A Little History
Fall River’s architecture was the product of the cotton mills that boomed right after the Civil War. In nine years, 23 new corporations were formed and 37 mill buildings went up, creating over five million square feet of factories. By the late 1870s, the city was riding high on a wave of prosperity that boomed for another 30 years and produced a total of 110 mills operating in over 140 buildings. The high life was reflected in the Fall River Line of steamships that plied the route between New York City and Fall River, dubbed “floating palaces” because their interiors resembled opulent fantasies. The houses that the mill owners built in the 1880s, 90s and into the twentieth century comprise one of the finest collections in America.
Unfortunately, the textile mill boom went bust after World War I and a climate really conducive to preservation has eluded the city ever since. That has meant that some houses have survived simply because no one had the money to alter them but most of these houses were built with heart oak and craftsmanship that rivals anything ever built on this continent, so there’s a lot of legacy left to protect. The Highlands National Historic District, which is not protected, comprises over 90 blocks of houses.
There are currently over 200 local historic districts in Massachusetts. The proposed district in Fall River is the core 10% of the entire Highland/Lower Highlands Historic District of Fall River, but it could be expanded if public support warrants it. The creation of protected local historic districts is considered integral in urban renaissance movements, promoting re-gentrification, boosting property values, improving community pride, stimulating demand for skilled labor, and providing another facet to tourism as the economy continues to shift from industrial to service-oriented.
The Preservation Society of Fall River is a 501c3 non-profit corporation.