Introduction to New Bedford, Massachusetts
The city of New Bedford, located in Bristol County, Massachusetts, lies about 60 miles south of Boston and 30 miles southeast of Providence, Rhode Island. Highways running through the city include Interstate I-195, U.S. Route 6, and Massachusetts State Highways 18 and 140. Another highway adjacent to the city is Massachusetts State Highway 24. New Bedford is also the originating point of a number of private ferry services, which carry passengers to and from nearby islands including Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and Cuttyhunk. Nicknamed "The Whaling City" due to its former prominence as a major whaling port, New Bedford is the setting (and some might say also the principal focus) of Herman Melville's classic novel "Moby Dick."
The origins of New Bedford trace back to the mid-1600s, when settlers founded the colonial town of Old Dartmouth (which encompassed the present-day communities of Dartmouth, New Bedford, Acushnet, Fairhaven, and Westport). A portion of this colony, originally called Bedford Village, was officially incorporated as the town of New Bedford in 1787. The name Bedford was suggested by the Russell family, prominent citizens of the community, due to the fact that "Russell" was the actual family surname of England's Duke of Bedford. The prefix "New" was added to avoid a name conflict with the previously-incorporated city of Bedford, Massachusetts. At the time of its incorporation, the town was also comprised of the present-day communities of Acushnet and Fairhaven, but these separated from New Bedford in 1812. In 1847, the town of New Bedford officially became a city.
New Bedford's early-19th century prominence as a leader in the whaling industry began to decline during the latter half of the century concurrent with the discovery of petroleum as a popular alternative to whale oil. It was during this period that the textile industry took root in the city and began to flourish, ushering in an era of prosperity that lasted until the 1940s. In addition to cotton manufacturing, New Bedford had been defined for many years by the proliferation of large-scale factories manufacturing a variety of products including rubber, metal, and glass. However, the city never lost its reliance on the sea to provide a substantial part of its living. Today, New Bedford is home to literally hundreds of commercial fishing vessels and the city continually ranks as one of the nation's top commercial fishing ports. Tourism is also a fast-growing segment of the city's present-day economy, and the service industry ranks alongside commercial fishing as an economic pillar in New Bedford today.
New Bedford Area Attractions
New Bedford's rich history, proximity to other big cities, and authentic working waterfront draws a large number of tourists annually. In addition, an increasing number of museums, galleries, and cultural events are attracting art patrons and visitors of all types to the city. The New Bedford Whaling Museum is the centerpiece of the Whaling National Historical Park. It is the nation's largest museum devoted to whaling and the whaling industry. Among its displays are enormous skeletons of humpback, sperm, and baby blue whales found in New England waters. The New Bedford Fire Museum, housed in an authentic firehouse built in 1867, features a unique collection of fire-fighting memorabilia and art dating back to the early 19th century. The Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum is a 28-room Greek revival mansion built in 1834 with decorative arts, furniture and clothing on display. The New Bedford Art Museum, located on City Hall Square, showcases the work of professional artists from across the region. The Fort Taber Military Museum chronicles New Bedford’s long and rich military history with exhibits and displays of military interest. The Schooner Ernestina Museum showcases the Schooner Ernestina, official vessel of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. A gift from the Republic of Cape Verde, the vessel had sailed as a Grand Banks fishing schooner, far-north Arctic explorer and trans-Atlantic Cape Verdean packet. New Bedford also contains many parks and recreational facilities. Among them are Buttonwood Park, home to the newly-renovated Buttonwood Park Zoo, and Hazelwood Park, which features games of bowling on the green. Also in the city is Fort Taber Park, the city's newest park and one of its largest, which features important historical landmarks owing to the site's former use as a military reservation dating back to the American Revolution.
Visitors to New Bedford can take part in a number of annual fairs and festivals. The annual Feast of the Blessed Sacrament is the largest Portuguese feast in the world. Founded in 1915 by Madeiran immigrants who wanted to recreate the religious festivals so common in the villages they left behind, this massive 4-day summer gathering commences on the Thursday evening preceding the first Sunday in August and provides visitors from around the world the opportunity to partake in the rich Madeiran heritage of drink, dance, and food. Also in New Bedford is the annual Summerfest Festival. Held in July, this three-day event combines an International Folk Music and Arts Festival with waterfront activities. The Festival features musicians, crafts, prepared seafood meals, an arcade, and waterfront-related displays. On the Sunday of the event weekend The Blessing of the Fleet takes place. During this ceremony vessels of the fishing fleet and other boats, many of which are lavishly decorated, parade past the pier-side podium where clergy of different faiths bestow blessings on each vessel for success and safe return from the sea.
New Bedford is only a half-hour away from Providence and about an hour from Boston. There are numerous things to see and do in these cities and in areas nearby. Sports fans in particular can treat themselves to some first-rate pro action played by area teams. The city of Providence is home to the Providence Bruins, a professional hockey team in the American Hockey League (AHL). The Bruins are the minor league affiliate of the NHL's Boston Bruins. About five miles north of Providence is the city of Pawtucket, home to Minor League Baseball's Pawtucket Red Sox, a Class-AAA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. The Pawtucket team, also known as the PawSox, compete in the International League. About 45 miles northwest of New Bedford is the Massachusetts town of Foxboro, home of the New England Patriots of the National Football League. The Patriots play their games at Gillette Stadium, which is also the home of a Major League Soccer (MLS) team, the New England Revolution. Plenty of major league action can be found in the city of Boston, home town of the following teams:
- Boston Red Sox (Major League Baseball)
- Boston Celtics (National Basketball Association)
- Boston Bruins (National Hockey League)
- Boston Cannons (Major League Lacrosse)
- Boston Lobsters (World Team Tennis)
Tennis fans visiting New Bedford can also treat themselves to a visit to the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Located in Newport, Rhode Island (30 miles to the southwest), the Hall features exhibits chronicling the achievements of all of the inductees and includes the largest tennis museum in the world, containing artifacts and memorabilia as well as video and audio exhibits highlighting the history of the sport.