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Tabitha Inn

HOUSE OF TRANSITION
A compilation of fact and legend concerning the TABITHA INN
Now OUR LADYS HAVEN
Fairhaven, Massachusetts

tabsignConceived and Financed by Henry H. Rogers
Architect: Charles Brigham
Supervising Architect: Henry Bisbee
Contractor: Charles Brightman
Material Researched and Integrated By MABEL HOYLE KNIPE November – 1977


THE TIMES – 1885-1906

Henry H. Rogers was forty-two years old when he actuated the idea of building a fine grammar school for Fairhaven children, and thus, his first gift, the Rogers School, was dedicated in 1885. His last gift, the Fairhaven High School, was completed in 1906, and his sudden death occurred in 1909 when he was sixty-nine.

Therefore, in a period of only twenty-one years, the great outpouring of munificence to Fairhaven attested to an enormous good will toward the place of his birth and affection for his towns-people. This twenty-one year period must have been an astounding time for them as they watched the whole face of the town change. No sooner was the Rogers School completed and the laborious replacement of its faulty brick face effected- than plans for the Millicent Library were commenced. This edifice was dedicated in 1893.

The elegance of this lovely building could hardly have been assimilated by town citizens before excavation just across the road indicated the site for yet another functional land-mark, the Town House, dedicated in 1894; and in the distance, pounding hammers and screaming drills attested to the building of the gracious country mansion being erected for the Rogers family in the Fort Phoenix area.

In the meantime, streets were being paved, for Mr. Rogers took great pride in his designation as Superintendent of Streets and an intricate plan of artesian wells for provision of pure town water was being executed. Yet, the greatest gifts were to come, for the magnificent church and parsonage were to be raised by 1904, and the high school building by 1906. A few blocks away, the town mill pond was being painstakingly drained, and rich filler introduced to furnish nutrients for fine trees and shrubbery.

All this activity must have amazed Fairhaven’s simple folk, and the constantly changing sky-line may well have unnerved them. Nevertheless, the very consecutiveness of construction must have provided an exhilarating experience and one that provoked great satisfaction in being a Fairhavenite.

THE INN UN-NAMED

On October, 1904, concurrent with the first activity at the high school building site–work was commenced on a fine town inn to be fashioned in the Elizabethan manner as designed by Mr. Charles Brigham. It was to occupy space adjacent to the Rogers School. Built in the shape of the letter “U” with parallel extending wings, the hostelry was to be reminiscent of the inns of Shakespeare’s England where the inn-yard thus encircled was used for dramatic performances of jugglers, mummers and travelling players.

From the first, there was much conjecture in town regarding the new hostelry regarding its purpose and, indeed, its very name. It was predicted that Mr. Rogers’ main intent was to provide a pleasant haven for visiting friends, social and business connections from New York. Certainly, much time was spent by Mr. and Mrs. Rogers in their home town. The gleaming steam yacht “Kanawha” often lay like a great white bird on Acushnet waters, and it may well have been that private social galas and business enterprises were conducted in town upon occasion. However, as the new inn neared completion an area newspaper stated categorically:

“The building of Fairhaven’s new hostelry is in no way a gift to the town, and it is felt that the lack of modern hotel accommodations in this section demand such a hotel in Fairhaven. It is designed to accommodate both transients and permanent guests. It is felt that it will be a particularly valuable institution to Fairhaven at such times as ‘Old Home Week’ celebrations and to Fairhaven people who live away and would like to run down to their native town over Sunday.”

Indeed, there seems to have been an aura of secrecy about the inn from the beginning, and the Fairhaven Star was forced to draw tentative conclusions in several of its issues. Yet, with dogged persistence, the Star correspondent reported week after week on every development with concurrent information about the progress of the new high school. For instance, on February 18, 1905, the Star commented:

“Work on the Fairhaven Inn is progressing. The gutters are about completed and slating has been commenced on the two wings.”

On April 1, 1905 it is reported:

“The interior work of the new Fairhaven Inn is done as far as it can be until the plastering is ready for the finish. The carpenters are now at work upon the two piazzas.” In the following issue of the Star we are told that the excavating for the new high school has been started and: “The cement floor is being laid in the basement in the part where the excavation is finished.”

Rather frivolously, the researcher speculates upon the exertions of a Star reporter who must gather his information from two distant sectors of the town at a time when automobiles were in short supply! Nevertheless, with dogged patience, he stuck to his week by week revelations!

THE MYSTERY

There now developed a matter for further conjecture. No one in town knew what the new inn was to be named! It is evident the Star correspondent was frustrated. On October 7, 1905, he complains:

“Although the inn has always been known as the ‘Fairhaven Inn,’ this is not the name to be given it and the real name has not been given out. Upon a shield over the main entrance are carved the letters ‘T.I.’ which are said to be the initials of a real name!”

About this time, a correspondent from the Boston Globe appeared in town to examine the building. He makes the following comment in his paper:

“The new inn which H. H. Rogers has added to the group of buildings he has erected in Fairhaven cannot be equalled in attractiveness and thoroughness of workmanship by any similar building in any town, and probably in no city in the country. An experienced builder told a Globe correspondent that he never saw anything like it! “But the name that is to be given it is puzzling Fairhaven people among whom it is generally known as ‘Fairhaven Inn.’ But it is evident that this is not to be its name. There is a shield over the main doorway from the Centre Street entrance, and upon it appear the letters ‘T.I.’ What the letters stand for no one seems to know, and the builder has let no one into the secret. Perhaps it will be known as ‘Town Inn’ or ‘Turn Inn’ or maybe Taber Inn’ after a relative and very dear friend of Mr. Rogers.”

Then on November 11, 1905, the Star correspondent, in a certain humiliation admits he has been “scooped” by a neighboring journal! It must have been a bitter moment. He writes:

” ‘The name of the new hotel in Fairhaven is to be Tabitha Inn in memory of H. H. Rogers’ great grandmother on the maternal side,’ says the New Bedford Mercury. This solves the mystery of the letters ‘T.I.’ which are carved on a stone shield over the entrance.”

Yet with no rancor, he continues his pleasant snatches of information: “The grounds around the building are being graded and the foundations for the driveways and granolitholic walks are being put in.”

TABITHA INN — HOSTELRY

On October 7,1905 the Star carried a picture of the finished building and a complete description of its construction. The following information about the physical structure of the inn is based upon this article in the Star, and furnishes a clear account of the appearance of the building in its initial condition and during the years of its use as a town hostelry (1905-1942).

PHYSICAL ASPECTS

Exterior

The frontage on Centre Street is 93 feet.
The depth is 92 feet.
The front is constructed of brick with trimmings of limestone. Two pillars and two half columns of cypress are used for ornamentation, and this wood is used for all outside finish.
In the stained glass of the door, there is a representation of a fish, a fowl, the head of a cow and a bunch of grapes. (These objects are reminiscent of the hospitality of an old hostelry.)

Interior

The main lobby is impressive and finished antique with a panelled dado 4 feet, 6 inches high.
There is a six foot wide stairway of quartered oak, the newel posts of which are handsomely carved.
East of the lobby is the main dining room. Its dimensions are 46×23 feet, and here white-wood painted is used while the ceiling is panelled and the walls are broken by fluted pilasters. Two triple mullion windows on the east and one in the north bay provide splendid lighting, and on the east side is a fireplace of green marble. Connecting with this room is a private dining area, and the two can be used together, thus furnishing accommodations for about 125 guests.
In the north-west corner is a parlor, 20×29 feet also in white-wood painted, and south of this room is a library with connecting folding doors. These rooms have fine quartered oak floors.
A billiard hall, 23 feet, 2 inches by 25 feet, 6 inches, is considered by some to be the most tastefully decorated room in the house.
On the second floor there are five rooms over the main lobby which are constructed so that they can be grouped as suites, and there are eight rooms in the east wing and nine in the west wing. No two rooms are papered the same, and on the third floor, some rooms are planned for two beds.
Large linen closets service each wing, and in the basement are a laundry (21×24 feet) fully equipped, a barber shop, and a boot-black stand.

THE FIRST LEASE

On February 10, 1906 the Star tells us that “Mr. H. H. Rogers has leased the new Tabitha Inn to Mrs. Catherine M. Price of Cambridge,” and on May 15th, 1906, predicates the immediate social tone of the new hostelry:

“It is Mrs. Price’s plan to cater to a first class patronage, and she expects that the main business will be done during the summer months but the inn will be kept open the year round. She does not expect much commercial or transient trade but will take all that comes. Transient rates are $4.00 to $5.00 a day. Permanent guests will get a reduction according to location of room but no guests will be taken under $15 a week which will be the price asked for the third floor rooms with board. Mrs. Price for nine years conducted a house at Cooperstown, N.Y.”

CLIENTELE

Mrs. Price ran one advertisement in the Star. Apparently, she needed no other, for the newspaper week after week began to print an impressive list of guests, some requiring lodging for maids and chauffeurs. Many were from New York, so it is reasonable to assume that the Rogers household were instrumental in directing the caliber of the clientele to some extent at least.
In 1908 Mrs. Price issued a discreet, beautifully enunciated booklet containing descriptions and photographs of the town buildings and of the general area. An examination of early guest lists indicates ever increasing patronage, and guests were registered from Washington, D.C.; Rochester, N.Y.; Rutherford, N.J.; Spokane, Wash,; Mobile, Ala; St. Louis, Mo.; Philadelphia, Pa.; Detroit, Mich.; Cincinnati, Ohio; Pittsburg, Pa; Hartford, Conn. and from a wide divergence of locale throughout the New England states.
In 1927 Col. Rogers sold the property to Mrs. Olive Barbier who had been employed in an executive capacity for the preceding six years. Mr. Beuchotte, who had been manager-proprietor for the previous sixteen years, continued in the same capacity, and we are assured that “absolutely no change in policy is contemplated.”
In 1929 the Inn became the property of the Zeiterion Realty Corporation, and much of the semi-private tone was discarded as the hostelry now became a public commercial hotel.
Yet again the purposes of the Inn were uniquely altered, when in war time (1942-1944), the Navy Department took complete occupancy, and Coast Guard trainees studying at New Bedford Vocational School were billeted there for two years.
At the departure of the Coast Guard in 1944, the property was purchased by the Most Reverend James E. Cassidy, D.D., Bishop of the Fall River Diocese,and just forty years after the ground had first been broken to receive its foundation stones, the Tabitha Inn became Our Lady’s Haven a place of healing for the elderly of the area who seek professional care and devoted service. The home is conducted for the Fall River Diocese by the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm.

OUR LADY’S HAVEN

It has been stated that building designed by a great architect will always adapt graciously to the changing purposes of passing years. This seems true of the building designed by Mr. Brigham, and is perhaps sound proof of his genius. Certainly it is true of Mr. Rogers’ inn. The elegant opulence of its planning has assured easy conformity to its new uses as a religious house. The parlor has been transformed to a graceful chapel with soft pink walls, ivory panelling and pews of silvery tan. The dining room, a portion of which is devoted to the dining of diabetic guests, is bright and inviting with its small tables and gay table cloths. The splendid leaded glass of the original windows has a monastic appropriateness, some of it still exhibiting the famous Tudor rose, omnipresent in the carving of Rogers buildings.
The original lighting fixtures, beautiful table lamps now museum pieces and much of the original furnishing are reminiscent of great wealth casually expended.
In 1954 a large addition to the original structure was dedicated. This was cleverly conceived, for the pattern of the original “U”-shaped wings is easily identifiable.
Currently, about 130 guests may be sheltered within the walls of the Haven. Policies of registration are non-sectarian and follow precedence of application.

IMPRESSIONS

Today, a visitor entering Our Lady’s Haven passes under the weathered stone shield bearing the letters “T.I.” and he is reminded kindly of Tabitha Huddleston, staunch Christian great grandmother of H. H. Rogers. When that same visitor comes away, he has been chastened by a natural concern for human suffering and sobered by a new realization of uncertain human values. He reflects gratefully upon the immense good will and compassionate service he has found everywhere within those walls, and he remembers vividly a statue on the first floor landing. There stands the gracious presence of the Virgin Mary in robes of white and blue. Her face is serenely pure her hands out-stretched in promise of gentle healing.