A brief history of the Onset Bathhouse

Nov 3, 2018

To the Editor:

The current Onset Bathhouse is the third one to be built on the original foundation and footings. The first bathhouse was built some time before the summer of 1924, and apparently coincided with the replacement of the dirt paths on the bluffs with cement walkways. Some of these walkways and steps were configured to accommodate the second floor on the bathhouse, and are still there.

The rear wall of the bathhouse is also a retaining wall against the slope of the bluffs, and is an integral part of all three bathhouses. It was never destroyed, and along with the concrete footings for the other sides of the bathhouse, forms the foundation for the current as well as any new building. Because parts of the original building are included in the new building it is not a complete demolition, but rather an extensive renovation.

The first bathhouse had a second floor with a promenade that ran the full length and a covered center section which housed a commercial establishment selling cigars, cold drinks and ice cream. It would have necessarily had an electrical service and a water service, therefore expenses to operate and maintain the building.

During the depression, the WPA did a lot of work around Onset, and it appears that a part of that work was to build a concrete walkway along the front of the bath house and along the beach. The walkway in front of the bathhouse is still accessible, but the one along the beach is buried under a couple of feet of sand, which came from harbor dredging. The first bath house was destroyed by the 1938 hurricane, most likely battered by boats and rafts that broke free from moorings. Any flood waters would have just rushed in and drained out through the freeing ports along the base of the front wall.

The bathhouse was replaced by a second wooden structure, using the same back wall and footings and foundation. It was also a two-floor building, although not as extensive as the first building. It had an open pavilion in the center, accessible by the steps and walkways on the bluffs, and was used for band concerts along with other activities.

There was also a snack bar located on the pier end of the bathhouse, and a lifeguard/first aid station on the other end. This bathhouse was wrecked during the 1954 hurricane, again due to battering by boats and rafts, as Wareham had no mooring regulations at the time.

The wooden structure was rebuilt, using the same back wall and foundation and footings, but without the second floor. The snack bar remained for many years, but the downfall and disuse of the structure was driven by sewerage disposal issues. There used to be cesspools in the sidewalk, and shower drains run directly onto the beach, but this arrangement was eventually viewed as unsanitary, and the cost of putting a sewer line into the bath house was prohibitive. That put an end to the snack bar and showers and toilets in the bath house, and the building was allowed to dissipate into the condition that we now see.

Len Gay