Lower Highlands and Historic Downtown: Fall River, Massachusetts


Fall River's unique and distinctive Lower Highlands/Historic Downtown neighborhood has seen good times and bad, rising during the early 20th century as the city became the country's top-ranked textile producer and then falling when the cotton mills began to close and the city declared bankruptcy in 1931. These trials and several others, including three devastating fires and construction of a freeway through the heart of downtown, have altered but not defeated the neighborhood. With its sweeping topography, historic architecture, and stunning vistas of Mount Hope Bay, the Lower Highlands/Historic Downtown neighborhood still retains its unique character and indelible sense of place.

Designated Area

The neighborhood is bordered by Taunton River on the West; Bicentennial Park & President Avenue (adjacent to North Park, an Olmsted–designed park) on the North; Highland Avenue, High Street, and Troy Street on the East; and Pleasant Street, Sullivan Drive, Pocasset Street, the lower part of Anawan Street, and alongside The State Pier back to the Taunton River on the South.

Recently restored boardwalk along the Taunton River in Fall River's Historic Downtown neighborhood. Photo courtesy James Bartley.

Planning Excellence

The booming textile trade that swept the nation during the 19th century led to Fall River becoming the industry leader and the nation's top-ranked milling city by 1911. It was during this period that the neighborhood's spectacular collection of historic architecture was built — including nearly every building type in style since 1750. Today, there are more than 100 properties in the neighborhood listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In addition to its topography and historic architecture, the neighborhood has welcomed social and economic diversity. At least four houses in the neighborhood were Underground Railroad "stations" that the Preservation Society of Fall River highlights during public guided tours. The area's "all-are-welcome" tradition has attracted many different ethnic groups, so many that it's not uncommon to hear a dozen or more different languages.

During the past decade, nearly $150 million has been spent redeveloping the neighborhood's Historic Downtown and Waterfront, additional proof of the neighborhood's resilience. Investments have included a new waterfront boardwalk, tree-lined streets as part of a city-wide tree planting program, and a renewed appreciation of the Quequechan River from which Fall River received its name — the Indian word "quequechan" means "falling waters."

Future development includes $1.4 billion for two commuter rail stations, both within the neighborhood at Battleship Cove and at Davol and Pearce Streets. This South Coast Railway will connect Fall River with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) railroad system. Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is coordinating work scheduled to begin in early 2013, lowering the Route 79/I-195 interchange that now cuts through the waterfront and downtown and turning it into a ground-level boulevard as recommended in Fall River's 2009-2030 Master Plan. This will allow for eventual implementation of the plan to daylight the Quequechan River and its falls within the south boundary of the neighborhood.

The neighborhood's architecture includes nearly every building type in style since 1750, including the Greek Revival Fall River Public Library built in 1843. Photo courtesy James Bartley.

Defining Characteristics, Features

History, Architecture

  • Neighborhood's original settlement (1750) predates city's founding (1803) and city's first mill (1811); tenement housing built close to the mills so workers could hear bells signaling shifts
  • When textile manufacturing began moving south during 1920s, the city and neighborhood's decline began; further accelerated by major fire 1928 (previous big fires in 1843, 1916)
  • Mix of single- and multi-family homes, mansions, churches; Early American, Victorian, Georgian, Queen Anne, Spanish and Colonial Revival, Ruskinian, Gothic, Second Empire, Italianate styles
  • Neighborhood includes two districts in the National Register of Historic Places: Downtown Fall River Historic District (1983) and Lower Highlands Historic District (1984)
  • Lafayette-Durfee House (1750), built along the coast of the Taunton River and moved to current location on Cherry Street in 1872; in National Register of Historic Places (1982)
  • The Fall River Public Library (1843) is a granite mansion built in the Greek Revival style; engraved above its Main Street facade is: "The People's University"
  • The B.M.C. Durfee High School Building (now the Massachusetts Trial Court) designed after Paris's City Hall and dedicated in 1886; built and donated to the city by one of Fall River's prominent industrial families in memory of Bradford Matthew Chaloner Durfee who was disabled and unable to attend school at that time; in National Register of Historic Places (1981)


  • Route 79/I-195 interchange reconstruction project is scheduled to begin in early 2013. It will assist in providing opportunities to connect the neighborhood with attractions on the Taunton River; also, it will replace elevated viaduct allowing for better handicapped and bicycle accessibility to the Taunton River and waterfront attractions from the neighborhood
  • City of Fall River Master Plan 2009-2030 suggests daylighting Quequechan River and its falls; making it a waterfront tourist destination and improving pedestrian, bicycle, and public transportation access to and from the waterfront and Lower Highlands/Historic Downtown
  • Established Arts Overlay District will foster growth of neighborhood's artistic and cultural talent
  • Bicycle paths network under construction; will connect Fall River, Westport, Dartmouth, and New Bedford and result in nearly 10 acres of waterfront redevelopment
  • Established Waterfront and Transit Oriented Development district will foster growth, economic development, and tourism opportunities along the city's waterfront

Lower Highlands and Historic Downtown Fall River is home to more than 100 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo courtesy James Bartley.

Community Engagement

  • Residents rally and raise funds to restore 1920 Philadelphia Toboggan Company carousel, which was relocated to Battleship Cove
  • The Lower Highlands Neighborhood Association and Save Architecturally Valuable Edifices Inc. partnered to restore former Central Congregational Church, designed 1871 by Hartwell & Swasey; added to National Register of Historic Places 1983
  • Building Blocks Initiative, facilitated by Flanagan Administration with Attorney General Martha Coakley, focuses on neighborhood revitalization and rebuilding vacant and abandoned housing
  • "Arts Around the Block" neighborhood arts and music festival enables local artists, painters, sculptors, jewelry makers to set up and sell works on street

Amenities and Physical Attributes

  • Heritage State Park located in the neighborhood along the Taunton River overlooking Battleship Cove and its heavily used waterfront boardwalk
  • Olmsted–designed parks in or near neighborhood: Kennedy (1868), added to National Register of Historic Places 1983; Ruggles (1868), added to National Register 1983; North (1901)
  • Affordable housing exists within the neighborhood
  • Battleship Cove Marine Museum, at base of Braga Bridge crossing Mount Hope Bay, attracts thousands to renovated waterfront; USS Massachusetts (one of eight remaining U.S. battleships)