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  • Writer's pictureJames Walsh

History Lost: Pilgrim Park and a 1920s Tabloid Sensation

What a difference 120 years can make! First is a circa 1900 view looking east along Pleasant Street, with Lake Nippenicket and Pilgrim Park on the left and two Bassett homes on the right. Second is the same view in 2020.

This property has been steeped in scandal and controversy since the 1700s, when it was seized from Dr. Benjamen Church, a surgeon and secret British loyalist who was convicted of treason.

The land, which originally included nearly 60 acres, passed to James Starr and then to Joseph Bassett Sr. Around 1830, his son, Joseph Jr., built the home in the background of this photo. Twenty years later, Joseph Jr.'s son, A. Waldo, built the home in the foreground.

A. Waldo's two sons, Nathan and (another) Joseph, each inherited one of the two homes. Nathan's property (foreground), a Greek Revival and Italianate home with a wraparound porch, remained relatively unchanged until it was sold out of the Bassett family and demolished in the 1980s.

Joseph's property (background) had a more dramatic history. Joseph married Edith Church in 1887, and the couple had five children: two sons and three daughters.

Unlike previous Bassett generations, who farmed their vast land south of Pleasant Street, Edith saw an opportunity in a small slice of their property across the road. Up until then, that slice had been no more than a means to access their cranberry bogs on the Nip. Seeing the number of tourists who now visited the lake, Edith converted the land into "Pilgrim Park," a popular recreational destination that included a beach, boat rentals, merry-go-round, refreshment stand, and dance hall (quite racy for the time!).

Joseph and Edith divorced by the 1920s, and Joseph moved to California with their son, Philip. Edith remained in Bridgewater and took over the Pleasant Street property, where she lived with their other son, Arthur.

In 1925, she married one of her Pilgrim Park employees, Maurice Hayden. The marriage drew local gossip and nationwide attention from the press, due to the couple's age difference and her son Arthur's attempts to stop the marriage in court.

The marriage fell apart a year later, but Edith had to spend several years in court to regain control of the property. Arthur eventually inherited it, and the home was razed at some point in the 1930s.

By the late 20th century, the Bassett properties had become very attractive due to their location at the intersection of Route 24 (built 1956) and Interstate 495 (built 1979).

Meanwhile, the two development companies that built the Emerald Square Mall in 1989 had split up and each set their sights on building a 1-million-square-foot shopping center in the "underbuilt" Route 24 corridor. One selected the Bassett property for "Bridgewater Crossroads," and the other selected a site in East Taunton for the "Silver City Galleria." Their competing projects fought neck-in-neck until an environmental restriction on the Nip led Bridgewater Crossroads' developers to abandon the project.

The Claremont company bought the land in 1998 and used a portion of it to built an office park. Their later projects, including apartment complexes, a hotel, and a proposed restaurant, have generated controversies that continue the site's newspaper-worthy history.

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