A pole marks the directions for New Bedford, Paris, the North Pole, and Denmark.
Directions from Barrow, Alaska. Photo courtesy: NPS

The site of today's New Bedford was purchased from the Wampanoag people in 1652. In 1699, the Quakers erected a meetinghouse, the first English establishment there. Through the mid-1700s, Joseph Russell, Joseph Rotch, and Isaac Howland built up the whaling industries with a tryworks for rendering oil from blubber, whaling ships, and a candle factory. New Bedford's deep harbor and access to Boston and New York markets spurred its rise as the whaling capital in the 1800s.

Today, the port supports the city's primary industry, fishing, instead of whaling. A hurricane barrier has protected fleets since 1965, while ferries transport tourists to Martha's Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands. Author Herman Melville once called New Bedford "a queer place," but admitted that he found it "perhaps the dearest place to live in, in all New England."
A fountain greets visitors at one entrance of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Plaza.
54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Plaza. Photo courtesy: NPS
54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Plaza
New Bedford, Massachusetts

This William Street plaza is a memorial to New Bedford people of color who fought for the Union Army during the Civil War. More than 100 years prior, the site served as a recruiting station for those troops. More information.
The Custom House, complete with white columns and sitting on the corner of William and N Second streets.
The Custom House. Photo courtesy: NPS
Custom House
New Bedford, Massachusetts

The U.S. Custom House in New Bedford is the oldest continually operating custom house in the country. Whaling masters of the past registered their ships and cargo in this building, while today's commercial ships continue to log duties and tariffs here. More information.
An Iñupiat whaleman holds out a harpoon.
Iñupiat whaleman. Photo courtesy: NPS
The Iñupiat Heritage Center
Barrow, Alaska

Through the late 1800s, whaling stretched into the Arctic. New Bedford whalemen may have settled these northern villages, while Iñupiat people were recruited for voyages. The heritage center in Barrow recognizes this historical and cultural tie with New Bedford. More information.
A white church on Johnny Cake Hill.
Seamen's Bethel. Photo courtesy: NPS
Seamen's Bethel
New Bedford, Massachusetts

Although built to straighten out some sinful sailors, the Seamen's Bethel also inspired writer Herman Melville and is still an active nondenominational church. More information.
Black-and-white photo of New Bedford storefronts.
Tobey & Coggeshall. Photo courtesy: NPS
Tobey & Coggeshall
New Bedford, Massachusetts

A successful New Bedford storefront, the Tobey & Coggeshall building doubled as the recruiting office for the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. More information.

Last updated: August 15, 2018

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

33 William Street
New Bedford, MA 02740



Contact Us