Fairbanks, J. H. Block
48 Central Sq
Bridgewater Town Center
Massachusetts Historical Commission Report
This frame structure is a remarkably intact, mid 19th-century Italianate commercial block. Characterized by wide, bracketed, end wall gables, its display windows are surmounted by a distinctive porch roof with heavy, saw-cut brackets. Corner boards define its edges. The four, cornice-headed windows on the second story are fully enframed. Two round-arch windows with hood moldings appear at attic level. This store has a long, rectangular plan. Its rear section contained a tin shop and upholstery shop in the early 1900s.
Note: The 1901 Sanborn Insurance map shows a small "showcase" on the sidewalk in front.
The J.H. Fairbanks block is the oldest commercial building on Central Square. It has historical associations with two leading, 19th-century Bridgewater merchants, John Fairbanks (1835-1929) and William Prophett (1834-1897). Both Fairbanks and Prophett were born in England. J.H. Fairbanks was a tinsmith by trade, later branching out into the hardware business. In 1863 he opened a hardware store on Bedford Street. William Prophett, a native of Sibbford, Oxfordshire, England, came to this country in 1857. He worked as a carpenter in East Bridgewater before settling in Bridgewater in 1860. He was later a cabinetmaker by trade.
In 1864 Prophett and Fairbanks purchased the land for the Fairbanks block from Josiah L. Bassett. The store was completed in 1865. It originally was known as the Centre School and was located on School Street. (Editor's Correction: The Centre School was actually moved two doors down to become part of the Mitchell Block. JW) Fairbanks' Hardware Department had "a most complete stock, also stoves, ranges, cutlery, tinware, tools, implements, seeds, glass, oil paints, and roofing materials." Prophett sold furniture, most of which he made himself. He later added undertaking and upholstering to his business. Prophett's son, William S. and his grandson, William P., managed the family business after his death in 1897. During the early 1900s, the Prophetts purchased a Cunningham motor hearse and two automobiles for their undertaking business.
Built during the Civil War, this commercial block reflects Bridgewater's mid 19th-century prosperity. The Lazell, Perkins Ironworks, for example, received many contracts for huge castings and forgings from the U.S. Navy. The armor plating for the first Union gunboat, the Monitor, was made in Bridgewater.