Where the Taunton River flows into Mount Hope Bay, Fall River is a maritime city known for its historic textile industry, a busy port and Portuguese heritage.
Around a third of the city’s residents are descended from Portuguese immigrants, who arrived mostly from the Azorean island of São Miguel at the turn of the 20th century.
Fall River’s most infamous resident was surely Lizzie Borden (1860-1927), tried and acquitted of the grisly axe murders of her wealthy father and stepmother in 1892.
The scene of the crime is now a museum/bed and breakfast, and you can check out a number of Borden-related places around the city, including the home she purchased with her inheritance and her resting place at the august Borden family plot at Oak Grove Cemetery.
The Fall River Historical Society also holds the largest collection of Lizzie Borden-related artifacts, and is housed in a fine French Second Empire mansion.
1. Battleship Cove
Fall River’s main attraction is an outdoor museum on the Taunton River made up of the world’s largest collection of U.S. Navy vessels from World War II.
Five of these vessels have been designated National Historic Landmarks, and the star exhibit is the USS Massachusetts (BB-59).
This South Dakota-class fast battleship was launched in 1941 at Quincy’s Fore River Shipyard and spent much of the war in the Pacific theatre.
USS Massachusetts can be toured above and below deck, and the same goes for the Gearing-class destroyer USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. (1945), the Balao-class submarine USS Lionfish (1943), the heavy cruiser USS Fall River (1944).
Also on show is the German corvette Hiddensee, built for the East German Navy in the mid-1980s. At 680 feet, USS Massachusetts alone deserves a couple of hours of exploration, and you can even stop for lunch in the ship’s wardroom.
2. Lizzie Borden House
If you have a taste for the macabre, the scene of that unsolved double murder will surely pique your interest. The Lizzie Borden House (230 2nd St) has been a museum and bed and breakfast since 1996 and changed owners in 2021.
Ninety-minute house tours take place daily, 10am – 4pm, and for those intrigued by reports of supernatural activity around the city there are nightly ghost tours and ghost hunts.
It may come as no surprise that the most popular room for overnight stays is the bedroom in which Lizzie’s stepmother, Abby Borden was killed.
The sitting room in which Andrew Borden was discovered looks much as it did in 1892, with a settee resembling the one on which he was napping when he was murdered.
Throughout the house are small but spooky hints of what took place here, including replicas of the victims skulls, photographs of the murder scenes and weapon, and an autopsy table in the dining room where Abby Borden’s autopsy took place.
3. Maritime Museum at Battleship Cove
Complementing the fleet moored close by is a museum that does a deep dive on Fall River’s maritime heritage.
The permanent exhibit, Sails, Paddles & Screws, begins with the Age of Exploration and touches on whaling, ocean liners, warships and the story of United Fruit, which emerged from the Boston Fruit Company, and used Fall River’s port.
One interesting thread is the Fall River Line (1847-1937), a steamboat and railroad connection between Boston and New York, with the ocean leg beginning and ending at the Fall River’s harbor.
Recreated rooms, scale models, uniforms and other memorabilia give you an idea of what it was like to make this trip some 150 years ago.
The museum also has extensive collections for RMS Titanic, and is the home of a 28-foot scale model built for the 1953 film, along with artifacts recovered from the wreck.
4. Fall River Historical Society
Established for more than a century now, the Fall River Historical Society has many rich collections, covering decorative arts, costume, textiles, paintings, maritime memorabilia, manuscripts and ephemera, for a comprehensive picture of life in the city.
One personality that inevitably looms large is Lizzie Borden, and the museum at this granite-built French Second Empire mansion gives you the definitive account of her life and trial.
The society has an exciting social calendar, headed by the annual Holiday Open House, and also has a museum shop & boutique filled with dainty items.
5. Fall River Heritage State Park
In the shadow of the Charles M. Braga Jr. Memorial Bridge, the Fall River Heritage State Park encompasses 14 acres of waterfront by Battleship Cove.
One of the park’s highlights is its mile-long stretch of accessible boardwalk, with marvelous views across the Taunton River, especially if you come at sunset.
There’s also a visitor center with museum exhibits about Fall River’s history, with a focus on the textile industry.
Along the boardwalk you’ll come to an historic carousel built in 1920, as well as a three-acre grassy space hosting all kinds of outdoor events in the summer, from outdoor movies to cultural festivals.
6. Portuguese Cuisine
Around a third of the city’s residents have Azorean ancestry, and this heritage is especially visible when it comes to food in Fall River.
For one thing, some of the best Portuguese bakeries in the United States are located here. One local star is Barcelos Bakery and Cafe (695-699 Bedford St), loved for its pastéis de nata (custard tarts), massa (sweet bread), papo secos (traditional crusty rolls) and malasadas (fried dough).
For dining, there’s no shortage of spots to try, but some standouts are Caravela (637 S Main St), Sagres (177 Columbia St) and Caldeiras (990 Pleasant St). Grilled chicken, pork steak sandwich (bifana), caldeirada (fish stew), grilled octopus and salted codfish are just a few classics to keep in mind.
7. Quequechan River Rail Trail
A previously hidden side of Fall River has been opened up to the public along an abandoned railroad corridor.
Linking two neighborhoods, the Quequechan River Rail Trail was completed in 2017 and follows the river for about 1.7 miles.
The trail uses a mix of rehabilitated railroad architecture and new structures, including seven boardwalks.
Direction signs have been installed along the trail, as well as informative boards explaining the history of the area and helping you identify waterfowl, turtles and other river inhabitants.
8. Kennedy Park
On a long plot, pitching steeply to the bay, this park took shape in the late 1860s as a green buffer against the textile mills that were taking over the city.
Kennedy Park (then South Park) was initially landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, and was later updated at the turn of the 20th century by Frederick’s sons, the Olmsted Brothers.
The uppermost section to the east is where many of the recreation facilities, like the park’s baseball fields, are located.
The middle section, boasting fabulous views, swoops down towards the bay, and is a go-to for sledding in the winter, while the lowermost part by Bay St is scattered with tall hardwood trees.
9. Freetown-Fall River State Forest
In the very north of Fall River there’s more than 5,000 acres of publicly owned forest, mainly used for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, dirt biking and cross-country skiing in winter.
The Freetown-Fall River State Forest is the largest component of the Southeastern Massachusetts Bioreserve spreading across 13,600 acres.
Within the forest is a 227-acre (92 ha) Wampanoag reservation, and there’s interesting Native American heritage at Profile Rock, a 50-foot granite outcropping held as the image of Wampanoag leader Chief Massasoit (1580-1661).
There are 25 miles of trails to explore, and in summer families descend on the forest’s HQ, featuring picnic tables, pavilions and a large spray deck.
10. Oak Grove Cemetery
Founded in 1859, Fall River’s most prestigious cemetery is on 120 hilly acres and has a flowing layout inspired by the influential rural garden style of Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Oak Grove Cemetery is the resting place of many Fall River notables, including important merchants, mill owners, inventors, sports stars and politicians.
The Borden family plot, including Lizze Borden’s grave (marked “Lizbeth”), can be found on the west side, a little way in from the Gothic Revival gateway.
Given the Bordens’ dominance of economic and civic life in 19th-century Fall River, the monuments are grand, in particular the column for industrialist Richard Borden (1795-1874) and plinth for Lizzie’s father Andrew.
11. Children’s Museum of Greater Fall River
Housed in the old Bristol County Superior Court building (1889), the Children’s Museum of Greater Fall River is a hands-on educational attraction for little ones.
Designed around the core themes of community, family and creativity, the museum encourages open-ended, experiential learning with a range of exhibits.
Among them are the Doctor Office, Outer Space indoor playground, Color Room, Dinosaurs Room, Water Room, LEGO Room, Violet Music Room, Train Room and Grocery Area, to name a few.
Children up to the age of 9 or so could easily spend hours here, while there’s also a designated room for birthday parties.
Post-trial, Lizzie Borden remained in Fall River with her sister Emma, although the pair were ostracized by local society.
They soon moved into an ornate Queen Anne-style house in the upscale neighborhood known as The Hill.
Built around 1887, and dubbed “Maplecroft” by Borden, this house at 306 French Street has seven bedrooms and would remain Borden’s home until she passed away from pneumonia in 1927.
When we wrote this list, Maplecroft had recently been sold to an artist and professor who moved here with her family from New Bedford and intended to restore the house to a single family residence.
13. Copicut Woods
You don’t have to leave Fall River’s city limits to escape to nature, with more than 500 acres of woodland a stone’s throw to the east.
Copicut Woods has towering old trees, in a landscape laced with streams and vernal pools.. There’s also an expanse of freshwater swamp growing Atlantic cedars and crossed via raised boards.
There are almost 5.5 miles of trails weaving through the woods, and close to the parking area on Yellow Hill Road you can view the remnants of the old Isaac Miller Homestead, slowly returning to nature.
14. Lafayette-Durfee House
The only colonial house in Fall River to open to the public is thought to have been built some time before 1750.
The Lafayette-Durfee House was previously located on the site of the Bristol County Superior Court, and was moved a couple of blocks to its current spot on Cherry Street in 1872. The residence is noted for its links to the American Revolutionary War.
The house was originally on a large property that stretched between the Taunton River in the west and the North Watuppa Pond in the east.
This was mortgaged to help finance the revolution by owner Judge Thomas Durfee, and his son Joseph became a colonel, serving with Marquis de Lafayette at the Battle of White Plains (1776).
Lafayette is known to have been a guest at this house on several occasions. When we wrote this article you could visit on Sunday afternoons to admire the period furnishings, medical equipment, weaponry and reproductions of clothing from the mid-18th century.
15. Great Feast of the Holy Ghost of New England
One of the most popular annual festivals in southern New England takes place at Kennedy Park towards the end of August.
A tradition with Azorean roots, the Great Feast of the Holy Ghost is a colorful cultural event, blending religious ceremonies at the beautiful St. Anne’s Church with traditional Portuguese dancing, live music and great food.
The event opens with the reciting of the rosary at Kennedy Park, and the serving of Holy Ghost soup, an Azorean specialty.
The most emblematic spectacle is surely the parade along Main Street to the park, with sweet bread and milk distributed in honor of the holy spirit. A typical festival treat is malasadas, and there’s a line of vendors making this fried treat right in front of you.