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September 23, 2003

Mapping project winding down

Archaeologist says site mapping project is winding down: 9/ 23/ 2003

From the Standard-Times:

WESTPORT -- A Rhode Island archaeologist is putting out a last call for all arrowheads, primitive pottery and stone formations sitting in area back yards.

The four-month project, intended to map artifact-rich sites and to inventory primitive tools, is nearly over, said Holly Herbster, project leader and archaeologist with Pawtucket's Public Archaeology Laboratory.

She will accept artifacts and site tips for the next month, she said.

Westport turned out to be filled with artifacts -- especially near bodies of water -- with some residents boasting vast personal collections, she said.

Stone tools, hammers, axes and pottery ranging from 8,000 years old through the 16th century litter Westport, she said.

Complete story can be found here:

Archaeologist says site mapping project is winding down: 9/ 23/ 2003

Posted by Greg Stone at at September 23, 2003 11:05 AM

September 21, 2003

Mission of the Holy Spirit (continued)

The following is a brief update on the Mission of the Holy Spirit derived from newspaper coverage of a trial held in Fall River in 1925. More will follow on the trial. “The Mission of the Holy Spirit was founded in Montreal by Eugène Richer dit Laflèche in the early part of this [i.e., the past] century. The main principle of its teaching is the regeneration of the human race through the mother’s womb.

In the early 1920’s a small colony was established near Adamsville R. I. [sc. on River Rd. in Westport and on the island (Great Island) opposite] with the sole purpose of providing an environment of calm and serenity for mothers during their maternity.

In return for five years of their time and good will, during which time members were housed, fed, clothed and otherwise provided for, all members were guaranteed that they would be freed from work for the rest of their lives. Real estate holdings in booming Fall River would sustain all in comfort. However, greed and jealousy (of one family in particular) triggered a revolt amongst the small group. Sensing the on-coming treason, the founder quietly left with a few close followers. He died of a broken heart eighteen months later in Los Angeles. Fall River went bust. A major fire destroyed the business section. What remained of the Adamsville colony emigrated back to Canada.

[This last statement is not completely true, for members of the sect remained on the property into the 1980’s, but as residents, not members of the Mission.] W. F. Wyatt

Posted by Bill Wyatt at at September 21, 2003 3:15 PM

September 19, 2003

Westport Eyewitness Account of '38 Hurricane

Editor's note: Al Lees sent us this account by the late Richard K. Hawes, with photos. It was written just six days after the events while memories were still fresh. Mr. Hawes was a well-known Fall River attorney whose summer home was in Westport Harbor. We do not know who took these pictures, but this is simply one of the best accounts of the '38 hurricane I have read. I found the attudes of those caught in the storm and their foreknowledge that this was possibly a West Indian hurricane especially interesting. Greg Stone

BOOK READ TO SOCIETY BY AUTHOR

Eye Witness Tells How Homes Were Swept Away by Waters.

1938 hurricane

THREE ARE DROWNED

Account Prepared To Give Record of Catastrophe For Future Use.


A GRAPHIC AND PERMANENT RECORD OF THE DESTRUCTION WROUGHT AT Westport Harbor Sept. 21, by a tidal wave and hurricane was offered last night by Richard K. Hawes at a meeting of the Fall River Historical Society.

Mr. Haws, an eye-witness of the disaster, recorded in detail what he saw, knowing the Harbor throughly, he was well qualified for producing this record. The reason for this account, said Mr. Hawes in his preface, is that it was written principally as a record for the future.

“So many stories have grown up concerning the effect at Westport Harbor of the gale of 1815, none of which can be verified by any contemporary written accounts of that famous storm, that this narrative suggested itself,” he writes.


The book is illustrated with views of the Harbor before and after the catastrophe. Houses familiar to most persons who have visited the colony are seen in their original dignified solidity, whole other pictures show them being tossed like houses of playing cards by the angry wind and sea water.

Text of Book

The text of Mr. Hawes’ book “The Hurricane at Westport Harbor” follows:

Wednesday noon, Sept. 21, 1938, I lunched at my father’s house on Rock Street in Fall River. The wind was then blowing approximately South by East with noticeable velocity, roaring through the trees in the city, and small branches were falling. We discussed at luncheon the speed of the wind, estimating it to be between thirty and forty miles per hour at about one o’clock. We also speculated whether this could be the West Indies Hurricane whose approach along the Atlantic Coast we had watched through newspaper reports for several days.

The last reports of the hurricane had given its position about 150 miles East of Cape Hatteras. We remarked that it would probably pass off the coast, possibly leaving the sea worth watching.

No real warning of the storm or its intensity was given. At the one o’clock broadcast over WJAR, the Weather Bureau reporter stated that there would be strong winds, possibly reaching gale force, with probably heavy rains along the coast that night. Immediately I called my house at Westport Harbor and requested Gen to send Sam and Arthur, two men working on the place, to move the rowboats from my float on the river to my boathouse porch. The boats were found Saturday two and one-half miles up-river.

After lunch I returned to my office, and at about three o’clock Gen telephoned me that the electricity had been cut off at quarter of three, the copper metal top to the North chimney had been blown away and our mulberry tree had been split in two. She stated that the wind was then blowing with terrific force, that I ought to come down at once before the trees began to fall, that the barometer had dropped very rapidly in the last half hour, and that she thought the hurricane of 1924 was “child’s play” compared to what they were already experiencing.

I left my office at twelve minutes of four and drove directly to Westport. Second Street, South of Pleasant was blocked off because of a falling sign or roof, and I went up Fourth Street, turning through Spring and back on to Second, as a tree was down South of Spring Street on Fourth Street. From there to my house I had no difficulty, as no trees at that time blocked the road. I drove directly through Adamsville, noting that the tide appeared to be high, as it just covered the marshes where the river bends in close to the house of George Brayton. Later I was told this road was blocked off, as there were approximately six feet of water at George Brayton’s entrance.

I particularly noted that the wind had reached whole gale force, and that the safest places to drive were through the woods, the most dangerous places being near isolated trees, which were rapidly being uprooted and overturned. Upon arrival at the house I immediately changed into old clothes and persuaded Gen, against her better judgment, cogently expressed, to drive down to the Harbor with me and the boys to see the surf. We left the house at approximately half past four, driving South down Howland Road to the corner of Atlantic Avenue. Near the Waldo Fish house water was crossing the road about two inches deep. The wind was screeching with a terrifying noise and the salt spray was plastering the car so that it was almost impossible to see anything through the windshield except the line of the road. I remember noticing, however, as I turned the corner, that the ocean was extraordinarily high, the water running between the dunes in sizable streams into Richmonds Pond, and also running into Atlantic Avenue through all the open spaces on the top of the sand bank.

My attention was so closely directed to driving that I did not note carefully the actual conditions. Gen, on the other hand, was noting them with positive and vociferous comments, and forcibly stated that we should turn around. I continued to drive, it lying in my mind, as there was only a little water on the road, that conditions were then no worse than I had experienced in a heavy rain. My one thought at that time was to drive down Atlantic Avenue to the high land East of the bathing pavilion where we would get a fine view of the surf. I do not recall that the surf appeared extraordinarily high, but I did note its extreme turbulence and the unusual general height of water or tide level. This must have been at about twenty-five minutes of five.

topographic map Note: This topographic map from 1939 shows you where the high ground was, and specific buildings (black squares) and key roads in the Westport Harbor area described in this account. Note that it was made a year after the storm, so several houses mentioned are not shown. I've added some landmarks referenced in this account, such as the golf course. Greg Stone

As I approached the East end of Atlantic Avenue, passing John Brayton’s house, I noticed that the water ahead was somewhat deeper, and that it was running across the road back of the pavilion with more depth and force than I had ever before seen it, even including the hurricanes of 1924 and of some year in the 1890’s the exact date of which I do not recall. Just before my car stopped running the water was crossing the road ahead of me, back of the pavilion, about a foot deep. I then felt it too late to turn around.

When my car reached a point between the cottages of Madison Welsh and Nat Durfee the engine stopped, and Dick said, “Keep her going, Dad, keep her going.” Gen said, “We’re going to get out and opened the door on the North side of the lee.” She and Dick got out, and I let Sim out on the leeward side, from the front seat. I noted when Gen stepped on the roadway that the water was just over the top of her low shoes. Gen said she would run in to the Dennett house and I shouted that they were not there and she had better go to Israel Brayton’s house where he could get dry clothes. She then proceeded with the boys on the run across the Dennett’s porch. As she reached the porch, she states that the roof of the front part of the pavilion, with a series of crackles like a machine gun rose in the air and folded over backwards onto the bathing houses as if it were a hinged box cover. This startled Sim, so they continued running crossing the driveway between the Dennett house and the Barker cottage and climbing up the wall back of the Barker cottage onto the Brayton lawn. Floorie Hills said that Betty Barnes, who was looking out of her West window, said “Here comes Cousin Gen crawling across the lawn on her hands and knees”, Gen states that the water in the driveway East of the Dennett house was about up to her knees.

While this was going on, I got back into the car and tried to start it; then I tried to drive it on the battery with the clutch in, but the water had then risen to such an extent that I could feel the car sliding sidewise, so I shut off the engine and got out and ran directly toward the Brayton house. The water was deep and flowing at great speed East of the Dennett’s, and I worried as to whether I would lose my footing when I went through the torrent. This was not more than two minutes at the most after Gen had gone through it.

When I climbed up on the wall at the Brayton’s I noticed for the first time that the roof of the front part of the pavilion had been blown over. I had not seen it because of the spray on the car while I was trying to restart it, and I had not heard the crackling noise which had so startled Sim, because of the screeching of the wind and the splashing of the salt spray, which struck the car horizontally on the windward side.

1938 Hurricane

Upon reaching the Brayton lawn, I was blown around to the Westerly side to the of the lee of the house. The wind at this time was approximately South by East and had increased to hurricane force. I remember remarking to someone at the Brayton’s that I believed it was blowing eighty miles an hour. As we were all thoroughly soaked through from salt spray, Rossie Brayton volunteered to drive us home, and Gen, Dick and Sim went with him, but I stayed as I said I had never seen anything like it and did not want to miss it, but that I would be along in a few minutes. At that time, which was certainly not later than a quarter of five, I had no apprehension whatsoever of what was to come I only thought it wise for Gen and the boys to get home because they were soaked through.

One of the interesting things which I noted all through the storm was the warmth of the water, I was thoroughly soaked from my waist down, having on only a short oilskin top, yet I experienced no feeling of cold or chill, although in wet clothes until dark.

1938 hurricane


As soon as Gen left, I went out in front of the Brayton house and noted that the water had risen appreciably and that the pavilion had begun to move a slight distance off its foundation. Gordon Thatcher came out of his house with some personal effects, got into his car and drove rapidly away. While I stood watching the pavilion, Nat Durfee’s house started Northwest, swinging slightly in a clock-wise motion, its corner piazza posts beginning to fall. I looked back at the pavilion and it had reached the road, its sections sliding in echelon as it seemed to swing on its Northeast corner. At that moment there was a terrific increase in the amount of wind, rain and salt spray, and the Welsh house seemed to rise bodily in the air and turn completely over, collapsing on the road, while my automobile was forced by the water backwards into the pond. The water was then about the engine hood and it apparently crossed John Brayton’s tennis court, the back nets of which had disappeared.

From then on all sense of time was lost, events moving so rapidly that it is most difficult to recall at this date (six days afterwards) just what the order of destruction was. All of the houses, however, with the exception of the Austin and the Mills houses, had begun to move and I recall the pavilion in long sections floating by me at the Brayton’s at a speed I should estimate at twenty miles an hour. As the rear section of the pavilion reached a point Southwest from the corner of the Brayton house, the Southeast piazza post of the Barker cottage fell outwards, that is, towards the wind. I remember noting with surprise that this had happened, recalling a similar occurrence in the moving picture “The Hurricane”. I felt for the first time how much the scene which I was viewing was like the scene of final destruction of the island in that picture.

The water was then nearly to the top of Israel Brayton’s wall, roaring North at great speed, and all the houses along the lowland South of the pond were rapidly collapsing. They would float off their foundations, settle and trip, and the speed and force of the water rushing against then would bust them open on their lower floors as their corners struck the ground. The upper story would fall down on the South side and the building would settle into the water rapidly as its upper floor floated away into the pond.

During all this time the thing that surprised me was that there were no waves of great size, such as the long rollers which come in against the Northeast wind at the time of hurricanes whose center is off shore. It seems in most instances the houses simply floated away and collapsed from the turbulence and force of the rising water and the speed of the wind-driven short steep waves.

I again went out in front of Israel Brayton’s and laid down on the ground, as it was not possible to stand and there was less danger from flying shingles from the Thatcher house, which was directly to windward. The wind had already reached the highest speed I had ever experienced, but at that moment it increased with a genuinely terrifying gust, and I noted for the first and only time one great wave approaching the shore. The air was so filled with spray and rain driven horizontally, with flying shingles, that it was very difficult to look to windward or to see very much of what was going on in the ocean. I recall seeing this solid black wall of water, which looked like an unusually larger roller coming in to the shore with its top being flown off so that it did not curl up and break like an ordinary wave. It appeared as a long black band approaching a world otherwise all gray mist, and it was the one moment of the storm which startled me. I saw it first in a narrow space between the Thatcher and the Truesdale beach cottage and I turned to look at Elephant Rock to estimate its height. All that was to be seen was about two feet of the Elephant’s head, and as this wave approached Elephant Rock completely disappeared I estimate the height of this wall of water to have been about eight feet above the top of the rock.

Simultaneously a very marked increase of the wind occurred. I put my head down on the ground and watched to see what was going to happen, as the force of the wind was so terrific I did not dare get up. The noise of the wind rose suddenly to a frightful screech. The wave struck the Thatcher cottage with a burst of spray which came directly at me as if from the nozzle of a fire hose. The Thatcher house seemed to burst apart. Part of its roof flew into the air, and the front of the Truesdale cottage caved in and it fell forward. I do not recall seeing either of these cottages going by me, nor do I recall anything for the next two or three minutes except flying shingles, screeching wind, horizontal-driven spray and roaring water.

I recall, however, noting the general height of the water had risen suddenly, between two and three feet, after that great wave had approached, and that it was then running over the top of Israel Brayton’s wall.

The majority of the people who were still living at the Harbor and who had been caught on the peninsula were at that time in or about the Brayton and Barnes houses. It is difficult to remember at this time who all of these people were. Charlotte and Rossie and a group of Rossie’s college friends who were members of the Harvard Cross Country team. All of the Barnes family except Fred, who was away, were at their house. I remember the first person I saw after the situation grew serious was Sylvia Davol, who appeared out of the mist with her family, and I think they arrived in their car. Then Gretchen Rogers and Margaret Hubbard arrived with several household employees. I do not remember seeing Jack and Patty Barker until I reached the Charlton House. Throughout this whole period of the height of the storm, I noted that no one expressed any fear, and I never received the slightest impression of fear from anyone I talked with. In the early part of the storm the attitude was one distinctly of enjoyment of a great-natural phenomenon. As the water came up on the Brayton lawn and the houses disappeared one after another, a feeling of concern was noticeable in references to the advisability of going to higher land, expressed less in terms of a desire for safety than in an intention to withdraw from encroaching water.

There was at no time any great wave other than that which broke on the Thatcher house. The approach of the water seemed to be a steady and rapid rise in steps of six inches to a foot at a time rather than any rushing and breaking surf such as is customary in the ordinary storm. I believe that a great deal of this was due to the unusual force of the wind, which blew the tops off the breaking waves before they had up into surf of unusual power.

When the group at the Brayton’s went to the Abbott house, which was on higher land, I walked over by Macomber’s stable and as I turned the corner of Prospect Avenue into Acoaxet Street, Charles Hawes’ house began floating away in fairly good condition, and the Crawford house fell forward and collapsed on its first story. It seemed to be badly racked and was breaking open on all sides. I did not notice any other house in that row except the Oliver S. Hawes house, which was floating slowly Northwards with its South side collapsing.

I then walked down the road, with the idea of going home, as I knew Gen did not know where I was, but got no further along than the Woodward’s entrance gate, where I stood with Ben Gifford watching the water roar across the road from the pond into the river. The water on this road was rising rapidly and I saw a beach wagon opposite the herring-ditch house with the water about half way up to its top. Beside it up a telegraph pole was a boy, who I later learned was the drier, employed by the Charlton family. Ben left me, and I went to the Woodward house, which was surrounded by water, and assisted Mrs. Mathewson to get into an automobile standing near the gate. The driver took the people from that house over the hill to where the other refugees were.

When I looked again, the boy on the pole looked to me much like, Dick, junior, being dressed as I had last seen him, and I wondered if he had come down with our beach wagon to get me and been surrounded. While I was in the Woodward house looking for some binoculars, he disappeared and the water had risen over the top of the beach wagon. I learned afterwards that he jumped from the pole into the open doorway of a barn and stayed on the second floor until the water subsided. Although the wind was still roaring overhead, its force was little noticeable North of the high ridge by Macomber’s.

Returning to the Abbott house, I found no one there. When I had left, the only houses that were standing along the beach were the Austin and the Mills houses. They then seemed in excellent condition, although just before leaving I had seen a wave strike the Mills house and break all over the top of it. The house did not then, however, cave in, but seemed to stand through it without being moved at all. When I came back from the Woodward house, however, both the Austin and the Mills houses had gone, the water had reached its highest point, the sea was literally raging, the wind did not seem to have subsided at all, and the sight was one of utter desolation. Debris was floating on the Brayton lawn and no trace of any houses could be seen to the West. Rossie Brayton appeared and said that everyone was at the Charlton house, so I went there, where we were most hospitably entertained by the Charlton employees, the hot coffee and the ham sandwiches which they made for us being extremely welcome and much needed by everybody. I estimate that it was then about a quarter of six.

As soon as I got in the house I hunted for the barometer and found one near the front door and tapped it. To my relief it rose .02 of an inch, which seemed to indicate that the center of the storm was passing. The wind, rain and spray seemed little abated, however. Ethel Brayton called my attention to the height of the water in front of the Charlton house, which was then breaking against the terrace, but without any dangerous force. The Mitchell house was surrounded by water, and I was told that there were three employees in the house, which proved to be true. They remained in the house through the storm, the height of the water rising as they stated, to the top of the next to the highest stair in the front hall, which would be approximately eight feet above the first floor. Fritz later told me the marks on the walls only show the depth of about five feet.

1938 hurricane


We were none of us aware that there was anyone in the Mills house, and we believed that there was no one in any of the houses that we had seen washed away. Concern was generally expressed for the fate of the people in the Waring and McNabb houses, for although we could not see clearly, it appeared that these houses had been swept away. Belief was expressed by me, however, that the people in those houses had probably gone to the Mitchell house, but this did not prove to be true.

Those of us who could find dry clothes changed into them in the Charlton house and waited for the storm to abate. Shortly after six o’clock everyone noted that the water level had lowered on the Charlton lawn, and before dark it was again possible to see the top of the Mitchell hedge, which gave a definite indication of a very material and rapid decrease in the height of the water. The sense of nervousness of the group completely disappeared. Everyone realized that we were greatly exhausted and emotionally tired. We all sat anywhere, expressing various estimates as to how long it would be before we could get out.

At approximately half past seven, Charles Davol came in the door, the first person to get through from the mainland, where, he told us, most of our relatives and friends were grouped in the road by the Wheeler house or in the house itself. He said that he had come down the road with eight others, roped together, through the water, and he believed anyone who wanted to get wet up to his waist, could get out. As I knew that Gen had no idea where I was, I borrowed a flash light and Rossie Brayton drove me over to the Woodwards to the edge of the water flowing across the road. By clinging and crawling through the water in the beam of high lights and getting wet up about my waist, I got through without difficulty. The road was badly washed, and great care had to be taken with each step.

At the herring-ditch house I reached dry land again and walked along wondering why there was no one there, but discovered on turning by the big rock near the Wilbur cottage that the water was equally deep running out of the pond at that point. The first person I met was Paul Gifford, who asked “Where’s Ben?” I replied that he and the others were safe at the Charlton house. He then told me that there were some people in the Mills house, and he thought Mary Black was drowned, and they were going out to search for her. Winston Hart picked me up in his car and drove me home, where I found that the family had been worried as to what had been going on. They had been unable to see the Harbor until just before dusk, but had seen the roofs of houses going up the pond and the river and were, naturally, apprehensive that everything had been swept away. They said that just before dark they thought they had seen the outlines of houses on the highest land and that the flashing of lights a short while before I arrived had greatly encouraged them. That was due to the thoughtfulness of Roswell Brayton, who shortly before he took me to the Woodward house had gone up to the high land and flashed his lights up towards the Acoaxet Club and was answered by others at that point. Everyone had seen it and it had been an assurance that we were probably all well at the Harbor.

It is of interest to everyone who knows the Harbor to record for those who were not present, or who have not been there since, the extent of the destruction. Every house on the waterfront from the Point of Rocks to Brayton’s Point, was completely swept away or damaged beyond repair, with the exception of the bungalow of O.K. Hawes and the Mitchell house, which did not leave their foundations. The O.K. Hawes house was on the highest water front land and the Mitchell house was protected with a very heavy and well built sea wall. It was the only brick house, and had heavy cement foundations. This house, however, was gutted and swept clean of everything on its first floor.

The Jennings and Greany boathouses and the Waring, NcNabb, and Lincoln cottages were swept up river in splinters to the Morton farm about two and one-half miles. Mrs. McNabb and Miss Almy were drowned. Dwight Waring Jr., came ashore on the Wheeler farm on the West side of the river, the others who survived being carried to the Morton farm on the East side. The land where these houses were and the sand dunes West of the Point of Rocks were all swept into the river, leaving a smooth sand spit about four feet above mean high water. The land about the Thatcher Crawford and O.S. Hawes houses was very badly damaged, most of the soil being washed out, leaving rocks and boulders in the place of former lawns. The houses in this row were not totally destroyed but were rocked from their foundations, their first floors were badly wrecked, and the remainder racked, probably beyond repair. All of the houses from the Thatcher house to Howland Road were completely swept away into the pond, a few pieces of roof or upper stories lying on the golf links and the land on the East side of the pond near the Wilbur cottage.

Mary Black, an employee in the Mills house, was drowned and Betty Mills popularly known as “Wee Anne,” twelve years old, was washed out of the house with Mary Black. With a remarkably cool head, she saved herself by floating away on wreckage until near the fifth green of the Acoaxet Club, where she swam ashore and went though the bushes to the Harold Barker house. She had had the presence of mind while on the wreckage to remove her shoes and practically all her clothing so that she would not be hampered in swimming.

Marion Waring’s experience in her long drift up river in the gathering darkness, not knowing the fate of her son and the others who had been with her, commands the sympathy and admiration of all her friends.

The fact that the temperature of both air and water was warm and that the rain was noticeably so, having come directly from the tropics and off the Gulf Stream, accounted for the fact that those who went through the harrowing experience of drifting suffered from neither cold nor serious chills. The speed of the water running inland was unusual and those who survived reached shore in remarkably short time, considering the distance traveled.

All of the boathouses except the Mathewson house left their foundations, my boathouse ending up just West of its site in the middle of River Road. Ralph French’s boathouse, apparently little harmed, rested on Phillip Wheeler’s lawn alongside of Paul Gifford’s sloop. The wreckage of the houses, approximately ten feet above normal water level, was strewn along both shores of the river and of the pond and remained there, a major problem of salvage and removal.

A National Guard company took charge of the area on Thursday afternoon and salvage operations commenced by individual efforts at once, and by cooperative effort of the Westport Harbor Improvement Trust on Saturday morning. On Monday morning the WPA commenced the clearance of roads.

Everyone at the Harbor, even though they have lost their Summer homes and are without insurance, expressed themselves as thankful at the good fortune that kept the loss of life so small. It was extremely fortunate that the disaster did not occur until most of the Summer colony had left for the season and to have avoided an appallingly greater loss of life in every shore community, if all the houses had been occupied. The hurricane struck without warning and the rise of the water at its climax was extremely rapid; so rapid in fact, that those who were in houses between the ocean and the pond were trapped beyond rescue.

The wind velocity was undoubtedly in excess of 100 miles per hour. Mr. Brigham, the Fall River meteorologist, informed me that his recorder can not register above that figure, so he had no higher official velocity than that. At the Winward house on Stafford Road, Tiverton, 105 miles per hour was registered. The Watch Hill, R.I. Coast Guard Station recorded a velocity of 125 miles per hour.

1938 hurricane track


Note: The storm passed well to the west of Westport and while it was incredibly strong when in the tropics, it had weakened considerably by the time it hit the Northeast. Still the damage and loss of life was horrific. I suspect the key lies in the paragraph that follow - so much depends on status of the tide whent he storm hits! Greg Stone


The tide, which ordinarily rises about three and one-half feet, was predicted as high as 12 feet at full-sea at about 6:30 P.M. All references to time in this narrative are to daylight saving time. Due to the strong and increasing Southerly wind before noon, the tide had not fallen perceptibly at the time of low water. The conjunction of a double new-moon tide with an onshore wind of hurricane force created the conditions which caused the catastrophe.

After passing Cape Hatteras the storm center turned Northwest and moved in-shore over Long Island, N.Y., traveling at the extraordinary speed of approximately 60 miles per hour. This accounts for the wind at Westport remaining Southerly during the storm, and the failure of the coast to receive adequate warning.

The drop in the barometer was very rapid. Sim kept note of it through the afternoon and stated that its lowest reading was 29.12, corrected to sea-level.

The ocean or tide level rose about twelve feet above mean high water as nearly as I am able to determine from careful estimates at the Mitchell house and at the corner of Anne Chase’s land near the pavilion. It was about seven feet deep on the road near the pavilion entrance.

The edge of the water reached the North side of Atlantic Avenue, in front of the Urquhart house which is the highest point on that road, but no debris passed over the stone wall on the North side of the street. The line of water, clearly marked after the storm had subsided, ran Northwesterly across Anne Chase’s front lot, just Southerly of the round house. The force of the water moved the large capstones on the wall at the West of this lot. The line of debris reached to the North and of Helen Borden’s house and across the Charlton lawn, at the foot of the South terrace. Little damage was done by the wind to well constructed houses.

Satellite view Westport Harbor

There were about fifty-six cottages and thirteen boat houses in the Summer colony prior to the storm, not including cottages and camps on Howland Road or the beach at its foot. Many of the so-called boathouses are substantial cottages and carry their name by reason of their location on the river. Thirty-eight cottages, all of substantial construction and running in the six to twenty thousand dollar class were totally destroyed. Of these thirty-two were simply swept away and the wreckage deposited form one-half to one mile Northward of their original locations, there being no trace of their former positions except a few bits of cement and stone foundations, broken and scattered along Atlantic Avenue. The strip of land South of the pond with its bank and sand dunes has become a smooth sand beach that being the highest point between ocean and Pond. Twelve of the thirteen boathouses located along River Road left their foundations and all but three were swept up-river, from one to three miles, partly or wholly destroyed. Five houses South of Atlantic Avenue in the original Summer cottage row, of which the house of Prescott Rogers is one were moved distances of thirty to two hundred feet, their ground floors badly smashed and the houses raked presumably beyond repair. Eight garages disappeared.

The wreckage was left in windrows about thirty feet wide and ten feet above normal water level along the land of south sides of the pond and the river. At the head of the pond, parts of buildings piled on each other, ten feet high. Portions of the Mills, Kerr and Ryder homes were left on the golf links near the eighth tee. The second floor of the Dennett house rested North of the John Wilbur place, having floated up the pond and over the road. The main road was gutted near the herring-ditch, impassable until repaired the next day. The pond was filled with wreckage, large portions of homes appearing above the surface as the waters subsided. Spray was blown far inland by the great force of the gale, traces of salt being clearly seen on trees six or seven miles from the shore.

Both lightships drifted Northward from their stations, Hens and Chickens appearing to be between the reef and Old Cock, Their lights, however, showed when the weather cleared about ten o’clock that night. The sea was smooth on Thursday morning, with a clear sky and moderate Westerly breeze. The storm passed even more quickly than it came.

Posted by Greg Stone at at September 19, 2003 5:21 AM

September 10, 2003

J. Roger Sisson

___ will speak to the Society on: "Radio Station WALE in the 1950's and 1960's." His talk will take place at the Westport Historical Society's Bell School House, 25 Drift Rd., Head of Westport, on Sunday, September 21, 2003 at 2:00 P. M. For reservations call the Society at 508-636-6011. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted. There will be refreshments.

J. Roger Sisson and his brother George, both Veterans of World War II, got a license to operate a radio station after the war. They established their own station, WALE (1400 AM) on the corner of Central St. and North Main St. in Fall River, and ran the station from 1947 to 1963. J. Roger Sisson was a widely popular "on-air personality" for most of those years, reporting on local news, sports and community events. He was also a Fall River Representative to the Massachusetts State Legislature in the late 1950'x.

Posted by Bill Wyatt at at September 10, 2003 6:48 PM

September 5, 2003

Westport Town-Wide Archaeological Reconnaissance Survey Update

PAL (Public Archaeology Laboratory) is entering the last phase of the town-wide archaeological reconnaissance survey of Westport. The Westport Historical Society contracted with PAL to complete the project and is funding the survey with support from its membership and town residents. The survey is designed to collect information about land use patterns in Westport ranging from 10,000 years ago to the mid-twentieth century, and to use this information to identify archaeological sites and locations where archaeological sites may be present.

The Public Day held at the Bell Schoolhouse on June 29 was a great success. Several dozen local residents brought in artifacts for identification, shared information on the history of the town, and asked questions about the survey. This single event resulted in the documentation of 17 potential prehistoric period (Native American) and 18 historic period archaeological sites. Combined with the research completed by PAL, nearly 50 new archaeological sites have been identified in Westport as a result of the town-wide survey!

Archaeological sites have been identified in every section of Westport and range from large scatters of Native American stone tools, shell trash pits and campsites to eighteenth and nineteenth century cellar holes and mill ruins. Together, this information documents more than 10,000 years of human activity in Westport.

The final phase of work will include the production of a technical report that summarizes the environmental and historical research completed for the project, details the results of the survey, and includes archaeological sensitivity maps of the entire town of Westport. This report will be used by the WHS, the Town, and the Massachusetts Historical Commission to help identify and protect important archaeological resources.

It’s not too late to contribute your knowledge about archaeological sites in Westport. You can contact Holly Herbster, Project Archaeologist at (401) 728-8780 or hherbster@palinc.com


Posted by Bill Wyatt at at September 5, 2003 7:48 PM

September 3, 2003

Another Tidbit from the Collections Corner

Dog Show, Doll Parade, and Balloon Ascension at Westport Fair, 1923

It was furniture-moving time at the Historical Society. We had movers on hand to take display cases downstairs, down to the basement, and even over to the Town Hall. I was emptying a case before it was to be moved to the first floor when I discovered an orange and black sign made of stiff cardboard and suitable for posting on a wall or pole. Large letters across the top announced: Dog Show. Beneath the letters and taking up most of the poster’s area was a round picture of a sturdy dog. Perhaps the face of a St. Bernard, his collar bore the word Spratt’s. Then I noticed a dog biscuit in each corner of the poster, each labeled Spratt’s Oval Dog Biscuits.

Below the dog portrait was the important information: Westport Fair Wednesday, September 26, 1923. What? The Westport Fair had a dog show in1923? So being of an inquisitive nature, or just plain snoopy if you like, and an animal lover, I had to learn more. I was soon thereafter whirling through microfilm at the U Mass. library in search of what the 1923 New Bedford Evening Standard had to say about this.

It had a lot to say. Not only was there a dog show, but also a doll parade featuring thirty tots and their best-dressed dolls, and a balloon ascension (perhaps we have come full circle on that.). Livestock was double the previous year’s number and feathered entries numbered 1100. The Horticultural Hall displayed exhibits from the Westport, Dartmouth and Watuppa Granges with competition for fruit, flowers, vegetables and canned goods.

The newspaper account of the balloon ascension is confusing. Apparently “Gunfire” George Spurr took to the air at 5:11 and two minutes later hurtled through the air landing in a swamp. Further along in the account the paper says, “The parachute drop takes place each afternoon.” Let’s assume that “Gunfire” had a parachute.

Incidentally first prize in the doll parade went, not to a little girl, but to a boy, two year-old Jackie Brabant and his wooden team of rabbits. Returning to the dog show, it was sanctioned by the American Kennel Club, under the leadership of Miss L. G. Hicks, and held in a tent with three judging stands. 175 dogs participated in 50 classes. The reporter described the dog show tent as the center of attention for people not involved in agriculture (a modern event whereas the farmer’s activities were old-fashioned). The nearby riding ring, he claimed, was the spot where farmers and their wives gathered to watch draft horses pull and trot around with creaking wagons. Women and girls made up most of the dog owners and the dogs ranged from silky toys reclining on pink or blue baby blankets to Russian wolfhounds and St. Bernards. Pekingese, beagles, and Boston terriers were the largest classes. Judging extended through the whole afternoon and into the evening. Dogs belonging to Harry O. Potter and Chester C. Gifford of Westport won prizes, but most of the ribbons went to out-of-towners. Dogs came from as far away as Boston and Providence. None of the judges were from Westport. The rules forbade any ribbon for Best in Show.

These are but a few of the events in the 1923 fair, more than a few of which we could add to our current fairs.

The Spratt’s Oval Dog Biscuits pictured on our poster sent snoopy me researching Spratt- who turned out to be James Spratt, an Ohio electrician, who had gone to England to sell lightening rods in 1860. He saw British dogs being fed old ship biscuits, probably wormy, and thought he could make a better biscuit. His formulation, based on guesswork, not science, succeeded and he soon had a thriving business among English gentlemen who owned sporting dogs. In 1890 the company went public and came to the US. Thus, an American lightning rod salesman started the entire pet food business. Barbara E. Moss

Posted by Bill Wyatt at at September 3, 2003 10:00 AM

Show & Tell Guns, July 17, 2003

About 50 local residents attended the Old Guns Show & Tell event which Nick Niles of Westport and Jim Nelson of Wrentham put on on Thursday, July 17, 2003 under the auspices of the Westport Historical Society at the Bell Schoolhouse at Head of Westport. They heard about the important role played by firearms in our history from the founding of the Plymouth Colony, of which Westport was a part, to the present time. From John Smith's 1629 accounts of adventureswith the Indians, through the development of local foundries based on bog iron (the ore being derived from what are today cranberry bogs) to arms making in the American Revolution and on to the great American Industrial Revolution yielding the important advances in precision measurement, machine building and factory management which led up to the textile mills and gun making factories of the Blackstone and Connecticut River Valleys which brought freedom and prosperity first to New England and then to the whole US. Nick and Jim also discussed gun safety, the second amendment to the Constitution of the US, which gives to law abiding individual citizens the right to possess fire arms, and they outlined some current rules regulating ownership and use of guns in Massachusetts. Those who had brought guns to show were then invited to tell the audience a little bit about them. This led to much interesting discussion of how these arms came down through the years in some of our local families as well as the discovery of several very rare and important pieces. Last year a museum quality, engraved, single shot, hand gun made in New Haven, was the star of the evening. This year it was a fabulous double by Tonks, one of Boston's finest gun makers. The 1850 era, muzzle loading, percussion, shotgun was furnished with silver butt plate and trigger guard, was beautifully engraved and, having been stored all these years in its fitted wood case, retained most of its original finish. Of the 15 or so guns brought in and discussed all were of interest and, being different, each gave Nick and Jim a chance to talk about many of the various types and makes which constitute the history of the gun in our country. They were able to shed some light on activities of local gun makers such as N. R. Davis & Sons of Assonet (Jim Nelson is the acknowledged expert on Davis guns and had muzzle loading, pin fire, and center fire specimens from his collection to show us), the Providence Tool Co. of Providence (owned by Fall River and Westport families, the Bordens and the Anthonys) and Jenks of Pawtucket (of which maker a very good 1813 flintlock US Contract musket was exhibited), among others. Some very interesting hunting shotguns and rifles, typical of those owned and used by local people over the years, Winchesters, Marlins, Belgian imports and so on, were also viewed, identified and discussed in detail. From all accounts the meeting was informative and fun. The relaxed question and answer format made for a very easy exchange of ideas and pertinent facts. A lot of history was learned by all, including the experts. Nick Niles
Posted by Bill Wyatt at at September 3, 2003 9:47 AM