Onset Bay Grove Association

Duane Hamilton Hurd, History of Plymouth County, Massachusetts, with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers and prominent men.  Philadelphia: J. W. Lewis & Co., 1884, pp. 199-200.


    This association had its origin in the successful search of a few gentlemen who were interested in finding a suitable place upon the sea-shore where camp-meetings, under the general auspices of Spiritualism, could be annually held, and which might also be made a permanent summer resort for any who desired to build cottages or to tent beside the sea during the warm season.

    Many places on the coast-line of Massachusetts were visited, particularly the sheltered coves and breezy headlands of Cape Cod, along both shores from Sandwich to the ocean.  But although especial attractions were found for summer visitors all along this diversified and picturesque coast, no place seemed to combine all the advantages sought for until the present location was found.

    Here, upon the shores of Onset Bay, a portion of the head-waters of Buzzard’s Bay, and within the town of Wareham, a thickly-wooded grove of oaks, covering about one hundred and fifty acres, was found growing to the very edge of high bluffs overlooking the sea, and surrounded on three sides by water.  It is in that portion of the town known as Agawam, a name given to it by its original Indian owners, relics of whom are found here in abundance, and who, under their great sachem, Massasoit, the humane and friendly king of the Wampanoags, made the first treaty of peace and amity with the Pilgrims from the “Mayflower.”  This town is in Plymouth County, and belonged to the old historical Plymouth Colony, of which President Dwight says, “It is the oldest of the New England colonies, and to its early success may be traced the origin of all the others.  It has been the scene of many a trial and of the fulfillment of many a high resolve.”

    It was here that government, based on the will of the governed, was first established on the American continent, and the great principle that all should obey such laws as a majority of the people should make, distinctly acknowledged.  No people had so fully appreciated the rights of each member of the State; none had felt so deeply the great cause of humanity or entertained such cheering hopes of human improvement.  In their intercourse with the Indians the people of the colony set a bright example of humanity, and the same sense of justice is here witnessed that pervaded all their public and private acts.  Not a foot of soil was taken from them without their consent.  Their treaty with Massasoit was most scrupulously observed.

    The two rivers that form the eastern and western boundaries of the grove, and the smaller bays and inlets of this vicinity, are occupied as oyster grants, and from which thousands of bushels of the best oysters, commanding the highest princes in the markets of Boston, New York, and Providence, are annually taken.  Clams of both kinds are found here in abundance, the indispensable requisites for the famous “clam bakes” and “chowders,” which, not only in Rhode Island, but all along shore, are justly considered among the luxuries of life at the sea-side.  The facilities for safe and pleasant bathing are excellent, as the bottom is hard and clear, gradually descending from the shore, and the water many degrees warmer than upon the direct ocean beach.

    The soil is a sandy loam, so heavy that in the driest season the roads are comparatively free from dust.  The spring water, for drinking and culinary purposes, is of excellent quality.  The temperature of the grove is gratefully modified by the prevailing southwest winds that blow from off the water.

    At all times the view from the bluff is picturesque and beautiful, and when the yacht-races take place in the bay, and the white wings of the trim little vessels are seen flashing about among the islands and darting along the sinuous channels, the scene is full of life and animation.

    Fishing-parties are seen running out into the bay to try their luck with “drail” or “troll” among the blue-fish, which here abound, weighing usually from three to twelve pounds, passing the more modest skiffs anchored along the coves and inlets, fishing for tautog, sea-bass, and scup.  No better fishing need be looked for than in these waters.  An excursion in a well-appointed yacht, in charge of a competent skipper, of whom there are plenty hereabouts, from Onset to New Bedford, on the western coast, or along the eastern to Wood’s Holl, and then across to Oak Bluffs and the famous Vineyard camp-ground, brings to view a variety of the most charming scenery.  On the right passing Tempest Knob, a high bluff at the mouth of the Winkinco River, and Great Hill, with the Marion House, on a point at its foot, we come to Bird Island Light, the guardian of the upper bay; Mattapoisett light-house, with the town; the low shore; sterile West Island, with its long reef, around which the larger craft must sail; passing dingy Black Rock, and so into the harbor of the rich old whaling city of New Bedford.

    On the eastern coast from Cohasset Narrows, the western terminus of the projected Cape Cod Ship-Canal, where the tide runs like a mill-race to and from Buttermilk Bay, and where, from the railroad bridge, striped bass are caught in large numbers, we may trace the windings of a score of inlets along the low-lying sandy cape, each with its little clump of masts, indicating a village, and pass club-houses or private cottages perched on rocky knolls, and summer hamlets built up along the line of railroad that borders the coast, which look out upon distant headlands, from which at night light-houses flash out their guidance to the travelers by sea.

    There are several fresh-water ponds in the neighborhood of Onset, where black bass and pickerel are said to abound, and from whence the purest ice will be supplied.

    The grove is located about three-fourths of a mile, by the present road, from the new Onset depot, built for the use of the association by the Old Colony Railroad, which is fifty miles from Boston, and by the regular trains; thence may be reached in two hours.  It is directly upon the great popular route to Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard, Yarmouth camp-ground, Falmouth Heights, Nantucket, etc., and during the summer season five or six trains per day pass over the route each way.  As the requirements of travel may demand, parties can be brought by steamboat or sailing-vessels, by the Vineyard Sound and Buzzard’s Bay, and landed directly at the new and permanent wharf of the association.

    The first meeting preliminary to the formation of this association was held in Boston Nov. 9, 1876, at which time a working constitution was adopted, and a temporary board of directors elected, with instructions to purchase the land.  It having been found desirable to secure a legal organization, a special charter was applied for to the Massachusetts Legislature, which was granted March 31, 1877.  The present association was organized under this charter April 11, 1877, at which time a code of by-laws was adopted and officers elected.  The capital stock was fixed at twenty-five hundred dollars, all of which was taken and immediately paid in.  The grounds were surveyed, building-lots, reserve-groves, streets, and avenues laid out, and heliotype maps of the same distributed.

    The grove was formally dedicated to the principles of Spiritualism and the interests of human progress on Thursday, June 14, 1877, about one thousand persons being present.  The addresses were by the president, H. S. Williams, Esq., Mrs. Emma Hardinge Britten, and Mr. Cephas B. Lynn, interspersed with music by the South Easton Band.

    The first camp-meeting was held by the association commencing July 8th, and closing July 24th of the same year.

    The original capital stock has been largely increased, and the interest in this charming resort is greater than ever.  There is already thirty thousand dollars of taxable property on this ground, and it is destined to be one of the most famous camp-grounds, if not so already, on the New England sea-coast.  More than fifty cottages were built there last year (1883), and more than one hundred have been erected in 1884.
 The officers of this association at the present time (1884) are as follows: Dr. H. B. Storer, president, Boston; Hon. George Robbins, vice-president, Fitchburg, Mass.; William F. Nye, clerk, New Bedford, Mass.; Capt. B. F. Gibbs, treasurer, East Wareham, Mass.  Directors, A. W. Wilcox, Worcester, mass.; Charles F. Howard, Foxborough, Mass.; Henrietta R. J. Bullock, Onset Bay, East Wareham, Mass.; Miss S. R. Nickles, Manchester, N. H.; W. C. Carter, Fitchburg, Mass.


[ Ephemera Home] [ Spiritualist Listings ]