BROCKTON, MASS. — The Massachusetts marine industry was born 60 years ago in a building that no longer stands — Mechanic’s Hall on Huntington Avenue in Boston, where the Prudential Center now stands.
Recreational boating was beginning to gain popularity following World War II and the pioneer salesmen wanted to bring more boats to the marketplace. So they partnered with the New England Sportsmen’s and Boat Show, convening show boats in the basement of the hall for the first time in 1954.
Recreational boating matured quickly in Massachusetts, where commercial fishing and boating had long been part of the area’s history. The small boat dealers decided they could have their own space, and they rented the Commonwealth Armory in Boston in 1957.
Enter Frank J. Farrell, an ad salesman at the Herald Traveler who sold print space to boat salesmen.
“Frank Farrell was instrumental back in the 1950s in starting the first boat show,” said Larry Russo, owner of Russo Marine, who spoke to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Massachusetts Marine Trades Association during a Marine Retail University conference last week.
Farrell helped the dealers find space under the grandstand at Suffolk County Downs when the military needed the armory because of the Vietnam War. The experience was, in a word, miserable, Russo illustrated during his speech and with photos depicting the less than favorable conditions.
It was an effort by the newly formed New England Marine Trades Association, the only marine trade association for the region, and was clearly loathed by all facets.
“Why did you have to go and remind me about the Suffolk County Downs show?” Connecticut Marine Trades Association president Grant Westerson asked Russo after the event. “I had blocked that out.”
Lastly, as director of the regional boat show, Farrell helped spearhead the formation of the Massachusetts Marine Trades Association in 1964 for these reasons, Russo told the group: “To promote boating; to combat adverse legislation; to be involved in the Boston Boat Show being contemplated for the new auditorium at the Prudential Center in 1967.”
Half a century later, the MMTA is financially sound and thriving. Today’s New England Boat Show, in its 59th year, runs from Feb. 22 to March 2 at the new Boston Convention and Exposition Center. The show was purchased by the National Marine Manufacturers Association in 2009, but has retained its influence from the MMTA.
It continues to gain traction as one of the premier boat shows in the Northeast.