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Category: History

Hello September, We Love Ya! 8 Great Things To Do This Month

Here comes September — back to school, back to work, back to reality. Lucky for us we live on the South Coast and our reality is pretty darn sweet. Here are our 8 Great Things for the month ahead.

  1. Annual Onset Bay Illumination

Onset Bay Illumination NightOne of our all-time summer favorites (postponed by rain earlier this year which makes the start of September that much better!), Illumination Night is truly magical. After dark settles in, a horn sounds and volunteers run the beaches and two islands, lighting thousands of flares as they go. The result of their efforts: fire lining all of Onset Harbor. Stroll along the flares and enjoy the spectacle. Beforehand, spend the day in Onset enjoying its annual kite festival from 10 – 4 and the El Caribe steel drum band performing at 7:30 pm. September 1, Onset Beach (free parking available at Hynes Field, a 5 minute walk from the beach). Free. See more here. 

Allens Pond Butterfly Census2. Butterfly Census

Help members of the Massachusetts Butterfly Club find and identify different types of butterflies in Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary. The butterfly club guides will lead teams into parts of the Sanctuary and provide their knowledge about butterflies native to the South Coast. The event is free, but pre-registration is required. Wear long pants, sunscreen, and bring water and a snack — butterfly watching can work up an appetite! September 8, Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary, 1280 Horseneck Road, Westport, 10 -2. Sign up here. 

Photo: Narrows Center for the Arts

The Iguanas are headlining

3. Narrows Festival of the Arts

What better way to spend an early September Sunday than outside, enjoying a variety of live music, perusing selections of work from art vendors, enjoying food truck food and lemonade, and maybe even saying hi to some exotic animals? The Narrows Festival of the Arts promises all this along Fall River’s historic waterfront. The festival is free and has fun for all ages, between the Children’s Museum tent and the indoor and outdoor stages of live music, there’s sure to be something to please everyone in the family. September 9, 16 Anawan St. Fall River. More here. 

Fort Phoenix 5K4. Ready. Set, Run!

Cooler temps means all the more reason to get outside and run the South Coast! There is no better way to start than with a fun 5k, through the gorgeous Fort Phoenix State Beach and Reservation. The 5k benefits a variety of local charities, and registration is $15 prior to the race (and includes a t-shirt) or $20 the day of. So hit the ground running and embrace the start of fall in Fairhaven. September 9, 10 am, Fort Phoenix State Beach and Reserve, Fairhaven.  More here. 

5. Get your dancing shoes on!

What do celtic music, French Canada and New Bedford have in common? Genticorum! Genticorum is coming to the James Arnold Mansion this September, and bringing with them their jubilant Celtic-based music all the way from French Canada. Join the band to experience music influenced by jazz and Québec folk music with fiddle and flute (seems fun to us!).  Tickets at $20 in advance (available online) or $25 at the door. September 14, 7:30 pm-9:30 pm, Wamsutta Club, 427 County St, New Bedford, Get tickets here. 

6. Time to get spooky!

What better way to jump start some Halloween spirit than with a day touring cemeteries?! Little Compton Historical Society is opening up all town cemeteries for an afternoon. So get out and explore the beautiful historic grounds (including many which are normally not open to the public!). Volunteers at each site will be available to answer questions and share information. Tickets are $10 for Society members, $15 for non-members, and free for kids 12 and under. September 22,  11-4. Wilbor House Museum, 548 West Main Rd, Little Compton. See more here. 

7. Lakeville Arts and Music Festival

September is the month of music and art! If you missed the Narrows Festival (or if one just wasn’t enough), head to Lakeville for its Arts and Music Festival. The festival celebrates local artists and musicians from the South Coast. Rain or shine, the day is filled with fun and entertainment for the whole community and, guess what, it’s free. September 29, 10-4. Lining the intersection of Routes 105, 18 and Precinct Street. More here. 


Buzzards Bay Coalition Watershed Ride

South Coast Almanac Avengers

8. Bike on!

We love Buzzards Bay, South Coast early fall views, biking, clean water, and a good party. That’s why this September, the South Coast Almanac team is biking the Buzzards Bay Watershed Ride for the third year straight! The route has 100, 75, and 35 mile options, so there’s something for everyone. Cyclists each raise $300 (or more!) to support the great work of the Buzzards Bay Coalition. You’ll have access to five water stops, a yummy food truck lunch, and dinner with beer and wine at the party (which features live music and award presentations!). The SCA team is always looking for new riders (and trust us, we have A LOT of fun, see photos of our award winning costumes from last year), email us at [email protected] if you’re interested in joining our team! In the past, our publisher, editor, and advertising director along with board members and friends of the ‘Nac have ridden. We want you to join us!! September 30, start time depends on which route you choose. See more here. 

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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.

If you want to be in the know about other great  spots and secrets of the South Coast, sign up for our free updates here.

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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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