Arguably the most grand house in Swansea, MA is the Mason Barney Estate, built in 1807. The home was constructed by shipwrights for Mason Barney (1782-1868), who had taken ownership of the shipyard following his father’s death in the early 1800s. Under his ownership, Mason had established a large enterprise with over 200 men working to build boats at the shipyard. His estate included the shipyard, a general town store, and housing for some crew members, among other proprietary establishments.. The Mason Barney Shipyard in North Swansea (later known as Barneyville) had an international reputation and he built an estimated 137 ships, until it ceased operations in 1860 with the advent of steam-powered ships and the Civil War on the rise. The home stayed in the same family for over 100 years and depicts the grand architecture and wealth seen in the early 19th century in New England. The Federal home features paired chimneys, fluted corner pilasters crowned with Corinthian capitals, three pedimented dormers with elaborate Palladian details. The home in recent years has been foreclosed on and as of 2019, was owned by Fannie Mae, selling recently. The home has been decaying for some time now, just waiting for a brave soul to bring her back to her former glory.
This mansion was erected in 1855 by Julia A. Birch while her husband, James, was engaged in organizing a stagecoach business in Sacramento shortly after the California Gold Rush. Mr. Birch lost his life in the shipwreck of the Central America in 1857, just after their mansion was completed. The next year Mrs. Birch married her first husbands’ business partner, Frank Shaw Stevens. They returned to live in Swansea permanently in 1858. After the sale of the stage coach lines , Mr. Stevens invested in the burgeoning textile mill business in Fall River and was a partner in the firm of Paris and Allen wholesale liquor dealers of New York. The couple lived in this mansion together until Julia died in 1871. Stevens remarried to Elizabeth Richmond Case. When Mr. Stevens died in 1898, she oversaw gifts to the town for the library and church. Upon her death in 1930, she set up a new home for troubled and orphaned boys at the mansion. The Frank S. Stevens Home for Boys opened in 1939 and while considered an orphanage, the home transitioned to a program providing services to a growing population of troubled boys who found it difficult to adjust to life in the community, or public school setting. The legacy continues today as the Stevens Treatment Programs.
This whimsical, eclectic town hall building is one of the most unique in. New England. Located on Main Street, the Swansea Town Hall was formally dedicated in 1891. The building served multiple functions including the town library (until the current library was built less than a decade later), meeting hall, and even could be used for funerals of “christian denominations”. After the library was built next door, the interior was updated with more space for town offices, coinciding with the population growth and development closer to the water. The building was designed by Boston architect J. Merrill Brown and represents the blending of many styles including Romanesque and Arts & Crafts. The rubblestone construction, tied with the clock towers above the steeply pitched hipped roof add many layers to the design.
The John Brown IV House in Swansea was built in 1752 and deed research shows it was built by John Brown IV (1675-1752) the year of his death. John Brown was a member of the prestigious Brown family of Plymouth County MA and Rhode Island (most notably John Brown, the namesake and founder of Brown University). Many members of the Brown family were heavily involved with the trading of slaves, rum, molasses and other goods with the Caribbean island plantations. This home was likely built for John Brown IV’s son, Jeremiah as a gift by his father. The massive Georgian gambrel estate overlooks the Cole River which empties at the Atlantic Ocean just south.
The aptly named house “Bend of the Lane” in Swansea was built around 1740 at the bend of Cedar Avenue and exhibits the charming rural history of the town. Harlow Luther is recorded as the builder of the house in 1740. Luther was a farmer and dairyman who located his house at the bend in Cedar Avenue, formerly known as Cedar Lane. Owners in the 19th century include Victor Gardner of the widely known farming family that settled primarily on Gardner’s Neck, and Philander Wilbur, a prominent Swansea resident who continued the dairy business, raising cattle and selling milk out of his barn. The barn was originally used for dairy operations, housing machinery for processing the milk. The functional aesthetic of the home represents many early farmhouses, along with the many later small additions as the farm and families grew.
The gorgeous public library building in Swansea was built in 1900 from designs by Henry Vaughan. Similar to the nearby Christ Church, the building was funded by the widow of Frank S. Stevens in memory of her husband. The stone building contributes to and echos design elements of the Christ Church building also designed by Vaughan, but is warmer with the use of a red Potsdam sandstone trim and detail. At the interior, oak panelling and floors paired with red brick create a warm, and cozy feeling.
This old farmhouse in Swansea, MA, was built by 1820 for Preserved Gardner (1795-1873), one of five sons of Peleg Gardner, who owned much of Gardners Point. Preserved lived in the home until his death in 1873, and the home and acres of farmland were willed to his only son to live past childhood, Ira Gardner (1836-1901). Ira donated a large tract of land adjacent to the farmhouse to the town in 1882 for a cemetery, in which his father was buried. Later, the farm was purchased by Thomas D. Covel a bank president of Fall River who operated it as a gentleman’s farm and made the house his summer home. A ‘gentleman farmer‘ utilized their farms for pleasure rather than for sustenance or profit. After WWII, the land was purchased by the town to be used as a park and the property is still owned by the town. The Federal home with its veranda that wraps around the side has been neglected by the town for decades while the parks adjacent are maintained adequately.
The town has weighed various options for the home ranging from demolishing it, to preserving the front facade and converting it to a garage and storage shed (with a small museum on the second floor). I hate that idea personally. This seems like an ideal candidate for the town to allow a private individual or developer to move the home and restore it back to its original grandeur. Thoughts?
Located on Gardner’s Neck in Swansea, this late Georgian home is one of the few survivals of the Gardner family settlement of the Neck in the 18th century. John and Joseph Gardner, brothers, were the sons of Peleg Gardner (1719-1789) whose father Samuel, bought the land now known as Gardner’s Neck from the Brentons of Newport in 1693. King Philip of the Wampanoags had previously sold this portion of the Indian territory to the Brentons. The Gardners maintained the property as a farm until the Civil War. In 1874, the house and 50 acres were acquired by Andrew J. Borden and his business partner, William Almy, both of nearby Fall River. Mr. and Mrs. Borden and their daughters, Lizzie (yes that Lizzie Borden) and Emma, used the house as a summer residence for a number of years. The house was enlarged with a 17-foot south addition (on the left side) with a secondary front door to accommodate the Almy family. After the infamous murders, Lizzie and her sister Emma continued to summer here until 1912, when they sold it. It is rumored that this is the property that Lizzie’s father’s assigned in his will to his wife, which precipitated the double murder. The home was converted back to a single family residence after WWII, and thankfully, the home has retained the additional door to denote this significant past of the home.
Oh, fun fact… Peleg Gardner and his wife Hannah had 16 children!
Located adjacent to Christ Church on Main Street in Swansea, MA, this Federal style home retains much of its original detailing and material. The home was built around 1830 for Charles Winslow (1807-1845), a shoemaker. Winslow, in his just 38 years of life, buried his first wife Amanda, 22, and two sons who lived less than a year each. Upon his death in 1845, his second wife moved out and the home was bought by Christ Church, likely as a parsonage where it was owned until 1977 and sold to a private owner. The five bay Federal home features a blind fan over the door with modest side lights, both common with the style.
Christ Church in Swansea, Massachusetts is a turn-of-the-century Gothic Revival Church, that echoes medieval country chapels in England. Designed by English-born architect Henry Vaughan (1845-1917), one of the most influential ecclesiastical architects in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this church clearly evokes his early days in the English countryside. Vaughan is most notable for being supervising architect of the Washington National Cathedral just a decade after this church was complete. Endowment for the church (and many other buildings) was a gift to the town by Mrs. Elizabeth Case Stevens, the recent widow of Frank S. Stevens, the richest man in Swansea. The church – which replaced an earlier wood frame Gothic Revival edifice – is constructed of rough faced stone blocks laid in regular courses. Its crenelated west tower, conical stair tower, buttressed gabled end wall, and pointed arch window all add to the Gothic aesthetic. The church had a series of stained glass windows donated from the 1960s-1970s which depict various events in the Bible.