Fall River, a one-hour drive from Boston heading to the South Coast, becomes a hotbed of tourists and curiosity seekers every Aug. 4. That’s the anniversary of the infamous 1892 hatchet murders in the 92 Second Street home (now a bed and breakfast) of prominent Fall River residents Abby and Andrew Borden, for which daughter Lizzie Borden stood trial and was acquitted. Fall River, by circumstance and sometimes by design, has been synonymous with the macabre event ever since.
Not that there’s anything wrong with laying claim to an unsolved Victorian-era murder that has all the ingredients of melodrama. There’s a reason they keep making movies about Lizzie Borden — the latest, “Lizzie,” starring Chloe Sevigny and Kristen Stewart, hit theaters last month. But you can’t blame residents of this old industrial city for becoming a bit weary when it seems that all people know about Fall River is Lizzie Borden.
So, here are just a few places to visit and things to do in Fall River that have nothing to do with Lizzie Borden. Well, almost nothing.
The Narrows Center for the Arts is one of the best repurposings of one of the sprawling mills that for decades made Fall River hum. This music and art venue is located on the third floor of a former American Printing Co. mill at 16 Anawan St. With high ceilings, towering windows that offer spectacular views of Battleship Cove and glorious sunsets, and great acoustics, The Narrows since 1995 has been a premiere destination for live music in the region. Performers such as Iris Dement, Tom Rush, Ronnie Earl, and Peter Wolf and the Midnight Travelers are just some of the acts on the calendar recently. The Narrows recently added seating to attract bigger names but did not sacrifice any of the intimacy, value, or good vibes of its setting, where musicians mingle with the audience after the shows. Patrons are welcome to bring in food and alcohol — fresh coffee and pastries are available for purchase — but rowdy behavior is decidedly unwelcome which is another reason this venue rocks.
Fall River has long had a vibrant Portuguese community, and now it has an emporium, Portugalia Marketplace, that sells not just terrific Portuguese food at its Cozinha Regional section but imported ceramics, soaps, wine, olive oils, organic jams, and other delicacies. A European-style food shopping experience, Portugalia is located at 489 Bedford St. in the former Norbert Manufacturing building. Open and spacious, with high ceilings and exposed brick, its design is similar to markets in Portugal. There’s a cafe with sandwiches and pastries; a beer and wine shop; an olive bar; Charcutaria, which serves European-style cured deli meats and pates; and a temperature-controlled room dedicated to the Portuguese favorite, salted cod. Customers can come in, select their cod and have it cut just the way they want. Food is the attraction, but the marketplace is worth a visit for the old world atmosphere.
One of the city’s premiere attractions, of course, is Fall River Battleship Cove, which has been a destination for families and schoolchildren since 1965. The site features the world’s largest collection of World War II naval vessels including the battleship Massachusetts and the destroyer Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. More recently, there have been efforts to bring other activities to the waterfront. The third annual Fall River Grand Prix, a weekend of offshore power boat racing, takes place Aug. 25-26 with the “Race Village,” featuring entertainment and vendors, located at Borden Light Marina. The event drew some 10,000 spectators last summer. Many watch the races from the Tipsy Seagull, a seasonal floating outdoor bar in the heart of the marina on the Taunton River.
Visitors can get a proper Lizzie Borden fix at the Fall River Historical Society (451 Rock St.) which, besides its large collection of material related to Borden’s life and trial, recently acquired a collection of her personal correspondence, including four letters written while she was imprisoned in the Taunton jail. But you’ll also get a lot more. The historical society is housed in a 19th-century granite mansion listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are Victorian-period rooms including a round dining room, art work, photographs, ephemera ,and archival material on many subjects related to the city’s history, not just a legendary double murder.
Fall River, once home to large numbers of French, Irish, Italian, Jewish, Polish, Syrian, Lebanese, and Portuguese immigrants, has some excellent Portuguese restaurants. But if you want to eat like a local, check out the quick, inexpensive eats at Sam’s Bakery (256 Flint St.), a hole in the wall that serves hot-from-the-oven meat, cabbage, and spinach pies. Another nondescript storefront, Hartley’s Original Pork Pies (1729 South Main St.), has been baking English-style meat and pork pies since 1900 (a filling meal for millworkers) and now serves salmon, chicken, and chorizo pies, too. Then there’s the true Fall River creation known as a chow mein sandwich. Mee Sum Restaurant (1919 S. Main St.) serves them on a soft roll, properly soggy. So good, many folks order two.
Loren King can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.