Mattapoisett strives to live up to name
By Edward F. Maroney, Globe Correspondent, 12/02/2000
MATTAPOISETT - If this community of summer colonies and a picturesque central village on Buzzards Bay had an official bumper sticker, it would read "Shh." [an error occurred while processing this directive]
Its Native American name means "place of rest," and that's what Mattapoisett has been to generations of summer folk ever since its shipbuilding industry went belly-up in the 1800s.
"Mattapoisett has largely been spared the negative impact of rapid development, and with a few exceptions, the Mattapoisett landscape remains only slightly affected by suburban sprawl and commercial development," notes the town's 1997 open space and recreation plan.
"People from the Cape come up here to buy or rent more and more," said John Gibbons, a real estate broker. He was born next door to the 1746 house where he lives on Water Street, just across from the stone and wood remains of wharves where whaling ships were built.
Water Street is arguably the quietest harborfront main stem in New England.
The biggest business is the Mattapoisett Inn, which advertises itself as the oldest seaside inn in the nation.
Other than that, there are a couple of offices and a combination bakery and bookstore.
Enterprises such as a package store have come and gone on the street, said Gibbons, their buildings converted to residential use because of the demand to live in the central village.
"North of Route 6, a house is on the market for two weeks," he said. "South of Route 6, it's two days."
The road is Mattapoisett's commercial spine. It's where you'll find gas stations and restaurants, and it links the far-flung summer colonies such as Antassawamock and Aucoot Cove with the central village.
The roster of former warm-months residents ranges from Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., to poet Robert Lowell.
"A lot of land you see around here is unbuildable," Gibbons said, noting that the town's waste disposal standards are stricter than the state's Title 5.
There's a 100-foot setback from wetlands and, in the Mattapoisett River Valley aquifer district, a two-acre zoning standard.
The northeast corner of town includes 651 acres of the 1,690-acre Haskell Swamp Wildlife Management Area, and the Mattapoisett Land Trust has 257 acres under its protection.
The second-home buyers and retirees, not a few from Cape Cod, find "very little stuff" for sale south of Route 6, according to Gibbons. He said that area is attractive because it is close to the water and connected to the sewer and cable systems.
A "fixer-upper" three-bedroom in the village, just two blocks from the water, went for $265,000 recently, Gibbons said, while an old house with three bedrooms and 11/2 baths sold for $475,000.
Recently, he sold a two-bedroom in mint condition, with no cellar, for $225,000.
"Most of the buyers are out-of-towners," said Gibbons. "The prices are somewhat out of reach for local people."
A three-bedroom, 3.5-bath home with expansive water views was on the market for $589,000 in November.
In less dramatic settings, a three-bedroom ranch was for sale at $179,000 and an eight-room cottage on half an acre was listed at $144,000.
Year-round rentals may be found in the $900 to $1,200 range for smaller houses or half of a duplex.
Summer rentals in the coastal colonies run from $700 to $2,000 a week, but a big house in the center of town can fetch $5,000 to $6,000.
A two-acre lot with town water was for sale at $85,000 recently. Gibbons said zoning and health board restrictions are keeping the lid on development north of Route 6.
There are growth pangs nevertheless. The regional junior and senior high schools complex is up for a $47 million renovation and the library is looking to expand.
"There's a new crowd," said Gibbons. "They don't question anything in the budget. Years ago, they'd fight over five cents."
It's hard to imagine combat in any corner of this pleasant town when catching a sea breeze at Ned's Point, a brisk walk from the Water Street wharves.
You can stand next to the tapering stone lighthouse there and watch a two-masted sailboat slide by into deep water, with the only sound your sigh of satisfaction.
This story ran on page E1 of the Boston Globe on 12/02/2000.
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