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Historic and Archaeological Resources
The Three Mile River Watershed area is rich in historic resources as it encompasses the historic villages of Westville and Oakland in the community of Taunton but also includes the neighboring communities of North Dighton and Norton. The abundant natural resources within the Three Mile River Watershed made it a perfect location for colonial settlements. The river also provided water for agriculture, shipbuilding, and later, generation of waterpower to produce goods for a growing region.
In North Dighton, the Three Mile provided the platform for Peter Walker’s Iron Mill, built circa 1700. The Walker’s owned and operated the furnace for nearly 100 years before selling to Dighton Manufacturing Company. Dighton Manufacturing made castings well into the 1900’s before abandoning the site.
Nicholas Stevens established a saw and gristmill on the Three Mile in about 1700. In the late 1700’s, the Dighton Post Office was opened near a bridge that was constructed to crossover the Three Mile Rver. In the early 20th century, Mount Hope Finishing Company completed a reconstruction in the North Dighton area, near the river, and proved to be a catalyst for the development of residential communities in the area.
In Taunton, colonial industry also developed along the Three Mile River, particularly in the Oakland and Westville sections. During the Federal Period, from 1775 to 1830, Taunton was characterized by the dominance of iron manufacturing, exploiting the natural resource found in the bogs. This industrial growth brought skilled ironworkers from England and Scotland who helped to introduce the use of bituminous coal to the iron manufacturing process. In 1800, local manufacturers were shipping 800 tons of ironware and 700 tons of rails to various larger ports along the eastern seaboard.
The introduction of large stone cotton mills ushered in a new era for Taunton and Dighton. Both Taunton and Dighton constructed cotton mills along the Three Mile in the early 1800’s, in Westville and North Dighton, respectfully.
In Norton, the Crocker Family operated a successful copper rolling mill in the early 19th century, along the Wading River, near the confluence of the Three Mile. The Crocker Brothers Copper Works produced copper blanks for the United States Mint. The Copper Works was eventually moved to the Weir Village in Taunton, which at the time was a very busy port area.
Also during this period, The Norton Furnace operated along a small tributary of the Three Mile River, near the town line.
The Three Mile River Watershed also includes three (3) National Register properties: the West Congregational Church in Taunton, the Joseph Willis Home in Taunton, and the Almshouse, also in Taunton.
Some of the other significant historic resources in the Three Mile River Watershed are:
Three Mile River
The Three Mile River begins at the junction of the Wading River and the Rumford River in the Town of Norton and empties into the Taunton River in the Town of Dighton. The river was known as the “Nistoquohammock”, or, “Little River” to the native peoples.
Gertrude M. Boyden Wildlife Refuge
The Gertrude Boyden Wildlife Refuge was established 1968 when the City of Taunton’s Conservation Commission purchased the Laura Thomas Estate. This beautiful site was often used by Arthur Cleveland Bent in his study of birds and their nesting habits. Bent was the world renown author of a series of books entitled “Life Histories of American Birds”.
The Gertrude Boyden Wildlife Refuge is situated north and east of the Three Mile River, in the Westville neighborhood of Taunton. The refuge has grown from 14 acres to over 50 through subsequent donations and acquisitions. The refuge possesses a great diversity in vegetation type and maturity level and creates access to a beautiful waterway that make it a natural learning environment. The refuge serves as the headquarters for the Taunton River Watershed Alliance and Taunton River Campaign. The Boyden also contains large expanses of open field, several picnic areas, fishing stations and almost two miles of nature trails, highlighted by a covered bridge, and a new wetlands boardwalk, providing passive recreation, and bird watching opportunities.
West Congregational Church- Winthrop Street, Taunton
This beautiful church still retains its unique charm since its original construction in the 1830’s. The church served the second Congregational Society to be formed in Taunton. This building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
The site of the Hodijah Baylies Iron Works, Cohannet & Winthrop Streets, Taunton
This ‘bloomerie’ was located on the banks of the Three Mile River and is most noted for forging one of the anchors for the U.S.S. Constitution, ‘Old Ironsides’.
The site of the Westville Spinning Mill- Three Mile River at Cohannet Street
The Westville Mill was a popular textile mill that derived its power from the shallow Three Mile River.
The Site of the Nathaniel Burt Iron Forge, North Walker Street, Taunton
The site of the original Burt Iron Forge remains in pristine condition as the foundations for the 17th century iron forge still are visible and enjoy the protection as designated Conservation land, owned by the City of Taunton. The property and building, once owned by the Burt Family, was later used as a parsonage for the West Congregational church, a private school and, has come to be known as the Sharp Estates.
The Glebe, Tremont Street, Taunton
This grant of land from the Church of England was the home site of the first St Thomas Episcopal Church. The establishment of this church was a major factor in drawing residents from the center of town to the Western part of the community in the late 18th century. The church blew down in the Great September Gale of 1815 and the Congregation eventually relocated near the center of town.
Joseph Willis Home- 28 Worcester Street, Taunton
This saltbox style home was built in 1688 by Joseph Willis, who took advantage of a land Grant process that was initiated by the original proprietors of Taunton in that year. This home, the oldest structure in the City of Taunton, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
The Oakland Band Hall-6 Worcester Street
The popular band hall was used by local residents for their ‘May Basket’ parties and for entertainment by the Oakland Band, made up of a group of talented musicians. This hall was also used to conduct the original religious services for the St. Paul’s Catholic Parish, which was established in 1904, as they awaited the completion of their new church (currently located on Tremont Street).
The Oakland School, North Walker Street, Taunton
This building once served as the village schoolhouse. It served many of the early immigrant children whose parents were drawn to the neighborhood for the economic opportunities offered by the Oakland Textile Mill. The property currently serves as an apartment house.
The Oakland Firehouse, North Walker, Taunton
This small building structure, built in 1849, served as the original village schoolhouse and later as the village fire station. The building also was used for a polling station, a grange meetinghouse and a meeting place for the local Lion’s Club, Jaycees and the Taunton Garden Club.
The Zephaniah Hodges Home, North Walker Street, Taunton
This home was built about 1779 by Zephaniah Hodges, who was a local organ maker. He operated a small mill beside his home that was powered by a small stream that flowed into the Three Mile River.
The Almshouse, Norton Avenue, Taunton
The Almshouse was established over a century and a half ago as a working farm where the community’s poor were supported. The main faculty was built in 1876 with a major addition completed in 1990. This building currently called the Taunton Nursing Home. This property was designated on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
The site of the Oakland Mill, Mill Lane, Taunton
This popular textile mill was built in 1809 and grew steadily and was a major source of employment for Irish, French and Scandinavian immigrants in Taunton. The mill utilized the Three Mile River as its source of power for the hundreds of looms found in this facility.
The Woodward Mills, Three Mile River, Taunton
The mill complex was operated by Josiah and Frederick Woodward and consisted of a sawmill and box mill that operated from the mid 18th century until the 1940’s.
Woodward Springs Park, Harvey Street and Norton Avenue, Taunton
This popular passive recreational park has served the local residents since 1809. The park was privately owned until 1881 when the park was left to the City of Taunton by Stimpson Woodward “…as a public park and reserved as a place of public resort forever” This park is nestled alongside the Three Mile River and was used as a passive recreational activities. A series of walking trails became a popular attraction as the City of Taunton developed an ambitious tree planting program throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The park was used by the Norton & Taunton Railway Company as their adopted ‘trolley park’ and the site was a popular stop on their inter-city system.
The Former District #11 Schoolhouse, Worcester Street, Taunton
This former schoolhouse, now a private residence, was the site for the high school class held in this community in 1838. The school was used by the community for the education of younger students until 1933.
The site of the former Stonecrusher, Fisher Street, Taunton
The ‘stonecrusher’ on Fisher Street alongside the Three Mile River created building materials for the local area for many years.
Reed Farm, South Walker Street, Taunton
John F. Parker Municipal Golf Course, Fisher Street, Taunton
This golf course was established in 1928 by Serles Reed, as a privately owned Golf Course, on land that was once the working farm of industrialist William Mason. The City of Taunton acquired the property in 1985 in an effort to preserve the precious natural setting along the eastern bank of the Three Mile River.
Dighton Industries- North Dighton
North Dighton Furnace Company
This furnace Company was located along the banks of the Three Mile River in North Dighton, on the site of Richard Stephens’ iron works, which was established about 1696.
Crocker Brothers Copper Works-Old Taunton Avenue, Norton
The Crocker Family operated a successful copper rolling mill in the early 19th century, along the Wading River in Norton, a short distance north of the Three Mile River. This company produced the copper blanks for the United States Mint. The Crocker Brothers moved their business to the Weir Village in Taunton to take advantage of the thriving river port there.
Norton Furnace- Old Taunton Avenue, Norton
This local furnace company operated along a small tributary that empties into the Three Mile River.
Robert White’s Ice Houses at Norton Furnace
Robert White owned and operated the large ice business along the Attleboro-Taunton branch railroad line, which allowed him to transport large quantities of ice that they harvested from the furnace pond.
Lincoln Diary, North Walker Street, Taunton
Several generations of the Lincoln Family of Westville operated a successful Dairy Business on their large farm on North Walker Street.
The Site of the former Arthur Gagner’s Milk Bottle, Winthrop Street, Taunton
Arthur Gagner built a large wooden Milk Bottle beside his Store on the banks of the Three Mile River in 1933 to sell home-made ice cream. This bottle was sold to the Sankey Family in 1943 and the ice cream was later purchased from the famous Hood Company. The Hood Company bought the abandoned Milk Bottle in the late 1970’s and moved the structure to the Children’s Museum in Boston.
Presence of the Native Peoples Within the Three Mile River ACEC
The Dighton Intertribal Indian Council (the Council) and the Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe have recently been very active in affirming the historical presence of the native peoples within the Taunton River and its sub-watersheds. Representatives of the Council have worked with the Three Mile River Committee through the Taunton River Stewardship Council. Members of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society (MAS) are also actively investigating and documenting sites within the Three Mile River Watershed. The Three Mile River ACEC Study Committee also sought technical assistance from Thomas Mahlstedt, Archaeologist with EOEEA’s Division of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) in preparing a sensitive, yet informative text on the archaeological presence of the Native Peoples in the proposed Three Mile River Watershed ACEC area.
Currently, the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) has site records for eleven (11) prehistoric archaeological sites within the boundaries of the proposed Three Mile River ACEC. Locally, individuals have identified at least an additional eleven (11) sites that have not yet been reported to the MHC. These sites tend to be on farms that flank the Three Mile River. Therefore, at least twenty-two (22) of the Native Peoples’ sites are known within the proposed Three Mile River ACEC, and undoubtedly, many more have yet to be identified.
The cumulative evidence from these sites indicates that Native Peoples, as hunters and gatherers, were on the Three Mile River at least during Early Archaic times between 9,000 to 8,000 years ago. Although climatic warming continued and the composition of the forests changed, as did the flora and fauna that resided in them, the local Native Peoples adapted their tool kits, and probably their subsistence strategies, and continued to occupy the Three Mile River area through the succeeding Middle and Late Archaic periods between 8,000 to 3,000 years ago. Sometime between 3,000 and 1,700 years ago (Early Woodland Period), domesticated plants were introduced and maize, beans, and squash (the Three Sisters in native folklore), were planted along the fertile alluvial terraces adjacent to the Three Mile River. Native Peoples continued to adjust their lifeways and remained within the Three Mile River Watershed through the Middle and Late Woodland periods, from 1,700 to 400 years ago, when the first Europeans began to enter the area.
The archaeological record of the proposed Three Mile River ACEC clearly demonstrates that a viable resource base existed there through most of prehistoric times. While this resource has been changed through time, it is evident that local Native Peoples were capable of adjusting to these changes, and they may seized upon these changes as opportunities and thrived in the ecological richness that the Three Mile River Watershed offered them (T.F. Mahlstedt, 2007).