FAIRHAVEN — The soaring granite Italian Renaissance library draws the eye upward, past ornate terra cotta wreaths and garlands to the deep red tiled roof edged with copper. Across the street, the brick and granite French Gothic town hall with its four-faced clock tower conceals an interior decorated with quartered oak paneling, solid brass fixtures, and stained glass windows. Is it Europe? No, it’s Fairhaven, as this town’s Office of Tourism proudly proclaims in its visitors’ guide.
Fairhaven’s stunning public buildings were a gift of Henry Huttleston Rogers (1840-1909), a local boy who made a fortune with Standard Oil. All but one of the buildings Rogers gave the town between 1885 and 1908 are still in use today, and visitors can see many of them on the Henry H. Rogers Walking Tour, offered Tuesday and Thursday mornings from the beginning of June to the end of September.
Chris Richard, the town’s tourism director and another Fairhaven native, likes to joke that “Rogers was building an early Epcot,” with the Italian Renaissance Millicent Library, the French Gothic town hall, the English Perpendicular Gothic Unitarian Memorial Church, and the Elizabethan-style high school, all designed by noted New England architect Charles Brigham. The tour, which Richard developed in 1998, includes visits inside the Town Hall and the Millicent Library, as well as a walk by the Unitarian Memorial Church, the George H. Taber Masonic Lodge, and Rogers’s boyhood home. Clad in typical late 19th- to early 20th-century menswear — white shirt, black vest, black bowler hat, and a walking stick — Richard spices up the 90-minute walk with historical perspective and anecdotes from the benefactor’s life.
In addition to the beautiful buildings, Rogers made other, less visible contributions to Fairhaven, Richard says. He put in a municipal water system and drained and filled a boggy pond in the center of town to create Cushman Park. His munificence extended well beyond town borders: Rogers helped finance Helen Keller’s college education and gave Booker T. Washington money to help found Tuskegee Institute. While the high school is not on the tour because it’s not in the downtown, Richard says, that building offers a few tours during the summer. And the Unitarian Memorial Church conducts tours on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons in July and August.
Richard’s recommendation for a perfect day in Fairhaven is to take the Rogers walking tour in the morning; have lunch at one of the town’s popular restaurants, such as Elisabeth’s or Margaret’s; catch an afternoon tour of the church; visit Revolutionary-era Fort Phoenix, from which you can walk along the Fairhaven-New Bedford hurricane barrier out into the harbor; and finish up at the parklike Riverside Cemetery, where visitors can pay their respects at Rogers’s Greek-inspired mausoleum, modeled after a temple of Minerva.
The Henry H. Rogers Walking Tour steps off from the Town Hall, 40 Center St., Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m., weather permitting, from early June through the end of September. Free. Tours can also be downloaded from fairhaventours.com.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of the restaurant Elisabeth’s.