A FISHING COMPANY WITHOUT FISH
At one time Marstons Mills had two herring runs. In 1867 the catch on the river was so good that local businessmen built another run, which you can still see though it’s long abandoned. Our village historian Vivian Cushing discovered the records of the Marstons Mills Fishing Company are in the Nickerson archives of the community college.
The existing river run had a potential of 600 barrels of alewives a year, all going up to Run Pond (now called Middle Pond), which connects to Mystic Lake. But there was no outlet to the southernmost pond, Grigson’s (now called Hamblin’s) Pond.
It was generally believed that one could introduce herring to a new location. So, in April 1867 five men, James H. Hallett, Nathaniel Ruggles, Allan Marston, David Jones and George N. Goodspeed petitioned the town for permission for “opening a canal, or ditch from the Pond near John C. Grigson’s…to the Tide water at or near ‘Tracy’s Brook’”. The town Selectmen approved at once.
Marston’s Mills Fishing Company agreed on 5 May 1867 to be run by five directors, with capital of $1000 in ten dollar shares. The biggest shareholders were the retired steamboat captain Samuel Baxter, local carpenter James H. Hallett, who became Clerk of the company, local farmers Bennett W. Cammett and Ansel Fuller, and Bostonian Christopher Gifford who had married into the Fish family. They were joined by about 20 other investors, mostly from the local Jones, Hamblin, Hinckley, Marston and Crocker families.
By the end of May they had laid out a plan of about 8’000 feet (about a mile and a half) running from the east side of Grigson’s Pond just north of today’s Burgess House in a 50 foot “Floom” 3 feet wide and 3 ½ feet deep, then running under a stone bridge to be built on the West Barnstable road. Then it would run at a 45 degree drop two feet wide, turning in a big bow southward, under another stone bridge on the Falmouth Road, and down to salt water west of Warren’s Cove. The last 3,000 feet following Tracy’s Brook was only a foot and a half deep and three feet wide, carefully avoiding widow Gifford’s cranberry bog.
All of this was to be done by the first of October 1867, the bridges built by April of the next year, with railings on both sides. Bennett Cammett was paid $86 for the bridges, which were completed in time.
In January 1868 the company bought ten pieces of land for the proposed canal 32 feet wide at the upper part, narrowing to 12 feet farther down, paying from one to ten dollars apiece.
But by June the treasurer reported they had overspent their stock by $400 and they had to ask for more money. Some of the stockholders sold their shares to wealthy Cotuit summer people like George Gardner Lowell.
The founding petitioner and Clerk James Harvey Hallett died in tragic circumstances in 1871. While Christmas shopping in Boston he met an old acquaintance in the Union Wharf warehouse. Hallett tapped his friend on the shoulder and said, “I have found you at last old fellow!” Stepping back, Hallett fell into an open elevator shaft, falling five floors to his death.
Company records show no income from fish, but they had paid Capt. Baxter $16 for herring in 1872. It could be that they bought fish in order to stock the run, though that never happened. James H. Jenkins submitted a bill for $3.25 for 15 hours of labor, which figures at 21 cents an hour.
At the next meeting the board was talking about deepening and widening, but gave up. They put the company up for auction on 1 March 1872, and apparently got no bidders. In Dec. 1872 the local paper reported on recent fisheries failures that “Many persons have been utterly ruined.”
Today one can see the “floom” of great herring ditch where Route 149 dips down north of the Burgess House, or the “stump dump” of Cape Resources which filled the ditch north of Old Falmouth Road or the town landfill which filled the south side. In 1935 the new Route 28 crossed the ditch at Sandy Valley near Robert Childs’s ice house. Our photo shows a pretty view of a little pond north of South County Road which was created by this ditch back in 1867.
Barnstable Enterprise 26 Nov. 2010