Fall River, Massachusetts

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(CC) Photo: Robert A. Estremo
The USS Massachusetts (BB-59) or "Big Mamie," on display as a museum ship in Battleship Cove.

Fall River is a city in Bristol County, Massachusetts, located about 49 miles south of Boston, Massachusetts, 15 miles southeast of Providence, Rhode Island and 8 miles west of New Bedford. The city's population was 91,938 during the 2000 census (and 91,802 during the 2005 census). The current mayor of Fall River is Edward M. Lambert Jr. Fall River's motto is "We'll Try." Fall River is nicknamed "The Scholarship City" which is seen on the welcome signs entering the city. Fall River is well known for Lizzie Borden who was accused of the 1892 ax murder that occurred at her home in the city. It is said that the house is haunted by the ghosts of Lizzie herself, her father, stepmother and cat. Fall River is also known for Battleship Cove, the world's largest collection of World War II naval vessels, which houses the USS Massachusetts, the destroyer USS Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., and the submarine USS Lionfish. The city's main high school, B.M.C. Durfee High School is named after a descendant of Colonel Joseph Durfee a veteran of The American Revolutionary War. and the founder of the first cotton mill in the city. Fall River is currently the eighth largest city in Massachusetts.

Along with New Bedford, Fall River is considered one of the two most important cities along Massachusetts' South Coast area.


Fall River was first settled in 1670 and considered a small village of Freetown, Massachusetts until 1803, when Fall River was separated from Freetown and officially incorporated as its own town. A year later on June 1, 1804, Fall River changed its name to "Troy". The name "Troy" was used for thirty years and was officially changed back to Fall River on February 12, 1834.

There is no river called "Fall River" in the city. The river that Fall River refers to the Quequechan River. The name Quequechan is a Wampanoag name believed to mean "Falling River" or "Leaping/Falling Waters". The city is named after the falls that once were visible on the river.

Settlers from Plymouth Colony purchased a very large parcel of land from the Wampanoags in 1659. A number of communities now exist on it, including Fall River. In 1690 Benjamin Church built a saw mill near the falls and settlement followed, based on industry powered by the falling water and ocean-going commerce up the Taunton River. The site was a strategic one. In the Battle of Freetown, fought in 1778 during the Revolutionary War in America, the townspeople put up a strong defense against a British force.

The first railroad line that passed through Fall River, from Boston to Newport was begun in 1797. The line was named the Old Colony Railroad. From the 1870s until the 1920s, Fall River was the second largest center in the United States for the manufacture of cotton textiles after Manchester, NH. The industrial history of Fall River began in 1811 when Colonel Joseph Durfee and several investors built the first cotton mill. Two years later the Troy Mill, the first of the great granite structures at the foot of the Quequechan River, was built and Fall River's cotton spinning era had begun in earnest. After a decade of building, Fall River and the surrounding town's populations began to increase steadily.

By 1830, the town had seven textile mills, a steamboat to Providence and Newport, a newspaper, and a population of 4,159 and kept growing.

In 1854, Fall River was officially incorporated as a city. This growing trend continued and in 1872, eighteen new mills and fifteen new corporations were started as Fall River went on to become one of the textile capitals of the nation.

The pay roll per week in 1887 was $118,005; the weekly production of print cloths was 175,000 pieces; the cloth produced was 480,500.000 yards (439,000 m); bales of cotton consumed, 210,550; tons of coal, 159,550; oil, 172,350 US gal (652 m³); and starch, 1,981,000 lb (899,000 kg). To run the mills, I I water-wheels were in operation, of a total of 1,555 horsepower (1160 kW), and 106 steam-engines of a total power of 36,805 hp (27,445 kW).

The period from 1847 to 1937 was marked by the Fall River Line, America's most luxurious steamship line connecting rail travellers from Boston to New York. The Fall River Line Pier is maintained today along with the Fall River Marine Museum so that visitors can see and relive the glory of that era.

In 1862, after a border dispute over the Fall River, Massachusetts border and the Fall River, Rhode Island state border (now known as Tiverton, Rhode Island), The US Supreme Court ruled to move the state border south from Columbia Street to State Street. Since that time, all of Fall River has been in Massachusetts.

On August 4, 1892, Fall River was the scene of two murders allegedly committed by Lizzie Borden. These grisly murders are remembered in a children's rhyme originally for jumping rope, according to the Fall River Historical Society. "Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks, when she saw what she had done she gave her father forty one." Borden was ultimately acquitted of the murders. Lizzie Borden is one of the most famous Fall River natives, because of the murder.

Fall River was also home to one of the most prominent and successful early US professional soccer teams, Fall River F.C. The team in its various incarnations captured the US Open Cup 5 times and showcased the talents of such American talents as Billy Gonsalves and Bert Patenaude. Fall River was one of the hotbeds of soccer activity in the US alongside places like St. Louis and Kearny, New Jersey.

Problems in Fall River

Fall River was once one of the richest cities in America, with a booming economy in textiles. However, after the mass closures of the city's textile mills many years ago, Fall River fell on hard times. Today, it is still an economically disadvantaged city that is trying to recover.

In 2002, Fall River was controversially tapped as the location for a giant liquified natural gas (LNG) tank. Weaver's Cove Energy, LLC., a subsidiary of Amerada Hess, proposed building this facility in a densely populated neighborhood (approximately 10,000 people live within a one-mile radius of the proposed site). They have also stated that no facility of this sort has ever been built in an inner city before, and that LNG has a mixed track record [1] It is also highly explosive.

In spite of the protests, the plan was recently approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Local citizens [2] and politicians, notably Richard Clarke, the former "terror czar" advisor to former president George H. W. Bush [3]have attempted to derail the project since FERC's approval - to no avail thus far.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 99.0 km² (38.2 mi²). 80.3 km² (31.0 mi²) of it is land and 18.6 km² (7.2 mi²) of it (18.84%) is water.

The city lies on the eastern border of Mount Hope Bay, which begins at the mouth of the Taunton River starting south from the Braga Bridge. The greater portion of the city is built on hillsides rising quite abruptly from the water's edge to a height of more than 150 feet (46 m). From the summits of these hills the country extends back in a comparatively level table-land, on which a large section of the city now stands.

Two miles (3 km) eastward from the shore lies a chain of deep and narrow ponds, eight miles long (13 km), of an average width of three-quarters of a mile, and covering an area of 3,500 acres (14 km²). These ponds are supplied by springs and brooks, draining a water-shed of 20,000 acres (80 km²). The northern pond is the North Watuppa Pond, the city's main reservoir. The southern pond is the South Watuppa Pond. Where the two ponds meet is called "The Narrows". East of the North Watuppa Pond is the Watuppa Reservation that includes several thousand acres of forestland for water supply protection that extends north into the Freetown-Fall River State Forest, and east to Copicut Reservoir. Copicut Pond is located on the border of North Dartmouth in North Dartmouth's Hixville section that borders Fall River. The Quequechan River breaks out of its bed in the west part of the South Watuppa Pond, just west of The Narrows, and flows through the city (partially underground in conduits) where it falls to a channel leading to what is now Heritage State Park at Battleship Cove on the Taunton River. The Quequechan River originally flowed unconfined over an almost level course for more than a mile. In the last half-mile (800 m) of its progress it rushes down the hillside in a narrow, precipitous, rocky channel, creating the falls for which Fall River is named. In this distance the total fall is about 132 feet (40 m). and the volume of water 122 cubic feet per second (3.5 m³/s).

This originally attractive feature of the landscape of the Quequechan has seldom been visible since it was covered over by cotton mills and the Bay Colony Railroad line in the 19th century. The Quequechan having become an underground feature of the industrial landscape, it also became a sewer. In the 20th century the mills were abandoned and some of them burned, exposing the falls once more. Because of the highway construction, in the 1960s subsequently the waterfalls went underground and under Route 195, which crosses the Taunton River at Battleship Cove. Currently the citizens of Fall River are enthusiastically working on a project to "daylight" the falls, restore or recreate them, and build a green belt with a bicycle path along the Quequechan River. In the south end, Cook Pond, also formerly known as Laurel lake is located east of the Taunton River and west of the South Watuppa Pond. Between the area of modern day Cook and South Watuppa Ponds east of the Taunton River and north of Tiverton, Rhode Island was once referred to as "Pocasset Swamp" during King Philips War in the late 1600s.


Fall River has always been considered a transportation hub for the South Coast and Mount Hope Bay areas, due to its location along the Taunton River. In addition to the Fall River Line (discussed in the "History" section), Slade's Ferry ran from Fall River to Somerset since the 1600s, connecting the two communities. In 1875, Slade's Ferry Bridge was opened, connecting the two cities for trolley lines as well as cart (and later, car) traffic. It was a two-tiered steel swing span bridge, extending over 1,100 feet from Remington Avenue to the intersection of Wilbur Avenue, Riverside Avenue and Brayton Avenue in Somerset. This bridge was in use until 1970, when it was closed and subsequently demolished. (The path of the bridge is now marked by twin sets of power lines crossing the river.) In 1903, the state authorized a second bridge, the Brightman Street Bridge, a four lane, 922-foot long drawbridge ending at its namesake street, which opened in 1908 and is still standing today. The third bridge to span the river in Fall River was the Charles S. Braga, Jr. Memorial Bridge. Started in 1959 and opened in the spring of 1966, the six-lane cantilever truss highway bridge spans 1.2 miles and was part of the project to build Interstate 195.

Interstate 195 is now the main point of entry for the city, entering via the Braga Bridge, from Somerset and leaving over "The Narrows," a small strip of land between the North and South Watuppa Ponds that carries Interstate 195, Route 6 and Old Bedford Road into Fall River from Westport as the roads make their way east towards New Bedford, and Cape Cod. The highway covers much of the old path parallel to the Bay Colony/New Bedford Cape Cod Railroad as well the original path of the Quequechan River, and has resulted in a unique situation: It is one of the few highways in the country with a city hall (officially known as "Fall River Government Center") standing directly on top of it. The tunnel which passes below Government Center was the site of an accident in March of 1999, in which a cement ceiling tile, its supports worn away by poor drainage, collapsed, landing on several cars but not causing more than minor injuries. The incident caused major traffic problems in the area, and bears a striking resemblance to the incident involving the I-90 tunnel collapse (a part of the Big Dig) in 2006.

In addition to Interstate 195, Fall River is also served by four other major routes, which include Route 6 (which passes over the Brightman Street Bridge going west before joining the city grid then going east into Westport); Route 24, a 2 Lane North/South divided highway linking Fall River to Boston and Newport; Route 79, another divided highway links up with Route 24 (in Fall River and Freetown before exit 9 only) whose terminus is at the intersection of I-195 and Route 138; which also enters the city via the Brightman Street Bridge before joining the city grid, passing southwards towards Aquidneck Island; and Route 81, which begins near the former site of the Quequechan River and travels south into Tiverton. Routes 138, Route 24, I-195, and US 6 are based upon old Indian routes and trail, especially Route 138, and Route 24.

The city, along with New Bedford, shares ownership of the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority (SRTA), a bus line which covers much of the south coast. Its hub and accompanying bus station is currently at the rear of South Main Place on Second Street, but plans are in the works to move it, with South Main Place destined to become the site of the new district courthouse (replacing the old one at the corner of Rock and Bedford Streets).

The Fall River State Pier is still in operation, bringing goods into the city via boat and also by a freight train line which travels north from the pier parallel to Route 79. Plans are in the works, however, to add commuter service along the current Stoughton Line of the MBTA's commuter rail line. This line would also connect New Bedford with the line, although no timetable has yet been set for completion of this project.

Until approximately 1990, Fall River operated a municipal airport for small planes and commuter flights to the Cape and Islands just north of the junction of Routes 79 and 24, but the airport has since closed, the land claimed for a landfill.


As of the census of 2000, there were 91,938 people, 38,759 households, and 23,565 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,144.3/km² (2,963.7/mi²). There were 41,857 housing units at an average density of 521.0/km² (1,349.3/mi²). The racial makeup of the city was 91.16% White, 2.48% African American, 0.19% Native American, 2.16% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 1.43% from other races, and 2.55% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.31% of the population.

Fall River hosts one of the biggest Portuguese-speaking communities in the US. In 2000, 43.9% of Fall River residents identified as being of Portuguese heritage. This is the highest percentage of Portuguese Americans in the country. Most of the population claims to be of Azorean origin, many from São Miguel Island. There are smaller, but significant presences of other Portuguese-speaking communities, such as other Azorean Islanders, Portuguese from mainland Portugal, Madeirans, Cape Verdeans, Brazilians, Angolans, etc. Other ethnic communities of Fall River include a significant French Canadian (Québécois) descendent population, and also English, Polish, Italians, Lebanese, Irish, Greeks, Jews, Cambodians, and Chinese.

Fall River is the eighth largest city in the state of Massachusetts. There were 38,759 households out of which 29.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 40.3% were married couples living together, 16.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 39.2% were non-families. 34.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.32 and the average family size was 3.00.

In the city the population was spread out with 24.1% under the age of 18, 9.2% from 18 to 24, 29.8% from 25 to 44, 20.0% from 45 to 64, and 16.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 87.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 82.9 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $29,014, and the median income for a family was $37,671. Males had a median income of $31,330 versus $22,883 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,118. About 14.0% of families and 17.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 25.4% of those under age 18 and 17.4% of those age 65 or over.

Government, services, and education

State and federal representation

Fall River is located in three separate state representative districts, one of which represents the majority of the city. The city is represented in the state senate in the First Bristol and Plymouth district, which includes the city and the towns of Freetown, Lakeville, Rochester, Somerset and Swansea. Fall River is patrolled by the Third Barracks of Troop D of the Massachusetts State Police, based out of Dartmouth. On the national level, the city is divided between Massachusetts Congressional Districts 3 and 4, which are represented by Jim McGovern and Barney Frank, respectively. The state's senior (Class I) Senator, re-elected in 2006, is Ted Kennedy, and the state's junior (Class II) Senator, up for re-election in 2008, is John Kerry.

City government and services

The city is led by the mayor-council form of government, and the current mayor is Edward Lambert, who has recently announced that he will not be seeking re-election in the next election. The city's police department is consolidated into a large central police station. There are six fire stations located around the city, headquartered on Bedford Street, just across from the former Central Police Station. There are four post offices in the city, located in Flint Village, the South End Branch (near Globe Corners), Highland Station and the central branch just behind Government Center, a post office modeled after the New York City main post office behind Penn Plaza. The city is also home to a Superior Court, a District Court and the new Bristol County Court House, located in the former B.M.C. Durfee High School building on Rock Street. Currently, there are plans to build a new District Court on South Main Street.


The Fall River School Department is currently involved in several major building projects, designed to consolidate several of the smaller neighborhood schools and replace older, smaller schools, some of which are close to one hundred years old. There are currently twenty-one elementary schools, which are grouped by the four middle schools they feed into-Matthew B. Kuss Middle School (serving the center of the city), Henry Lord Middle School (serving the South End), James Morton Middle School (serving the North End), and Edmund P. Talbot Middle School (serving the east side of the city). The city has one public high school, B.M.C. Durfee High School. The school was founded in 1887, its original grand school building being a gift of Mrs. Mary B. Young, in the name of Bradford Matthew Chaloner Durfee, her late son whose name also graces a dormitory at Yale University. The current school building was opened in 1978, and it was recently announced that a replica of the Durfee Chimes, the original school's red-capped bell tower, will be recreated on the grounds. Durfee's teams wear black and red (in honor of the old school's black roof and red observatory dome and tower spire), and are called the Hilltoppers, sometimes shortened to Toppers. The nickname dates back to the old school's perch on top of the hill north of the Quequechan River. The school is currently a member of the Big Three Conference, where it competes with Brockton High School and its longtime natural rival, New Bedford High School.

In addition to public schools, there are several private and parochial schools in the city, including nine Catholic schools, two private schools, a Christian academy, and Atlantis Charter School, a Pre-K through 8 charter school with a marine science-themed curriculum. The city is also home to Bishop Connolly High School, a Catholic high school named for Bishop James L. Connolly, fourth Bishop of the Diocese of Fall River. The city is the home of Diman Regional Vocational-Technical High School, which also serves the towns of Somerset, Swansea and Westport. The school's roots date back to the days of the Durfee Textile School, which branched out to include Diman. (The college, founded to promote the city's textile sciences, is now a part of UMass-Dartmouth.)