Brownells, 19 Green Street, Riverside Cemetery, Eli Bence

  • Before the Hatchet Fell


    You have to admire the energy and endurance of those Victorian ladies.  Even in the sweltering heat of a July afternoon, corseted and wearing layers of clothing, they managed to look crisp and elegant. What’s more is that they managed also to have some fun while  looking so well turned out.

    It would be hard to believe that a person contemplating cold-blooded murder could have, a week before the crimes, presented such a fun-loving and carefree demeanor.  It was common to get out of the big cities in the heat of summer while the men stayed behind laboring and making more money.  Abby Borden herself had planned a little Swansea vacation with a lady friend to the Borden farm on Gardner’s Neck Road. If you have ever been, there is always a delightful breeze , good fishing, and beautiful scenery to be enjoyed.  Abby’s companion had to cancel and so she contemplated a sojourn with a relative in nearby Warren instead.


    Lizzie and Emma also decided to escape the city heat and take the train to New Bedford on July 21st. It must have been a great escape from the daily routine at #92 Second Street.  Emma hurried off to Fairhaven to enjoy the cool breezes of Fort Phoenix with its bandstand and shoreline attractions and a long visit to the Brownells on Green St. while Lizzie trotted off to see the Pooles, mother and daughter, at a boarding house on Madison Street.  Lizzie had thoughts of diversion in her mind:  pleasurable shopping jaunts, chatting with the Pooles who had known Lizzie since girlhood, and thoughts of Marion nearby with its enchantments of fishing piers, beautiful homes, boating and fishing and good friends .


    With all of this in mind, you can make a good case that this seems unlikely behavior for a would-be-murderess.  Lizzie had a little shopping excursion on July 23rd,  perusing dress fabrics and patterns and enjoying the shops of New Bedford.  On July 25th a most amiable opportunity for a day trip to Marion presented itself.  Lizzie was in the very distinguished company of Rev. Buck’s daughter Alice, Anna and Mary Holmes, Mabel and Louise Remington, Isabelle Fraser, Louise Handy, Annie Bush, Elizabeth Johnson, Mrs. James and Miss Edith Jackson, and Jennie Stowell.

    (Converse Point, formerly Blakes Point)


    Marion was a little “Newport North”with moorings for yachts, celebrities and artists, politicians and lawyers, doctors and the upper crust of society longing to get away from the heat and crowded cities.  Charming cottages and stately waterfront homes dotted the shoreline.  Tree-lined streets, a chapel, art studios, delightful quaint eateries and a music hall provided entertainment for the lucky residents and distinguished guests.

    (Marion waterfront)

    Lizzie’s lady friends were busily playing house at Dr. Handy’s cottage and relaxing, Bohemian- style with back hair down and corsets loosened .  Lizzie was to join the band of merrymakers  on August 8th for jolly hours at the fishing hole and some slapdash housekeeping and high jinx with “the girls”.  Each lady had a little job to do which made the domestic chores seem so much more fun.  It is said that Lizzie was to tend to chopping kindling for the cook stove and that when told the kitchen kindling hatchet was a “dull thing” remarked that she had a sharp one she would bring that would be just the ticket.

     Dr. Handy’s cottage (original home photo courtesy of the Sippican Historical Society)

    On the 25th of July, Lizzie left the Pooles and was at Blakes Point, which is now Converse Point, for a day trip.  Over time, the name has changed to whoever lives on the point at the moment.  A very snappy yacht was at the moorings, the MABEL F. SWIFT.  She was a trim Fall River craft owned by Charles W. Anthony, and a familiar sight to the Newport Yachting community on regatta days.  The Honorable Simeon Borden, the Honorable James Jackson, Holder W. Durfee, William Winslow, and R.W. Bassett were the gentleman aboard.  Friends, fun and sun in the bloom of summer were the order of the day.


    The Mabel F. Swift (Courtesy Historic New England)

    The next day, Tuesday, July 26th, Lizzie would travel by carriage with Mrs. Poole and her daughter Carrie out to Westport to visit her old childhood friend Augusta Poole who had married and lived in a Victorian farmhouse with husband, Cyrus Tripp.  It was a bit of a journey out to the house by carriage and Lizzie spent most of the late morning and afternoon there visiting Augusta. The band of three ladies then departed for New Bedford where Lizzie parted company with the Pooles after a busy few days, taking the train to return home to Fall River.

    (The home of Mrs. Augusta Poole Tripp, Westport)


    It was probably a reluctant but dutiful Lizzie who decided to forsake the fun and friends to return home to obligations and household drudgery.  Mrs. Borden would want to be going to the farm for a break, and someone needed to be at home to look after Mr. Borden, oversee his meals and well-being.  There were minutes to take at one of her many charitable organization meetings and Lizzie was conscientious. But there was the happy prospect of returning soon to the cottage of Dr. Benjamin Handy and the vacationing ladies on a spree with fishing at the pier to come.  Dr. Handy was born in Marion and was a surgeon and physician. Later on, Dr. Handy would report a “wild-eyed” man in front of the Borden house on Second St. around 10:30 on the day of the murders.  His Marion cottage was much-desired by friends and family as a “getaway” in the summer months.

    Dr. Seabury Bowen

    Thus was the story of Lizzie’s week leading up to the murders.  On Tuesday night the Bordens would partake of swordfish steak for supper. The family was ill Tuesday night into the next day. Mrs. Borden was in no state of health to go visiting  anyone and on Wednesday morning she crossed the street to see Dr. Bowen and pronounced she was probably poisoned and Mr. Borden was taken sick too.   Later on, Dr. Bowen, much-concerned about his neighbors, crossed the street to call on the sickly Bordens only to be rebuffed by Andrew Borden for the house call and its possible expense. Lizzie, perhaps out of embarrassment at her father’s rude behavior, went promptly upstairs and Dr. Bowen went away.  Abby suspected there was something wrong with the family store-bought bread as once she heard of someone being taken ill from spoiled cream cakes.  Lizzie claimed to be ill herself that Wednesday, never leaving the house and resting in her room.  Soon Uncle John would arrive, enjoy a late lunch at the Borden table, rent a carriage and go over the river to Swansea.  The scene was set for the horrors to come the next day.  Did Lizzie go to Smith’s pharmacy to try to procure Prussic acid from Mr. Bence that day?  What was behind Lizzie’s proclamation to Alice Russell that Wednesday evening around 7 p.m. about “something is hanging over me. I am sleeping with one eye open”.  What happened to that carefree  young woman on vacation in Marion just a few days before?  Those are the questions that haunt us. Still.


    *References used in this article:  Lizzie Borden Past and Present, Leonard Rebello, Al-Zach Press, 1999.

    Parallel Lives: A Social History of Lizzie A. Borden and Her Fall River, Michael Martins & Dennis Binette,  Fall River Historical Society, 2010.

    Photo credits: The Sippican Historical Society, Marion MA., Historic New England, Shelley M. Dziedzic (all rights reserved).

  • Bence in later years

    As mentioned in an earlier article on Warps and Wefts, http://lizziebordenwarpsandwefts.com/mutton-eaters-february-article/, Eli Bence and his testimony about Lizzie Borden coming into the pharmacy where he was a counter clerk on the day before the murders was bombshell testimony.  Although allowed through the Preliminary, Bence’s important revelations did not make it into the 1893 trial, being ruled as “too far remote in time” from the actual killings.  No prussic acid was found in the bodies of either Borden, not surprising as the lady who inquired for the deadly poison could not obtain it without a prescription.  Perhaps Bence’s and the testimony of the dress burning incident by Alice Russell might have turned the tide for Lizzie, had either been allowed.

    Bence moved to New Bedford and set up his own drug store by 1894, then after the death of his wife, remarried a Fairhaven girl, Annie Coggshell Maxfield, whose father ran a successful plumbing concern on Bridge St.  Bence eventually moved to Pittsfield, Massachusetts with son Roy by his first wife Sarah Hayhurst, and his son Maxfield by his second wife Annie.  They also had a little girl Priscilla who died very young. Bence died at his Pittsfield home after suffering a stroke while riding in a car returning from the Berkshires with his son and daughter in law and wife on May 4, 1915.  He is buried in Fairhaven by the side of his wife Annie and their daughter Priscilla.

    The only photograph we have seen of Bence until now has been of the earnest, 27 year old who tried to give his testimony at Lizzie’s trial.

    Thanks to the Barrett Family and Ancestry.com, an older Eli is shown below, photo taken in New Bedford, year unknown.

    Bence’s parents, William and Sarah are buried in Oak Grove Cemetery, Fall River.

    William Bence, Eli’s father who was active in Globe area politics.

    A medicine dispensing bottle from the Bence Pharmacy in New Bedford.

  • Muttoneaters return to Fall River

    This past weekend the cordial society of armchair sleuths returned to #92 Second Street for the annual flocking of the Second Street Irregulars (Muttoneaters) for a jam-packed tour of many Borden-related sites around the area. Friday morning the group of 16 visited the Fall River Historical Society to bestow the yearly awards upon the recent publication by Michael Martins and Dennis Binette, Parallel Lives. The flock enjoyed a coffee hour, tour and photo session in the beautiful Victorian garden before heading off to Fairhaven for a picnic at Fort Phoenix and a city tour given by Chris Richards who was dressed to impress!

    Chris fired off a vintage rifle, explained how teeth were extracted, limbs were amputated and the life and activities of a wartime barber-dentist-surgeon, a role he re-enacts in costume with a local history group at Fort Phoenix annually.  Afterward the Muttoneaters toured city hall and learned about Mark Twain’s dedication speech given on the stage there, visited the locales of the homes in which Helen Brownell stayed (Emma Borden’s alibi), and visited the beautiful Millicent Library where a letterbox was found in a very special place inside. (see Atlasquest.com for clues!) The group then returned to Fall River for a pizza party and presentations on the Villisca murders of 1912 and discussions on Andrew Jennings, one of the attorneys for Lizzie whose journals they saw at the historical society earlier.

    Andrew Jennings’ journal and newspaper clipping collection

    Saturday was a busy day which began with a trip to Oak Grove Cemetery to see the room in which the Bordens were autopsied on August 11, 1892, and to inspect the interior of the holding tomb used to house the coffins of the Bordens both before and after the heads were removed by Dr. Dolan.

    The morning concluded with a very special visit to Maplecroft and a great tour by Mr. Bob Dube who conducted the group through every room of the three-storied home and explained what was original to Lizzie’s tenure there. This was a very special and much-appreciated opportunity as the house is currently for sale with the future owner still unknown.

    On the “piazza” at Maplecroft in the spot where the recently published photo of Lizzie and her dog appeared in Parallel Lives.

    Poppy garden at Maplecroft

    After lunch the Muttoneaters visited the Animal Rescue League of Fall River, an annual stop, to bring dog and cat treats and a special 1927 newspaper detailing Lizzie and Emma Borden’s donation to this worthy cause, bequeathed in their wills.

    The afternoon brought a real surprise when the group was invited to visit the cellar of the Lodowick Borden (also known as Dr. Kelly’s) home next door to the Borden house on Second Street to view the chimney and cellar where in 1848 Eliza Darling Borden threw three of her children in a cistern and then committed suicide behind the chimney.  Beautiful cabinetry with little drawers and cupboards were added much later when the Kellys moved to the house in 1891 and are still intact. The room was most likely used then as Dr. Kelly’s home office.

    Muttoneaters flocked to June Street to pose on the porch of Andrew J. Jennings house which must have one of the best views of the Taunton River in Fall River.

    Saturday evening concluded with a visit from the “Women’s Christian Temperence Union” with Muttoneaters dressed as Mrs. Brayton, Carrie Nation and Mother Willard, followed by a Sunday-style chicken Gospel bird dinner and many hours of animated conversation about the famous Borden case. As always, nobody wanted to leave on Sunday morning and the planning begins again for next year’s adventures.

  • Spinner Publications & Keeley Library

    Although many of these publications are out of print, Amazon and Ebay frequently have Volume 3 and 4 of Spinner at a good price.  Volume 4 has many wonderful old photos of Fall River and New Bedford, and features articles and interviews which give invaluable details of the “good old days”.  Mrs. Florence Brigham, former curator of the Fall River Historical Society, gives a memorable interview about her memories growing up in the city. The history of ice cream parlors in New Bedford is another article full of information and charm.

    Spinner Publications http://www.spinnerpub.com/Home.html site posts on new publications, calendars, maps, etc. and maintains an unparalleled archives of vintage photos.

    Also not to be missed, for the serious student of Fall River history, is the Keeley Library Online collection of photographs and postcards, Fall River yearbooks and articles- many hours of free online material to enjoy if you cannot come to Fall River. http://www.sailsinc.org/durfee/fulltext.htm (articles)  http://sailsinc.org/Durfee/ (index page)  http://sailsinc.org/Durfee/fallriver.htm (vintage slides of the city)

  • A Letter from Lizzie Borden


    One of the most-viewed features of Warps and Wefts this year has been the newspaper clippings from all over the country detailing the most minute bits of information about the Borden case and personalities involved.  Of course newspapers do make mistakes, and when information is lacking, some unscrupulous reporters were not above inventing details to fill in the gaps.  With a little careful sifting, there are some golden nuggets to be found. Thanks to Ancestry.com and Newspaper Archives.com, all of this is available to the public.  Here is a very interesting paragraph which was buried in the Davenport (Iowa) Tribune, August 25, 1892.

    It’s unfortunate the Borden family threw notes and letters away so readily.  The famous note sent to Abby Borden asking her to come visit a sick friend went missing, even though a reward of $500 dollars was offered for information about  the sick friend’s name, who wrote the note, and who delivered it. It was suggested by Lizzie that it may have been burned up (in the kitchen woodstove as that was the only fire in August).

    Emma Borden was visiting the Brownells on Green Street in Fairhaven during the week of the murder, which must be where the letter mentioned in the article above was sent.  On the morning of the murders, Lizzie gave her father a letter to mail to Emma in Fairhaven.  The letter mentioned above must have been written before the letter written and given to Andrew Borden to mail on August 4th.   How unfortunate Emma did not keep the letter which mentions Lizzie’s “suspicious man”, which would have added credence to her tale to the police about such a character later. Or, did Lizzie make up the “suspicious” man loitering around the property as a convenient suspect to draw attention away from herself later?  To whom did Emma show that letter- most likely Mrs. Brownell and her daughter Helen. Lizzie mentioned the suspicious man idea to her friend Alice Russell the night before the murders.  Was Lizzie telling the truth- or cleverly covering all of her bases? Did Emma’s friends who saw the letter ever get to relay that information to the police?

  • The Brownell House Today


    Just a little over a year between the two photos above reveal big changes at the Fairhaven Green Street house where Emma Borden stayed with the Brownells the days before the murders in Fall River.  A sort of patio fenced in with white railings is now in place where the former kitchen addition came off the back of the house.  Gone are the creeping briars and trumpet vine, sagging back porch and decaying front stairs.  The siding is a bit of a disappointment for purists who love Victorian houses, but the structure has managed to come into the decade keeping some of its early charm for future generations to inherit.

  • Brownell House Happenings


    A visit on April 24th revealed a great change to the house on Green Street where Lizzie Borden’s sister Emma was staying at the time of the murders.  The house is undergoing extensive renovations. The back kitchen annex is demolished, the heavy vegetation is removed, and the house has received siding recently. The interiors have been gutted and rewired with the walls stripped back to the studs.  The graceful staircase to the second floor just inside the front door will remain, as well as the handsome wide-planked floors and the original wide granite base slab for the front exterior stairs.  The lightening fixture shown in the entry foyer was of course added on some time after the original construction. The owner of the property who is ordering the renovation plans to move in soon.  Neighbors out on the street seem happy something is finally being done to clean up the old property.

  • Good news for Green St.

    A recent visit to the Brownell house on Green Street, the address of Emma Borden’s alibi on the day of the murders, revealed good things happening for the old place. 

    The sagging front steps have been removed, the jungle growth of trumpet vine has been cut back, and a large dumpster in the side yard is filled with debris. Structurally, the house has been pronounced in good shape, with some minor roof leaks and a side porch which needs shoring up.  Here’s hoping for brighter days ahead soon for the historic property!


  • A new series debuts


     The first Lizzie Borden offering from Garden Bay Films has been released today on YouTube.  Covering a recent tribute to pharmacist Eli Bence at Fairhaven’s Riverside Cemetery as a first release, this new film endeavor promises to herald a great series of topics and personalities related to the famous case. We will be looking forward to more!



  • First Meeting of The Second Street Irregulars

    November 9th-10 marked the inaugural meeting of a group of Borden historians from all over the U.S. who gathered at the scene of the crime in Fall River at the Borden house on Second Street.  The group, modeled along the lines of the Sherlockian Baker Street Irregulars, visited important Lizzie-related sites around town, the courthouse where the 1893 trial took place, and Fairhaven where Lizzie’s sister Emma proved her alibi.  Composed of members of The Lizzie Borden Society Forum, http://lizzieandrewborden.com/LBForum/index.php

     the group, chapter named “Mutton Eaters”, (in tribute to the Borden breakfast on the day of the murders) will meet 2-3 times a year and will feature special guest lectures and field trips.  Photo below is taken in the jury box at the New Bedford Courthouse where Lizzie was acquitted in June of 1893.


  • On the waterfront


    Just at the end of Main Street, there is a gentle curve which follows the water. The view of the little boats and across the water of New Bedford is superb.  On the shore at this point is a plaque marking the spot where famed marine artist William Bradford had his studio.  Fall River had its share of fruit and flower-painting artists, but Fairhaven can boast a bevy of artists inspired by their waterfront surroundings.  Bradford’s paintings may be found in galleries all over the country with canvases in New Bedford at the Whaling Museum and in Boston at the Museum of Fine Art.  This painting has been a part of a special exhibit at the Whaling Museum.




    New Bedford Harbor, 1858


    The Panther 1874 mentioned on the plaque above


  • Life is Sweet


    Although Dorothy Cox Candy Shop was not around in Fairhaven for Emma’s visit in 1892, it has been a favorite stopping place for over 75 years for those who crave quality treats. 


    http://www.dorothycox.com/ No trip to Fairhaven is complete without a stop at Dorothy’s which is easy to find, located on Huttleston Avenue (a.k.a. Route 6) and is easy to find from New Bedford as well by just going over the Rt. 6 bridge.  Seasonal goodies, beautful holiday displays, and hand-dipped candies lure locals and visitors from farther afield.  The current green apple on a stick dipped in caramel and coated with milk chocolate is not to be missed.  It’s a good thing!


  • Autumn arrrives at last

     After record-breaking heat last week, the cold front finally arrived on Friday, pushing temps into the 40’s at night and 60’s during the day.  The leaves brightened up overnight from the soaking rain and glistened in the early morning Saturday sun.  All around the city people are preparing for Halloween, with some of the grand old Painted Ladies pulling out all the stops.  It was a great weekend to be driving around.

  • Fairhaven Town Hall

     Among many reasons to visit the town of Fairhaven, one must be the magnificent town hall, one of several municipal structures owing its existence to town benefactor, Henry H. Rogers.  Just across the street from the Millicent Library, the town hall has spectacular English oak panelling and fittings in the Gothic Revival style, a second floor theatre/auditorium which was dedicated by no lesser mortal than Mark Twain himself in 1894, and sweeping expanses of jewel -toned stained glass lancet windows.  The exteriors, are equally impressive, feature molded terracotta arches, tiled mosaic entries and breath-taking architectural details.  This grand edifice, and the library as well, were in the building stages at the time of Emma Borden’s visit to the Brownells on Green Street in the summer of 1892.


  • Fairhaven’s Famous Talcum

     Every little town in America has a claim to fame for something,  and so does Fairhaven, Massachusetts.  The Gold Bond Powder Company came to town in 1912 when the principals of the company were looking for a “clean and spotless” town to set up their manufacturing plant. They took the concept of a secret process very seriously and did not let anyone in the building during the mixing process which combined the secret ingredients. This company was big business in town until the early 1980s when they moved to a larger site in Rhode Island.  Gold Bond is still a popular brand and is easily found in New England supermarkets. And- it’s medicated! 

    The Atlas Tack Company was another booming concern at one time in the Fairhaven area, also now gone, but samples of these products are living on in the great display at the Fairhaven Office of Tourism and Visitor’s Center at 43 Center Street near the beautiful Millicent Library and Town Hall.

  • Mr. Bence’s Secret Sorrow

    bence.jpgThe testimony that Lizzie Borden tried to procure Prussic Acid at Smith’s pharmacy on the day before the murder has long been an exciting prospect to ponder regarding Lizzie’s possible premeditated attempt on the lives of her parents. Eli Bence, under oath was prepared to testify that Lizzie did enter his store between 10:30 and 11 a.m. on the 3rd of August, and would later identify her by voice and sight.  What a bitter blow to Mr. Bence when his evidence was not allowed at the Grand Jury trial as the Bordens were not poisoned and the incident “too far removed in time”!  Bence was married two times, his last wife being a Maxfield of Fairhaven, which is where today we find the little family.  Eli died in Pittsfield, Massachusetts but made his way back near the town where his evidence was not wanted in the end.  He is buried with his wife and little girl, in Riverside Cemetery Section 6 Lot 111.  Entering the main gate, take the first right and follow the wall about half way down, look left to see a stone marked Bourgeault to find the Maxfield/Bence lot just behind.   The sad little story, not known , was the death of his little Priscilla, buried next to her mother. 


    bencecloseup.jpgbence2.jpg please click on photos for large images