OLD DARTMOUTH HISTORICAL SKETCH
Being the proceedings of the Meeting and annual outing of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society, Westport, Massachusetts, on September 12, 1912.
HIX’S BRIDGE AND THE HANDY HOUSE
by Henry B. Worth
[Note.—The “Old Dartmouth Historical Society Sketches” will be published by the Society quarterly and may be purchased for ten cents each, on application to the Secretary and also at Hutchinson’s Book Store.]
September 12, 1912
The Old Dartmouth Historical Society held its “annual outing” and quarterly meeting yesterday at the old Handy house at Hix Bridge. The trip was made in automobiles, about 30 machines leaving the public library building at 11 a. m., and passing through Smith Mills, Westport Factory, and down to the old Potter house, which was built in 1677, a short distance north of Central Village. From the Potter house the trip continued south to the road leading to Hix’s Bridge and then to the Handy house, arriving there by 12:30 o’clock. This old house was built in 1714 and has been recently restored to its original condition by the present owner, Abbott P. Smith. Here the party had lunch.
William W. Crapo, Henry H. Crapo, Edmund Wood, Mary E. Bradford, Mrs. Thomas A. Tripp, Anna L. Tripp, Clara Bennett, Henry B. Worth, Sarah E. Worth, George R. Stetson. Mrs. George R. Stetson, Willard N. Lane, Mrs. M. J. Leary, George S. Taber, Mary B. Leonard, Roland A. Leonard, Clara A. Read, Mrs. William H. Wood, William H. Wood, Calista H. Parker, Elizabeth Watson, Caroline H. Hiler, Ella H. Read, Sarah H. Taber, Susan G. W. Jones, Carolyne S. Jones, Francis T. Hammond, Edward B. Smith, Mrs. Edward B. Smith, Mrs. Clifford Baylies, Mary W. Taber, Mrs. Sarah Kelley, Caroline S. Akin, Mrs. Mayhew R. Hitch, Mayhew R. Hitch, Alice Howland Tripp, Gertie E. Bridgham, George L. Habitch, Mrs. George L. Habitch, George R. Phillips, George R. Wood, Mrs. William C. Phillips, William C. Hawes, Mrs. William C. Hawes, Josiah Hunt, Mrs. J. Hunt, Natalie Hunt, Mrs. J. L. Martin, Bertha A. C. Mosher, William E. Hatch, Arthur R. Brown, Elizabeth P. Swift, Elmore P. Haskins, William A. Wing, Arthur A. Jones, David L. Parker, William H. Reynard, George H. Tripp, Mrs. Susan H. Kempton, Anna C. Ricketson, Cornelia G. Winslow, Cynthia D. Jenney, Margaret Earle Wood, Priscilla Howland, Francis Rodman, Arthur G. Grinnell, Mr. and Mrs. Llewellyn Howland, Carline Stone, Thomas S. Hathaway, Sarah Tappan Coe, William Stevenson, Gertrude S. Perry, Mrs. Abby L. Prichard, Mrs. Mae A. Braley, Thomas E. Braley, Fred D. Stetson, Caroline W. Hathaway, Marian Parker, Mrs. H. B. Worth, Caroline E. Hicks, Dr. Wm. J. Nickerson, Charles A. Tuell, Elvira M. Tuell, Carrie E. Davis (Mrs. L. B.), Helen H. Davis, Margaret E. Gibbs, Frank Denby, Mrs. Andrew G. Paine, Mary B. Paine, Elizabeth N. Swift, Gertrude W. Baxter, Mary Kempton Taber, Sally Gordon Taber, Mrs. William N. Church, Katherine L. Swift, Mrs. C. A. Cook. Mr. and Mrs. William Huston, Mrs. Fred S. Potter, George E. Briggs, Francis J. Denby, Mr. and Mrs. Frank W. Wildes, Thomas B. Wildes, Caroline L. Aldrich, Gertrude W. Mann, Hilda P. Tripp, Benjamin C. Tripp, Cortez Allen, Elizabeth S. Macomber, Edward L. Macomber, Herbert S. Peirce, Grace B. Peirce, Jennie C. Peirce, Mrs. H. C. Washburn, Albert A. Ruddock, H. C. Washburn, Mrs. S. J. Tripp, Benj. W. Allen, George E. Tripp, Edna M. Tripp, Etta J. Allen, George J. Allen, Charles T. Heron, George E. Handy, Milton E. Borden, Roland Cornell, George Hart, A. F. Brownell, John Mosher, A. P. Smith, A. Westby, D. W. Baker.
President Wood addressed the meeting.
Members and friends of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society and Citizens of Westport:
Today we celebrate our society’s outing within the limits of that portion of Old Dartmouth which was set off as the town of Westport. It is fitting that we should do this for we have already held similar meetings in Acushnet and Fairhaven and North Dartmouth and South Dartmouth, and several meetings in New Bedford.
Right here the interrupting small boy might cry out: ‘What’s the matter with Westport?’ We can all say that Westport is all right. There is absolutely nothing the matter with her—unless we might say that she suffers from being too far away from New Bedford and too near to Fall River. That is too great a strain to put upon the virtue of any town. But Westport had within her that which always was against provincialism and village narrowness—and that is a sea port and commercial relations with a wider world—and they began very early to develop it.
“Before the neighboring towns on the north and west had really learned that the earth was round, the inhabitants of Westport had followed New Bedford down to the sea in ships and had begun at Westport Point to regularly fit out some good sized whalers. Here began John Avery Parker in a moderate way which developed steadily after he had moved to New Bedford until he became one of the merchant princes of his time; and Henry Wilcox laid by a fortune which the land would never have yielded.
“The town of Westport has always prospered. It has been a place of beautiful farms of a thrifty, prosperous people. It has furnished from its hardy seamen some of the most adventurous and successful whaling captains that that fearless industry has ever known. In its earlier days it had a social life, centering in Adamsville of some aristocratic pretensions; it had an unusually prosperous settlement of Quakers at Central Village, and in the industrious, exemplary and successful life of Paul Cuffe, it had the earliest exhibition of the capacity and executive ability of the American Negro which waited long for an equal exponent in Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington.
“We are glad to meet in Westport today. We are interested in its welfare and many of its inhabitants are interested in our society. We have several members from Westport, and one, Edward L. Macomber, is a director.
We have come over today for two purposes; to see the historic houses which have survived 200 years, and secondly to learn something about them and of the Old Dartmouth mothers who dwelt in them, and of the life which went on 200 years ago and dignified this same picture of house and landscape and beautiful expanse of river.
We have several full-fledged, well developed historians in New Bedford, who are attached to our society, and we generally carry them with us when we wander forth into the more remote parts of our old township.
The dean of our faculty of history is Hon. William W. Crapo, who through a long life of studious research and by many published essays and public addresses has illuminated the part of his native town.
We have Henry H. Crapo, who has within a week stirred us with a rushing mighty wind the dry leaves and vegetable mould of the genealogical camps of eastern New England. I shall hope at some future meeting to say more of this interesting publication which means so much to our own society.
And we have Henry B. Worth, who more than any other man has shed a steady light upon the ancient land proprietors and the house of our ancestors. Fortified by these three experts our society is safe to travel, and no citizen of Westport will dare to mislead us or take us in by spinning any visionary yarns for our consumption.
Hix’s Bridge and the Handy House
by Henry Barnard Worth
It is of great advantage that this meeting should be held in such an historic center where are clustered so many features of interest, and where two centuries ago resided some of the leading families of Old Dartmouth, because here it is possible to observe the landmarks face to face.
At this point in its course the Acoakset River is contracted within narrow limits by the hills on either side, and here is the most picturesque spot in the Indian line of travel between the Acushnet and Saconet.
As early as 1686 there must have been transportation across the river, because at that date the Handy farm was bounded on the south “by a highway,” and this would be a meaningless public utility unless there were some arrangement at the river to reach the other side. The highway at the east side of the river extended to Apponegansett, and on the north side fronting this river was the homestead of Valentine Huddlestone, and across the road was the homestead of Samuel Cornell, which he obtained from his mother, Rebecca. On the west side of the river the highway in 1686 extended up the steep hill to the road “leading to Paquachuck,” now known as Westport Point; on the south side of this road was a great tract owned by Joseph Coleman of Scituate, and on the north side the farm owned by Peleg Slocum, which at that date he conveyed to William Ricketson, and shortly after was purchased by George Cadman, and in recent years known as the Handy farm. How much before that date a ferry was operated, the records fail to disclose, but the presence of public roads leading to the river from each side indicates the existence of some method of crossing previous to that time. By whom the ferry was first conducted cannot be determined except by inference. When the road was laid out on the east side in 1707 it began “where the ferryboat now usually lands”; this was before Mary Hix engaged in the business, and while it might have been operated by either of the farm owners there is nothing to suggest that Huddlestone, Cornell or Coleman was concerned in the undertaking. From 1686 to 1718 the Handy farm was owned by George Cadman, the most prominent man in the locality; and in 1710 he conveyed to Mary Hix the land on the river front which she used as the ferry landing, and where she lived. This is some indication that when she made the purchase and engaged in the ferry she continued what George Cadman had previously established.
For over two centuries the central feature of this region was at first the ferry, and then the bridge. Joseph Hix came from Westport in 1702 and purchased a farm at the end of Westport Point, where he died in 1709. He left a widow, Mary, who was the daughter of William Earle, and she at once displayed considerable business activity. She purchased the lot on the west side of the river from George Cadman, built a house, and continued the ferry across the river. A short time later she secured land at the Head of Westport, probably with the purpose of finally choosing whichever locality provided the best business results. The court records of Bristol County indicate that she was not unmindful of the requirements of Colonial travelers, and so in 1710 and subsequent years she obtained a license to sell strong drink. She sold the land and house at the ferry in 1735 to her son, William, and he at once took steps to build a bridge, but it was not until 1738 that he had completed the structure. Then the voters of the Head of the River, under the lead of George Lawton, William Sisson and others, protested to the general court that William Hix, who had the privilege of a ferry, had built a bridge which was a common nuisance because it obstructed the passage of boats up and down the river, and they asked that the nuisance be removed. Notice was issued to Hix to show why the petition should not be granted. It cannot be discovered how far this subject became an issue in the town, but in 1739 William Hix was elected representative to the general court, and again in 1740, a remarkable fact considering the lack of interest which the members of the Hix family have taken in political life. This election gave him such an advantage in the bridge controversy that the conclusion is sound that the townspeople united with him against the protesting voters at the head of the river. In 1739, in response to the notice from the general court, William Hix represented that he had built a commodious bridge at his own expense, at the most convenient place, and that the same was of great benefit to the public, and asked that the general court would confirm and establish the same as a toll-bridge. They voted to allow him to maintain the bridge and to charge as toll the same amount as he had previously charged for ferriage. In 1743 he was allowed to double the toll rates, because of the cost of the building and maintaining the bridge.
The construction of the bridge was probably an important factor in leading the Dartmouth voters to remove the town house in 1750 to the Head of Apponegansett. And it is significant that the objection to this removal came from the same men who objected to the maintenance of Hix Bridge. Their self-interest and convenience were apparent in both proceedings.
The Hix Bridge farm, including the bridge and approaches, and the farm on the south side of the road, west of the river, had been acquired by William Hix, and at his death passed to his widow, Anna, and his children, and was finally owned by Joseph Gifford, who had married a daughter. The property was purchased in 1804 by John Avery Parker, Levi Standish and Josiah Brownell; and owned by them until 1814, the property was offered for sale, and it was then arranged that it should be purchased by Dr. James H. Handy and Frederick Brownell, that the doctor should take the deed in his own name; then convey the bridge and all land east of the driftway to Brownell, who should pay the sum of $2,800. Brownell took charge and repaired the bridge as his own, collected toll, paid the taxes, built a building on the north side, where he conducted a country store, and finally in cash and groceries paid the doctor the entire price of the property; but the latter neglected and refused to give any deed. The town took the bridge in 1871, abolished the toll feature, and made an award of $1,800 to whoever might be the owner. This led to legal proceedings between Brownell and Dr. Handy’s estate, but Brownell succeeded in getting the money. In 1876 Giles Brownell sold to Albert M. Allen the remaining land at both ends of the bridge, and it was later acquired by Mrs. Betsey P. Allen. On the second floor of the store building, where Frederick Brownell conducted his business for over fifty years, was the lodge room of the Noquochoke Free Masons, and when they erected their own building east of the river Mrs. Allen sold the store to Daniel J. Sullivan. Adjoining this building is the landing laid out by the selectmen in 1717.
The farm on the north side of the road, extending from the river to the main highway at Central Village, was purchased in 1687 by George Cadman, who had removed from Portsmouth, Rhode Island. His later homestead, comprising over five hundred acres, lay along Cadman’s Brook, two miles north of Hix bridge. He was selected to fill many town offices and was a wealthy man for that period, and owned a Negro slave that he disposed of in his will. His only descendant was one daughter, Elizabeth, who married a William White, whose ancestry has defied all historical research. Cadman conveyed the northwest corner of this farm “where William White lives” to the Dartmouth Monthly Meeting of Friends in 1717, and here is the Quaker meetinghouse. The rest of the farm he devised to his daughter and her husband, and after them to their children. In 1794 it was owned by Jonathan White, and the east hundred acres was that year purchased by Dr. Eli Handy of Rochester. At the death of the doctor, in 1812, the farm passed to his son, James H. Handy, who was also a physician of considerable celebrity. Industrious in his profession, he was nevertheless negligent of his own business interests. It is said that he never collected any bills and never paid any; and his estate was insolvent. This carelessness involved the bridge in the complications already described. Yet he was a famous country doctor.
The great house occupied by the Handy family reveals the fact that it was built at three different periods. William White married Elizabeth Cadman about 1714, and went there to live, and their house, a pretentious mansion for those days, was the east framework which has not been concealed by plastering or wall paper, gives unmistakable evidence of its age. When the central portion is examined, where the corner posts project into the room only a few inches, there is conclusive evidence of a construction not far from 1800. This portion was probably built by Dr. Eli Handy. The west section, in which the corner posts are entirely concealed, was erected many years later. A gentleman is now living who states that this was built by Dr. James H. Handy, that he borrowed the money to pay for the same from a sister of George Kirby, and failing to repay the amount, the farm was attached and bought by Kirby, and was later purchased by a friend of the Handy family, who in 1876, conveyed it to Miss Hannah Handy, a sister of the doctor, who had paid for it by work as a seamstress. She devised the property to a son of the doctor, and last year his descendants sold the farm, the part west of the driftway, with the mansion, to Abbott P. Smith, and the east part to Herbert S. Pierce.
The house that Mary Hix erected at the west end of the bridge about 1710, stood on the south side of the road, and after the Revolutionary War was considerably rebuilt. One room of the old structure was retained, but this was considerably obscured by the additional structure. The house is now painted red. Here was the residence of the bridge owners until it was purchased by Albert M. Allen, and here for years bicycle tourists and the Masonic brethren appreciated the entertainment that could be obtained at Aunt Betsey’s.
At the conclusion of the meeting at the Handy house, a visit was made to the old Ricketson house, which was built in 1684, then back through Russells Mills to New Bedford.
Historic Notes on These Old Houses
Ricketson-Sherman House, Westport.
This house is located on the west side of the road leading from South Westport to Horse Neck, about two miles south of the South Westport Corner and 300 yards east of the road.
The land was originally owned by Hannah Gaunt, a descendant of the Southworth family of Duxbury. In 1684 she conveyed the same to William Ricketson, before that time a resident of Portsmouth, R. I. In 1682 Mr. Ricketson petitioned the town of Portsmouth for leave to build a water-mill, and in 1683 he petitioned to be admitted as a freeman. The town records disclose no action on either petition. His next appearance seems to have been in Dartmouth. When all the land to which he was entitled had been set off to him he owned nearly 500 acres, bounded west by the Noquochoke River. He died in 1691, leaving three sons, Timothy, William and Jonathan, and widow Elizabeth, who later married Mathew Wing; and from these two marriages are descended the Ricketsons, and most of the Wings of this section.
This farm remained in the Ricketson family until 1796. The portion containing this house was sold to Thomas Sherman of Rhode Island, and in 1904 was owned by Charles and Albert C. Sherman of New Bedford, two of his descendants.
This house is located on a hill which commands a view embracing Adamsville, South Westport, Westport Point to the Elizabeth Islands. It faces south and end to the adjoining road. The chimney is made of stone, and according to the principles governing the latest Rhode Island stone chimney. The chimney extends nearly across the house and furnished the four rooms each with a fire-place. The house throughout has heavy summers, bracketed corner posts. The timbers are all of sawed pine and handsomely though plainly finished. Such a construction clearly antedates 1700.
In the east chamber the mantelpiece and frame about the fire-place indicate the finest degree of hand workmanship, in a day when sandpaper was unknown. When Isham and Brown visited this house in December, 1903, it was their opinion that it was constructed about 1684.
The last occupant left it before 1877, and as the dust worm has practically destroyed its frame in the first story, it cannot remain standing many years longer.
William Ricketson’s business was that of a miller, and he operated a saw mill on the brook southeast from his homestead, where possibly the timbers of this house were prepared and finished.
Waite-Potter House, Westport.
This house is located about half a mile north of Central Village, between Main and River Roads, and was owned in 1904 by Perry G. Potter. It can be seen from the main road except in the summer season, when hid by the foliage of the trees.
The original farm in which this house is located was situated on both sides of the main road, and was conveyed in 1661 by William Earle to Thomas Waite; comprised over 200 acres and was bounded east by the Noquochoke River. It remained in the Waite family until 1728, when Benjamin Waite sold the part between the river and the main road to Robert Kirby, whose descendants continued in possession until 1837, when Ichabod Kirby conveyed to Restcome Potter his homestead farm of 50 acres on which this house is located. When Restcome Potter died the farm descended to his son, the present owner. In the deed to Mr. Potter a small piece of land was reserved which had been the Kirby burial lot for over a hundred years, the rough stones in the lot being marked, one R. K. a second, the same, and another I. K. The Waite burial lot is in that section of the farm lying on the west side of the road.
This house is the oldest in old Dartmouth, if not in southern Massachusetts. It will be noticed that the chimney is constructed in two sections, the right of which is stone and the left brick. The explanation handed down among the owners is that when the west addition was built, just previous to the Revolutionary War, it was found the old stone chimney would not furnish a fireplace for the addition without another flue, and hence the west section of brick was built against the old stone chimney. The ancient section of the house is that which appears in the picture as the center. It is built according to the methods in vogue in Rhode Island following 1650.
It is a one-story dwelling of one room 18 feet square, with a fireplace, as shown in the photograph, and a low attic under the roof. The west end of the ancient house was a stone wall tapering with the roof and ending in the chimney stack. The fireplace is wide, but low, and a century after the house was built was lined with brick. The chimney jamb is a beam 18 inches square. The summer was placed parallel to the chimney and was supported by posts set into the walls of the house. The corner posts are bracketed and braced. The mortar in the chimney is of composition made from seashells. The entire construction indicates that the building was erected before 1700.
Messrs. Isham and Brown of Providence, experts in Colonial house building, examined this structure in 1903, and suggested 1660 as the probable date of construction, but the tradition exists that it was built in 1677, which was the year following the King Philip War, as the Indians are supposed to have destroyed all dwellings in this section. The tradition is probably correct. Its last occupant, a Kirby, left it to move into the west addition, and the old portion has since been used as a pigsty, hen roost and general farm purposes.
Restcome Potter lived in the west part two years after he purchased the farm, and then built the present farmhouse.
Dr. Handy House, Westport.
This house is located a short distance west of the Hix Bridge, at the northwest corner of the road leading to Westport Point and in 1904 was owned by a descendant of the famous Dr. Handy.
The land was originally set off to George Cadman and that farm extended from the river west and included the Quaker meeting house, cemetery, and town house at Central Village.
George Cadman’s only child was Elizabeth, who married William White of Rochester. Thus the name Cadman in this branch of the family disappeared from Dartmouth, but the numerous descendants by the name of White in that part of New England all trace their lineage back to Elizabeth Cadman. They were married about 1714, and this property was placed at their disposal by George Cadman, and in his will, probated in 1729, was devised to William White and wife.
1794. Jonathan White to Humphrey White.
1794. Humphrey White to Eli Handy, physician, and the house has remained in the Handy family since that date.
From an exterior view the impression might be gained that this house was originally built for a tavern or a road house, but the observer would scarcely discover that it was constructed at the separate dates covering 120 years. This clearly appears by an interior examination.
The two front doors divide the house into three sections, forming six rooms on the lower floor and the same number on the second. Beginning at the east end it will be observed that here is a heavy summer parallel to the end of the house extending through both rooms, and in the second story the heavy corner posts are bracketed. In the middle section there is no summer and the part of the corner-posts projecting into the room somewhat insignificant; while in the west rooms the summer and corner posts have entirely disappeared. In the east part a significant feature is the bracing from corner post to girder, as shown in the interior. In the east part the edges of all timbers chamfered.
The evidence is satisfactory to indicate that the east end was the original house; but it was built in 1714 to 16; that it had a west chimney which provided a fire-place for all the rooms; that about 1730 the owner desired to build a west addition, and that it became necessary to remove the original chimney and build the present east chimney; that Dr. Handy in 1821 built the west third of the house.
The house was purchased by Abbott P. Smith in 1911 and he has done much to restore the house to its original condition.
H. B. W.