Commission seeks Old Shipbuilders District signage

Written by
 | Wednesday, 12 February 2014 17:40

An effort by the Duxbury Historical Commission to mark the entrances of the Old Shipbuilder’s historic district has met with support from the Board of Selectmen Monday.

Commission chairman Terry Vose explained that his board wants to install three large signs at the beginning and end of Washington Street and on a Duxbury Rural and Historical Society property on Powder Point. The brown signs, which would be reflective and double-sided, would have the town logo and say “Entering (or Leaving) Duxbury’s Old Shipbuilders Historic District.” They would be erected at the Girl Scout house at 22 Washington Street, at the current middle school at 71 Alden Street, and the site of the “Old Dick” memorial to a horse owned by Ezra “King Caesar” Weston off Bay Pond Road.

The Old Shipbuilders District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986 after three and half years of work by the Duxbury Historical Commission. It incorporates 287 acres and 212 structures. It runs along the length of Washington Street and encompasses homes and structures on side streets as well.

As a National Register district, the area is federally recognized as important to the history, culture and architecture of the community, state and nation. Then Historical Commission chairman Jean Colby coined the name Old Shipbuilders District because the area supported the town’s original 18 shipyards and many of the homes in it were built by ship builders and for sea captains.

The Commission has been working in recent years to conduct a survey of each of the properties listed in the dis- trict and Vose displayed a new map of the area generated by the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

The cost of the signs is $850 and Vose said he hopes the funding will come from the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society. Originally, signs were installed after the district was formally dedicated as part of the town’s 350 anniversary, but they were taken down at some point in the past.

“It’s a great opportunity to promote Duxbury as a historical town,” Vose said.

Selectmen said they supported the concept of marking the district but they did not formally vote their approval or give their permission.

Selectman Shawn Dahlen questioned the size of the proposed signs, saying he thought 36 inches square was too large. Vose responded that the size “was certainly up for discussion.”

Selectmen Chairman David Madigan felt the commission might want to investi- gate more traditional-looking markers, such as granite rocks with bronze plaques.

“I think the signage should be more historical,” said Madigan.

Selectmen wondered if the commission would use the signs as a kick-off for an educational program about the district. Vose said the commission is planning to write an article abut it. 

The Commission put together a report detailing the characteristics of the Shipbuilders District, and Betsey Friedberg, presentation planner, compiled a report for the National Park Service about the Shipbuilding District for consideration as a historical landmark. According to her re- port, the district, which is one of the four original villages in Duxbury – the other three be- ing Millbrook, South Duxbury and North Duxbury– is dominated by Federal-period dwellings built circa 1780-1840, during Duxbury’s greatest period of prosperity as a shipbuilding center. Houses in the area range from one to three stories, with wood frames, and either clapboard or shingle siding.

One of earliest properties within the district survives only in fragment form, as the core of the Federal-style Patridge Farm at 154 Washington Street. The original structure, most likely built in the mid-17th century, was widely altered and expanded during a period of rebuilding in the 19th century.

“The transition of Duxbury from an early colonial settlement of scattered farmsteads on original land grants to a community based increasingly on coastal commercial activities is reflected in the substantial increase of modest Cape Cod-style houses built near the shore in the mid to late 18th century,” Friedberg said in the report.

One pre-historic site is located in the district. Given the coastal location of the area, the site would have been appealing to natives, and while maritime activities may have disturbed many sites, it is possible more historic sites may lie within the district.

See a subsequent issue of the Clipper for an in-depth look at the transformation of Duxbury into a shipbuilding district.