The Magical World of Colonel Green

This is a story about a whaling ship, an eccentric millionaire, and a little girl named Ginny.

Once there was a man who dared to be different. He was kind, intelligent, and extremely wealthy. His name was Colonel Green.

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Colonel Green

His real name was Edward Howland Robinson Green, but most people called him the Colonel. The nickname makes him sound like a character from the board game “Clue.”

But all joking aside, the Charles W. Morgan probably wouldn’t be here today were it not for this man.

Colonel Green’s mother was the infamous “Witch of Wall Street,” Hetty Green. Known for her miserly ways, she was a shrewd investor who made millions of dollars during her lifetime.

The Witch of Wall Street

The “Witch of Wall Street.” Based on what I’ve read, I definitely would NOT have wanted to be on Hetty’s bad side…

Hetty’s thrift is the stuff of legend. It is said that when the Colonel’s brother broke his leg as a young boy, his leg went untreated because Hetty couldn’t find a free clinic. Later the leg was amputated. Hetty bummed rides, showed up for meals at other people’s houses, and pilfered papers and pens from local businesses.

When Hetty died in 1916, Colonel Green inherited her fortune. He built a massive mansion on the shores of South Dartmouth and created a magical world he called Round Hill.

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Colonel Green’s mansion still stands today, but the interior has been converted into condominiums.

That magical world remains a fond memory of Ginny Gay, who spent her childhood summering on Salter’s Point. If Ginny behaved well, she was allowed to cross the creek with her nanny and play on the gigantic wooden whaling ship berthed in the sand. The year was 1934, and the whaler was the Charles W. Morgan. 

The New Bedford whaling fleet once stood 300 ships strong, but by 1924 the Charles W. Morgan and the Wanderer where the last two whalers of their kind. On August 24 the Wanderer left New Bedford to anchor off Cuttyhunk Island, but high seas snapped the anchor chain and the vessel drifted, foundered, and was lost.

Remnants of a play ship, that Colonel Green made in honor of the Wanderer. Actual parts of the ship were salvaged from the wreckage and put on display at Round Hills

Remnants of a play ship that Colonel Green made in honor of the Wanderer. Actual parts were salvaged from the wreckage

What's left the tryworks

What’s left of the tryworks

The plan to preserve the Morgan first came from a South Dartmouth artist named Harry Neyland, who had ties to the Colonel’s grandfather, the majority owner of the Morgan. Neyland first asked New Bedford to take care of the Morgan,  but the city turned him down.That’s when Colonel Green decided Round Hill would be the rightful home for the world’s last wooden whaling ship.

The Morgan was embedded in a sand berth on the East Beach. Green had a wooden wharf and coffer dam constructed and he had the Morgan refitted. On July 21, 1926, one thousand people attended the Morgan’s dedication ceremony. Shortly after, Colonel Green opened his prized whaler to the public. Over 100,000 people visited the ship each year. So began “Whaling Enshrined.”

The Morgan in her sand berth with Ginny Gay pictured below. Photo courtesy of the Gay family.

The Morgan in her sand berth with Ginny Gay pictured below. Photo courtesy of the Gay family.

The Colonel was known for his generosity and eccentric lifestyle.

He built a radio transmission tower that he called “Round Hill Radio.” People would gather on his lawn to listen to news, sports and local talents that could broadcast as far as London, England. But perhaps the grandaddy of all the Colonel’s eclectic interests was not his whaling ship, dutch windmill, light house or high tech wine cellar – it was his dirigible garage that housed his 128 foot blimp, the Mayflower.  

The Mayflower

The Mayflower was not just a toy, but an instrument used to conduct scientific experiments for M.I.T.

Tip: Want to impress somebody? Just mention your dirigible garage, and they’ll be swooning.

The Colonel died in 1936, and the hurricane of ’38 left the Morgan in a rough shape. With no money set aside to maintain the vessel, the Morgan was towed to Mystic Seaport in 1941.

When Ginny visited the Morgan last week, she said the smell of pine tar evoked many wonderful memories.

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Ginny circa 1934

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Ginny is now 84 years old, and still swims the waters near the sand berth. She’s part of a senior swimming club called the Fabulous 5.

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I’ve met so many people in New Bedford who have fond memories of the Morgan. Although the Colonel’s mansion has been converted into condos and his estate has been turned into a private country club, the relics of Round Hill remain.

I visited Round Hill recently and strolled down to the beach. I saw this little girl playing in front of the Morgan’s sand berth. Someday, perhaps she too will have a story to tell her grandkids about the day the Morgan came home.

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Talk to you soon.