Sea enlivens a small town with a big history
By Edward F. Maroney, Globe Correspondent, 3/03/01
"Fairhaven has a lot of coastline (29 miles) and probably the most striking historical monuments of any town in the commonwealth," said Bette Hamilton, a realtor. "It's a really good value because it is not yet discovered. It has a mix of income levels, and we do have people who choose to live here who could live anywhere in the world."
That was certainly true of local lad Henry Huttleson Rogers, a high-ranking officer of the Standard Oil trust in the late 1800s. Besides maintaining his many-roomed residence, he paid for the town hall, the Masonic building, a public park, and a library named after his daughter, who died at 17.
Mark Twain, a dear friend of Rogers, wrote after seeing the Millicent Library: "Books are the liberated spirits of men, and should be bestowed in a heaven of light and grace and harmonious color and sumptuous comfort, like this . . . "
The heavenly light of Sconticut Neck, which stretches far into Buzzards Bay, drew the Wampanoag, the People of the Light, just as it draws Fairhaven homeowners today. The Neck is developing a split personality: Cows laze amid antique farm equipment on the eastern side, while the west, which faces New Bedford, offers big, boxy homes on Sunset Beach Road.
Subdivisions are popping up in town, said Hamilton, who works at the Village Realtors GMAC Real Estate in South Dartmouth.
"There are two recent ones where the price range is between $300,000 and $500,000," she said. "That's for four bedrooms and two baths, with a garage and town utilities."
In the center of Fairhaven, anchored by the Rogers collection of historic buildings, house prices are "in the $300,000 range, except for the nicer ones, which can go all the way up to $800,000," Hamilton said.
Just around the corner from Town Hall and the library is "a house that could be in Architectural Digest," Hamilton said. The Captain Warren Delano House, dating to 1835, has many original details, such as wide pine floors and a rosewood turned staircase. The asking price is $529,000, and the realtor said she has had nibbles from "people who work with Bill Gates."
Hamilton said that Delano was the grandfather of Franklin Roosevelt, and the president-to-be announced his engagement in the house after Thanksgiving dinner in 1903.
It's stories like these that prompt the town's tourism director, Chris Richards, to call Fairhaven "a small town with a big history."
Around the same time Franklin and Eleanor were getting hitched, Richards' French-Canadian great-grandfather moved from New Bedford to North Fairhaven, where workers' houses were being raised on farmland. That man's son worked at the bluestone quarry in Acushnet, and his son, Richards' father, earned a master's degree in textile chemistry and taught at what is now the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.
The traditional seaport professions are still followed in Fairhaven. A recent town report lists shipbuilding, fishing, fish freezing, winches and fishing machinery, and marine repair and construction as the principal industries.
Richards said Fairhaven is growing slowly. "We've had some small pockets of residential development in the last few years on some of the farms in East Fairhaven and North Fairhaven."
Residents are getting "a little grayer," he said, but "there are new families coming in. Property values have been relatively low, compared to some of the neighboring communities. You can get waterfront property here, when it's available, a lot cheaper than Marion, Mattapoisett, and especially on the Cape."
Access to major highways is another plus. As Hamilton noted, Fairhaven is "a half-hour to Newport, a half-hour to Providence, an hour to Boston, and a half-hour to the Cape."
Hamilton, who just placed a waterfront compound of four houses on 11 acres under agreement for over $2 million, agreed that "parts of Fairhaven are really as desirable as our more expensive neighbors, but you can't say that about the town throughout."
Entry-level homes are available for $125,000, such as a fixer-upper three-bedroom cottage on the Acushnet line, but even there, Hamilton said, the going price is closer to $150,000 - when you can find them."
In nearby Dartmouth, she noted, similar two-bedroom, two-bath condos sell for $350,000.
Some communities to the east have zoned out major businesses, but Fairhaven has made a place for "the marts: Wal-Mart, Kmart. Over the years, the planning board has kind of held the big, messy-looking commercial development to routes 6 and 240. That's as developed as Fairhaven may get. We really have managed to protect most of the older residential neighborhoods."
There's "very little land left for building," Hamilton said. "One of the good things about the town is that there have been private groups formed together into land trusts. Half of West Island is conservation land."
The cottages on West Island are reached by a causeway that runs east from Sconticut Neck. Most of the roads there are dirt, but the island boasts a state-of-the-art waste treatment plant and is a nesting area for protected species.
Piping plovers join Native Americans, immigrant mill workers, oil barons, and computer kings in having found fair haven in Fairhaven.
This story ran on page E1 of the Boston Globe on 3/03/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company