New Bedford: Historic Architecture

The Beginning

The city of New Bedford dates back to the Colonial years, when the land was purchased in 1652 from the Wampanoag tribes, whom called the area “Acushnet” or “Cushnea”. The territory was later named Old Dartmouth in 1664, which included present day New Bedford, Dartmouth, Westport, and Fairhaven.

Joseph Russell, who owned much of the land around what is County, Spring, and Elm Street today, built his home on County Street, and by 1750, Joseph Russell III designed plans for village streets and house lots near the shore area of the family property. In 1760, a shipbuilder by the name of John Loudon, purchased the first plot of land from the Russells and built his home on what is Water Street today.

Other craftsmen soon followed Loudon in purchasing lots and building homes in the area, and established the young village’s growing industry. Joseph Rotch named the small town Bedford, after the Duke of Bedford in England, who’s family name was Russell. Rotch is credited with bringing improved whaling methods to the town, which formerly only used smaller ships for trips closer to the shore.

Town Destruction

After becoming annoyed with the Revolution, the English raided the Bedford Village in 1778, destroying most ships and buildings, which included the original Loudon and Rotch homes. With the destruction of most of the town’s industry, Bedford’s prosperity came to a halt, as a whaling vessel wouldn’t leave the town for seven years. After the American Revolution ended, Bedford rebuilt and officially became the town of New Bedford in 1787, to differentiate it from the town of Bedford located near Boston.

Reviving A Community

Once the 1800’s arrived, New Bedford’s flourishing whaling industry opened the door for the many beautiful buildings still around today. Since most of the Colonial period building were destroyed, the oldest building style you’ll find are Federal Period. This usually included “balustraded low hip roofs, elaborate fences and magnificently detailed porticos and front entries.”Federal Period style of buildings were popular from 1785 until around 1820, where the Greek Revival Period began.

Thomas Jefferson played a major role in bringing the architecture styles of ancient Rome and Greece to New Bedford. He dislike Colonial, or Georgian style and Federal styles, and saw the Greek style to be fitting for the freed democratic nation. The most obvious Greek Revival building can be found in public buildings, with their large columns and classic temple design, but the Rotch-Jones-Duff House & Garden Museum also gives a fantastic example of this style of architecture. The Greek Revival period stayed in popularity until 1850, with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. As technology advanced rapidly in America, the Victorian style of housing thrived with it, which combined many different aspects of past styles to create truly individual and captivating houses. The Melville House, located on Madison Street, is a perfect example of Victorian architecture, and is now run as a bed and breakfast. Captain Haskell’s Octagon House on Union Street provides another beautiful and unique Victorian era house, which also runs as a bed and breakfast.

Many of these historic buildings are located downtown in New Bedford’s Historic District, but many interesting historic houses can be found throughout the city. This mix of different eras of architecture and structure give New Bedford a truly unique feel to the city, whether you come to visit or live here your whole life. There are few places quite like it.

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Jonathan Faria

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