Returning Home to Fairhaven & Exploring Local Sites in a Jeep Wrangler

Returning Home to Fairhaven & Exploring Local Sites in a Jeep Wrangler

“We all come from somewhere. We carry that place with us wherever we go. That never leaves our hearts. Not entirely.”

– Doug Jones (Saru) from Star Trek: Discovery

My hometown matters to me. Yet, I rarely go back to the town I called home for nearly 25 years. It’s not that I don’t want to go back; it’s more that there is little calling for me to return. My parents no longer live locally, and they sold my childhood home years ago. Each time I return, there are fewer reminders of who I once was. Many of my posts situate my hometown as a consistent backdrop. Avoiding the town, therefore, is impossible. I love my hometown. I no longer want to position it on the periphery. But returning home is emotionally challenging and brings forth pleasing and unpleasant emotions; fear, happiness, and uncertainty. It’s a conflicted feeling, but I have attempted to work through these complexities. Fairhaven, Massachusetts, is ultimately home. I may not return for some time, but home will logically always be merely a drive away. After Corinne and I purchased a 2003 Jeep Wrangler, I felt the urge to explore the town I took for granted and left behind nearly two decades ago.

Cape Cod is Merely a Drive Away & a Jeep Will Get You There

“Well it’s been so long / I swore I’d never come back / To this sleepy little one horse dot on the map / But the roots run deep / In this rocky red ground / And I could feel that pull, every road I went down”

– “Growing Up Around Here” – Music, Lyrics & Vocals by Will Hoge from Small Town Dreams

My first car was a Jeep. I learned to drive in the parking lot of my town’s bowling alley, and once I got my license, I regularly went to McDonald’s and to see friends. The Jeep was initially my dad’s, then he passed it on to my brother Jeff, and ultimately, to me. It had a CD player and a solid stereo system, and I even sprung for fog lights. I drove this car to work at my family’s ice cream parlor, nervously drove it over the bridge to New Bedford, and blasted Queen’s “We Will Rock You” as I went to school for Friday night football games under the lights. Jeeps seem like a badass way to travel, and it stems from the time I drove a Jeep Power Wheels by the beach, which I recalled in a toy-related post. It makes sense that after all the years and miles, and Corinne as eager as me, we got a Jeep.

Newer Jeeps Wranglers are expensive. After talking about wanting one for trips to the Cape or back home to Fairhaven, Corinne and I agreed to wait for a used or “new to us” Jeep. In June of 2021, thanks to Lisa and Larry, Corinne’s aunt and uncle from Burlington, VT, we got our opportunity. Larry had a co-worker named Bert looking to sell his Jeep Wrangler. It’s black, has two doors and over 100,000 miles, and is from 2003, the first year of the Rubicon model. The Jeep was, and is, in terrific shape and has never gone off-roading, and Bert wanted it to go to a good home. Corinne had been up in Vermont one weekend and mentioned to Larry while sitting around one of his famous fire-pits that we wanted a Jeep. Such an utterance was enough to get Larry’s wheels spinning.

Larry put Corinne in touch with Bert, a genuinely nice guy, and we got the Jeep’s details. Corinne and I went back to Vermont a week later to stay with Larry and Lisa, enjoy some of Larry’s delicious barbecue, meet Bert and test drive the Jeep. It didn’t take much to impress us, and we were instantly in love with the Jeep. The next day we traveled back home with a handshake deal, and an understanding Bert would prepare and inspect the Jeep. A week later, we returned, eager to sign the necessary paperwork, again have dinner with Larry and Lisa, and continue the process of securing the Jeep. It took us one more trip back, only after securing a new title, registration, and license plates. So, in late June of 2021, we drove back to Vermont and took the Jeep Wrangler home, and we quickly began planning Cape Cod trips.

Cape Cod is one of those places where I feel at ease. I feel as though I have been wandering for the last two decades. I don’t think that way when I am on Cape Cod. It could be that the Cape is close to Fairhaven, where I grew up, or that I spent time in Bourne, Sandwich, and Hyannis during my youth. Also, on her mother’s side, Corinne’s extended family has vacationed on the Cape in Sandwich, Osterville, and Mashpee, going on for nearly two decades. One week in August each year, we stay in the same house, and it’s one of my favorite times of the year. Last April, Corinne and I stayed at AutoCamp Cape Cod, enjoying a glamping weekend in an Airstream in Falmouth. This month, we visited again but stayed in a tiny home, or “X Suite.” The views of Buzzards Bay, Little Sippewissett Marsh, and Shining Sea Bikeway from our cabin were terrific.

Life is far too short. The Jeep, while not an entirely new idea, offered us a unique opportunity. With the Jeep in our possession, the options were endless and the excitement infectious. Corinne and I decided to drive to the Cape. It was, after all, where we got married, and this was our anniversary. We unzipped the windows on a beautiful July morning, secured the roof, and ventured to Cape Cod, enjoying our first official Jeep day. Of course, we had taken the Jeep out, but this was the first time we used it as we intended; road trips to places previously explored. Corinne and I departed at 8 AM and took MA-24 to I-495 to MA-25 until we crossed the Cape Cod canal and drove on the Bourne Bridge. Next, we pulled onto MA-28A, taking it to Falmouth until we arrived at Cape Cod Bagel Company and Coffee Obsession.

We drove for several hours, exploring Woods Hole, the Falmouth Beach area, and passing through East Falmouth and Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve to Mashpee. We drove by Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge and then enjoyed a leisurely drive through New Seabury to South Cape Beach State Park. Afterward, we went to Mashpee Commons, where Corinne and I walked around window shopping and picked up various popcorn flavors at Smith Family Popcorn, which we enjoyed on our drive from Mashpee back to Falmouth. The day trip ended at Seafood Sams, where we had delicious seafood while sitting outside, not far away from our badass Jeep Wrangler. Our first Jeep trip was successful. Where to next? It was simple; Fairhaven.

It’s a Fairhaven Thing, You Wouldn’t Understand

“Well I kissed my first girl / Behind that Texaco sign / I drank my first cold beer by that river side / I played a little football / Got a letter on my jacket / I bet it’s still in that box, up there in my Mom’s attic”

– “Growing Up Around Here” – Music, Lyrics & Vocals by Will Hoge from Small Town Dreams

Going home after so long was never going to be easy. I have discussed my hometown several times on my blog, but I often do so in the context of my past, whether about snow, body insecurities, or as it relates to other stories from that period. In one of my first posts, I discussed going back to the area shortly after Corinne, and I sold our home in Salem. I felt depleted and depressed. I sought comfort in going back. Corinne and I stayed in a hotel on the New Bedford waterfront, ate at our favorite restaurants, visited my Uncle Frank in Acushnet, and even went into Fairhaven, but briefly for coffee at The Nook. I remember the feeling that trip produced. I was happy, slightly sad, but felt normal. Seeing familiar buildings, and eating long missed foods, did wonder for my mental health.

I wouldn’t want to move back to Fairhaven, but I miss it. I miss it because when I last lived there, my family home was still someplace I knew I could turn to and return to; my parents were together, and that proverbial center remained intact. The town, and home, where I enjoyed holiday parties, high school dances, the pains of adolescence, and well, where I grew into adulthood, remain stuck in that moment in my heart. There are quiet moments when I feel like if I drive to Fairhaven and pull up to my former home, my parents and siblings will be there like nothing has changed. That might seem ridiculous, but my hometown is near the center of wounds long since caused but never healed. I am actively looking to understand when my link to my hometown severed, and my journey changed.

I am who I am because of where I grew up. I am not seeking to change that but instead acknowledge that reality. The friends I had, the education I received, and the landscape or landmarks I frequently visited serve as fitting scenery. I will showcase that fact as I take you on my trip to Fairhaven in a Jeep Wrangler. Today’s post isn’t necessarily about a “new to us” Jeep or a few road trips. No, yet again, it’s about me, my journey, my past, and realizing that I can’t escape home, even when its presence might be a harrowing reminder of the ghoulish reality of time. I love where I grew up and, for the longest time, rebelled against it, not because of what it did, but what it couldn’t do; remain the same. I realized that when I took the Jeep to Fairhaven.

Fairhaven is a small seaside town on the South Coast of Massachusetts. It is on the east bank of the Acushnet River bordering New Bedford, positioned to the west, Buzzards Bay to the south, Mattapoisett to the East, and Acushnet to the north. It was incorporated in 1812, breaking off from New Bedford, which shares a harbor and fishing history with a cultural and economic legacy. It is a beautiful town with a grand narrative that offers insight into the area’s settlement by those from Plymouth Colony who purchased land, which now includes Fairhaven to Dartmouth, from Massasoit, the Wampanoag Sachem, and his son Wamsutta. It makes sense that many buildings honor those Wampanoag leaders, as their connection to the area is straightforward.

Fairhaven’s history is extensive and fascinating. I am excited to explore my hometown slightly like a tourist and do so in a Jeep Wrangler while sharing its features. The town’s role in the War of 1812, the era of Whaling, and Industrialization are legendary. The town’s benefactor, Henry Huttleston Rogers, like Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and J.P. Morgan, was a late 19th-century business tycoon and immensely wealthy. Most historic buildings in Fairhaven used money donated by Rogers for their construction. His friend Mark Twain, yes, that Twain, observed incredible beauty in Fairhaven’s oceanic landscape. Its link to the sea is memorialized in a monument to Captain Joshua Slocum, who navigated his sloop Spray around the world alone, the first person to perform such a feat. Slocum outfitted the Spray here, and there is a monument to Slocum in John Cooke Memorial Park.

Learning Fairhaven History & Observing Buildings in a Jeep Wrangler

“Yeah I know someday / No matter how far I roam / Oh I’ll end up back this way / And I’ll call this place home / Yeah there’s no place like home”

– “Growing Up Around Here” – Music, Lyrics & Vocals by Will Hoge from Small Town Dreams

Our goal was to drive by various historic locations from the entrance to Fairhaven to the town center and eventually to Fort Phoenix, very close to where I once lived. Corinne and I drove on MA-24, going South, untimely taking MA-140 to New Bedford, where we merged onto I-195. Coming upon exit 26 for MA-18, an entry I have taken a thousand times, we smoothly took it, observing Fairhaven in the distance, New Bedford’s historic district, and even the Whaling Museum. We stayed on MA-18 and then merged onto US-6 E and crossed over the Fairhaven/New Bedford Bridge. There are three bridges: one connecting New Bedford to Fish Island, one from Fish Island to Popes Island, and the last from Popes Island to Fairhaven. The current steel “swing truss bridge” is the “main bridge” that opened in 1900.

I have a love/hate relationship with this swing bridge. I drove towards it all too often, only to discover that it was closed, allowing ships to maneuver further north on the Acushnet River. As a young adult, I frequently found myself at the mercy of the bridge schedule. Still, I recall enjoying the scenery of Popes Island. There is Prince Henry the Navigator Park, where you can find a fantastic statue dedicated to the Portuguese explorer. Noah’s Place Playground, located on the bank of Popes Island, mere steps from the park with views of Crow Island, is lovely and accessible for those with disabilities. Any child, no matter what, can enjoy themselves with the ocean as an idyllic backdrop. On the final stretch of the bridge is a sign reading, “Entering Fairhaven, Est. 1812.” After passing it, the Seaport Inn and Marina are on the right, Fairhaven High School to the left.

Driving toward FHS, you will observe a stunning building that looks like something from a storybook. I took its majesty for granted when I attended as a teenager, which is not surprising. I was more interested in playing sports, being with friends, and flirting with girls. I acted like a teenager. I cared not about the town or the buildings towering around and above me. Voted the most beautiful high school in Massachusetts several times, FHS’s building, known as the “Castle on the Hill,” was constructed in 1905. Henry H. Rogers financed it while working as a critical partner for Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust. The town added an addition in the late 1990s, but the historic building is architecturally breathtaking. Cathedral ceilings in the theater, stained glass windows, wood carvings everywhere, and more, the FHS building, like most landmarks in Fairhaven, was added to the National Register for Historic Places in 1981.

Travel north on Main St., away from the Office of Tourism, and find a few tourist spots. One is the Slocum Memorial and Cooke Memorial Park, which honors the last surviving male passenger of the Mayflower, John Cooke. Another site is the 1828 Old Stone Schoolhouse and the Joseph Bates House. I studied Bates while writing my dissertation because of his experience as a sailor/POW during the War of 1812, less so as the co-founder of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. One more site is the Whitfield-Manjiro Friendship House. The story of Whitfield and Manjiro is one I heard constantly, and for a good reason. According to the website, “In 1841, William Whitfield, a whaling captain from Fairhaven, Massachusetts, rescued Manjiro, a shipwrecked Japanese fisherman, from a deserted island. Manjiro accompanied Captain Whitfield back to Massachusetts…the friendship between the two men never wavered.” 

In the same area as those sites is Riverside Cemetery. The cemetery connects with another structure we drove past, but this has less to do with my history, or the town’s history for that matter and more to do with the strange connection between Corinne and I. Corinne grew up in the Hudson Valley of New York, not far from Hyde Park, where Franklin D. Roosevelt lived and where his Presidential Library stands today. Corinne’s grandfather, Gus, shared a story of being thrown off Roosevelt’s property after being caught by Roosevelt, swimming nude in the President’s pond. With stories like that, it makes sense that Corinne became a historian. I discovered that FDR spent time in Fairhaven. The “D” stands for Delano. The Delano family lived in Fairhaven, and most reside in Riverside Cemetery.

After leaving FHS and proceeding south on Main St., Corinne and I went by Cushman Park. We took a left on Washington St. and observed the Northeast Maritime Institute. When I was young, this was no institute. No, it was called the Fairhaven Activity Center, and it was a place for young kids looking to do arts & crafts, play ping pong, billiards, possibly karate classes at night, dodgeball and baseball, and capture the flag in the upstairs gym. It was a staple for the community and gave me and my friends and siblings someplace to go and pass the time after school and during the summer. I loved it and was sad when it closed, but today the building looks impressive and an excellent addition to the education sector of the town. Shortly after passing the Maritime Institute, we took a right on Walnut St., bringing us to the heart of historic Fairhaven.

On Walnut St., we examined, from the Jeep, the charming 1832 The Delano House, which still stands in absolute glory as a Bed & Breakfast. While attending Harvard in Cambridge, FDR spent time in town, and you can sleep in the same home he did, in the same town I did, only several decades later. Thus, a strange connection between Corinne and me formed before our meeting. Walnut St., so gorgeous, was our second stop of the day. We pulled in front of the Fairhaven Town Hall, where we parked for several minutes. There are three significant architectural buildings I wanted to see, photograph, and reflect on in this general area. The first is the Town Hall. It’s a “brick and stone High Victorian Gothic hall…designed by Charles Brigham in 1892.” It was given to the town by Henry H. Rogers, Mark Twain delivered a speech at the dedication, and it’s where I first voted.

Another building is across the street, and more personal, slightly more beautiful, but no less as crucial, Millicent Library. My memories returned, some for the first time in years, as I observed the building from the Jeep. Millicent Library was my first library, where I learned to use a “card catalog” and discovered how books smell. I used to do projects here after school and on weekends. I remember working alongside friends, siblings, and strangers as I did a biography on Mark Twain, listened to reading sessions with a scary local storyteller, or learned what “imperialism” meant. If I wasn’t doing work, my friends and I shared ghost stories about the building, theorized what happens when the lights go down, and nervously roamed the main stacks alone. In truth, there is so much beauty seeped into the walls of this library.

The library gets its name from Millicent Rogers, the youngest daughter of Henry H. Rogers. She died at seventeen from heart failure in 1890, and the “library was dedicated on January 30, 1893.” Like the Town Hall, Charles Brigham designed it “in the Richardsonian Romanesque style.” Corinne and I continued to walk the grounds, eventually crossing from the west side of Walnut St. to the east side. Leaving our Jeep near the Town Hall, we walked around the Unitarian Memorial Church. No, I was not a member. I grew up Roman Catholic and attended services at St. Joseph’s of Fairhaven. I lived close to this area, so I walked by on my way to school. My siblings and I also used the area as the backdrop for “hide & seek.” I used laser tag equipment and spy gear in the late 1980s, using every corner of the gothic church as a hiding place.

The tower reaching towards the sky, the immaculate and thunderous bronze doors, the beautiful stained-glass windows, and marble/limestone carvings make this building more than simply a church. Again, the “Unitarian Memorial Church in Fairhaven was built, financed, and donated to the Unitarians in 1904” by Rogers “in memory of his mother, Mary Huttleston. The church was designed, once again, by architect Charles Brigham in a Gothic Revival style.” The annual Teddy Bear Parade, going on 37 years, begins on the lawn of the Unitarian Church and proceeds to the Millicent Library to Our Lady’s Haven and back. My family participated each year, and I think of it fondly. Corinne and I walked along Union St. and then Green St., where the front of the church rests. The structure is massive, and its impression has an incredible intensity.

These three Roger’s structures and within steps of one another serve as the core of Fairhaven, its legacy, and hopefully, the future. This gorgeous “block” is only steps from the ocean in two directions, west and south. After walking across Williams St., Corinne and I visited two shops, Euro Phoenix and Harborside Upcycled, both on Center St., and sell wonderful local creations. We got back in the Jeep and saw the last building before heading to our destination. We drove down Center St., going east for two blocks before stopping directly in front of my old elementary school and the abandoned property. It’s sad because Roger School was a magnificent sight, and I was in awe as a kid. The scary basement, massive closet doors, creaky stairway, and beautiful bell tower.

Roger School was an elementary school for 128 years before its closing in 2013. The building was the first gift of Henry Rogers to Fairhaven in 1885, “when greater interest in education was sweeping the country.” It was “designed by architect Warren Briggs” and “incorporated the best features in schoolhouse design, including a spacious auditorium on the third floor,” which was closed years before I attended. I never saw it, but ghost stories were never in short supply. To see it in such a neglected shape was gut-wrenching. The once bright red brick has lost its luster, and the sounds of children playing, and learning have long since gone silent. I recall one art class held outside, steps from where I parked the Jeep. Our assignment was to draw the school. I eagerly complied.

We didn’t stay long at Rogers School. It was too sad, so we turned around on Center St. and headed toward Green St., passing another Roger’s building, Our Lady’s Haven Skilled Nursing & Rehabilitative Care. It was built initially to “accommodate an increase in visitors to Fairhaven.” This “well-appointed Elizabethan style hotel” gets its name from Henry H. Rogers’ maternal great-grandmother, Tabitha (Crowell).” Completed in 1905, “the Tabitha Inn was considered one of the finest small accommodations outside of Boston or New York. Mark Twain and other notable friends of the Rogers family stayed here.” Today, the grounds of Our Lady’s Haven are well maintained architecturally and are still physically impressive. We drove by it and turned left on Green St., heading south towards the ocean and my childhood home.

Of all the places in Fairhaven, my old home was the toughest to drive by, but it’s impossible to miss it since it’s on the main road to Fort Phoenix State Beach and Reservation. Corinne and I went by slowly, scoping out the house, observing the window marking my bedroom, and examining how much it had changed and remained the same. No longer is the satellite dish in the backyard; the tree towards the back corner is no more, never again able to block a monster home run during one of my epic Wiffle Ball Home Run Derby matches. Still, the house looks the same and shines bright. It’s nice that it seems to be in good hands, and its future is as bright today as it once was when I proudly called it home. A trip to Fairhaven or my old house is not complete without visiting the ocean.

Fort Phoenix State Beach and Reservation was my backyard as a child. Sure, I had a backyard, even an in-ground pool, but I lived at Fort Phoenix. It’s where I fell in love with the ocean. I have, on occasion, talked about this area. It is where I went sledding during snowstorms and nearly broke my neck playing on an unsafe playground made of cement; ah, the 1980s. It is where I watched the New Bedford July 4th fireworks celebration and waved at fishing boats as they left the safety of New Bedford/Fairhaven Harbor and passed through the entrance of the wonderful Fairhaven Hurricane Barrier adjacent to Palmer’s Island Lighthouse. I played childish games on the beach, sat on the massive rocks atop the fort, looking as far as the eye could see, often wondering what life might be like when I turned the age I am now.

Fort Phoenix, which served “during colonial and revolutionary times” and the War of 1812 “as the primary defense against seaborne attacks on New Bedford harbor,” is always the most fitting place to conclude visits to my hometown. Before getting in the Jeep and heading home, we ordered those delicious egg rolls from Wah May Restaurant. We drove the Jeep on Fort St., observing Fairhaven’s harbor side, which I saw from the window of my old home. The houses on Fort St. are stunning, many of them unchanged or brighter and filled with life. We came upon the Fairhaven Shipyard Companies, Inc., housed in an old industrial building and an active shipyard. I am astounded by Fairhaven’s contribution to maritime economics. After picking up our food, we left Fairhaven, but not before driving by FHS one last time.

Leaving 02719, Once Again

“Growing up around here in this taillight town/ I spent seventeen years tryin’ to find a way out / Took a whole lot of miles to know what I know now / I’m kind of proud of growing up around here”

– “Growing Up Around Here” – Music, Lyrics & Vocals by Will Hoge from Small Town Dreams

I plan to return to Fairhaven again at the end of June 2022, when the town holds its annual Homecoming Fair. I haven’t been in nearly twenty years, but I never missed it when I was young. An “early summer favorite, this event features about 175 booths of handmade crafts and delicious foods and live entertainment, an art exhibit on the west lawn of the Unitarian Church, and children’s activities, including the very popular fire engine rides.” When I attend, how will I feel? Will I be nostalgic, or will sadness seep through, causing an emotional complexity? Hopefully, my siblings will join me. They can jump in the Jeep Wrangler, so they too can gain a unique perspective of the town. Home isn’t going anywhere, no matter how much I or the circumstances around me change. Home is a drive away, and the Jeep’s tank is full.

7 thoughts on “Returning Home to Fairhaven & Exploring Local Sites in a Jeep Wrangler

  1. Love the photos of the churches and schools. Thanks for taking us readers on this tour in and around your hometown. By the way, I’ve added “Growing Up Around Here” on my road trip playlist because of your post – what a great song!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Darlene! Thank you so much for reading and your lovely comment. I am ecstatic that you like that Will Hoge song I used throughout my post. He is one of my favorite musicians, and I love suggesting his music! Perfect music for road trips; the entire album is excellent for a long drive. Thanks again.

      Liked by 1 person

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