New Bedford was the epicenter of the US whaling industry from 18th to 19th Centuries. The Whaling trade took the sailors across the world making New Bedford one of the most culturally diverse cities of its day. The NHS consists of a small museum and a few restored houses.
A great thing to do is take the free guided tour that departs from the downtown visitor's center. This tour is lead by a knowledgeable park ranger and will take you to many of the high lights of historic New Bedford. You will also learn a lot of stories and facts that you would miss otherwise. It can set the scene for your day in New Bedford.
The visitor's center is an historic building in the center of the National Park Downtown. The staff there is incredibly friendly and knowledgeable, and will gladly provide you with enough things to do and see to easily fill up your day.
There are several displays and brochures there that will get you started on understanding the history of New Bedford. They show a film there every hour or so, admission to which is free.
A free guided tour led by a park ranger departs from the visitor's center several times a day.
There is another visitor's center located on the pier.
Whaling dominates the scene in New Bedford. There is a wonderful map in the visitors center showing the whaling waters off New Bedford... and the territory of the giants. You will also find a number of gift shops and nautical supply stores scattered among the shops and eateries. The streets in the historic district are filled with interesting architecture and great places to poke around...or stop for a beer.
Shortly after New Bedford's establishment as a town in the early 1760s it became an important whaling port. New Bedford possessed a deep-water harbor, which allowed it to supersede Nantucket as the Nation's leader in the whaling industry. New Bedford maintained that position until the growth of the petroleum industry in the late 1850s, brought American whaling to an end. Comprised of approximately 20 historic buildings situated within 12 city blocks and totaling approximately 20 acres, the New Bedford Historic District is a good example of the commercial district of a major New England seaport between 1810 and 1855. The success and wealth of local mariners and merchants is also evident in the buildings they built and used.
The district contains good examples of smaller Federal and Greek Revival style buildings with shops on the ground floor and living quarters above, as well as several gable-roofed warehouses of brick or stone. Some of the district's major institutional buildings constructed during this period include the U.S. Custom House, Mechanics Bank, Merchant's Bank and New Bedford Institution for Savings. Other prominent buildings in the New Bedford Historic District include the Samuel Rodman House (1831), the Mariner's Home (circa 1790), the Seaman's Bethel (1832 and rebuilt in 1867) and the Samuel Rodman Candlehouse (1810). Sponsored by the Old Dartmouth Historical Society, the Whaling Museum in New Bedford is a massive 20th-century, Georgian Revival style building, which today houses extensive collections illustrating the history of the whaling industry.
The New Bedford Historic District is roughly bounded by portions of Acushnet Ave., Elm, Water, Rodman, Front, Commercial and Union sts. For further information contact the City of New Bedford or call 1-800-508-5353. The New Bedford Historic District is also within the boundaries of the National Park Service's New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park.
Enter the nautical world of these enormous creatures of the deep and introduce yourself to KOBO. "The Museum acquired the skeleton of the rare, juvenile Blue whale after it was accidentally struck and killed by a tanker and was brought ashore in Rhode Island in March 1998. Named KOBO, King of the Blue Ocean by New Bedford student Katie Hallett, is the centerpiece of the Museum’s entrance gallery.
On December 30, 1840, at the age of 21 years, Herman Melville signed the shipping articles for a whaling voyage to the Pacific Ocean aboard the ship Acushnet of Fairhaven, MA, Valentine Pease, master. The vessel set sail down the Acushnet River estuary on January 3, 1841, past the great wharves of New Bedford, the then whaling capitol of the world, and out into the North Atlantic. This author of genius was being carried off on the voyage that would inspire one of the greatest works of literature in the American language. Moby Dick
As the repository of the world's largest and most comprehensive collection of whaling prints, the New Bedford Whaling Museum is staging a Classic Whaling Prints exhibition showcasing masterpieces of the past 400 years. The exhibition traces highlights from Dutch and German foundations in the 17th century; to French, British and American masterworks of the 19th century; to examples from Japan and the American 20th century. "
As is the case in any good museum, there is a quality gift shop with prints of whaling adventures as well as old New Bedford, books and memorabilia.
The National Park Service maintains the visitors center in the heart of the National Historic District. Originally built as a bank with recent additions to accomodate public rest rooms and a small theater space... it offers a spacious, beautiful, convenient access to information about the offerings in the area. There are several guides on hand to help you with brochures, maps or general directions. I found them to be enthusiastic and very gracious.
It's a good place to ask questions and plan your time in the city.
New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park is the only national park site dedicated to preserving and interpreting America's nineteenth century whaling story.
At New England Salvage you can find lots of shutters, columns, hardware, mantlepieces and all variety of spare parts waiting for reuse in your renovation project. My friend, (an architect who specializes in historic properties) and I love to poke in these salvage yards in the hope of recycling some of the special parts of the past. Often the materials cannot be duplicated in today's lumber yards. . . or the workmanship for some of the detailed pieces would be too expensive to create today.
To get a good understanding as to why this city is here, a visit to the "working waterfront" is important. Pick up a pamphlet at the visitors center, and walk along the wharf with it's tough fishing boats and the facilities that equip them and keep them going. These boats represent a hard way of life, as well as the means by which we are able to enjoy excellent seafood.
Another way to experience this area is to take a guided boat tour, which leaves from the Visitor's Center on the wharf.
This beautiful place of worship is featured in Herman Mellville's Moby Dick. Ishmael, the narrator, visits here for one last sermon prior to setting out his dangerous journey. I call it a "place of worship" because it is non-denominational. Here seamen of different faiths could come meditate on their own spirituality.
The building is distinct and inside it is bright and cheerful. The feeling upon entering is one of welcome. Cenotaphs dedicated to the memory of people lost at sea line the walls of the chapel. Downstairs is the "saltbox" where sailors cold learn to read and write. there is a lot of history tied to this place and you can sense it all around you.
Admission is free, but a small donation would be appropriate.
Whaling is a major part of the history of Massachusetts and it is very apparent in our local culture. The best place to learn about the history of this nearly extinct industry, is the New Bedford Whaling Museum. New Bedford was once the hub of North East whaling, and is indeed the port from which the fictional Ishmael departed the mainland on his whaling adventure in 'Moby Dick'.
The museum is very nice and educational, with several skeletons of the massive leviathans hanging from the ceiling. The place is full of artwork, artifacts and exhibits that will bring the old days to life. The gift shop has a lot of nice stuff, especially if you have a nautical theme anywhere in your home.
The historic downtown of New Bedford is small and quaint, though there are some sketchy areas surrounding. You might tack this visit onto a trip to nearby Fall River to see the old battleships and eat Portuguese food.
During the Revolutionary War, in 1778, the British destroyed this fort. Later, it was rebuilt. With a commanding position overlooking the harbor entrance, it remained an active fort for some years. It's now a state reservation.
New Bedford's port is protected by the 9100-foot-long hurricane barrier. With two 440-ton gates, it creates a safe harbor. Standing 20 feet above sea level, it also offers excellent views of the city and coast.
Fortunately, the days of large-scale commercial whaling are long over. The old town of New Bedford was once the heart of that enterprise. This museum houses a huge collection of artifacts from that era, which had its heyday in the 19th century. This museum is in the New Bedford Whaling Historical Park, which covers 13 blocks of the city.
The New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park was created in 1996 to preserve the history of whaling in New Bedford, which served as one of the primary port cities for the American whaling industry in the 1800s. Our favorite part of the historic park was its very interesting museum, which features numerous exhibits about the whaling industry, its ships and sailors, and their voyages. Our favorite part of the museum was the whaling ship Lagoda, which is housed in the museum and which you can climb around and explore. Other highlights of the National Historic Park are the seamen's chapel (also called the Bethel), a number of other historic buildings, and a ship named the Ernestina.