was installed in the mill, the first of its kind, with the log being placed in an upright position for sawing. At the time, Warren’s Mills was producing 300,000 shingles and 150,000 boxboards annually, the boxboards being contracted for E. & G. Belcher of Randolph.

Later, Nathaniel Warren owned the complex in conjunction with John Milton Warren and it appears to have been devoted exclusively to milling lumber. The two sold the entire property in 1866 to James Gano Cushman. Cushman owned a large farm on the west bank of the river between Murdock and Plymouth Streets (now the site of River's Edge Estates) and he undoubtedly used the cartpath which traversed his farm, roughly running parallel with the river, to access his mills. Cushman, however, did not own the mills long. Less than a year after purchasing them, he sold the mills to Zebedee Leonard.

Leonard continued to operate the sawmill which appears on the 1879 map of Middleborough under his name. However, less than a year later, after having “been put in complete order for the season’s work,” the mill fell victim to an incendiary fire in the autumn of 1880, and was totally destroyed. The loss was $3,000. The mill was only partially insured and was not rebuilt.

Nemasket River at Murdock Street, Middleborough, MA, photograph, c. 1900
The view looks upstream along the Nemasket River just below the Murdock Street bridge. The remains of Warren's Mills can be seen in the foreground as the stone walls in the river. In the distance, houses along Plymouth Street are visible.

Middleboro Gazette
, December 11, 1858, page 2.
Old Colony Memorial, "County and Elsewhere", October 28, 1880, page 4.
Plymouth Deeds 127:181, 129:250, 149:16, 340:82, 345:77.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Leonard Mansion

In September, 1914, local lodge number 1274 of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks purchased the Charles E. Leonard House on High Street for use as a meeting place. The house had been constructed on a large parcel of land by Leonard (1830-1904), a partner in the Middleborough shoe manufacturing firm of Leonard & Barrows in the 1870s. An exuberant mix of Italianate and Flemish Baroque details, the Leonard House for many years was a showplace in town, noted for its porte-cochère, four-story tower with ocular window and large carriage house connected directly with the main house. The grounds of the estate covered four and a half acres and were among the most beautifully landscaped in town.

Following Leonard's death, the house was inherited by his sons, Charles M. and Arthur H. Leonard. Charles M. Leonard later became the sole owner, and it was he who sold the house to the local Elks in 1914.

The Elks maintained the house for many years, and residents still recall the beautiful architecture of the building's exterior and interior spaces. In time, however, the Elks made changes to the structure and by the 1960s much of the architectural detail, costly to maintain, had been pared down or removed altogether including most noticeably the upper two stories of the tower, but the shutters, porch railings and iron finials on the gables, as well.

Additions were also made to the house in order to accommodate the needs of the growing organization, including the construction of a one story shed-roofed addition on the west side of the structure. In 1970 more space was created when the rear wing of the house and the porte-cochère were demolished to make way for the construction of a 90 by 50 foot wood-frame addition containing a banquet hall, Boy Scout meeting room, kitchen and sauna on the ground floor and a lodge hall on the upper floor.

The mansion was destroyed by fire in 1980. In 1982, the present Elks Lodge was constructed upon the site.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

"Green how I want you green"

An informal poll conducted on Recollecting Nemasket's sister blog Green School History has indicated that a majority of visitors to the site prefer the Green School to remain green. While the present green color scheme of the building is not likely to have been the building's original color, most of those favoring that shade regard the color as a traditional one for the building given that few Middleborough residents today can recall the building having been painted any other color. While some have suggested that an historic paint color analysis be conducted on the structure to ascertain its original color scheme, it is unlikely that funding would be available for such a project given the building's other outstanding needs, nor would it seem likely that the results would sway residents from their sentimental attachment to green.

Green how I want you green.
- Federico García Lorca (1898-1936), "Romance Sonámbulo"

Thursday, April 15, 2010

10,000th Visitor

Recollecting Nemasket passed a landmark today with its 10,000th visitor logged to the site. While perhaps a small achievement by the standards of other blogs, folks down at the plant (pictured above where the history for the site is churned out on a near daily basis) are pretty darned please and the staff of over-achievers has been given the day off. A big grateful "Thank You" goes to everyone who has visited the site and learned just a little bit more about Middleborough and Lakeville history in the process.

Here are some interesting stats to peruse and ponder. The top 12 posts in order of popularity have been:

Star Mill History
May 28, 2009

New History of Middleborough
August 24, 2009

South Middleborough National Register District Tour
July 1, 2009

Lakeville State Sanatorium
April 25, 2009

Central Congregational Church
May 25, 2009

Green School
May 19, 2009

Ugh! The Middleboro(ugh) Debate
May 3, 2009

Chinese Sugar Cane
May 4, 2009

Clear Pond
July 23, 2009

The Morton House
July 7, 2009

Roller Polo
May 21, 2009

Plymouth & Middleboro Railroad
October 3, 2009

The most searched labels which have led visitors to the site have been Lakeville State Hospital followed by Chinese sugarcane, Mercy Otis Warren, Ted Williams Baseball Camp, Middleborough Historical Society, and Middleborough Town Hall - an eclectic mix of topics if ever there was one. (Who would have thought so many folks were googling "sorghum" in their spare time?). Other links are even more intriguing. On March 14, a visitor from the UK was linked through searching "zoo bird escapes" on the internet, while a Russian-speaking visitor was directed to the site after searching Улица Пилес, the Russian name for Pilies Street, one of the main streets in the old part of Vilnius, Lithuania. I'm not sure what the connection to Middleborough and Lakeville is on that last one, but большое спосибо all the same, Mr. Russian internet man. Thanks for stopping by! (Благодарию Вас за посещение Recollecting Nemasket).

Not surprisingly, traffic comes predominately from the neighborhood of Middleborough and Lakeville (1,845 visits), with Bridgewater, Taunton, Brockton, Boston, Hingham and Stoughton clocking in with several hundred visitors among them, as well. (Honestly, that last one is not me visiting from work).

Unlike politics, not all visitors are local. A peek at the world map shows that visitors from 90 some countries have dropped by at one time or another. (In this category, thanks go out to the reader in Seoul, South Korea, who has been visiting regularly. I'm glad you found the site, and hope you find it both informative and enjoyable).

A special shout out to the anonymous 10,000th visitor from Temple University in Philadelphia who googled "Lakeville State Hospital" just after midnight and was led to the site. Congratulations, your prize is in the mail. Hopefully the information you found will compensate for your lack of sleep last night.

Thanks to all the rest who have taken the time to visit and to read the posts, and much appreciation as always for the regular followers who have provided feedback and new insights. Thanks also to Mark Belanger with his own Bellicose Bumpkin blog and Blog Roundup, the Brockton Enterprise and the Lakeville Public Library who were all kind enough to provide links to Recollecting Nemasket when it was just finding its legs. Because of support like this, Recollecting Nemasket continues its mission to be a local history resource for the community.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Howard Johnson's Rotary Mill, 1935-44

One of the great challenges for travelers during the Depression era was locating a clean, family style restaurant, with ample parking, quality food and low prices. Into this void stepped Howard Deering Johnson of Quincy who ultimately operated a nation-wide chain of restaurants geared towards the family traveler, one of which was located between 1935 and 1944 on Route 28 near the Middleborough Rotary location of the present Dunkin’ Donuts.

Johnson received his start as the proprietor of an ice cream stand in Quincy, eventually expanding into the restaurant business. By the time that it had opened a restaurant in Middleborough, in September, 1935, the Howard Johnson chain operated over 25 restaurants in New England. Eventually, it would grow to be the world’s largest restaurant chain, built upon a standardized menu, reliable offerings, clean facilities, friendly service and generous servings of rich ice cream. Of the often volatile Johnson it would later be said, “There’s many a king on a gilded throne, but there’s only one king on an ice cream cone.”

In 1935, Howard Johnson’s acquired the Rotary Mill restaurant in Middleborough previously operated by George Manning of Mattapoisett. The Rotary Mill, which had been built shortly after the 1932 construction of the Middleborough Rotary and operated for just a few years, was noted for the distinctiveness of its Colonial Revival architecture, particularly the mock three-story windmill which served as the restaurant’s entrance and stood as a landmark on the route to the Cape for summer travelers.

Following its acquisition by Howard Johnson’s, little change was made to the exterior appearance of the Rotary Mill, whose architectural style was very much compatible with that of the other early Colonial Revival style Howard Johnson restaurants designed by Joseph G. Morgan. One notable change, however, was the addition of the distinctive orange baked-enamel roof, an easily recognized beacon for travelers in search of convenient dining. Howard Johnson’s early slogan was a “Landmark for Hungry Americans”, and the ubiquitous orange roof helped them in their search.

The opening of Howard Johnson’s new Middleborough location on September 22, 1935, was advertised with discounted ice cream and “our delicious frankforts roasted in pure creamery butter.” These two favorites, along with others such as clam strips and macaroni and cheese would become Howard Johnson staples, so much so that they were later marketed in supermarkets.

Like the other restaurants in the Howard Johnson chain, the Rotary Mill served Johnson’s exceedingly rich ice cream (19 per cent butter fat content), with generous servings from distinctively-shaped scoops. Ice cream was made in 28 flavors, and woe to those who opted for lowly vanilla. "We spend our lives developing 28 flavors, and they still come in and say 'Make mine vanilla!'” Johnson once fulminated.

Like ice cream, the simple hot dog was yet another roadside staple which Howard Johnson early elevated to a specialty. In Howard Johnson restaurants, hot dogs were called “frankforts” and were grilled in butter, diagonal scores being cut along the hot dog in order for them to soak in more of the butter in which they were grilled, and served in grilled rectangular buns. Clam strips became another recognizably Howard Johnson’s meal, and were harvested from beds owned by the company off Ipswich.

While undoubtedly many Middleborough residents dined at the Rotary Mill, Howard Johnson’s restaurants were geared to the traveler. Diners stopping at a Howard Johnson’s clearly knew what to expect in contrast to local restaurants and roadside stands, the quality and cleanliness of which could vary greatly.

Eventually, World War II with its gasoline, tire, rubber and food rationing crippled the roadside restaurant business. In 1944, Howard Johnson’s converted its Rotary Mill restaurant to a Red Coach Grill, then a new dining concept embraced by the company.

Howard Johnson's Rotary Mill, Middleborough, MA, hand-colored photograph, c. 1935
The view depicts the Rotary Mill as seen from across Route 28 shortly after its acquisition by Howard Johnson's. The most noticeable alteration undertaken at the time was the application of the chain's distinctive orange enamel roof, an easily recognizable feature for travellers in search of clean, inexpensive and reliable family-friendly dining options.

Howard Johnson's, Middleborough Rotary, Middleborough, MA, photograph, 1940s
This view was utilized to advertise the local Howard Johnson's which was replaced in 1944 by the Red Coach Grill, a new dining concept promoted by Howard Johnson's in an effort to attract a more local clientele.

Monday, April 12, 2010

"Germans" Bomb South Middleborough, 1942

Or so the headlines would have read had the civil defense air raid drills of 1942 which targeted South Middleborough had been an actual event. Fortunately they weren’t, but they did help prepare local residents for a feared enemy attack on American shores during World War II.

Even prior to America's declaration of war in December, 1941, South Middleborough had been exposed to wartime preparedness procedures. In June, soldiers from Camp Edwards on Cape Cod had engaged in maneuvers in the vicinity. The following month, Lucy Braley was appointed captain to solicit funds for the U. S. O. at South Middleborough. A number of South Middleborough residents enlisted in the armed forces prior to the declaration of war including Russell Tripp and Everett W. Collins.

The community, itself, began preparations by naming Everett Buckman as air raid warden for South Middleborough with Harold Williams as his assistant in late summer, 1941. The Junior Red Cross at the South Middleborough School engaged in war relief efforts, establishing a contribution box to raise money for the purchase of books for U. S. O. camps in January, 1941.

Route 28, as one of the principal highways to Cape Cod where Camp Edwards was located, saw convoys pass through, as well as consequent accidents. On February 1, 1942, a cab operated by the Checker Taxicab Company of Boston carrying seven or eight soldiers back to Camp Edwards skidded, struck a tree and flipped over before burning a mile north of the Middleborough-Rochester town line. Both Engine 1 from Middleborough and the Wareham engine responded to the call shortly before midnight.

The community was included in the distribution of so-called “bomb sand” on March 14, 1942. Middleborough Highway Department trucks distributed sand to congested areas where homes were clustered closely together. Sand was to be kept easily available in metal buckets “for use in extinguishing and disposing of incendiary bombs.” It is not clear how readily South Middleborough residents participated. The Gazette reported that only thirty percent of householders outside the center had put out pails to be filled while the percentage for the center (fifty percent) was not much better. Some residents may have recognized the futility of effectively dousing an incendiary with a single bucket of sand and so felt disinclined to participate.

The relative lack of willingness to participate in the sand distribution fueled concerns about Middleborough’s overall preparedness in the event of an air raid, particularly since the town had held only one blackout drill in May, 1941 prior to the start of the war. Accordingly, both air raid defense tests and test blackouts began being scheduled with regularity throughout Middleborough. Initially, the bell of the South Middleborough church was to be used to supplement the town’s two existing fire alarm sirens located at Middleborough center to signal an air raid. Additionally, air raid wardens were provided with police whistles to be used to signal for a final blackout. In June, 1942, an electric air raid whistle manufactured by the Westinghouse Air Brake Company was installed in Sisson’s Garage at the intersection of Wareham and Locust Streets, operated by the same compressed air system which Sisson used to inflate tires.

The first civilian air raid defense test on Sunday, March 29, 1942, played havoc with Cape traffic on Route 28. Over 225 northbound cars were halted at the Middleborough line in Rochester while “some 56 additional that had passed the town line before the start of the blackout were stopped in lower South Middleboro.” Despite the inconvenience, “the drivers cooperated without protest.” Additional town blackouts were conducted April 7, 1942; August, 1942; and June 23-24, 1943; along with two state-wide blackouts held on December 15, 1942, and February 28, 1943.

On Monday, May 11, 1942, the evening before registration for gasoline rationing was to commence, Middleborough’s defense organizations participated in a rehearsal mobilization, though without a blackout, in which South Middleborough was actively engaged. The first warning was given at 7 p. m., the second at 7: 15, and the final warning at 7:29 at which point a blackout would have been complete. “The first call for help came a minute before the final warning, at 7:29 p.m. from the Esso station in South Middleboro reporting an accident on the old road [Spruce Street] at the first house on the left. Serious injuries required the services of doctors and an ambulance.” Richmond Matthews’ auxiliary ambulance was dispatched to the scene along with the Egger ambulance accompanied by a first aid assistant. The “injured” were transported to St. Luke’s Hospital at Middleborough where Doctor James M. Bonnar, Jr., judged the bandaging done by first aid corps members.

A second surprise test was conducted late Sunday afternoon, June 21, during which an enemy bomber was shot down by an interceptor plane at 5:10 p.m., crashing some 500 yards north of the South Middleborough railroad station east of the tracks to Cape Cod. Three men were “seen” parachuting from the plane and “have landed near Wareham street nearly opposite the burning plane.” The State Guard was dispatched to capture the men. During this raid the recently-installed electric air raid siren installed at Sisson’s gas station was employed for the first time.

South Middleborough’s situation was regarded as particularly perilous at the time, isolated as it was by thick woods and swamps which provided extensive concealment for any possible invaders as manhunts for lost and fugitive individuals during the 1950s would so well demonstrate. Because of this, the area became the scene of an extensive search following the actual loss of an Army fighter plane which disappeared following take off from its base at Hillsgrove, Rhode Island on December 22, 1942, the wreckage of which was thought to be hidden beneath the tree cover near South Middleborough. Members of Middleborough’s Company 4 of the Massachusetts State Guard as well as troops from several Massachusetts and Connecticut camps searched the thickly-forested area southwest of South Middleborough during the last week of December, while a blimp searched from the air. The area immediately west of South Middleborough bounded by Spruce, Benson and Highland Streets and the railroad tracks were searched as well. “The local men came out of the woods well scratched up.” It was not until late March, 1943, that the plane and the body of its pilot were located in a heavily wooded portion of Cape Cod ironically near Camp Edwards.

A second plane from the Hillsboro base, a P-47, caught fire and crashed just over the South Middleborough line in Rochester in early March, 1943, with the pilot parachuting to safety.

Civilian air raid preparedness drills became increasingly infrequent as the likelihood of invasion diminished throughout late 1943 and 1944. In fact, South Middleborough experienced its only true bomb scare in November, 1944, when blasting associated with the construction of a cranberry bog west of the railroad tracks by Harrison Peppin shook windows at Sisson’s Garage, Sisson’s Diner, Lucy Braley’s Candy Kitchen and homes in the neighborhood, prompting residents to fear a “robot bomb”. Following an investigation by Chief of Police Alden C. Sisson, local fears were allayed.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Then & Now: North Congregational Church

The present North Congregational Church at North Middleborough is the third church structure to stand on the site. On March 15, 1893, the previous church building was struck by lightning and burned. The congregation made an immediate decision to rebuild, and it was reported the following month:

“Active measures are being taken toward rebuilding the North Middleboro Congregational church lately burned by lightning. A building committee is trying to raise funds. There was an insurance of $6000 on the building and $1000 on the organ, this amount being largely available for use in the new building.”

Work commenced on the foundation in July, 1893, and the church was dedicated April 19, 1894. A noted feature of the 1893-94 church is the clock located in the tower which was manufactured and installed by the E. Howard Clock Company of Boston. Numerous public buildings throughout the country featured Howard clocks. The North Middleborough church was only the second building in Middleborough to incorporate a public clock. The first was the Central Baptist Church at Middleborough center which also featured a clock manufactured by the Howard Company.

North Congregational Church, 38 Plymouth Street, Middleborough, MA, photograph by T. A. Richmond, c. 1901-02.

North Congregational Church, 38 Plymouth Street, Middleborough, MA, photograph by Michael J. Maddigan, October 3, 2006.

Old Colony Memorial
, April 8, 1893, page 4.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Elks' Ball, 1912

The Middleborough Lodge Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks was organized in the spring of 1912. Among its very first social occasions was a ball held Wednesday, May 29. The event, which became an annual Elks' tradition, was a marked success as indicated by the following article carried by the Middleboro Gazette two days after the dance.

A brilliant social event was carried through Wednesday evening when Middleboro Lodge of Elks held their first concert and ball.

The decorations of the hall were a feature, the effect being white and purple, streamers being draped from the centre to the sides. The stage represented a large garden, the front decorated with American flags and an elk's head, surmounted by an illuminated clock, the hands set at the hour of eleven. Around the receiving station were small trees, representing a forest glen in which stood a life sized elk.

During the first of the evening an orchestra rendered a concert while the patronesses, Mrs. Bourne Wood, Mrs. Ivan Rogers, Mrs. James P. Leahy and Mrs. William F. Stone received. The ushers were John V. Sullivan, Harold S. Wood, Louis T. Perkins, Reginald Drake, Ernest M. O'Toole, William B. Crossley, Hugh Rogers, Abraham Levy, Edmund Pratt,
[and] Frank Moriarty.

Dancing was enjoyed until after midnight. The gowns worn by the ladies were the most brilliant and attractive of any seen recently on a local dance floor. William F. Stone was in charge of the dancing and Bourne Wood, Dr. J. P. Leahy, H. E. Lunt, E. A. Perry, A. Martenson, Ivan Rogers and W. F. Stone, the committee in charge.

Promptly at eleven o'clock the hall was darkened and with the Elks in a circle in the centre of the hall in front of the illuminated clock, Hon. Ambrose Kennedy of Woonsocket, speaker of the Rhode Island house of representatives, gave the eleven o'clock toast to the absent members, after which "Auld Lang Syne" was sung by the members.

Middleborough B. P. O. E. first annual ball, dance card, May 29, 1912

The cover of the dance card depicts an elk head with the animal's zoological name, Cervus alces, featured on the purple banner. The large clock with its hands set to eleven, and the purple and white color scheme were also reflected in the decorations for the local Elks' first ball. Dance cards such as this were noted features of formal dances of the period, and were completed by ladies who would pencil in their partners for each dance. The long purple cord on this card permitted the lady to wear it from her wrist.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Herring Market, 1870

The following item appeared in the Middleboro Gazette in late April, 1870:

Herring Market - Caught at Star Mills privilege this week about 20,000. Condition good, being both healthy and fat; price $1.25 to $2 per hundred. It is said that the natives of old Middleborough already begin to look more cheerful and better everyday.

"Alewife or Branch Herring (Pomolobus psuedoharengus)", chromolithograph, S. F. Denton, Annual Reports of the New York State Fisheries, Game and Forest Commission, 1896-99.

The present taxonomy for the alewife is Alosa pseudoharengus.

Middleboro Gazette, "What the Gazette Was Saying Fifty Years Ago", April 30, 1920.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Storms, 1867

One of the most destructive spring storms prior to 2010 occurred in 1867 when a spring freshet caused by a combination of heavy rain and melting snow caused the Nemasket River to flood. One of the most dramatic consequences was the washing away of the herring weir at Muttock by the impounded waters of the mill pond above Nemasket Street.

A severe storm of rain and wind prevailed here, on Saturday night last [February 9, 1867]. This, at once thawed and set in motion the previous heavy fall of snow, so that our streams experienced the effects of the combination of two heavy storms.... At the Muttock works, the herring weir dam was swept away."

Nemasket River at Muttock, photograph, 1880s.
This photographic view depicts the Nemasket River some twenty years after the disastrous 1867 storm which washed away the herring weir dam. The dam was not rebuilt and the site was left to nature which has begun to encroach upon the river in this view. Note the young boy fishing on the left bank.

Middleboro Gazette, February 16, 1867

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Best Easter Wishes, 1909

"Best Easter Wishes", greeting card, Louise Bradford Pratt, pencil and ink, 1909.
Louise B. Pratt (1887-1987), sister of Ernest S. Pratt, was a longtime librarian at the Middleborough Public Library who had an interest in drawing in pen and ink. She sent this hand-made greeting card depicting the Easter bunny toting a brightly-colored floral hat box and a border of pussy willow, to Mrs. Warren Lovell of Rock Street, Middleborough in April, 1909. Miss Pratt was the last family member to live on the Pratt Farm.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Basketball's First Years in Middleborough, 1896-1909

As elsewhere, the local Y. M. C. A. in Middleborough is credited with fostering the early growth of basketball and the early history of basketball in Middleborough is, in large part, the story of the Y. Created in 1891 at Springfield and introduced into Middleborough just a few years later, basketball had its first formally-organized local team in late 1896 when the Middleborough Y. M. C. A. formed a team to contest matches with other Ys within the region. Between 1896 and 1909, the Middleborough Y. M. C. A. would dominate basketball in town, fielding the only teams until 1905 (when Middleborough High School formed a team) and 1909 (when the first independent team was established). The 1909-10 basketball season, in fact, marked a transition period, witnessing not only the formation of the first town team independent of the Y. M. C. A., but also the inauguration of Middleborough Town Hall as a new basketball venue, the beginning of construction of a new modern basketball gymnasium as part of the proposed Y. M. C. A. building on North Main Street and the rumblings of conflict between professional and amateur players.

The Early Game

The Middleborough Y. M. C. A.’s role in the early evolution of basketball locally is not surprising given that the sport was developed in late 1891 and early 1892 by Dr. James Naismith, an instructor at the International Young Men’s Christian Association Training School (now Springfield College) at Springfield, Massachusetts. Charged by the director of the school, Luther Gulick, with keeping the students occupied and physically active during the winter, Naismith developed an active game which could be played in indoor gymnasiums by nailing two peach baskets ten feet high onto the wall on a 35 by 50 foot court. Players would shoot a soccer ball into the baskets in accordance with 13 written rules which Naismith pinned on a bulletin board. Because of the simple props, Naismith named the game “basket ball”. Because there were 18 students in the class, the original teams consisted of nine to a side (later reduced to five by the mid-1890s). Because the bottoms were not cut from the baskets, after each point, referees were required to climb a ladder to retrieve the ball and players would jump for it. (Not until 1906 were open nets and rims standard in the game). Additionally, in the absence of a shot clock, players tended to play at a leisurely pace. Prior to 1910, players were not permitted to move with the ball, so emphasis was placed upon passing with one or both hands.

Because of these restrictions and limitations, early basketball was a much slower tempo game than at present, as indicated in part by surviving game scores which appear remarkably low by modern standards. (Poor shooting was also an obvious factor in such low scores). Spectators at the time frequently were critical of this aspect, often bored by the leisurely pace of cautious players. One news report concerning a game on January 14, 1905, between the Middleborough Y. M. C. A. first team and the South Ends of New Bedford at Middleborough criticized the match as “a basket ball game which many of the onlookers called ‘slow’”. Consequently, “fast players” received much praise and younger local players such as Mel Gammons and Chester Churchill who joined the Middleborough Y’s first team in the first decade of the 1900s became particularly noted (and appreciated) for their speed.

Middleborough Y. M. C. A.

While the local development of basketball in Middleborough was exclusively a product of the Y. M. C. A., its growth was initially hampered by the lack of a suitable venue in which to play and inhibited by the early Y’s focus upon athletics (calisthenics and gymnastics). At the time, the Association occupied rooms above the store of George T. Ryder on Center Street, but local basketball enthusiasts, both within and outside the organization, encouraged the Y. M. C. A. to secure a gymnasium in order that the sport might be pursued. In November, 1933, local Y. M. C. A. general secretary David B. Howard would write of the mid-1890s organization:

Up to this time apparently little thought had been given to the provision of any indoor place, heated and lighted, for the purpose of conducting athletic competition, in fact, many of the games themselves were only beginning to receive attention. A new day was dawning (as it always is, if we can only see it) and with the advent of these games, interest in the Physical Department increased rapidly.

Towards the end of securing a gymnasium, in July, 1893, the Middleborough Y. M. C. A. named T. S. Phinney, D. C. Wentworth and C. W. Corey a committee to investigate the possibility of hiring rooms in the American Building on South Main Street, including the six rooms on the second floor as well as the third floor hall. The second floor rooms were deemed as in need of repair by the Committee named to investigate the option, as well as “a thorough cleaning”. The third floor hall was more promising. “It seems to be in every respect well adapted to the use of a Gymnasium without hindering its use for entertainments and lectures.” Overall, the committee favored the premises, recording that “with but slight changes, and improvements, the rooms could seemingly be made well suited to our work.” The lease terms asked by the building’s owner, David Tucker, however, were high and were considered beyond the means of the Association. At its meeting on August 14, 1893, “after much general talk and discussion it was not generally considered best to” hire the rooms.

In August, 1894, the Association was once more seeking larger quarters and set its sights upon the Bon Mode Building on Center Street “with a view to occupying the same or rooms for the Association.” Wentworth, Phinney and D. S. Surrey were named the committee to investigate the proposal. While no action was taken on these rooms, in November, 1894, the Association voted to pay Levi P. Thatcher “$400.00 a year for the upper floor of his new building fitted up as we want it.” Nothing came of this action, either.

Consequently, the Association remained without space for a gymnasium, much to the dismay of basketball fans. Such people, however, took heart when in early 1895 the Middleboro Gazette announced that the Y. M. C. A. eventually would relocate to the Middleborough Savings Bank then under construction at the Four Corners.

The Middleboro Y. M. C. A. management have decided upon an important change in location. They have secured the lease of the fine suite of rooms in the second story of the new Bank block, comprising the corner room and two connecting rooms, and an office facing Main street. This will be one of the handsomest suite of rooms I town and will undoubtedly give the association a better standing and opportunity in town.

The announcement, however, proved premature. A year later in early 1896 when the Y formally applied to the Middleborough Savings Bank “for the use of a room for a Gymnasium” in the bank’s new building at the Four Corners, the Bank tabled the request, prompting the following response from the Y.

Middleboro’ Mass. Jan. 3. 1896

To the Directors of the Middleboro’ Savings Bank.

At a meeting of the Board of Directors of the Young Men’s Christian Association Dec. 27. ’95. it was voted to occupy the rooms in the Bank Building on Feb. 1.

This was with the understanding on our part that we could rent a part of the upper floor for a gymnasium. We understand that you laid on the table the proposition to rent the Association the gymnasium.

We are very anxious to occupy the rooms Feb. 1 but believe that the question of renting the gymnasium and price of the same should be decided upon before we sign a lease.

We therefore submit the following proposition that we occupy the rooms Feb. 1 guaranteeing the rent of the same monthly and agree to sign a lease for the whole, when an agreement regarding the gymnasium and price has been made.

The Bank, once more tabled the Association’s proposal, whereupon the Y rescinded its voted of December, 1895, to engage rooms in the building.

In May, 1896, the organization named a committee “to see what can be done about a Gymnasium.” The committee reported back on July 6, that pledges be solicited for the construction of a gymnasium including a “plan for gymnasium membership.” The group believed that it could attract new members whose dues would help provide for the construction of a new gymnasium. By late July, 26 individuals indicated that they would join the YMCA if a gymnasium were provided and the Association voted “that when we get 75 new names pledged for full membership to proceed to build a gymnasium.” By late August, 38 names were pledged and the Association named a committee of two to visit the Brockton YMCA in order to gain information “in regard to light gymnasium.” Despite the progress made in this area, the Association voted on August 28, 1896, “not to start a gymnasium in the hall under the present conditions.” State Secretary Armstrong, however, was present at the meeting of September 11, and urged the local Y to move forward with plans for a gymnasium, and he offered to send a representative to assist the local group until the necessary funds had been raised.

Middleborough’s First Basketball Team

Subsequent to Armstrong’s urging, the Middleborough Y. M. C. A.’s attention was drawn once more towards the Thatcher Block on Center Street at the corner of Thatcher’s Row which had a number of small rooms as well as a meeting hall formerly used by the Sons of Temperance on the second floor. The Y. M. C. A. ultimately offered Mr. Thatcher $50 annual rent for the use of the facilities. Thatcher. himself, proposed the possibility of a separate gymnasium addition, though the two separate contractors he had review the plan both felt the proposal was not feasible.

Mr. Thatcher offered to give half enough to build the piece if the association would build it and take his part out of the rent, at the rate of Fifty Dollars a year. He also offered to build a building for gym. on the ground or have us use the hall for a gym and have the room now occupied by the Democrat Club for a game room.

Voted that Mr. Shaw see if we can have room for baths and dressing room used by Dem. Club and use hall for gymnasium….

In October, 1896, the Association voted to hire the large hall from Thatcher for use as a gymnasium as well as the small rooms (at $2 a month) and to convert them for baths, and to acquire “gymnasium apparatus” from the state organization and Athletic Club. The following month, a permanent Gymnasium Committee was named and Arthur H. Thompson became the Association’s first Physical Director.

This first gymnasium dating from 1896 was, apparently, simply a small space “which permitted of light gymnastics and exercises which attracted an increasing number of young men and boys. These rooms were soon outgrown so that it was absolutely necessary to procure other quarters and where heavier gymnasium work could be done and the use of regular apparatus permitted.”

Yet, despite the limited size of the space and the demand for a location that would permit “heavier work”, it was there on Center Street that basketball was first formally played in Middleborough and it was at this time that the first basketball team was organized by the Y. M. C. A.

According to Will Crapo, basketball had been played in Middleborough prior to this time, though the Y team appears to have been the first formal team organized. In addition to Crapo, the team’s original members included Albion (“Al”) W. Merritt, George L. Thomas, Charles A. Sherman, and William (“Will”) C. Phinney.

The first game played with an out-of-town team was with the Taunton Y. M. C. A. in the local Y. M. C. A. gymnasium. The rules of the game at that time, while not prohibiting each player to move from an imaginary circle while playing, each player was expected to keep within a certain territory. The rules allowed much more roughness than is allowed in amateur rules today. To illustrate this: the first game played with the Taunton team was won by a player who threw the winning goal while lying on his back on the floor, he having been knocked there by one of the opposing players. Holding and pushing were allowed more at that time than today.


The local Y. M. C. A. clearly was cognizant of the importance of promoting athletics (including basketball). In 1902 it was written that

the gymnasium is unquestionably the most popular part of the association work to young men in general, and is a tremendous force in getting men interested. This, together with the social and educational work, constitute the attractive side which enable is to reach men. This being so, emphasis should without doubt be placed upon it in order to get men in, as well as to do its specified work in ministering to their physical needs.

Sometimes the good work of the physical department in building up strong healthy men is overlooked. When it is considered that physical health plays an important part in the development of character, it can be seen how important it is for the young men themselves, and for the furthering of the highest aim. Men working inside generally lack the exercise necessary for perfect health, and this need is met in the gymnasium work. For these reasons much will be done to interest men in the gymnasium classes and other features in this connection.

…Saturday nights will be devoted to basket-ball, and some spare time on Monday and Friday nights also. A basket-ball team will be organized to represent the association.

Clearly, the purpose of local
Y. M. C. A. basketball was not only to provide the young men within the community an opportunity for physical work, but also to act as an incentive in attracting new members to the organization. It is not surprising then that when the local organization formed a “Committee of Forty on the Warpath for New Members Before Oct. 1” sometime in the mid or late 1890s that players from the Y. M. C. A. team – Sherman, Merritt, Crapo, and Phinney – were prominent among its members. No doubt, the goal was for them to attract athletically-minded new members from among the community.

To accommodate the number of individuals desiring to play basketball, the Y. M. C. A. sponsored a number of teams. The first or senior team was the strongest team and was typically comprised of young men who either had tried out and been named to the team or who had been drawn as the best players from a Y. M. C. A. league of teams. For instance, during the 1900-01 season, the local Y sponsored four teams from which the strongest players were to be taken to form the first team which would compete against other local Y. M. C. A. teams.

A second or junior team was also sponsored each year for younger and less experienced players. These junior teams helped develop younger players and gave depth to the bench. In time, many of these junior players would find their way onto the first team, helping provide greater consistency from one season to the next for the local organization. The 1901-02 junior team featured such future Middleborough Y. M. C. A. and High School standouts as Melvern Gammons, Lester Allen, Kenneth Childs and Johnnie Morrison, and in 1903-04, the junior team known as the Black Knights were noticeable for their prominence. Gammons (as captain) along with Chester Churchill (as manager) helped lead the team to a 10 and 4 record competing against teams such as the New Bedford Eagles, Taunton Quakers, Brockton Monitors, Brockton Mohawks, Whitman Hustlers, Brockton High School, Ames High School (North Easton), and Taunton High School.

Middleborough Y teams tended to be very young, composed largely of new adherents to the game. In 1906 it was remarked that “it is a noticeable fact that the players who comprise the [first] team are all young men, not one of the regular team having passed the 25th birthday, while some are not over 17.” This factor also contributed to the longevity of some local players’ careers, most playing for multiple seasons and a number of them playing for nearly a decade.

Providing a degree of formal organization for the local sport was the Amateur Athletic Union (A. A. U.) which had been founded in 1888 to establish standards and uniformity in amateur athletics. The Middleborough Y. M. C. A. teams were registered with the organization which helped promote a higher level of play among its members.

No Sewing Bee

Throughout the early period, basketball was noted for its occasional roughness, and Middleborough teams were no exception. News reports at the time typically mentioned the “cleanliness” of the game, so lacking was it from the sport at times. One game between the Middleborough and Brockton Y. M. C. A. teams on February 9, 1901, was described as “one of the cleanest … of the year”, while contrarily the match between Middleborough and Co. E of New Bedford on December 31, 1904, was noted as “the roughest of the season” when a fight was narrowly averted during the second half. During the opening game of the 1906-07 season, Chester Churchill of the Middleborough Y team and Harrison of the New Bedford South Ends were ejected “on account of alleged slugging.” Numerous game summaries from throughout the period would make note of rough play, unintentional fouls and ejected players and the fact that forward Lester Allen of Middleborough was nicknamed “Bruiser” is somewhat indicative of the nature of the game at the time.

During the period, a number of Middleborough games were noted when “faces mixed with fists”. On January 23, 1909, at a meeting between the local Y. M. C. A. team and the Bosworths of New Bedford before a crowd of 300 spectators, “the game ended in a lively set-to, in which blows were exchanged, one woman fainted, and officer Fred A. Thomas rushed on to the floor to separate the belligerent spectators.” Not surprisingly, the fracas was a result of a disputed call.

There was a question of a decision, and players on the Middleboro team which was affected, questioned its legality. New Bedford players were ready to debate it. In the heat of discussion blows were exchanged. The spectators then took a hand and rushed on to the floor and some of the visitors were used pretty roughly. Officer Fred A. Thomas appeared on the scene as the crowd made for the centre and tried to stop the trouble. Others who like clean sport also took a hand and finally the warring factions were separated. When the game stopped with six minutes to play the Bosworths led, 23 to 18, according to the Middleboro scorekeeper’s count. The crowd was at fever pitch, and it was deemed inadvisable to continue the game, so it was called. The Bosworths claimed the forfeited game to them, but Middleboro combated this. Arguments continued in the rooms, and on the street until the visiting team took their special car home.

Just three weeks later, on February 12, a nearly identical incident occurred when with only two minutes remaining to play, a game between the local Y. M. C. A. team and the Wamsutta team of New Bedford had to be called after scuffling between opposing players threatened to erupt into a general melee at the Middleborough gymnasium.

The trouble started last night in the second half when [Elmer] Gay [of Middleborough] and Murphy [of New Bedford] had a mixup, but that was checked.

With the score 39 to 25 in favor of the home team, and only two minutes to play, Murphy, who had figured in the first fight, had an encounter with Allen and the crowd rushed onto the floor. After much trouble the floor was cleared, but the game did not continue.

The roughness of the sport, unintended by Naismith when he devised the game, contributed to its falling somewhat from favor among some Y. M. C. A. proponents who disapproved of the “rough and tumble” nature of the game at the time. In 1909, “The Commentator”, an editorial column published regularly in the Middleboro Gazette at that time vocalized this sentiment.

The Commentator’s patronage having been earnestly sought on numerous occasions in behalf of the basket ball games and similar athletic exhibitions frequently held in the gymnasium of the local Y. M. C. A., the spirit moved him, the other evening, to yield to the often repeated request for moral and financial support to the extent of attending a game. It was not exactly the first basket ball game that he had ever witnessed, but the previous occasions were so far back that possibly his recollection is somewhat at fault – his impression is, however, that either the natural concomitants of the game have been greatly increased, or that the game the other evening was an exception to the general rule. Now athletic sports are not sewing bees, nor is it in any way desirable that the virile and lusty enthusiasm which finds vent in these contests should be checked. But really it does not seem necessary that a game between young men representing associations which are founded for a distinctly moral or even religious purpose should wind up in a free fight. It adds nothing to the pleasure of the spectators, and contributes nothing to the pleasure of the game, as such, to the participants. There is a distinct and separate branch of athletics, sometimes dignified by the appellation of “the manly art of self defense,” which out to be substituted for basket ball by those who really feel that they must have a row. If we are to have basket ball, let us have basket ball; if we are to have pugilistic encounters, let us make a business of it; but let us not make one over into the other while the spectators wait.

The local Y. M. C. A.’s general secretary, Walter J. Carter took umbrage at the Gazette’s comments, mistakenly perceiving them as an attack upon the organization rather than a well-warranted critique of the sport’s increasing roughness and the local organization’s failure to adopt a tougher stance against those players who failed to restrain themselves.

The Young Men’s Christian Association stands for clean sports….The association is however made up of individuals and each individual is a human being and is subject to more or less of the imperfections of the human. We make mistakes, but where is the man or the organization that does not?

To Carter’s credit, however, he did put his foot down, stating that “unless the players are more orderly he will not allow any more games.”

Peirce Academy Gymnasium

Due to space limitations within the existing gym in Association Hall, in September, 1897, the Middleborough Y. M. C. A. once more considered the possibility of constructing a gymnasium addition onto the Thatcher Block, and a committee was named to enquire of Mr. Thatcher as to his intentions in that direction. Thatcher “reported that he could not put on [an] addition for [a] gym.” By late 1897, the Association began to consider space in the former Peirce Academy building on Center Street for use as a gymnasium, though the committee named to look into the possibility advised against it in early 1898. In March, 1898, the Association yet again toyed with the idea of relocating to the former Academy Building, but in April declined the contract drawn by the prudential committee of the Central Baptist Society which owned the property.

In August, the Association invited Mr. Bursaw, Physical Director of the Somerville Y. M. C. A. to look over the existing Middleborough gym and offer advice. “…After investigating the gym [Bursaw] said that he did not think satisfactory work could be done there. He visited the academy building and was much pleased with it. Thought it could be made a very good place for the gym by removing four posts in centre of room.” As a result of this assessment, the local Association reopened the question of acquiring rooms in the Academy Building. On August 29, 1898, the Association voted to hire the first floor of the Academy on the condition that it be permitted to make repairs. The Baptist Society agreed, and the Association made provision for creating a gymnasium in the space. The obtrusive posts were removed, and steel beams were installed to support the floors overhead. “These rooms allowed for much larger work and an increasingly large number of men availed themselves of this opportunity for athletic work and for years the town boasted an athletic spirit which has not since been equaled.”

When basketball was in its prime in these quarters there were a few rows of seats for the spectators around the playing area, with a wire netting separating them from the playing space, and sparing them occasional conks on the head with the tossed ball.

In mid-1900, a number of changes were made to the local gymnasium preparatory to the opening of the facility on October 10. “Among the most noticeable are new electric lights, new lockers and bathing facilities.”

Though the Peirce Academy location marked the local Y. M. C. A.’s best facilities to date, it was still not ideal. Space was tight and little room was left for players. During a game in February, 1910, Earl Caswell slipped and fell while playing, striking his head against a chair and opening a deep gash over his eye which required several stitches to close. As early as 1902, the Academy location had been criticized as “far from being perfectly adapted to carrying on a complete work. Middleboro certainly needs a commodious, thoroughly equipped building of its own, and can never make the best use of its opportunities until it has one.”

When purchase of the building from the Central Baptist Society seemed almost certain in 1908, the Y proposed “sinking the floor of the gymnasium to give more space” and creating galleries on either side of the court to permit more spectators. Ultimately the plan was irrelevant, the Y. M. C. A. opting to construct a new building on North Main Street in 1912.


During the early period of basketball’s development in Middleborough, the community had a number of noted players who demonstrated their skill in both the Thatcher Block and Peirce Academy gymnasiums.

William (“Will”) C. Phinney, one of the original players on the 1896 squad, was later described as a “centre, who was tall and exceptionally strong”. Though Phinney played left guard, as well, his height no doubt made him ideal for the team’s center. Though he injured his ankle while playing basketball in 1909, Phinney had previously retired from local Y. M. C. A. basketball a number of years earlier. Phinney continued his work with the local Y as a member of the Physical Committee.

Center Albion (“Al”) W. Merritt “was probably the best long shot thrower the game has ever seen in Middleboro”, a claim made in 1954 long after Merritt had passed from the scene. Joining the first Y. M. C. A. team in 1896, Merritt played through the late 1890s and retired from the game in the early 1900s, later operating the Ideal Lunch counter in Middleborough.

Charles A. Sherman was a member of the original 1896 team, and he last played as a regular starter in the 1904-05 season. During his later career in local basketball, Sherman was more noted as a manager and among the teams he managed were the Middleborough Y. M. C. A. teams of 1905-06 and 1906-07. Not surprisingly, Sherman also served on the local Y. M. C. A. committee which was devoted to the organization’s athletic work. Sherman later developed a keen interest in motorcycles which he began to repair and sell. By 1910, he was acting as an agent for both Thor and Minneapolis motorcycles locally.

William ("Will") H. Crapo, like Sherman, was on the original Y. M. C. A. team, but retired from active play sometime before 1900. After that date, he was more recognized for the various support positions he assumed within the local Y basketball organization. Crapo served as scorer and timekeeper for many Y. M. C. A. games, including one disputed game in early 1903, as well as officiating numerous games as referee. He was a mail carrier in Middleborough.

George L. Thomas, the last member of the original 1896 squad, played forward and like Crapo, retired from the game early in the period. Thomas later worked as a contractor, initially as a partner in Thomas & Benn, but would maintain his connection with the local Y as a member of its physical committee.

Albert (“Bert”) Keyes was recalled by Chester Churchill as “the best guard, under the old rules, that he ever saw play”. Keyes originally played left guard but was later moved to forward. In the spring of 1904, he was succeeded on the team by Mel Gammons at left forward. Like other early players, Keyes would continue his work promoting local Y. M. C. A. basketball as a member of the Middleborough organization’s Physical Committee.

Johnnie Morrison (right forward), though small in stature, was a scrappy player. During the mid-March 1903 junior team game against Somerville, Morrison was substituted in the second half, eliciting the following commentary from the Brockton Enterprise’s correspondent: "In the second period little Johnnie Morrison, who can tip the scales at 65 pounds, was put on the floor in order to give them a shot, and an experienced played was withdrawn. Johnnie played a star game, drawing considerable applause." In 1903, Morrison was moved up to the Y. M. C. A. first team, playing through spring 1904 when Chester Churchill was slotted into the position of right forward. Following that time, Morrison alternated between starts on the second and first Y. M. C. A. teams.

As early as 1900 Elmer F. Gay (left guard) was prominent within the local Y. M. C. A. basketball organization, captaining one of the league teams during the 1900-01 season. Gay was a noted player throughout the early 1900s, and started in many games throughout the decade. He would later serve on the local Y's Physical Committee.

Dudley ("Dud") Pratt became a starter at center on the Y. M. C. A. team during the spring of 1903, but played only intermittently. (During the 1905-06 season, he started in only 4 games).

Lester Allen (right guard) was a stand out player in the first decade of the 20th century, but often played in the shadow of Mel Gammons and Chester Churchill. Like many local players of the period, Allen gained notoriety as a member of the Y. M. C. A. junior teams before advancing to the first team which he joined for the 1905-06 season, starting in 6 of 18 games. Allen was also one of the members of the 1905 Middleborough High School squad along with Mel Gammons and Harold S. Wood. By 1906-07, Allen was starting regularly for the Y's first team and, in fact, played in all their games that season during which he was the second leading scorer with 232 points. Allen remained a pivotal player throughout much of the period, and the success of the team at this team is due in part to him.

Left guard Harold S. Wood was one of the members of the 1905 Middleborough High School team who became prominent on the Y. M. C. A. first team as a starter the following season. Wood was a reliable player who remained with the Y. M. C. A. team for a number of seasons before moving on to the Middleborough A. A. team for 1909-10.

Chester B. Churchill (right forward) served as the Y. M. C. A. team captain in 1908-09 and was known as “a fast, aggressive player”. Churchill began his local career on the Y. M. C. A. junior teams, and he was in large part responsible for the formation the Ponies in 1900, along with Carleton White, Bert Pearce and Clif Berry. “They played when they got a chance with lesser light teams, but their urging to be taken onto the YMCA team did not prevail.”

Churchill paid his dues playing on the Y. M. C. A. junior teams and by the spring of 1904 he was starting regularly on the local first team, one of his earliest starts being against Oliver Ames High School on March 12, 1904. In the first team’s game against St. Martin’s of New Bedford on March 26, 1904, Churchill was Middleborough’s leading scorer with 10 of Middleborough’s 24 points. Though Churchill was considered second only to Mel Gammons, on many occasions he “was the star performer for the home team” such as the February 8, 1908, game against the Fall River Summerfields when he scored 18 points and the February 29, 1908, overtime win against the same team. In 1950, Churchill celebrated 50 years in basketball by playing in an “Oldtimers” game. “He played in that game in all but two minutes of the four periods.”

Among the most notable of all the players of the period, however, was D[avid] Melvern (“Mel”) Gammons. Though he was an all-round athlete playing both football and baseball for Middleborough High School, it was in basketball that Gammons excelled.

Gammons first came to prominence as a member of the Middleborough Y. M. C. A. team, playing left forward, before joining the Middleborough High School team. During the 1903-04 season, Gammons, like Churchill, was a member of the local Y. M. C. A.’s Black Knights team and during the season started in at least one game as a member of the Y. M. C. A.’s first team against St. Martin’s on March 26, 1904. By the 1904-05 season, Gammons was starting as a regular member of the first team and the following season he was the top scorer with 226 points from the field and 18 free throws. Gammons was typically the leading scorer for Middleborough in each game in which he played, and it was said of him as early as 1904 that “Gammons is the best goal-getter of the team, having made as many as 10 baskets from the floor in a game. He rarely misses a goal thrown on a foul.” Gammons served as captain of the Y. M. C. A. team in 1906-07. Gammons was also instrumental in the formation and development of a team for Middleborough High School in 1905. Though he may have attended Dean Academy for a time, Gammons completed his education at Middleborough High School where in 1909 he was the leading scorer with 226 points from the floor and 23 foul shots. In his later career at Middleborough, Gammons alternated between center and forward.

Gammons was also noteworthy among Middleborough players as he was the first local basketball player who was alleged to have violated his amateur status. Because of Gammons' apparent skill, he was easily able to move into both coaching and officiating while still playing. On January 22, 1910, Gammons acted as referee at the Bridgewater Normal School between that school’s team and one from Taunton High School. “A dispute arose over a decision, Taunton taking exceptions. Some talk was made then … about [Gammons] receiving money for his services.” The following Wednesday, when Middleborough High School met Taunton High School, Gammons was ruled out of the game on the grounds of being a professional. While Gammons admitted to receiving expense money (an action which would fail to compromise his amateur status), the action by Taunton was regarded as a retaliatory act in response to Gammons’ call not having gone its way the previous week.

Charles J. Fox, manager of the Normal School’s team, came to the defense of Gammons, publishing the following letter dated February 4, 1910, at Bridgewater:

To Whom It May Concern:
This is to certify that Melvern Gammons of Middleboro has never received a cent from me for coaching or refereeing, except money paid for legitimate expenses. Any charged of professionalism against Mr. Gammons because of his relations with Bridgewater Normal are false.
Charles J. Fox,
Mgr. Basket Ball Team, Bridgewater Normal

Because of the dispute, manager Neal R. O’Hara of the Middleborough squad cancelled the team’s two remaining games with Taunton High School “owing to the action of the basket-ball team of that institution regarding Melvern Gammons’ eligibility on the local High school basket ball team.” Fortunately for Gammons, the incident blew over quickly without further damage to his reputation.

In 1909-10 when he was "recognized as one of the fastest basket-ball players in this section", Gammons helped form the Middleborough A. A. team, Middleborough's first team independent of the Y. M. C. A. and not associated with Middleborough High School. In November, 1910, Gammons announced his signing with the Randolph team of the Bay State Professional Basketball League, and a year later in 1911 he helped form the College Five, a team composed of Middleborough college students including Gammons, Keedwell, Witbeck, Marshall, Harriman and J. Stearns Cushing.

“Gammons left here years ago to make his home in Corning, N. Y., and to be athletic director of a big corporation there. He had a memorable athletic career in this part of the country before moving to New York.”

Other players of the era included Ralph Kelly, Rodney McDonald, Stearns Cushing, Morton Marshall, George Carter, Ralph Mendall, Daniel Besse, Fred A. Thomas, Fred Logan, Al Sparrow, Kenneth Childs, and Gordon Shurtleff.

The M. Y. M. C. A. First Team

Early basketball in Middleborough was dominated by the first team of the local Y. M. C. A. and not until the 1909-10 season when the Middleboro A. A. team was formed was there an independent team (that is, a team not sponsored by the Y. M. C. A.). For 13 years, the Y. M. C. A.’s teams had the exclusive attention of Middleborough basketball fans, though the formation of teams at Middleborough High School beginning in 1905 began to contribute to the broadening of the sport beyond the Y.

Information regarding the earliest teams fielded in Middleborough remains scant, and game summaries, season records, and statistical information has to be recreated, and is not always complete or, in many cases, is absent. Season records, individual player statistics, even dates, frequently can no longer be known with certainty or known at all. The following season summaries for the period in question, however, provide a glimpse into what basketball in Middleborough was like during this period.


Virtually nothing is currently known regarding the first four seasons of Y. M. C. A. basketball in Middleborough though undoubtedly information exists buried in the columns of decaying regional newspapers of the period. The inaugural season was 1896 when the Y. M. C. A. first established a team comprised of Albion W. Merritt, George L. Thomas, Charles A. Sherman, William H. Crapo, and Will C. Phinney. The members of this original team would remain prominent in Middleborough basketball circles through the early 1900s, either as players or in the capacity of managers, scorers, referees or timekeepers.


Local basketball “enthusiasts” met on October 24, 1900, “and made preliminary arrangements for the opening of the season. There was an abundance of material for the teams, both of old players and new ones, and much interest is being aroused. One evening each week will be devoted to practice.” The Y. M. C. A. proposed a league of several teams from which the best players would be selected to comprise the organization’s first team – the team which would play outside teams. Phinney was named captain and Crapo manager. Monday was the day set aside for practice in the local gymnasium.

Principal members of the team this season included Phinney at center, Fred A. Thomas right forward, Gilkey left forward, Frank Thomas right guard and Bert Keyes left guard, although others playing included J. Sparrow and S. Stevens.

Among the outside teams met in competition were Y. M. C. A. squads from New Bedford (December 19 16-5 win; February 16 15-31 loss), Whitman (December 24; April 3 38-2 win), Fall River (December 29 15-13 win; January 12 16-26 loss), Taunton (January 30 28-3 win) and Brockton (February 5 9-7 win) as well as the Quessetts from South Easton (January 16 42-4 win), Battery I from Brockton and Thayer Academy.

The following summary from the Brockton Times of March 4, 1901, documenting a game on March 2 gives just a glimpse of basketball (and its coverage) during its earliest days:

The Y. M. C. A. second basket ball team defeated the [Murdock] Parlor Grate [Company] team Saturday night, 34 to 8. This was the Parlor Grate boys’ first game. The line-up:
Y. M. C. A. 2d – Pierce rf, Sparrow lf, Gilkey c, Gay rg, Beaton (Capt.) lg.
Parlor Grate – Gallond (Capt.) rf, Swift lf, Minot c, Bailey rg, Bump lg.
The summary: Y. M. C. A. 34, Parlor Grate 8. Goals from the field – Pierce 6, Sparrow 6, Gilkey 2, Gay 3, Swift 2, Bailey. Goals on fouls – Gallond 2. Fouls called – Sparrow, Hilkey 2, Gallond 2, Bailey 2, Swift. Referee and umpire – A. E. Roberts and Will Crapo. Timer – W. Phinney. Scorer – Frank Woodward. Time – 20-minute periods.


The team named for the 1901-02 season consisted of forwards Fred A. Thomas and Oliver Lemaire, center A. W. Merritt, and guards Leslie C. Brock, Frank Thomas and George L. Thomas who alternated in the line-up. In addition to this first team, the local Y. M. C. A. organized a league of four teams captained by Thomas, Elmer F. Gay, Merritt and J. Sparrow. H. W. Swift was selected as the manager of the league which was to compete on Wednesday evenings in the Y. M. C. A. gymnasium. Besides providing recreational opportunities to a wider group of members and entertainment for the sporting public, the league no doubt provided valuable practice for the first team.

The regular season opened December 11, 1901, with a win by the local team over the Plymouth Y. M. C. A., 48 to 12, in Middleborough. While there is no definitive schedule remaining from this season, the team played opponents from Pawtucket, New Bedford, Malden and elsewhere. The January 11, 1902, game against New Bedford was remarkable for its high score on the part of the Middleboroughs, 81 to 7. Meanwhile, Middleborough’s 37-27 win over Malden in the local gymnasium on January 29 was later described as “the cleanest game that has been played here this season.”

Yet another feature of the season was a basketball game between married and single members, a game which appears to have been established as an annual tradition a few years prior to 1902.

The annual basket-ball game between the married and single men of the Y. M. C. A. took place last evening and resulted in the defeat of the married men, 38 to 36. For the single men Sparrow and Pierce put up a good game. There was a large attendance. The line-up was: Single men, Sparrow rf, Pierce lf, Norris c, Bettencourt rb, Gay lb; married, Thomas rf, Mendall lf, Churbuck c, Phinney rb, Pratt lb.


Work by the Y. M. C. A. team resumed in late October, 1902, but some were skeptical of the prospects for the season given the fact that a number of experienced players including Brock and Lemaire would not be returning. “A number of the players who brought glory to the team last year are unable to play, and it is hardly expected that as fast a team as last season’s can be gotten out of the present players, who are less experienced.” Nevertheless, in what was possibly the team’s opening game against the Boston Y. M. C. A.’s second team on December 20, 1902, Middleborough defeated their opponents, 28-13. The lineup was Thomas (rf), Bert Keyes (lf), Merrit (c), Phinney (rg) and Gay (lg).

One of the hardest fought games of the season was the New Year’s Eve game against the team from Brockton High School on December 31, 1902. Despite the Middleborough team’s growing dominance of its home court (in 1905-06 the team would remain undefeated at home), the Brockton students were able to take the win, largely by shutting down the Middleborough offense.

The B. H. S. C. basketball team scored another success last night in the Middleboro Y. M. C. A. gymnasium. This is the hardest gymnasium on the circuit in which to take a game from the home team. Close defense work did it. The visitors allowed the home team but two field goals, and but two men in the visiting team scored. Crowell was king, and he dropped in three, with the aid of passing. G. S. Pitcher made his points on foul goals, and Gay was even more fortunate for the home team. The Brockton boys made nine fouls to seven by the home team. The feeding of the ball by G. S. Pitcher was a feature.

The mainstays of the team through the course of the season remained Thomas, Phinney, Keyes, “Dud” Pratt and Merritt who alternated at center, and Gay. Teams played in the spring of 1903 included the Y. M. C. A. team from New Bedford (23-12 win).

The game against the Whitman Y. M. C. A. in late March or early April, was tightly contested and ultimately won by Middleborough, 19 to 17. Not surprisingly, given the roughness of the match, it was conspicuous for the large number of fouls.

There were all kinds of little rows here and there. During the last few minutes of the play Peterson of Whitman tried to change the map of ‘Dud’ Pratt’s face. He got Pratt up against the door and was just getting ready to punch him when Pratt got after him and let him see how they do it in Middleboro.

Innumerable fouls were called throughout the game. Merritt of Middleboro got seven goals on fouls, and Reid got two, and Peterson of the visitors got one, each on fouls. Merritt and Phinney got two each from the floor, and Keyes and Thomas got one each.

Despite its ability, the Middleborough team appears to have remained deficient in passing, a clear disadvantage given the nature of the game at the time. In a game against the Fall River Y. M. C. A.’s second team in the spring of 1903, Middleborough’s lack of a passing game was evident, particularly when contrasted to Fall River, and resulted in a 12 to 19 loss for the home team. The game was one of the fastest of the season (it “started out with vim, and it was lively throughout”) with the tempo being set by the Fall Rivers who were led by Smithson and Sinclair. “The Fall Rivers showed the result of practice, and played a very even game, the pass work being excellent. Middleboro made a brave defense, but was unable to withstand the onslaught of the visitors. But two fouls were called on Middleboro, while Fall River had five called on them, principally for rough play.”

Middleborough may have in fact taken some pointers from the Fall River team for their March, 1903, game against the Bangor, Maine, Y. M. C. A. team was noted for good pass work. Unfortunately, the skill demonstrated by both teams during the game was lost in the confusion which marred the end of the game due to an error made by timekeeper Will Crapo of Middleborough.

The timekeeper thought that the last half was to be a 20-minute period instead of a 15-minute period, and he let the time run over a little. The result was that the Middleboro increased its lead from two points ahead of Bangor to four points ahead. Bangor made a kick, claiming it to be a tie, and wanted to play it off. The Middleboro boys, feeling that they were ahead anyway, would not play, and this left Bangor disgruntled.

(It is not clear why Crapo made the mistake, as Middleborough Y games throughout the 1902-03 season all appear to have been conducted with two 15-minute halves, the original periods established by Naismith in 1891. Admittedly, earlier seasons had included 20-minute halves. For the 1903-04 season, Middleborough seems to have permanently adopted 20-minute halves, the present standard for college basketball).

The game against Battery I of Brockton in early 1903 was later termed exciting, though Middleborough lost 16 to 27. It is likely that the excitement was caused by the near certainty of what one reported called “a good fight”. “Frank Thomas of Middleboro and Alger of Brockton mixed it up in good shape, and both were put out of the game. Seaver, the Brockton umpire, retired from that position on the request of the spectators, who claimed he was unfair.”

In contrast, Middleborough’s game against the St. Martin’s team of New Bedford in early April was “slow and generally uninteresting”, and was probably a throwback to earlier games and their more leisurely pace. It is curious, however, why the game proved lackluster as it remained close throughout and Middleborough’s 33-31 win was decided only in overtime.

As in previous years, the Middleborough Y. M. C. A. in 1902-03 sponsored a junior or second team, partially in order to build depth. Middleborough’s second team of 1902-03, as would be the case in other years, was remarkably strong, though the players were very young and relatively new to the sport.

The youths from Somerville who went to Middleboro to play the Y. M. C. A. second basketball team went home yesterday thinking they met the real thing. They were boosted all over the floor by the diminutive Middleboro team. In the first period Middleboro got four goals from the field and one on a foul, while all the visitors got was two goals on fouls. …. Middleboro got 10 goals from the field in the second period to Somerville’s three and two on fouls. Gay, Pierce and Howes showed up well for Middleboro, and Courtney and Nangle played all the game for the Somervilles. Pierce and Howes of Middleboro got five goals each. Maxim and Caswell of Middleboro put up good aggressive work.

Additional teams appear also to have been sponsored by the Middleborough Y. M. C. A., organized on a vocational basis. In April, the Farmers defeated the Students, 22 to 19, while the Shoemakers and the Clerks later contested a game.


Returning for the 1903-04
Y. M. C. A. season were Phinney, Pratt, Thomas, Gay and Keyes. Johnnie Morrison moved up from the junior team, and Logan joined the squad as well. Sparrow played during the year, too.

Despite the presence of a number of experienced players, the season would be noted as a “building” year as the team transitioned from older experienced players to talented, though inexperienced, youngsters like Mel Gammons and Chester Churchill over the course of the season.

Initially this process was not without challenge.

It was only natural that the youngsters figured they might be classed as better players than “the old fellows,” on the YMCA team. Their interest in displacing the fellows they figured as “oldtimers” was not appreciated, and it perhaps could be summarized that they got the oldtime athletic treatment of the era, when they were told to “go get a reputation.”

The opening game was likely the contest between the Middleborough Y and the Victors of New Bedford on December 19, 1903. The game was “exciting”, despite the 22-27 loss for the locals. Later in the month, the Middleborough team defeated the Mohawks of Brockton, 18 to 9, but succumbed to the Brockton High School team the day after Christmas 12 to 23. On January 23, 1904, the locals beat the Taunton A. A. team in “an interesting game, 25 to 12”.

The Middleborough Y’s second team, known as the Black Knights, was strong, featuring Lester Allen, Kenneth Childs, Harold Wood and Mel Gammons, all who would later go on to start for the local Y. M. C. A. first team, Middleborough High School, or both. In January, 1904, the second team “easily defeated” the team from the New Bedford Grammar School with a lopsided 21-0 decision. Allen proved the local standout in the game. On January 22, 1904, the Knights beat the Taunton High School team, 15 to 8 with Gammons scoring 6 points.

During the spring, the Y. M. C. A.’s first team recorded wins against the New Bedford Eagles (41-6) with losses to Whitman Y. M. C. A. (20-26), New Bedford Naval Brigade (12-34), Oliver Ames High School (20-21), St. Martin’s of New Bedford (24-31) and the Lawrence Club of Fall River (24-37). The string of losses was due to the inexperience of the team, the composition of which had changed by this time. While Logan, Sparrow and Phinney remained, Mel Gammons and Chester Churchill, both skilled but young players on the Y’s junior team, had moved up to start as the first team’s forwards, while still playing on the junior team.


The 1904-05 Y. M. C. A. first team was dominated by new comers - forwards Mel Gammons and Chester Churchill who had started at the end of the previous season. Charles Sherman of the original 1896 team started at right guard. Dud Pratt returned at center, while Thomas rounded out the quintet at left guard. Will Phinney, still active, started in a number of games, as well.

Gammons immediately demonstrated his abilities in what was probably the opening game of Middleborough’s season when the team beat Brockton High School, 21-12. Of Middleborough’s total, Gammons scored all but two points with 6 from the field and 7 free throws. Gammons and Churchill appear to have brought a new dynamic to the team, playing typically faster (and sometimes rougher) than had earlier Middleborough players. Middleborough’s New Year’s Eve win against the Company E team of New Bedford, 31 to 4, was described as “the roughest of the season. Fouls were numerous, and at times it seemed that a fight might be started. The confusion was intensified during the second period, when most of the trouble occurred. Churchill, Gammons and Pratt played fast for Middleboro, being the principal goal-getters.”

The 1904-05 team faced a mixed group of opponents as other communities began formally organizing basketball teams outside the purview of the Y. M. C. A. The inexperienced New Bedford South Ends were criticized by the Middleboro Gazette in 1905 for their poor play which the newspaper attributed to lack of practice. “The visitors were apparently boys without a home for basket ball playing, giving evidence of having rehearsed in some neighboring barn, and they seemed dazed in the [Middleborough] hall.” With time, the South Ends would sharpen their abilities and offer stiff competition for the Middleborough teams over the ensuing years. Similarly, the novice Marion team which was defeated 34-9 on January 21, 1905, was noted as “recently organized and needs practice”.

The season opened on December 3 with an easy 40-9 win against the Eagles of New Bedford at Middleborough. “Churchill and Gammons of last year’s Black Knight team played fast for the locals”, and vindicated their long held desire to join the first team as starters. Rounding out the team were Dud Pratt as center, Charles Sherman as right guard and Thomas at left guard. In the following week’s game against the Lawrence Club of Fall River, Gammons and Churchill were once more stand-outs, leading the team to a 23-19 win in a hotly contested match-up. The New Year’s Eve game against Co E of New Bedford was another seemingly easy win for Middleborough which took the game 31 to 4. Nonetheless, it was to date “the roughest of the season. Fouls were numerous and at times it seemed that a fight might be started. The confusion was intensified during the second period. Churchill, Gammons and Pratt played fast for Middleboro, being the principal goal-getters.”

The January 7, 1905, game between Middleborough and the Fall River Tigers was perhaps the most competitive match-up with Middleborough eking out a two point win, 27-25. The Brockton Enterprise described the encounter as the “most exciting basket-ball game of the season. During the last eight minutes of play the game was a tie and the excitement was intense.” Like many Fall River teams, the Tigers were noted for their passing game and the lack of mention in this regard for Middleborough probably indicates that the locals were probably still struggling with this aspect of their teamwork. Churchill led the Middleborough scoring that evening.

Demonstrating their dominance of the sport locally as players, Churchill and Gammons were Middleborough’s only scorers in the team’s 25-10 win on January 14 over the South Ends of New Bedford. Churchill hit six from the floor with Gammons contributing another four as well as five free throws.

Following an easy win (34-9) over an inexperienced Marion team on January 21, the local team dropped two to faster teams from Fall River and Boston. On January 28, Middleborough lost a closely contested match 19-21 to the St. Joseph team of Fall River, the swiftest team seen that winter at Middleborough. The locals were hampered by the absence of Gammons and “played a crippled team.” A week following on February 4, the loss of both Gammons and Churchill was felt against the Boston Y. M. C. A. which “proved too fast”, and the Middleborough team lost 6-30.

Gammons returned for the close 11-13 loss which Middleborough experienced at the hands of the Taunton Y. M. C. A. on February 11. The game remained tight throughout and was decided only in the last minutes.

The February 18 match-up featured an interesting contest between the Middleborough Y. M. C. A. and Middleborough High School, likely the first time two Middleborough teams faced one another in formal play. Gammons, Allen, Childs, Wood and Johnson played for the high school against their Y. M. C. A. teammates Churchill, Sherman, White and the Thomases. The Y won the outing by a score of 37-10. For the game, Gammons switched to right forward, demonstrating his versatility. Another intriguing match-up occurred the following week when the local Y’s first and second teams met. Somewhat embarrassingly, the second team of forwards Morrison and Alden, center Logan and guards Gay and Sparrow beat the first team, including Gammons and Churchill, 16-14.

Gammons recovered from the upset by scoring 24 of Middleborough’s 36 points for a 36-17 win over the Co G team of New Bedford on March 4. Two more wins followed on March 18 when the Middleboroughs defeated the Battery I team of Brockton “31 to 16, in a rough exciting game. Fouls were called freely and scrimmages were frequent.” A week later, Middleborough defeated a team from the Pawtucket Y. M. C. A., 22-9. “The game was full of interesting plays and was exciting.”

Two losses followed to the Fall River Signal Corps (27-42) on March 29 and to the Brockton independent team (24-32) on April 17. In the latter game, “Gammons for the locals … made most of the points.”

1905-06 (13-5)

The 1905-06 season (13-5) was noteworthy in that the Middleborough Y. M. C. A. first team remained undefeated at home: “On the home floor they proved invincible.” Particularly remarkable was that following January 27 the team remained undefeated, winning ten games in a row, and achieving one of the best records of Middleborough teams during the era.

The season opened December 9 with games scheduled weekly for the course of the winter, and the first team included some men from the 1904-05. No doubt the experience of the returning players was responsible for the remark made of the opening match between Middleborough and the New Bedford Tigers that “the game was played well for so early in the season” (though the following week’s game was lost to the Brockton Independents in overtime due to “poor team work”). Mel Gammons (lf, c), Lester Allen (lf), Chester Churchill (rf), “Dud” Pratt (c), Gordon Shurtleff (c), Harold S. Wood (rg), Elmer F. Gay (lg), Johnnie Morrison (lg) and George Carter played the majority of the games. Teams from New Bedford (Tigers, South Ends, Lawrence, Silver Bay) Fall River (Independents, SS Peter and Paul) and Brockton (Independents) were played.

In addition to the Y. M. C. A.’s first team, there was a second team (for juniors), as well as a five-team league for juniors known as the Indian League, the names of each team representing a Native American tribe. The final standings in this league were Horicans (4-0), Navajos (3-1), Mohawks (2-2), Crows (1-3) and Blackfeet (0-4). “The excess money raised in basket ball will be devoted to enlarging the baths” at the Middleborough Y. M. C. A.

1906-07 (14-10)

Though the 1906-07 season featured 6 additional games beyond the previous year, initially there was difficulty lining up teams against which to play. “One of the Y. M. C. A. basket-ball teams outside of Boston that is making good is the Middleboro five, which at the first of the season had a rather difficult task of filling its schedule.” Though the season got off to a rough start with a number of losses, the local press thought otherwise, putting its own spin on the matter. “Games have been played with teams considered to be as fast as any on the independent teams in the game and [Middleborough has] won the majority of the games.” Most of the team – Gammons, Churchill, Allen, Carter, Wood and Gay had played the previous season and brought strength to the team.

Despite the team’s opening 29-34 loss at the start of the season to the South Ends of New Bedford, the Middleboro Gazette was confident of a successful season. “Though they were the losers, experts who saw the game claim that defeat by such a close score after the great game they played is not to be looked upon as at all disappointing.” Interestingly, the team to which they lost – the South Ends – had been accused by the same newspaper only a year and a half earlier of looking as if they had practiced in a barn. Gammons and Allen “Middleboro’s old standbys for goal shooting” scored 20 of the team’s 29 points, with Churchill contributing an additional six. While offensive and defensive work both “showed up well”, lack of practice was noticeable.

The team’s second loss (19-31) came at the hands of the Boy’s Club of Fall River, a number of whose players had played the previous year on the SS. Peter and Paul team with which Middleborough had split two games. The Gazette attributed the loss to the absence of Gammons. “The remaining members worked hard together and fought to stem the tide of rapidly piling baskets, but the Fall River team seemed to shoot accurately, and the ball dropped time and time again into the basket.” While Middleborough’s pass work had improved as evidenced by the game, shooting was lackluster. “Unfortunate throws for baskets however, made it impossible for them to get the score up to a point where it would meet that of their antagonists.” Again, lack of practice was evident and the team proposed additional work over the course of the subsequent week.

Apparently, the extra practice paid off for on December 8 the team won its first game of the season in a decisive match-up against Co G of New Bedford. Middleborough easily ran up the score through the first half, leading 26-4 at half-time. Middleborough was both fast and accurate in their shooting, piling up the points, while the New Bedfords were hampered by poor shooting, narrowly missing on all but two shots. New Bedford pulled itself together for the second half however, making good on most of its attempts and outscoring Middleborough 26 to 25. Unfortunately for that team, the first half had been so dismal that they were not able to overcome Middleborough’s early lead. Pass work on the part of Middleborough was “especially brilliant” with the team showing a marked development since their last outing, “the back shooting figuring largely in getting the ball in shape for good plays.” Gammons contributed 17 points, Allen 12 and Churchill 8.

Early January brought a string of three victories over Y M. C. A. teams from Abington, Fall River and Everett. The January 5 game against Abington was noted for its purity.

The admirers of basket ball played according to rule, clean and fast, got the simon pure article Saturday night ….The game was one of the exceptionally fast ones played this year, lacking the spirit of roughness, and for this reason the spectators have a considerable kindly feeling towards the Abington boys.

Middleborough’s offensive work featured “beautiful long passes which sent the ball the length of the room, [which] resulted in feeding the ball up for graceful tosses to the baskets of which Gammons made 9, and Churchill and ‘Bruiser’ Allen each 4.”

In early February, Middleborough hosted the South Ends of New Bedford, a traditionally rough-playing team. Not surprisingly, the game proved “one of the wildest ever played here…. The scrappy feature of the game developed more especially in the final period, when there was one good sized row, in which several of the players and a few spectators mixed faces and fists, though none of the participants received injuries.” Middleborough lost 21-26 and Lester Allen was the team’s leading scorer with 8 points.

The following two games against the Melrose Y. M. C. A. on February 16 and the Lawrence Club of Fall River on February 23 were high scoring affairs for Middleborough. Following the tightly contested back and forth scoring of the first half of the Melrose game, Middleborough outdistanced the visiting team in the second half to win 49-26, with Gammons scoring 20 points and Allen 16. Allen scored 20 points in the following week’s match-up with the Lawrence Club, and though Middleborough rallied hard and closed a 12-point deficit in the second half, it fell short, losing 32-34. During the game Chester Churchill was injured in what the Middleboro Gazette described as a “melee” and was substituted for by Rodney McDonald.

On March 1, the Bristol, Rhode Island, Y. M. C. A. lost to Middleborough, 34-25, and the Summerfield team of Fall River met the same fate the next week. The latter game was the subject of some minor criticism by players on both sides, the ball failing to connect for many points as compared to previous games. “Some of the players think it was because a new ball was used, and it didn’t get into the habit of dropping into the pockets easily.”

Middleborough fans were treated to a “scientifically played” game between the home team and the Brown A. A. club on March 16. The teams were well-matched, and Middleborough led after the half, 20-18. Brown, however, was able to surge in the final half, winning 33-30.

One of the strongest performances by the Middleborough team for the year was in the next to final game of the season against the Quincy Y. M. C. A. on March 23, which Middleborough won by a devastating 64-11 score. Quincy was entirely shut down by the Middleborough defense in the second half, its 11 points all coming in the first 20 minutes of the game. “At times, just to tantalize the Quincy aggregation. Middleboro would pass the ball at random and keep them chasing for it, and then dash their hopes by tossing a basket.”

The season concluded in April and Middleborough once more had outscored its opponents 822 to 614. “Gammons had the best personal record, with 289 points, Allen came next with 232 and Churchill had 202. Gammons made 51 goals on fouls and 119 from the floor.” Other members of the team in 1906-07 included Harold S. Wood, George Carter, Elmer Gay, Ralph Kelley, W. W. Hall, Charles Sherman and Roderick ("Rodney") McDonald.

During the season, the Y. M. C. A. also sponsored a five-team junior league. Team names (Assawampsett, Quitticus, Pocksha, Snipatuit and Tispaquin) were taken from the nearby lakes in the region.

1907-08 (9-11)

The starters for the Y. M. C. A. first team for this season were Gammons, Churchill, Rodney McDonald, Kelley and Gay, and once again the team made an early strong showing on the home court in the former Peirce Academy building, demonstrating much of the same skill seen at the end of the previous season. A strong passing game was the key to Middleborough’s success: “The ball went about where they willed it, and only occasionally did the visitors get a look in.” Yet despite this strong start, the 1907-08 season would prove Middleborough’s first losing season in a number of years.

The season was launched with a string of four victories over Y. M. C. A. teams from Abington (52-24), Everett (65-14) and Fall River (38-18) and the South Ends of New Bedford (31-26). The New Bedford game was particularly rowdy and was noted for “considerable scrapping in the game and Gay and West mixed it up to such an extent that they were both ruled off the floor.” The Middleborough Y had no substitute for Gay and though forced to play with only four – Churchill, Gammons, McDonald and Kelley – it still won. As usual, New Bedford was accompanied by a large contingent of avid fans and many of those found fault with the officiating of Will Crapo of Middleboro. “The visitors made frequent objections to the decisions of referee Crapo and on several occasions voiced them emphatically only to have fouls called on them. They alleged discrimination was shown by the officials of the game.” The challenge of the New Bedford game notwithstanding, the blazing start to which the team got off to prompted many to predict a winning season. “It’s getting to be a case of a sure thing for the Y. M. C. A. basket ball team, that of winning games from all comers,” wrote the Middleboro Gazette following the team’s fourth win.

The local newspaper wrote too soon, for on December 19, the Middleborough team lost to the Bosworths of New Bedford 33 to 58, and would drop the subsequent four games to the Bristol Y. M. C. A., Lawrence Club of Fall River, Abington Y. M. C. A. and the Centrals of Dorchester. Following the team’s fourth consecutive loss, Mel Gammons withdrew from the team in order to rest, an indication perhaps as to why the team in late December and early January was not performing at its previous level.

The result of the December 21 game against the Y. M. C. A. team from Bristol, Rhode Island, in Middleborough ended in dispute as a consequence of a time-keeping error. While one timekeeper called the game with Bristol leading 29 to 27, the other timekeeper maintained that 10 seconds remained in the game.

The players on the home team, as well as the spectators, refused to stand for the unofficial timer’s statement, and the spectators swarmed on the floor and for a few minutes it looked as though a fight would ensue.

The trouble really started between Herrmann of the visiting delegation and Churchill of the home team, who had a little mixup, which was quickly stopped by the other members of the teams.

When the two teams failed to reach an agreement regarding the outcome, the game was called off.

Gammons returned temporarily to the team of January 18, seemingly refreshed, and helped the team win its first game since December 7. Also returning were Harold Wood and Rodney McDonald who had played only intermittently in the previous games. “… The attendants were glad to welcome into the game some of the old stars who have recently laid off”, especially given that they provided a well-needed win over the Fall River Naval Reserves who had been pegged as the favorites.

The remainder of the season proved a mixed bag for the team, which alternated wins with losses. On January 22, the Middleborough team lost 17 to 36 to the Bristol Y. M. C. A. which was no doubt well satisfied with the win given the dispute surrounding the previous meeting of the two teams in December. The following week, Middleborough trampled the Revere A. A. team, its 53-10 win coming as a “cinch”. Strong offense and a strong blocking game on the part of the Taunton Independent team on January 31 helped shut down Middleborough which lost 29 to 42.
An extremely fast-paced game against the Summerfield team of Fall River on February 8, however, saw the Middleborough squad edge out the team from the spindle city, 24-21. The game was extremely hard fought. The ball was nearly in continuous play and the men were exhausted at the conclusion. “The men played to their limit and it was certainly the fastest game of the season…. It was evidently a case of players being so rattled that they could not show best results.” In this game, Middleborough had only four starters arrive and so had to call in manager Charles A. Sherman as a substitute at left guard.

Contributing to the late season success of the team was the improvement in a number of players. Eaton, who was relatively new to Y. M. C. A. basketball, was developing well, while McDonald, the center, was “playing a steadier and more accurate game than earlier in the season.”

McDonald’s game against the Newton Y. M. C. A. the following week, however, was noticeably rough, and the fighting during the game was attributed to him.

The game was clean throughout, except differences in which McDonald figured prominently, and he participated in several scuffles. The spectators in general regretted the continued breach of basket ball etiquette for which they believe he was responsible, and which led to his being ruled from the floor.

While Middleborough’s two guards performed well in the game, they could not prevent an “avalanche” of Newton baskets.

Following a Middleborough win over the Fall River Y. M. I. C. on February 22, the Leap Year night game against the Summerfields of Fall River looked as well as if it might go in the other direction. Unlike other teams, the Summerfields were relatively well acquainted with the Peirce Academy gymnasium and were an even match for the Middleborough Y. At the end of the official 40-minute game, the score stood tied at 33 all and an extra period was agreed upon. “…In about 30 seconds Churchill aimed a well directed throw toward the basket. It was successful and he won the game, 35 to 33” for Middleborough. The game was also noteworthy in that it marked the officiating debut of W. Smethurst, the local Y’s physical director from 1906-09 and coach of the Middleborough High School team.

On March 7, the Middleborough Y. M. C. A. team succumbed to the Rhode Island champion Newport Tigers which “took the pelt from the local team”, 19 to 43. Churchill, who was having a banner season, along with Gammons were the leading scorers.

A scheduled game against the Melrose A. A. on March 14 not only failed to come off, but the controversy surrounding it created friction within the Middleborough organization. Arriving with only four members of his team (the fifth missed the train), Melrose manager Doherty requested that a local player be substituted and W. W. Hall was tapped to fill this role. The local Y. M. C. A. as a matter of principle, however, refused to pay Doherty the standard $10 guarantee as his team had failed to show in its entirety.

The differences could not be arbitrated, so the visitors dressed and returned home without getting their guarantee. Several spectators without a full knowledge of the facts felt that the visitors had not been used rightly, and said so, and Harold Wood of the Middleboro team resigned. The whole affair was unfortunate. Secretary Coburn said this week if there must be trouble over basket ball the Association may eliminate it entirely, for they do not intend to have these mix-ups just for the sake of maintaining a basket ball team.

The final game of the season was played April 4, 1908, against Company F of Fall River. “The game was well played, though there were many fouls, and the least bit of roughness. The boys could be excused for this though, as the game was played very fast and some pretty shots were made.” The Fall River team won 41 to 37.


The season commenced with a practice the first week of November, 1908. Returning players from the previous season were Rodney McDonald, Morton Marshall, Harold S. Wood, Elmer F. Gay, Chester B. Churchill, Bradford Swift and Ralph Kelley. Churchill was named captain and Wood served as the team manager. Many of the members, including Gammons, Allen, Wood, Swift were members of the Middleborough High School team.

One of the most exciting games, strictly from the point of view of game play, was the late December match up against the Taunton Y. M. C. A. After the second half, the game was tied 26 all, and Middleborough won 36-31 in a dramatic five-minute overtime.

More exciting for the spectacle of the entire evening was the dramatic game of January 23, 1909, which saw the cancellation of the game following the “rumpus” which saw 200 spectators flood the floor.

While General Secretary Carter wrote in his annual report for 1909 that “Basket ball continues to have an important place in our line of sports under the efficient leadership of Mr. C. A. Sherman”, other organizations were beginning to develop teams of their own and compete with the Y. M. C. A. for the attentions of local basketball enthusiasts.

Basketball and Middleborough High School

Locally, it was Middleborough High School students in the late 19th century who were largely responsible for the introduction of football into the community as an organized sport, so it is somewhat surprising that students there did not take a similar role regarding basketball. However, the school’s students of the 1890s and early 1900s, though interested in basketball, were like the early Y. M. C. A. hampered by the lack of a suitable venue for playing the sport. The Middleborough High School building (later the Bates School) was built in 1886 without a gymnasium, and so while both football and baseball could be played by high school students at relatively little expense beyond the basic equipment, basketball which required an indoor court could not. As a result, many high school age boys tended to participate in basketball under the auspices of the local Y. M. C. A. rather than form their own school team.

This changed however in late 1904, when high school students Wales Andrews, Arthur Swift and Kenneth Childs were named by the High School Athletic Association as a committee to establish a basketball team at the school, with class teams and one representing the entire school being proposed. The result was the formation of a team in early 1905 consisting of Childs (rg), Mel Gammons (lf), Gordon Shurtleff (c), Lester Allen (rf) and Harold Wood (lg). Home games were played in the Y. M. C. A. gymnasium on Center Street which became the high school’s home court.

The team’s opening game was February 7, 1905, against New Bedford High School. “The newly formed high school basket-ball team played its first game in the Y. M. C. A. gymnasium last evening, and defeated the ’08 class of the New Bedford high school 38 to 23. Gammons and Allen were Middleboro’s chief goal getters with Wood and Childs close behind.”

Shortly after the formation of the team it was written of it:

One of the speediest basket-ball teams in this section …it has met Taunton high, New Bedford high, Mansfield high and defeated them. The local Y. M. C. A. team has once defeated them in a practice game.

Much of the team’s ability was attributable to the experience which its members had garnered with the local Y. M. C. A. teams. Ultimately, beginning with the 1905-06 season, it would be the Middleborough High School students - particularly Gammons, Allen and Wood - who would form the backbone of the Y. M. C. A. teams through 1909.

Meanwhile, the high school girls sought to establish their own basketball team. In November, 1908, the Middleboro Gazette reported that “a basket ball team is to be formed by young ladies in the High school who are soon to be out with a challenge to other school teams in this section. The personnel includes Misses Annie Andrews, Edna Klar, Inez Bassett, Maude Wesson, Ruth Cox and Erna Cornish.”

The school’s team for 1907-08 featured J. Stearns Cushing (rf and captain), Everett LeBaron (lf), Williams (c and manager), Brad Swift (rg), Jones (lg), Russ Murray, Albert Alden and Daniel Besse. The team played a 14-game schedule during the first months of 1908, meeting the high school teams from Woonsocket, Taunton, Fairhaven, New Bedford, Canton, Quincy, Cottage City, and Bridgewater, as well as Tabor Acdemy.

Though teams existed prior to 1909, the high school, team for that year was described as “practically the first venture of a High school organization in this sport here.” Consisting of Gammons at left forward, Everett LeBaron at right forward, Cushing (who also acted as manager) at center, George Jones at right guard, Besse at left guard and substitute Ralph Mendall, the team was known as the Middleborough Students and finished with a 9-4 record. Gammons was largely responsible for both the formation and development of the team. “…Through his coaching the team was so developed that it was considered the best passing combination ever in town.” The team played high school teams from Bridgewater, Taunton, Provincetown, East Bridgewater, Brockton and New Bedford, with its losses coming at the hands of the last two larger schools.

An Independent Team and a New Venue

Also in 1909, a new independent team known as the Middleboro Athletics was established by the Middleborough Athletic Association and played its games in a new venue – Middleborough Town Hall. Teams independent of the Y. M. C. A. organization were proposed at least as early as 1902 in Middleborough when boys at North Middleborough proposed establishing a team there, “provided that they can secure a suitable place to practice in.” Nothing appears to have come of this proposal and the local Y. M. C. A. continued to dominate basketball.

The Middleboro A. A. team of 1909-10 was organized by local Y. M. C. A. and High School players Mel Gammons (right forward and captain), J. Stearns Cushing (left forward), Rodney McDonald (center and manager), Harold S. Wood (left back), Daniel Besse (right back) and Morton Marshall. “All were on the Y. M. C. A. team, last year, and have attained a reputation for fast playing.” In its first season, the team proved “to be a fast aggregation, and the players have provided some fine sport for basket-ball lovers of the town.”

On November 15, 1909, the first basketball game ever played in Middleborough Town Hall took place between the Middleborough A. A. team and the Bridgewater Independents. The Town Hall was an improvement upon all previous locations in Middleborough, including the Peirce Academy gym as it was the first locale which provided sufficient space about the perimeter of the court.

It was the first game … in town played under conditions with enough room to satisfactorily handle the ball. This feature made the game doubly interesting for there was plenty of fine pass work on both teams, and the larger floor space made much prettier playing. At either side of the hall baskets were erected, and the spectators were gathered in the gallery, on the stage and about the hall ….

About 300 witnessed this landmark game which saw the Middleborough team defeat the Bridgewaters, 28 to 19. Not surprisingly, Gammons was Middleborough’s leading scorer. Stearns Cushing was the object of some later fun when his leg began to cramp during the game and he was forced to take the bench. “Someone facetiously opined that it must be a slow game if one’s foot went asleep during the game.”

To help attract patrons to the games, the team sponsored post-game dances and “this has proven an attractive feature”, according to a press report from February, 1910.

Clearly alternatives to Y. M. C. A. basketball were emerging in Middleborough, and the organization’s one time dominance of the local sport was rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Still, the Y. M. C. A. teams would remain popular for several more years, and the Y would remain significant in providing the venue for the community’s games. In 1913, a new Y. M. C. A. building with a thoroughly modern gymnasium for basketball opened on North Main Street.

In the basement will be the gym. It will be 40 x 56 feet and 20 feet high. On the ground floor, surrounding it, will be galleries for spectators to witness the floor work and the basket ball games. The galleries will be eight feet above the gym floor.

This site remained Middleborough’s principal basketball venue until the construction of Middleborough Memorial High School in 1927, also on North Main Street. By that time, however, the local game had developed substantially, and several teams unaffiliated with the Y. M. C. A. had been established. No longer would the Y. M. C. A. dominate the sport it had done so much to create and to foster.

Thatcher Block, Center Street, Middleborough, MA, photograph, late 1890s.
This view depicts the large wood-frame Thatcher Block at the corner of Center Street and Thatcher’s Row. In 1896, the Middleborough Y. M. C. A. located to the building’s second floor which included a hall which had once been used by the Sons of Temperance and which the Y made over into a gymnasium. It was here that the first formally organized games of basketball in Middleborough are believed to have been played.

Y. M. C. A. Letterhead, c. 1903-04.
The organization’s letterhead from shortly after the turn of the century outlines the Y. M. C. A.’s mission at the time. Basketball would be a part of it.

“Y. M. C. A. Building and Central Baptist Church, Middleboro, Mass.”, Leighton & Valentine, picture postcard, c. 1905.
Depicted in this lithochrome postcard from the turn of the last century is the former Peirce Academy building which stood on the site now occupied by the Middleborough Post Office. The ground floor of the Academy building was occupied between 1898 and 1912 by the gymnasium of the local Y. M. C. A.

William H. Crapo, photographic half-tone from an original photograph, 1905.

Chester B. Churchill, photographic half-tone from an original photograph, published in the Brockton Enterprise, “Has Good Prospects”, December 5, 1908.

First YMCA Basketball team, Middleborough, MA, photographic half-tone from an original photograph, 1896, published in the Middleboro Gazette, Old Middleborough, March 4, 1927, page 1.
Left to right, standing: Herbert A. Pratt, general secretary A. E. Roberts, Albion W. Merritt, George L. Thomas; sitting: Charles A. Sherman, William H. Crapo, Will C. Phinney. The members wear jerseys bearing the YMCA’s triangle logo with an “M” for Middleborough in the center.

Black Knights Y. M. C. A. Basketball Team, Middleborough, MA, photographic half-tone from an original photograph, published in the Brockton Enterprise, “Only Four Teams Beat Them”, April 21, 1904.
Standing, left to right: Al Sparrow, Carlton White, Clif Berry; seated: Melvern Gammons (captain), Gordon Alden, Chester Churchill (manager).

Middleborough Y. M. C. A. First Team 1905-06 Season, photograph, c. 1905.
Standing, left to right: Manager Charles A. Sherman, Y. M. C. A. General Secrtary J. C. Coburn; seated: Lester Allen, Elmer Gay, Melvern Gammons, Chester Churchill, George Carter; reclining: Harold S. Wood.

Middleborough Y. M. C. A. First Team 1906-07 Season, photographic half-tone from an original photograph, published in the Middleboro Gazette, April 12, 1907, page 2.
Standing, left to right: Lester Allen, Manager Charles A. Sherman, Harold S. Wood; seated: Roderick McDonald, Captain Melvern Gammons, Chester Churchill.

Middleborough Y. M. C. A. First Team 1907-08, photograph, c. 1907.

Middleborough High School Basketball Team, 1905, photographic half-tone from an original photograph, published in the Brockton Enterprise, “Has a Strong Team”, March 1, 1905.

Middleborough A. A. Basketball Team, Middleborough, MA, photographic half-tone from an original photograph, published in the Brockton Enterprise, “Speedy Basketball Five”, February 17, 1910.
Left to right: Daniel Besse, Morton Marshall, Harold S. Wood, J. Stearns Cushing, Melvern Gammons, Rodney McDonald

Middleborough A. A. Basketball Team, photograph, c. 1909.
The photograph is believed to depict the Middleboro A. A. team of 1909-10. Among the players are Melvern Gammons (far left), Rodney McDonald (center), and J. Stearns Cushing (far right)

Vintage Resources:
Gulick, Luther, ed. Official Basket Ball Rules. New York, NY: American Sports Publishing Company, 1897.
Gulick was the director of the International YMCA Training School at Springfield, and it was at his request for an active indoor game that led Naismith to develop basketball.

Naismith, James. Rules for Basket Ball. Springfield, MA: Springfield Printing and Binding Company, 1892.

Boston Daily Globe
, January, 17, 1901; January 26, 1901; January 31, 1901; February 6, 1901; February 9, 1901; February 11, 1901; February 18, 1901; November 18, 1901; December 9, 1901; December 12, 1901; December 20, 1901; January 13, 1902; January 29, 1902; January 30, 1902; March 13, 1902

Brockton Enterprise, “Surprise at Middleboro”, mid-March, 1903; “Whitmans at Middleboro”, March, 1903; “Fast at Middleboro”, mid-March, 1903; “Bangors Again Lose”, March, 1903; “Battery I Beaten”, early 1903; Brockton Enterprise, “Victors 22, Middleboro Y. M. C. A. 17”, December 20, 1903; “Brockton H. 23, Middleboro YMCA 12”, December 27, 1903; Brockton Enterprise, “Middleboro Y. M. C. A. 2d Wins”, January 17, 1904; “Middleboro B. K. 15, Taunton H. S. 8”, January 23, 1904, “Middleboro YMCA 25, Taunton AA 12”, January 24, 1904; “Middleboro Y. M. C. A. 41, Eagles 6”, January 31, 1904; “Whitman 26, Middleboro 20”, February 27, 1904; “Ames H. 21, Middleboro Y. M. C. A. 20”, March 13, 1904; “St. Martin’s 31, Middleboro 24”, March 27, 1904; “Two Games in Middleboro”, April 3, 1904; “Only Four Teams Beat Them”, April 21, 1904; “Middleboro 40, Eagles 9”, December 4, 1904; “Middleboro 23, Lawrence 19”, December 11, 1904; “Brockton Boys Beaten”, December 18, 1904; “Two Good Games at Middleboro”, January 1, 1905; “Middleboro 27, Fall River Tigers 25”, January 8, 1905; “Middleboro 25, South Ends 10”, January 15, 1905; “Middleboro 34, Marion 9”, January 22, 1905; “St. Joseph 21, Middleboro 19”, January 29, 1905; “Boston 30, Middleboro 6”, February 5, 1905; “Middleboro Wins at Basket Ball”, February 8, 1905; February 12, 1905, “T. Y. M. C. A. 13, Middleboro 11”; “M. Y. M. C. A. 37, M. H. S. 10”, February 19, 1905; “Second Team 16, First Team 14”, February 26, 1905; “Middleboro 36, Co G 17”, March 5, 1905; “M. Y. M. C. A. Tigers 31, Battery I 16”, March 19, 1905; “Middleboro 22, P. Y. M. C. A. 9”, March 26, 1905; “F. R. S. C. 42, M. Y. M. C. A. 27”, March 30, 1905; “Brockton 32, Y. M. C. A. 24”, April 16, 1905; December 3, 1905; “Middleboro 35, Tigers 22”, December 10, 1905; “Brockton Ind. 25, Middleboro 22”, December 17, 1905; “Fall River Ind. 36, M. Y. M. C. A. 32”, December 24, 1905; “Middleboro 39, Lawrence Club 37”, January 14, 1906; “Middleboro 35, South Ends 22”, January 21, 1906; “Middleboro Y. M. C. A. 45, SS Peter and Paul 28”, January 28, 1906; “In the Indian Series”, January 28, 1906; “M. Y. M. C. A. 47, Silver Bay 16”, February 4, 1906; “In Indian Basket-Ball League”, February 19, 1906; “Basket Ball at Middleboro”, February 23, 1906; “Middleboro 64, Fall River 14”, February 25, 1906; “Middleboro 56, Revere Col. 6”, April 1, 1906; “Wins 13 Out of 18 Games”, April 2, 1906; “Middleboro”, April 10, 1906; “Wants Few More Games”, January 3, 1907; “Middleboro”, April 5, 1907; “Middleboro Y. M. C. A. 38, Fall River 18”, December 1, 1907; “N. Y. M. C. A. 31, South Ends 26” [sic], December 8, 1907; “Game Ends in Dispute”, December 22, 1907; “Lawrence 51, Middleboro 43”, December 29, 1907; “Middleboro H. S. 41, Tabor Acad. 11”, January 10, 1908; “Basket-Ball Contests”, January 10, 1908; “Middleboro Y. M. C. A. 56, N. R. 34”, January 19, 1908; “Middleboro Y. M. C. A. 53, R. A. C. 10”, January 26, 1908; “Canton A. A. 42, Middleboro 29”, February 2, 1908; “Middleboro 24, Summerfield 21”, February 9, 1908; “Newton Y. M. C. A. 35, Middleboro 23”, February 16, 1908; “F. R. Y. M. I. C. 34, M. Y. M. C. A. 25”, February 22, 1908; “Middleboro 35, Sommersworth 33”, March 1, 1908; “Newport and Boston Teams Win”, March 8, 1908; “Taunton Ind. 31, M. Y. M. C. A. 29”, March 22, 1908; “Good Interest Shown”, November 10, 1908; “Has Good Prospects”, December 5, 1908; “Cambridge 56, Middleboro 20”, December 26, 1908; “Middleboro Y. M. C. A. 36, Taunton 31”, December 27, 1908; “Players Come to Blows”, January 24, 1909; “Crowd Went on the Floor”, February 14, 1909; “Middleboro Y. M. C. A. 37, Co G 12”, February 27, 1909; “Lawrence Club Won, 49 to 36”, March 14, 1909; “Middleboro Y. M. C. A. 38, Franklin 9”, March 17, 1909; “Gammons Enters Denial”, January 28, 1910’ “Speedy basketball Five”, February 17, 1910; “Pioneer Days of Basketball in M’boro Bring Fond Memories”, April 3, 1954.

Brockton Times, October 2, 1900; October 25, 1900; October 26, 1900; October 30, 1900; December 13, 1900; December 19, 1900; December 21, 1900; December 29, 1900; December 31, 1900; January 14, 1901; January 15, 1901; January 17, 1901; January 23, 1901; January 25, 1901; January 31, 1901; February 9, 1901; February 15, 1901; February 18, 1901; February 25, 1901; March 16, 1901; April 3, 1901; April 4, 1901; “North Middleboro”, October 14, 1902; “Middleboro”, October 31, 1902; “Middleboro”, December 18, 1902; “Basketball at Middleboro”, December 22, 1902; “Middleboro”, December 26, 1902; “B. H. S. C. Keeps It Up”, January 1, 1903;

“Committee of Forty on the Warpath for New Members Before Oct. 1”. Middleborough Y. M. C. A. Unpublished manuscript. Middleborough Historical Association.

General Secretary’s Report for 1909: Middleboro, Mass. Middleborough Y. M. C. A. Unpublished manuscript. Middleborough Historical Association.

Howard, David B. Brief History of the Early Days of the Young Men’s Christian Association of Middleboro, Massachusetts. Unpublished program, Recognition Dinner to the Founders, Middleborough Y. M. C. A., Middleborough, MA, November 13, 1933. Middleborough Historical Association.

Middleboro Gazette, “A Wonderful Factory Which Is Turning Out ‘Men’”, October 2, 1902, p. 2; “Y. M. C. A. Notes”, January 20, 1905, p. 4; “Basket Ball Season Closes”, April 6, 1906, p. 6; “Basket Ball Season Opens”, November 30, 1906, p. 2; “Basket Ball”, December 7, 1906; “Basket Ball”, December 14, 1906; “Basket Ball”, January 11, 1907, p. 2; “Y. M. C. A. Notes”, January 18, 1907, p. 4; ibid., January 25, 1907, p. 4; ibid., February 7, 1908, p. 1; “Basket Ball”, February 15, 1907, p. 2; ibid., February 2, 1907, p. 2; ibid., March 1, 1907, p. 2; ibid., March 8, 1907, p. 2; ibid., March 15, 1907, p. 3; “Y. M. C. A. Notes”, March 22, 1907, p. 4; “Basket Ball”, March 29, 1907; “Y. M. C. A. Notes”, November 22, 1907, p. 1; “Basket Ball”, November 29, 1907, p. 2; Middleboro Wins Again”, December 6, 1907, p. 2; One More Victory”, December 13, 1907, p. 3; “Y. M. C. A. Notes”, December 20, 1907, p. 6; ibid., December 27, 1907, p. 2; ibid., January 10, 1908, p. 2; “Basket Ball”, January 10, 1908, p. 3; “Y. M. C. A. Notes”, January 17, 1908, p. 1; ibid., January 24, 1908, p. 2; “Basket Ball”, January 31, 1908, p. 2; ibid., February 7, 1908, p. 3; ibid., February 14, 1908, p. 3; ibid., February 21, 1908, p. 2; “Y. M. C. A. Notes”, February 28, 1908, p. 4; ibid., March 6, 1908, p. 2; “Basket Ball”, March 6, 1908, p. 2; ibid., March 13, 1908, p. 3; ibid., March 20, 1908, p. 3; ibid., March 27, 1908, p. 3; “Y. M. C. A. Notes”, April 3, 1908, p. 4; “Basket Ball”, April 10, 1908, p. 3; “Middleboro”, November 6, 1908, p. 4; “Basket Ball”, January 29, 1909, page 2; “The Commentator”, February 12, 1909, page 1; “Basket Ball”, February 12, 1909, p. 5; “A Square Deal for the Local Young Men’s Christian Association”, p. 2; “Students’ Basket Ball Record”, May 7, 1909, p. 5; “Middleboro”, November 12, 1909, p. 6; “Opening of Basket Ball Season”, November 19, 1909, p. 1; “A Vindication”, February 11, 1910, p. 3; “Middleboro”, February 18, 1910, p. 4; ibid., March 18, 1910, p. 6; ibid., November 11, 1910, p. 6; ibid., November 17, 1911, p. 4; “What the Gazette Was Saying Twenty Five Years Ago”, February 20, 1920, p. 7; “Old Middleborough”, February 18, 1927, page 1, and March 4, 1927, page 1; “What the Gazette Was Saying Twenty Five Years Ago”, December 6, 1929, p. 8

Middleborough Y. M. C. A. minute book, 1893-1909, Middleborough Historical Association