The Story of the Robert Cushman Park
The very first Fairhaven settlers erected their dwellings in two specific areas. One cluster lay in the vicinity of the Sconticut Neck entrance; the other in the Oxford district. Where Fairhaven center now stands, there was, in early years, only shore with heavy woodland running down to the waterside. Communication between the two occupied localities was initially furnished by a rough road – known today as the “back road.” Nearly a hundred years later, for easier access to the expanding neighborhoods, a second road was hacked out of wooded terrain. This was parallel to the first, but considerably west of it, and it has become known as Adams Street.
As the two hamlets grew ever more populous, dwellings and early commercial building spread heavily west toward the Acushnet River from the Neck settlement. A populous core village developed, and there was need for another more direct road which would follow the river shore and link this central neighborhood with the homes of Oxford.
Thus, on May 6, 1795, the citizenry decided to lay out such a road. This access, once accomplished, came to be known as Main Street, but in developing their shore road – severe problems of construction were to confront the amateur engineers.
Just north of the central village, an area of some ten or more acres was occupied by a body of water, partly fresh, partly tidal – which would present problems to construction of a continuous access road to Oxford, for a wide and winding tidal creek had eaten its way for years into the land area between present Spring and Bridge Streets. It had pushed mightily in a north-easterly direction, feeding tidal waters deep into reedy marsh and swamp land. Moreover, a little natural stream known as Herring River, meandered from the swamps in the north district. It surfaced down until it hit the approximate site of Huttleston Avenue, where it ducked underground and provided fresh water springs to reinforce the ebb and flow of the tidal creek. Thus, a pond occupying some ten or more acres had been formed. The great bite of the tidal creek had made a snug if unorthodox little harbor and since there were only two good wharfs in town one the Old South Wharf in the lower area, and John Allen’s Wharf in Oxford – the creek cleavage was extensively used as a snug winter lay-up for vessels. At times, several would be drawn up, end to end, and anchored to the shore at about the point where Main Street now passes between Spring and Bridge Streets. Historic witness assures that vessels of 38, 45, and 70 tons were wintered in this haven.
Then, there was a little wharf near the south side of the pond to which scows tied up when they carried sea-weed and mud for the farmers to use on their land. This wharf was said to have been owned by William Rotch, and from it navigable water stretched up to what is now Bridge Street one particular section being nine feet deep.
When, therefore, the shore highway was built, and the creek bridged, it had to be closed for vessels having masts but the scows still operated under the bridge poling up to the little Rotch Wharf.
In the late 1700’s, after the Main Street span had been completed, an enterprising miller named Abner Vincent constructed a tidal mill alongside the bridge, and by building gates under the span, he forced the tidal water to pass out at two openings, thereby securing water power for his wheel. In 1815, a great gale undermined the mill, and it hung precariously over the water for some time. During the same storm, water over-ran the roadway and washed the bridge away except for the stone work; so that a town meeting had to be called to mend it. Vincent’s mill, when repaired, continued an erratic career for some years – with unpleasant citizen feuds regarding riparian rights. It was sold ultimately to James Wing who operated it under conditions of similar community disgruntlement. By 1902 the old relic had been turned into a quahog market! Yet the name “Mill Pond” clung tenaciously to the odoriferous and slimy mud hole, rampant with sedge grass and hungry eels, which in 1900, constituted a dissident nucleus for Fairhaven’s rising public buildings, gracious homes and pretty cottages.
By 1904 Henry H. Rogers had built in his home town, six memorable units: a well-equipped grade school; a town hall of extraordinary utility; a guest manor; a library of grace and charm; and a magnificent complex of church, parish house and manse. For his own family uses, he had constructed a country mansion ringed by commodious verandas and graced by conservatories and smooth greensward. He had paved Fairhaven’s streets and edged them with trees; given her a splendid water system; and sponsored a mill for her people’s economic welfare.
His heart and hopes, to a remarkable degree, seemed centered in the town where boy had become man and in the “Kanawha,” he sailed into Acushnet waters whenever his vast enterprises allowed. There is little doubt, then, that Mr. Rogers had been seriously envisioning for some time a new Fairhaven High School to replace the rather primitive building from which he himself had graduated nearly fifty years before.
Moreover, it will be remembered that when the “new” New Bedford-Fairhaven bridge had been built (1893-1902), Mr. Rogers had exerted mighty influence to have its point of entry changed. The old bridge had entered town in an untidy crooked thrust from Pope’s Island to Bridge Street. Mr. Rogers wished entry of the new span to lead straight and undiverted into a wide boulevard, which came later to be known as Huttleston Avenue. This was a more costly plan, and many citizens were for retaining the old pattern. Mr. Rogers and his forces won in a town vote, and later, he acquired north and south of the finished bridge two fine pieces of land which he had graded and planted, and then presented to the town.
There are few towns with avenues of access more attractive than that which now leads from the bridge to the site where Fairhaven High School stands. It is reasonable, then, to suppose that by 1900, plans for the school in this particular spot had already been seriously considered. There can be little doubt that Mr. Rogers deprecated the dreary and decrepit Pond area which lay between his other gift buildings and the new one which was to grace the very entrance to the town. There must be change! And so an engineering feat of great magnitude was undertaken.
In 1903, astonishing rumors flew, and to the people of Fairhaven hardly yet convinced of the glittering realities which had constantly been taking place in Fairhaven center it was announced that the Mill Pond disaster was to be eliminated! Mr. Rogers planned to create in its place a central sylvan area core to a larger, more embracing park system which would extend beyond Bridge Street to the new bridge entrance itself, and ultimately provide elevated frontage foundation for a $1,000,000 Fairhaven High School!
This immense and intricate engineering feat was conceived in the same atmosphere of secrecy which was characteristic of all of Mr. Rogers’ innovations. Work was commenced in August, 1903, and Joseph K. Nye, eminent Fairhaven planner and engineer, with contractor, W. B. Munroe, sought first to analyze the problem of drainage which confronted them, and which threatened to tax every ounce of initiative and engineering skill they possessed.
It was necessary first to divert the little Herring River still sporting down from the northern swampland still feeding its fresh water springs productively into the Mill Pond. This, then, was the initial problem, and its solving alone took about a year!
A force of one hundred Italian laborers was employed to divert the stream. These men were quartered in some old ice houses in the Huttleston Avenue area. For nearly a year, they labored mightily by day and lived a life of true Bohemian liberation by night! There were numerous fights, work stoppages and genuine strikes and many, many hours of grinding labor, as an enormous conduit of cement was fashioned. This was to run underground from the vicinity of Green Street, parallel with Huttleston Avenue, and end north of the New Bedford-Fairhaven bridge. The Herring stream, thus diverted, would pour its waters directly into the Acushnet River.
This conduit was built six feet wide and five and a half feet high. Mr. Audell Monk remembers well as a youngster, entering the conduit with his friends, and standing upright within its cement confines.
Bridge Street Dilemma
Once the little river had been diverted, the work of filling in could proceed, but it was necessary to acquire land from some home owners whose property abutted the project. Claims were solicited, and about a hundred were processed for land taking. Mr. Nye handled expeditiously and diplomatically all these matters. Indeed, there was minimal objection to any of this work or land taking. Rather, abutters, who had withstood the negative conditions of Mill Pond over the years, seemed vastly relieved that the unsightly area was to be eliminated. There was, therefore, extraordinary cooperation, even by those house holders who suffered extensive inconvenience.
For instance, when surveying for fill-in, it was discovered that Green Street at that point where it crossed Bridge Street, was three or four feet lower than Main Street, so there was a back flow of surface drainage. Indeed, the eastern portion of Bridge Street was actually below high water mark! It was, therefore, deemed necessary to raise the grade of Bridge Street some two or three feet. This meant a complete rebuilding of the street and the elevation of twenty-five houses which had to be furnished with new underpinnings! All of this expense was absorbed in the cost of the project, and assumed by the promoter.
During the inconvenience of uncertain living conditions provoked by these circumstances – only a few house holders complained, although one or two did, indeed, institute suits for damages!
The FAIRHAVEN STAR tells us that the first house to be “raised” on Bridge Street was that of Louis N. Baudoin. Mr. Baudoin was a town fire fighter, a doughty fellow, known to all citizens, and admired for his excellent writing involving the history of Fairhaven fire fighting and the mechanics of the science in general. With equanimity, Mr. Baudoin seems to have weathered the experience of “elevation” with great good humor. Henry Perry’s house at 27 Bridge Street was “raised” two and a half feet. and John Telford’s at No.25 was elevated eighteen inches.
The actual water area of the pond exclusive of the swamp and slimy edges, proved to be about five and one half acres. It was estimated that 75,000 tons of fill would be needed. The earth was brought down from a gravel hill on upper Bridge Street, leaving behind a vast hole. It was rumored that this pit would be transformed ultimately to a festive skating pond – but it seems, instead, to have providentially furnished room for the Town Dump!
A little narrow-gauge railroad was constructed, leading from the digging area to the project. This road was about a mile in length, and a steam shovel at the “dig” loaded the cars. As the “journey” began, the toy-like engine, drawing the string of loaded cars, was preceded by a guard waving a red flag, as thirteen trains a day with fifteen cars to a train, carried 487 cubic yards of earth to be deposited in the pond every day for two years.
A reporter from the NEW BEDFORD EVENING STANDARD speculated on January 6, 1906, regarding the enormous cost of the fill-in enterprise alone. He discovered that, during the entire three years of the filling phase, an average of fifty men a day had been employed. These fifty men received an average of $1.50 a day in a period of 900 working days. Their wages alone would amount to $67,500. Added to this sum, superintendence and over-sight would swell the total of labor alone to $80,000! And this was just one phase of the whole tremendous engineering feat!
As the vast maw of the pond sucked in more and more of the fill, it was realized that projected amounts had been absurdly underestimated. It had been initially decided that the entire thirteen acre project would absorb about 70,000 cubic yards of earth, but the final amount, in process of absorption, swelled to more than 200,000 cubic yards. It was discovered that the pond had a pocket of mud completely overlaying its lower surface; this seemed to consume inordinate amounts of earth. It was remembered; then, by Fairhaven’s older citizens, that Mill Pond once furnished anchorage for ships and when Main Street was constructed across its lower end, thus partially closing it the pond had become choked and gradually filled with mud.
This mud accounted, too, for the ubiquitous eels which had always been profligate habitants of the pond. During process of fill-in, scores of these creatures surfaced, some of astounding proportions. “One was captured by James A. Corson,” commented the FAIRHAVEN STAR -“which measured six feet in length?.”
Because the entire project was constant subject to the vagaries of climate, work had to be very largely suspended during stormy periods; and during the winter seasons, it was brought to complete halt.
There were numerous incidents accompanying the cast feat some of them humorous; some serious; some merely illustrative of human foible. The FAIRHAVEN STAR started with weekly reports on progress – but as the work was delayed or suspended, Editor Waldron made fewer investigative visits to the site. However, when drama erupted in any part of the project, he was alert to carry it in his columns. For instance, we had the sad story of the horse working in the filth of fill-in. Its master had contracted for levelling and was using his animal in shifting. The horse slipped in the mire, and could not regain footing. The master fastened a raw chain around the animal’s neck. and using another horse, literally hauled the creature to its feet. The animal was virtually strangled, and when protesting by-standers interfered it was discovered that the beast was covered with sores from previous rude treatment. The owner was taken to court by protective personnel, and fined for his practices.
Then, there was the winter when lanterns – lighted each night to outline the perils of construction – disappeared by the score, as miscreants made off with them. Apparently, no one was ever caught in the act, even though Fairhaven Constables Shook, Delano and Barney were of very special detective calibre!
Moreover, workers at the gravel pit on Bridge Street caused great anxiety as they were careless about lighting fires to boil their coffee. In one instance, a fire got completely out of hand, and burned over ten acres with a total loss of around $800!
There came the day when a special town meeting had to be called to petition the legislature to allow a further period of two years beyond February 27, 1906 the date fixed by initial legislative act for final completion of the project.
Plans amplified considerably as Fairhaven High School, in process of construction, began to lift its proud towers adjacent to the pond project. Furthermore, other low areas in the district, bounded northerly by Linden Avenue; easterly by Adams Street; southerly by Bridge Street; and westerly by Main Street added to the original plan of fill-in and grading.
Pleasant little Park Street was designed to face the granolithic approaches to the magnificent school, and the north and south approaches to the bridge were graded and gently molded to conform to a charming pattern of entry.
Thus. the great plan snow-balled. hut the beneficence of the promoter never failed. The expense for all this must have been enormous. but figures were never revealed. At last the day came. When the doughty little narrow gauge engine which weighed fifteen tons was hauled by six horses and put aboard railroad cars. The black loam had been spread and graded. Fine trees had been planted; grass was rooting thick and green; the driveway from Main Street was macadamized; and side paths were paved with crusher screenings. The slime, sedge grass and eels had gone with the old Mill Pond and in their place, was a fragrant, breathing area for reaching and relaxing. All this was ringed by lovely buildings in an extraordinary gift of affection by a man to his home people. This was Henry H. Rogers’ last gift to his town, for he died less than a year later – on May 19, 1909.
Acceptance and Naming
Acceptance of the park took place on October 28,1908 – after nearly six years of immense labor, inspired planning and untold expense. A special town meeting was held in the Banquet Hall. Lyman C. Bauldry, chairman of the Park Commissioners, spoke eloquently, outlining the magnitude of the project, and expressing the gratitude of the townspeople.
In the deed of conveyance, Mr. Rogers made known his wish that the park should bear the name of Robert Cushman who was a leader among the Puritans in England and an organizer and director of emigration to America. The naming was particularly fortuitous since Robert Cushman was ancestor to both Henry H. Rogers and Warren Delano of this town. Mr. Delano, donor of the Riverside Cemetery, had also given to the overall Mill Pond project – valuable property between Middle and Main Streets. He had had it filled and graded as a pleasant extension to the western boundaries of the new park.
For years thereafter, a pleasant green area and fine tennis courts delineated Mr. Delano’s gift – but unhappily, the land has now been sold to private parties for commercial uses – and has become an ugly expanse of black-tarred parking lot.
The Park Today
Cushman Park itself in 1979 shows signs of decrepitude and neglect. The western entrance from Main Street has been depleted by rutted strips for casual parkers. Trees have fallen, and there has been scant re-planting. Walks are broken and neglected! After a period of rain, there is heavy flooding in specific areas, and it is apparent that ball courts have been laid out and play areas black-topped without sufficient elevation, fill-in and drainage survey.
It is true that hurricanes have tumbled water and rubble over the park confines, and vandals have roamed. It is true, too, that Cushman Park must be a “working park” now. It must cater to summer youth programs and ball playing and band concerts. For times have changed, and Fairhaven has grown. Yet, repair, re-planting, general restoration and individual citizen caring should become at once a sincere concern of those who value Cushman Park for what it was meant to be a neighborly meeting place for fun, recreation, and friendliness. It is well to remember that this pretty place, so hardly re-claimed, could once again become an area of neglect and unhealthy activity.
Restoration of the park would provide a perfect project for volunteerism. Young people, now largely beneficiaries of the park facilities, could be of vast help in restoration. Under the direction of experienced park personnel and aided by older citizens of good will, the young could replant, lay gravel, grade uneven sections, and possibly create special garden areas where more reflective pursuits might again be enjoyed.
A reporter from the NEW BEDFORD EVENING STANDARD
“In giving Fairhaven this breathing space, and in taking from the heart of the town a mud hole and a large sized incubator for multitudinous germs, Fairhaven’s most public spirited citizen has performed a service to his fellow townsmen that is well nigh inestimable and has erected a monument to himself that will outlive all the other gifts which he has bestowed upon his native town.”
Then there is a delightful story which Mr. Rogers used to tell of himself. As a boy he was one day walking over Mill Bridge. He leaned on the railing and abstractedly began to throw stones into the pond just to hear them splash.
Howland, Ellis L.
Sherman, Arthur Brown
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