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Category: History

Overnight Adventures: Big Mamie Can Host You

Photo by Andrew Ayer

In last year’s print issue, we set out to find a half dozen cool overnight adventures on the South Coast. We’re rolling them out online for those of you who don’t have the 2016 magazine. Today’s feature: overnight at Fall River’s Battleship Cove. If you’d like to see it as it appeared in the magazine, click here. Otherwise, just read on….

Under the Guns

USS Massachusetts at Battleship Cove Photo by Andrew AyerDocked in the Taunton River is the USS Massachusetts, a steady and impressive presence in Fall River for over 50 years. Christened by her wartime crew as Big Mamie, she was rescued from the scrap heap by them and by Massachusetts’ citizens in 1964. At the time, thousands of Massachusetts schoolchildren helped by contributing their pennies to bring the World War II battleship home. It’s appropriate then that today, thousands of children come to her each year to enjoy an overnight stay in the nation’s oldest maritime camping experience.

Along with scout and school groups, the USS Massachusetts also provides overnight accommodations for families. It’s clear the staff has as much fun with the overnights as the families. They lead in depth and knowledgeable tours of various parts of the ship. They answer any question you can think up and provide additional activities for families to participate in like Morse code, rope tying, Navy lingo bingo, storytelling and World War II-era cartoons.


Like real WWII sailors, you’ll find yourself bunking in narrow cots stacked four cots high. You’ll line up for dinner and breakfast chow-line style in the officer’s mess.


Sleeping Quarters at Battleship Cove. Photo by Andrew AyerLike real WWII sailors, you’ll find yourself bunking in narrow cots stacked four cots high. You’ll line up for dinner and breakfast chow-line style in the officer’s mess. If the weather cooperates, you can bring your sleeping bags up and sleep under the big guns (and the stars). You can’t beat it for a piece of living history.

Overnight stays start at $60 per night and include dinner and breakfast, as well as two days’ admission to Battleship Cove. The next family overnight experiences are on August 5 and September 2. For more information, go to Battleship Cove’s website or call 508-678-1100. Battleship Cove, 5 Water Street, Fall River.

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Bristol Community College’s Cutting Edge Design

The First Zero Net Energy Campus Science Lab in the Northeast

Last December, I toured the John J. Sbrega Health & Science Building on BCC’s Fall River campus with its architect, Jim Moses from Sasaki Associates. Over the past two years, he’s been making weekly trips to check in on the building — I’d been following its progress on Instagram and wanted to see it for myself.

I also wanted the skinny on this remarkable building which has been garnering national awards for its environmental approach. The goal: to design and construct a zero net energy (ZNE) building, or one that generates as much energy as it uses.

Anyone who has seen the solar array adorning the new parking lot at BCC knows that BCC is serious about renewable energy. President Jack Sbrega was a founding signatory to the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Change Commitment and BCC’s climate action plan sets a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.  When it came time to design its new health and sciences building, environmental concerns were necessarily part of the planning process.

Moses told me a little about ZNE buildings. Of the 40 or so ZNE buildings in the U.S., more than half are on the West Coast where the climate is milder. In addition to dealing with a harsher New England climate, BCC had to contend with the enhanced energy needs of a science building. Moses says a ZNE academic lab-science building “is without precedent in the Northeast.”

He told me about the hybrid source heat pump, enthalpy wheel heat recovery and the filtration fume hoods, all of which help create a ZNE building which will provide operational savings of $230,000 per year. He’s passionate about all of this (see more here).

Yes, yes, yes. The technology that reduces carbon footprints is terribly important. We all can agree that a Zero Net Energy building is something to celebrate. But here’s why I really went to see the building. What does it look like?

And here’s the really big news: it’s a beautiful design.

The Sbrega Health & Science Building

The Sbrega Health & Science Building (photo by James Moses).

From the outside, glass, steel, and wood combine to create a building that moves the campus beautifully into the 21st century.  The asymmetrical roof lines overhanging the building, the textured brick patterns, and the long colonnade create an elegant building with character that immediately engages your interest. You’ll want to walk all around the building. You’ll want to enter.

Inside, a soaring center atrium unifies the entire building. Staircases on either end appear to be floating. Glass walls create a window into the lab classrooms which reveal the science happening inside. The glass walls also bring a heavy coolness factor as new-fangled blackboards: they double as writing surfaces.

Moses pointed out areas where chairs and couches will entice students to study and lounge between classes. His hope is that students who would never think to take a science class will come to the building simply to hang out. They’ll see what’s happening in the labs and consider taking a class. “We always talk about science on display,” he says. “The idea is to remove the mystery behind science. If you can see it happening, you’ll be curious and think, ‘maybe I should take a class.’ It’s about inviting people into that world.”


“We always talk about science on display,” he says. “The idea is to remove the mystery behind science. If you can see it happening, you’ll be curious and think, ‘maybe I should take a class.’ It’s about inviting people into that world.”


Moses was very mindful of designing this building for the future yet he relished the opportunity to root it firmly in the South Coast’s history. The wood shingles and patterned floor tiles are nods to the history of the Fall River and New Bedford mills and textiles. He showed me some of the photos he used as inspiration to reflect this rich history:

Inside a textile factory

Inside a textile factory (used as inspiration for the Sbrega Buidling)

Inspiration for the Sbrega Building

Patterned textiles (further inspiration for the Sbrega Building)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps an even bigger nod to the past is the oak tree outside the North end of the building. When I visited in December, I saw it protectively surrounded by a chain link fence next to the construction zone and asked about it. The answer was simple. “We wanted to save it,” Moses said.

Saving the oak tree

Saving the oak tree (photo by James Moses)

There’s something incredibly lovely about their efforts to save that tree. It seems particularly apt for the Sbrega Building — reflecting both its healthy respect for the past and its forward-thinking focus on conserving the environment.

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A South Coast Tale for St. Patrick’s Day

The New Bedford Whaling Ship Catalpa

What does a prison break, Queen Victoria, and Australia have to do with St. Patrick’s Day in New Bedford?

The answer lies in a thrilling 1876 escape from a remote Australian prison involving six Irish Nationalists, a secret agent, a rowboat and a fearless sea captain.

Sarah Rose, Curator of Education at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, shared the story with me. Rose recently went to Ireland to set up an exchange between the Museum and Irish high school students.

Here’s the story.

In the late 1860s, the British Empire convicted a number of British soldiers to death for treason for having joined the Irish National Brotherhood (they were referred to as Fenians). Queen Victoria commuted their death sentence to a life of hard labor in a remote Western Australian prison.  Fremantle Prison was a place as infamous as Alcatraz, impossible to escape, with desert to the east, shark infested waters to the west, and long days of back-breaking labor.

The Fremantle prisoners reached out for help to John Devoy, a fellow Fenian who had been exiled to the United States. Devoy raised funds, bought a whaling ship named the Catalpa, and persuaded an American captain, George Anthony, to attempt to rescue them by sea.

It was a crazy idea. One which depended on over a year of planning and plenty of luck. Captain Anthony embarked on the Catalpa under the guise of a whaling expedition.

Meanwhile, James Breslin, an Irish nationalist posing as an American millionaire, was able to gain entry into the prison by feigning interest in cheap labor and investment opportunities in Fremantle. Breslin got word to the inmates that they must ALL be outside on Easter Monday 1876 if they were to be rescued. There would not be any second chances for anyone left behind.

At the appointed time, all six men were outside. Breslin arrived and spirited them away by horses twelve miles down the coast where a rowboat and Captain Anthony waited for them. They rowed with all their might for the whaling ship which waited a few miles out — just beyond the point where international waters began.

But their escape was discovered and the alarms sounded just as they were beginning to row. For two days, the men rowed heroically. They survived an intense gale which broke the boat’s mast and a police cutter bearing down on them. Meanwhile, back at the Catalpa, the first mate was being harassed by an imposing British steamer, the SS Georgette, which had been commandeered by the Australian governor to thwart the escape plan. The Georgette’s captain demanded to board the Catalpa. The Catalpa’s first mate refused entry. The stalemate ended when the British steamer was forced to turn back for more fuel.

The Georgette returned the next day, refueled and heavily armed for combat, after the prisoners had finally reached the boat following a last minute chase by the police cutter. The Georgette came menacingly close to the whale ship and threatened to fire upon the Catalpa. Captain Anthony raised the American flag and dared the British ship to fire, declaring that an attack on the Catalpa in international waters would be considered an act of war against the United States.

But with no available wind, the Catalpa was unable to sail away and the Georgette attempted to maneuver the Catalpa into Australian waters so that it could fire upon the American ship with impunity. Fortuitously, the wind picked up and the Catalpa sailed away.

When the ship entered New York harbor five months later, hundreds of thousands of people greeted the Fremantle Six. Their daring prison rescue was an international story and the Irish fight for independence was reinvigorated.

It’s a story definitely worthy of a swashbuckling Hollywood movie. For more background, check out Smithsonian Magazine or a PBS episode about the event, Irish Escape.

Even better, go to the New Bedford Whaling Museum next fall to check out “Friends, Famine and Fenians” in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. Word is that the original flag from the Catalpa may be there.

And to bring it all around to our original question: what does all this have to do with St. Patrick’s Day in New Bedford?

  • The brave whaling captain who led the expedition and boldly dared the British Navy to fire upon his ship was — you guessed it — a New Bedford guy sailing a New Bedford ship out of New Bedford Harbor. Unfortunately, Captain Anthony’s career as a whaling captain was cut short as a result of the incident because the British Navy threatened to arrest him if they found him in international waters again.
  • It’s St. Patrick’s Day.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from South Coast Almanac!

The Fremantle Six (photos: Wikipedia)
Fremantle prisoner Martin HoganFremantle prisoner Thomas DarraghFremantle prisoner James WilsonFremantle prisoner Robett CranstonFremantle Prisoner Thomas Hassett Fremantle prisoner Michael Harrington

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