Fall River is probably best known for the Lizzy Borden murders. But more on that later.
The Pokanoket Wampanoag tribe originally inhabited the area that would become Fall River. British immigrants settled here in 1653 and incorporated as a town (called Freetown) in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1694. It separated from Freetown and officially incorporated as its own town in 1803.
Fall River as an Industrial Center
While it consisted of only a handful of farms through most of the 18th century, its industrial development began in 1811 with the development of a spinning mill. The city really began to grow into an industrial center a few years later when several new mills opened on the eight falls of the river for which the town was named. In 1821, Colonel Richard Borden, the owner of a local grist mill, established the iron works. He also launched the city’s first regular steamship service and built a textile mill. By the 1870s “The Spindle City” had grown to more than 20,000 people and produced more cotton than any city other than Manchester England.
The growth and prosperity continued through the early 20th century. It had a company that became the largest printer of cloth in the world. By the 1930s, the Depression and competition from lower-cost states killed the area’s textile boom. Some of the mills became the home to smaller garment companies who were drawn by the city’s cheap factory space and its trained, but unemployed and underemployed workforce. Most of these companies too succumbed to growing global competition by the 1990s.
This, combined with a surge in highway construction, ripped the city apart. Many of its most historic buildings were destroyed. The city took a deep toll and has been struggling ever since.
As a result, sightseeing opportunities are limited. The most important of these is Battleship Cove with its WWII-era battleship, destroyer, attack submarine and PT (Patrol Torpedo) boats.
The second most important tourist draw circles back to the Borden family that was so instrumental in building the city. On August 4, 1892, family scion Andrew Gordon and his wife were brutally murdered. The primary suspect in the still unsolved ax murder crime was none other than the couple’s now infamous daughter Lizzy, who was later acquitted.
It is somewhat fittingly that Lizzy’s home and her Oak Grove Cemetery gravesites are now among the city’s biggest attractions.
Fall River Buildings
We drove through parts of the city passing the impressive city hall, and a few of the upscale neighborhoods. The Highlands neighborhood is the home of many of the remaining textile magnates’ Victorian mansions that still overlook the city. Among these were the two Lizzie Borden homes.