Archive for July, 2011

Foster Crocker Store

July 2, 2011


There used to be two stores side-by-side in the heart of Marstons Mills. The grocery is still the thriving Cash Market. Just to the left of it used to be Foster Crocker’s store. Some people called it a general store, but it didn’t sell groceries, just hardware. But Foster Crocker built it as a machine shop.

Foster Crocker was born in 1857, second son of whaling Captain Oliver Crocker, in the house next to the church. Before he was twenty he had found work in Worcester at the Wheelock Engine factory, where they built the latest steam engines that did the work of the new industrial age. In Worcester he married Esther Hall, also daughter of a mariner, Captain John Hall. They moved to Providence, where he was probably working on steam engines.

In 1885, when he was 28, he decided to come home to the Mills. With help of a mortgage from his father he bought the house on the Mill Pond that Arthur F. Greene had built in 1847. He fitted up a building for a machine shop, and began selling the popular Singer sewing machines. This was the same year that Singer introduced its greatly improved “vibrating shuttle”.

Foster Crocker became the “celebrated Machinist” of the area. He provided steam engines that pumped water out of cranberry bogs. In 1888 A. D. Makepeace hired him to install the latest George Blake steam engine to crush clay for the West Barnstable Brick Co.

In the fall of 1889 Crocker built a new machine shop. Historian Nancy Clark says the construction is so similar to the 1916 schoolhouse that it may have been built by the same builder, Hamlin & Fish of Cotuit. Opened in February 1890, the Patriot praised it as “an ornament to the village”.

Here one could buy and repair agricultural machinery like mowers, all kinds of steam engines for pumping water, and, of course, sewing machines. If you needed a clock repaired one could bring it in for watchmaker Weber to fix. When autos arrived Foster put in a Socony gas tank, and he was a natural to sell Stanley Steamers. A. D. Makepeace had two Stanley Steamer trucks that Teddy Pierce heard puffing up the hill toward Cotuit he’d grab a tailboard for a free ride. Steamers were quiet and had no gears, but they took too long to thaw in the New England winters. Cop Hinckley told Barbara Hill: “Foster was a big, fat man. He used to steer the car down the street with his stomach.”

But before cars, Foster was a great fan of horses. When the crack sulky driver Henry Swain beat him in a close race at the Cotuit race course (now Ralyn Drive), Foster hired Swain to drive his “Lady Stilphin” in the big 1887 Thanksgiving Day race in Cotuit. But Lady Stilphin lost to A. F. Bearse.

Foster spent a lot of time fishing in the Mill Pond back of his house. He rigged up a door bell on the machine shop that would ring in the house, that might bring out his wife Esther. If not, you went away. Barbara Hill says their philosophy was “if you hadn’t had it all this time, why should you need it now.” “Fat Man Crocker”, as he was called, was only 65 when he died in 1923. His childless widow sold the house and store in 1927 to Lorenzo Gifford. It took four or five days for a couple of trucks to move the old machine shop on roller logs a quarter of a mile north to the Gifford Farm.

Postmistress Nora Gifford had it attached to the back of the house, where the village women worked on her quilting frame. Claire Melix recalls Foster’s huge vice on the workbench. Here Nora stored their the big barrels of picked pork, and the year’s supplies of dried vegetables and canned goods, and where the dairy’s milk bottles were sterilized. Upstairs was a bunk room for the grandsons. Everything could be cleared out for dances or for big family gatherings of a dozen kids and their children.

When the Giffords sold the farm in 1971 the machine shop became the playroom of Sue Davenport’s Children’s House. Today it is a private library with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, desks and workstations, and one-time archives of the Marstons Mills Historical Society.

Published in Barnstable Enterprise 1 July 2011



July 2, 2011


On Memorial Day we remember with sadness the lives of those killed in war. For veterans like me this is no time to glorify war, but to ask, “Why did he die, not me?”

Go and ask that question at the two markers of Marstons Mills.

The first is at the corner of Lovells Lane and River Road. It is across the street from the home of James Kenneth Baker who died in Germany on 13 August 1954. He was killed when the truck he was riding in overturned. He had just married a girl from New York, and had a son whom he never saw.

The second boulder is under the new traffic light at the intersection of Route 28 and 149. It is dedicated to Air Force Captain Sherman Crocker, who was born and grew up on Prince Av., a few hundred yards south of here. He died on 13 Feb. 1945 when his P-47 fighter-bomber was hit by a German 88 antiaircraft gun at Ahrweiler in the Rhineland.

Sherman was son of Barnstable Sheriff Laughlan Crocker. A graduate of Barnstable High he enlisted in his Sophomore year at Norwich University in 1942. After flight training at Maxwell Field, Alabama he got his wings as Second Lieutenant, and became an instructor in Eddie Rickenbacker’s famous 98th Fighter Squadron.

Sent to England with the 507th Fighter Group, his P-47 Thunderbird bomber supported the landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day June 1944, and in the Battle of St. Lo. He was decorated with the Air Medal and 17 oak leaf clusters. For shooting down five German planes he got the Distinguished Flying Cross. He flew in the Battles of the Bulge and the Hürtgen Forest, both of which ended shortly before his death.

On his final mission, Capt. Crocker had been promoted to command of the 507th Fighter Squadron, with prospect of becoming Major Crocker. It was two days after the Yalta Agreement in which Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt laid out the plan for postwar Europe. But the war was far from over. The Russians had liberated Budapest, and fought into Germany from the east. American forces with which I was serving had yet to cross the Rhine. On the fatal day the bombers attacked German targets along the river, preparing for the American crossing of the Roer River.

Ahldorf is a village 20 miles south of the postwar German capital of Bonn, 55 miles east of his grandmother Dora Sherman’s home of Aachen, Sherman was flying the P-47 “Harriett”, named for his fiancee Harriett Jey Jones. With a load of three 500 pound bombs, and a thousand gallons of gas, he was flying only 50 feet above the ground, at 300 miles per hour when his plane was hit by an 88mm anti-aircraft shell.

Three weeks later, on March 3 Ahldorf was liberated by the Ninth Armored Division, which found the nearby Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen miraculously in tact over the Rhine. Sherman’s body was recovered and buried in Marstons Mills cemetery in 1948. The boulder in his honor was dedicated in Nov. 1949 by Marstons Mills Selectman Chester Crocker, Sheriff Donald Fallon and Representative Allen Jones.

On Memorial Day we join with another World War II veteran, Wilbur Cushing’s remark: “What a waste!”

Revision of article in Barnstable Enterprise 27 May 2011

Prince Cove Marina

July 2, 2011

Prince Cove Marina