Opening the end of June, “The Old Dartmouth Historical Society Wattles Family Gallery”

The following was researched and written by Maritime Curator Mike Dyer,

The soon to be opened “Old Dartmouth Historical Society Wattles Family Gallery” will be dedicated to the exhibition of fine and decorative arts of the Old Dartmouth region. It is located in one of the original exhibition spaces of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society (ODHS), what was once the main floor of the National Bank of Commerce building located at 35 [37] North Water Street.

In 1906 the ODHS bought the “imposing bank building of brick and brownstone” built in 1883/84 with the generous assistance of Standard Oil magnate Henry Huttleston Rogers (1840-1909), one of the original Board of Trustees members, and under the  auspices of one of the original founders of the ODHS, WilliamWallace Crapo.


The National Bank of Commerce, which went out of business in 1898, was the first bank in New Bedford. It stood at this same location. Its original name was the Bedford Bank (1803-1812) with merchant Thomas Hazard its first president and was originally organized to support the Bedford Marine Insurance Company. The bank was liquidated during the War of 1812 and in 1816 was resurrected under the name of the Bedford Commercial Bank (1816-1864), with George Howland acting as president until his death in 1851. In 1864 it was re-organized as the National Bank of Commerce, Thomas Nye, Jr. president.

In January of 1908 as the ODHS took full possession of the rooms and hung its sign, still there today, over the Water Street entrance. By the 1930’s the room was dedicated to the exhibition of nautical objects including ship models, paintings, prints, scrimshaw and curiosities. By the 1960’s the space had been converted to offices for curator Philip Purrington and whaling/biology scholar David Henderson. At that time library collections were also housed in the space. By the 1990s it had been converted to storage and other behind-the-scenes functionalities necessary for the growing museum. Today the museum is recapturing the elegant space to highlight its local history collections.


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