Assonet is one of two villages in the town of Freetown, Massachusetts in Bristol County, Massachusetts, United States. An original part of the town, Assonet was settled in 1659 along with the city of Fall River, then a part of Freetown. It rests on the banks of the Assonet River. As of the 2000 census, the village had a total population of 4,084; up from 3,614 in 1990.
The word comes from the local Wampanoag Indians, who had a settlement in the area, and has two meanings: "place of rocks" and "song of praise." Those meanings are traditional, but the former can be segmented as:
where hassun or assin, which is a word used by southern New England Algonquian, means "stone". The -et is a locative suffix: "at the place of the stone". As the region is mainly a tidal marsh, the stone referenced is most likely Dighton Rock in the Taunton River next to Assonet Neck. The entire region was sold to the English in 1659 by the Wampanoags, but, due to the Algonquian mobile way of life and the splitting and recombining of social units, the Nipmucs may have been subject to or at the time part of the Wampanoags.
The English settlement remained for many years a small fishing and farming village, growing to be Freetown's more industrious side by the end of the 18th century. By the end of the 19th century, Assonet had begun to slowly return to its origins, having less and less industry in town. At the beginning of the 21st century, the village has once again begun to expand rapidly.
Assonet was settled on April 2, 1659, but a string of wars between English settlers and the local Wampanoag Indians, including King Philip's War, prevented much permanent settlement until later. History shows the area existed as a proprietary settlement as early as 1680, and in 1683 Assonet and Fall River were incorporated as the Town of Freetown, named as such because its settlers were Freemen. The earliest records of the town, from approximately 1680-1685, have been lost. Since then, records have been kept and maintained to trace back the town's legacy. Little development occurred after the incorporation of the town, other than the construction of houses and smaller businesses.
Assonet became a prominent commercial fishing port in Southeastern Massachusetts in the 18th century, best known for its trout. Industry had also begun to develop, including grist mills, sawmills and a blacksmith's shop. As the century progressed, the villagers began to fall under the same strains as the rest of the colonists. Assonet was far enough east that it avoided many of the problems faced during the French and Indian War, but did feature in the Revolutionary War. Skirmishes were fought in Assonet, and the Battle of Freetown was fought on the outskirts of the village in present-day Fall River. The main settled area of the village was known to support the British, even harboring a general before he fled to Newport, Rhode Island. The white chimneys with black rings on many of the oldest houses are indicative of homes that supported the British. As the 18th century closed, churches and other more prominent buildings began to pop up around the village, including the 1794 construction of Village School, then the office of a Raynham lawyer.
The 19th century was perhaps the most industrious period in the history of Assonet. The village developed rapidly, with its combination of railroads, ships, its position on the stagecoach and mail routes, and its factories. The current Route 79 roughly follows the mail and stagecoach route from Rhode Island to Boston, and the Green Dragon Tavern on South Main Street was a popular stopover along the route. The downtown area boasted shipbuilding and was an import/export port, as well as a successful fishing industry.
The N. R. Davis Gun Manufactory, located near and on a portion of where Hathaway Park now sits, opened and provided many weapons to Union soldiers during the Civil War. Also built was the Crystal Springs Bleachery and Dying Company, which brought millhousing to a small area of the village, and employed many from town and neighboring Fall River, also known for industry.
North Church (1809), Town Hall (1888), and the Guilford H. Hathaway Library (1895) were all constructed in the same small area on Taunton Hill, and complimented the Village School nicely. The Town Hall has served as the municipal office building (1888–present), meeting hall (1888–1976), library (1888–1895), police station (1888–1978), and a variety of other functions. The second floor, literally a hall, was subdivided into office space in the mid-1970s. The Guilford Hathaway Library (b. 1895) served as the town's only library from its construction until the James White Library opened in East Freetown in 1947. The first Post Office in town opened in Assonet in 1811, and has operated continuously since then, first in a razed building on the corner of Elm and North Main Streets, later in a second razed building, and since 1962 at the facility on South Main Street near the former Assonet Star Market. The ZIP Code for Assonet is 02702.
In the mid-20th century, Assonet began to remove itself from the commercial/industrial scene. Most of its mills closed during this period, following the Second World War. The N. R. Davis Gun Factory burned to the ground in 1925; and the Crystal Springs Bleachery, now New England Textile, burned in 1955. (Remnants of the latter can be found by Mill Pond.) The former Monument Manufacturing Company on Mill & Locust Sts. was the largest domestic producer of sleeping bags during World War II. In the postwar period, the majority of villagers sought work outside of town, and farming also came back into common practice. This reverse trend would not last long. By the 1990s, the village began to develop again as the region was seen as a "great escape" for upperclass Boston workers.
Next to the Hathaway Library is a local Verizon station, which is the home of one of the first regional dialing systems. Not far away is Freetown Fire Department Company 1, constructed in 1948.
The 21st century has brought a renewed spirit to Assonet. The Stop & Shop Supermarket Company opened a new 1.3 million square foot (120,000 m2) distribution center on near the site of the Crystal Springs Bleachery after it received a tax increment financing agreement from the town, which has saved the company almost $2 million in property tax as of 2007. They provided over 800 jobs to the region but as of 2005, only 36 of those jobs are held by residents of Freetown. Portions of the village were designated to the National Register of Historic Places.
The Assonet Village Historic District has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1999. The boundaries are, roughly, High Street, the railroad tracks, a private road, and Route 24. It contains many buildings of local and widespread historical significance, including the home of United States Secretary of State John Hay's grandfather.