The City of Fall River is an industrial community on the banks of the Taunton River in Bristol County with a long and fascinating history. The first settler was Benjamin Church, a hero of King Philip's war, who built a sawmill in 1690. The city's geography determined its destiny; as historians have pointed out, the significant fact about Fall River is that it had water power and port facilities together, making it both a transfer point for passenger and freight traffic to New York and the site of intense industrial development. Its diverse residential population is made up of immigrants from Great Britain, Portugal and Canada drawn to the mill jobs available in the city.
Fall River's industrial history began in 1811 when Colonel Joseph Durfee opened the Globe Manufactory. By 1830 the city had seven textile mills, a steamboat to Providence and Newport and its own newspaper. A staggering population and industrial boom made Fall River one of the textile capitals of the nation with more than 100 cotton mills housing four million spindles, employing more than 30,000 people, and generating a weekly payroll of over $500,000. The city boasted an international market and 130,000 people when its prosperity peaked during the First World War. This was a closely knit industrial complex in which raw materials came into the port of Fall River to be processed into manufactured goods and then shipped out again from the port.
When textile manufacturing began moving south in the 1920's, the city's decline began, accelerating during a devastating fire, which destroyed the central business district, and the Depression. By 1930 the city declared bankruptcy and its Having learned its lesson, the modern city maintains a highly diversified industrial profile with chemical operations, electrical and food products along with the garment and textile industries. It also maximizes tourism with the largest factory outlet district in New England and a World War II memorial which opens a variety of American warships to visitors at the State Pier in Fall River. The city retains a variety of handsome historic public buildings.
Somerset Public Schools
The Town of Somerset is a suburban community in Bristol County, on the west side of the Taunton River. This area was originally known as the Shawamat Lands and was incorporated as a town in 1790. Although there was a significant Indian population when colonists arrived, by the end of King Philip's war in 1677 English settlers dominated the Pocassets, members of the Wampanoag tribe. The earliest colonists farmed and fished, both in the river and off-shore but the town developed shipyards, mercantile and shipping businesses early in its history. The first documented local shipyard was established between 1707 and 1712 on the Lee River by Samuel Lee. The dominant religious group in early Somerset were the Quakers, who established a meeting house about 1701, one of the few and earliest Quaker churches in southeastern Massachusetts.
After the War of 1812, Somerset became one of the chief distribution points in New England for foreign goods with trade to China, the West Indies, Europe and the Atlantic coast. By 1847, 138 vessels were built and registered in the town with many engaged in the coastal trade. The most important shipyard was that of James M. Hood, whose yard launched several important clipper ships. This industry boomed after the Mexican War and the California Gold Rush, and spawned shipping related activities such as a ropewalk and the Somerset Iron Works, which made anchors. Aside from shipping related businesses, the largest early industry in Somerset was the making of stoneware. When steam began destroying shipbuilding, the anchor works was taken over by Job Leonard who proceeded to develop a nailworks which, by 1865, was the largest single industry in town. Through all of this industrial growth, south Somerset remained largely agricultural. The opening of the Somerset and Dighton Railroad led to the establishment in the town of the Old Colony's major coal port in 1872, while an enterprising former potter created a cannery operation in the early part of the 20th century. However, as the industrial development of Fall River absorbed Somerset's industry, the community turned increasingly from shipping and iron manufacturing to suburban services. The dominant industry in Somerset since the First World War has been power generation with the erection of the Montaup Electric Company plant in 1923 and Bryant Point in 1963. The dominant character of Somerset has been residential since the bankruptcy of Fall River in the Depression brought a flood of middle-class residents into the town. Unlike most communities in the area, Somerset increased its population by 74% during the Depression. The town is now a suburban community with some small scale resort and second home development and its 15 miles of waterfront are primarily used for recreation rather than industry.
The Town of Swansea is a suburban/rural community founded on the premise of religious tolerance for all. Unfortunately, the town also turned out to be the starting place of King Philip's war in 1675 and the site of the first bloodshed of the war. Before that war there were several historic Indian settlement sites and trails in the town. Colonial settlement began in 1663 and the town was named after a minister's home village in Wales. In 1664, King Philip had conveyed the land in the community to William Brenton of Newport and by the start of the Indian war, there were 70 people staying in the garrison fortified house in town and several occupied houses on the Neck. During the war, Indian attacks destroyed every house in town including the garrison.
After the war, forges, ironworks and fishing on the town's rivers made up a substantial part of the community's economy. The small villages that made up the community were the sites of stores, cotton mills, grist and yarn mills and fishing boats. When the bigger industrial cities such as Fall River, Taunton and Providence absorbed the town's industries, Swansea's large agricultural capacity remained important. In the 1890's, the street trolley connected Swansea to Fall River and Providence and suburban and summer homes were developed. A picnic grove called Shady Isles was established by the streetcar company and brought city people out to the country on day trips. Now a suburban community with much of its agricultural land still open, Swansea also retains 16 impressive and significant examples of intact Colonial houses.
The Town of Rehoboth is an historic pastoral community in Bristol County incorporated in 1745. The town never had a large amount of agricultural land because of its extended marshy terrain and hills, but there was always good fishing on the Palmer River and an annual herring run provided abundant food. The first settlement of the town was about 1652 on the southern portion of the river. The colony suffered a good deal of damage in the King Philip war but the earliest house in town, Kingsley House, built 1680, still remains a part of the town. By 1704 there was an iron forge in town and by 1714 the Goff Inn was handling travelers coming through on the stage to Taunton, Providence or Newport, Rhode Island. Sawmills were established in 1747 and the primarily agricultural economy was supplemented in 1809 by the opening of two cotton yarn mills at Rehoboth Center. One of these is thought to be the first to spin very fine cotton yarn. In the Perryville section of town, historians conjecture that Era Perry was the first in the country to manufacture bobbins for the area's cotton factories about 1850. The 325 farms of the town grew Indian corn and potatoes and fattened beef cattle. Rehoboth retains dozens of Colonial and Federal houses and cottages and there is a remarkably wide spread of historic houses and buildings preserved throughout the community.