Category Archives: Local History

The New Bedford Armory, Part II

armory_2004

If you read my essay titled A Castle for New Bedford: The Building of the New Bedford Armory, 1898-1904, you may be interested to know of recent developments regarding this important city landmark. Once again the fate of the Armory is receiving renewed public attention, thanks to a Standard-Times article by Steve Urbon titled Possible sale of armory sounds alarm bells in New Bedford regarding the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’s renewed effort to sell the Armory as a surplus state building under the management of the Division of Capital Asset Management & Maintenance (DCAMM). Urbon then did a follow-up article on the Armory’s current condition titled Tour reveals slow destruction of New Bedford Armory. The news was not good.

In 2003, nearly 100 years after its dedication, the Massachusetts National Guard announced to the City of New Bedford that it would be vacating the Armory. At that time, I had the opportunity to tour the Armory with city officials. I took several photos of the interior, in part, to document historic artifacts related to New Bedford’s military history. Posted below, they are in startling contrast to the 2017 photos published with Steve Urbon’s article (above), which documents the current state of deterioration from fire, vandalism and the elements.

In 2014, Jonathan Carvalho’s article highlighted the challenge of restoration and reuse of great old city buildings, including the Armory. The good news is that the Armory can be refurbished if not completely restored to its 1904 grandeur. The bad news: due mostly to human-inflicted damage (vandalism and arson), it will cost exponentially more to do so than it would have when I took these pictures in 2003. Regardless of the cost, the public, any/all interested parties, and especially the Armory neighborhood should make their voices heard on what will be the next chapter in the Armory’s history.

The Commander's Office's feature massive hearths one would expect to see in a Norman-style castle. In 2003, fireplace equipment and lighting sconces remained in place.

The Commander’s Offices feature massive hearths one would expect to see in a Norman-style castle. In 2003, fireplace equipment and lighting sconces remained in place. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

The Armory marble gilded dedication Tablet was in the foyer in 2003. Its current whereabouts is not known by the writer. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

The Armory marble gilded Dedication Tablet was in the foyer in 2003. Its current whereabouts is not known by the author. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

The twin staircases on either side of the main corridor leading from the foyer were then in good condition. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

The twin staircases on either side of the main corridor leading from the foyer were then in good condition. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

A canvas painted map of the Regiment's actions in World War II is now in the collection of the New Bedford Military Museum, operated by the Fort Rodman/Fort Taber Historical Association. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

A canvas painted map of the Regiment’s actions in World War II is now in the collection of the New Bedford Military Museum, operated by the Fort Rodman/Fort Taber Historical Association. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Detail of World War II Map now in the collection of the New Bedford Military Museum, operated by the Fort Rodman/Fort Taber Historical Association. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Detail of World War II Map (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Plaque of Battery E, current whereabouts unknown to the author .(photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Plaque of Battery E; current whereabouts of this object unknown to the author .(photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Captains of Battery E; current whereabouts of this object unknown to the author. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Captains of Battery E; current whereabouts of this object unknown to the author. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Captains of Battery B; current whereabouts of this object unknown to the author. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Captains of Battery E; current whereabouts of this object unknown to the author. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Bell Rousseau; current whereabouts of this object unknown to the author. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

1801 Rousseau Bell and dedication plaque; current whereabouts of this object unknown to the author. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Detail of 1801 Bell Rousseau dedication plaque (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Detail of 1801 Rousseau Bell dedication plaque. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Display case of marksmanship trophies in the 2nd floor officers' lounge. Current whereabouts of these objects unknown to the author. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Display case of marksmanship trophies in the 2nd floor officers’ lounge. Current whereabouts of these objects unknown to the author. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Jail cells in the basement of the Armory. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Jail cells in the basement of the Armory. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Rifle range in the basement of the Armory. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Rifle range in the basement of the Armory. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

The Boiler Room in the basement of the Armory. A massive Smith Boiler drove the steam heating system for the Armory plant. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

The Boiler Room in the basement of the Armory. A massive gas-fired Smith Boiler drove the steam heating system for the Armory plant. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Detail of the Boiler Room circulators. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Detail of the Boiler Room circulators. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

The Kitchen/Mess in the Armory Basement. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

The Kitchen/Mess in the Armory Basement. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

In 2003, the men's and women's restrooms had been fully renovated by the Guard. Unfortunately, vandals have since destroyed the fixtures. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

In 2003, the men’s and women’s restrooms had been fully renovated by the Guard. Unfortunately, vandals destroyed the fixtures before the building was secured after the 2009 arson. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

The Drill Hall in 2003. The good news is that it remains intact. It also remains the City's single largest uninterrupted floor space. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

The Drill Hall in 2003. The good news is that it remains intact. It also continues to be the City’s single largest uninterrupted floor space at nearly 14,000 sq. ft. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

New Bedford Gas Explosions – January 18, 1977, forty years ago today

gas_1977_big_flames_2 The tranquility of the predawn hours of that frigid January morning in 1977 was abruptly shattered like the thousands of window panes throughout the downtown. Three massive explosions disintegrated historic buildings fronting on Union Street between Water and Johnny Cake Hill. At the epicenter of the damage, on Johnny Cake Hill, the ground shook so violently that it caused cracks in the brick walls of the Whaling Museum’s Cook Memorial Theater, constructed six years earlier.

gasexplosion1977bournebldgsouthThe explosions were later determined to be caused by prolonged arctic temperatures that had penetrated deep enough below ground to cause a 90-lb. gas main to split at a welded seam and fill the Union street storefronts with gas. At about quarter to five in the morning, O’Malley’s Tavern located at 67 Union blew up in a massive fireball, obliterating the building instantaneously in a fifty-foot wall of flame. From its basement the structure had slowly filled with gas; detonation came from the spark of a thermostat clicking on for heat. Next door, the Macomber-Sylvia Building, newly restored by WHALE also went up in the conflagration and spread to the roof the Sundial Building. On the other side of the hill, the 1872 Eggers Building had its entire façade blown off with the rest of the structure mostly burned. Nearly sixty buildings in the Central Business District sustained some damage due to the blasts (Standard-Times, 3/6/77). Fire crews could not put out the fire until the gas mains were turned off, otherwise there was risk of more explosions as gas continued to fill adjacent gasexplosion1977buildings, including the Whaling Museum.

The initial blast was so powerful that it shattered most of the Museum’s windows, fracturing dozens of sashes and separating window jambs from the brick walls. Shards of glass flew through the Bourne Building, embedding themselves like missiles into the canvas sails of the famous half-scale model of the whaleship Lagoda. As luck would have it, this early window damage may have helped avert total disaster, as the now open-air whaling museum vented any gas that had found its way in.

gas_1977_bethel_south_2Miraculously, New Bedford’s two most important historic landmarks, the Whaling Museum and the Seamen’s Bethel – the veritable heart and soul of the city’s celebrated maritime past – stood together atop their hill and remained relatively unscathed as fire raged round about them.

gas_1977_nbwm_west_Today, almost no trace remains of the catastrophe, due to the unremitting efforts of a generation of caring individuals, groups and organizations, who dedicated themselves to a thousand untold works of historic preservation, new construction, beatification and enhancements, side by side and with the support ofgas_1977_crowells_2 municipal, state and federal leaders.

As the sun rose that frigid morning, no one who surveyed the gut-wrenching scene of utter destruction could have imagined that these smothering ruins would be transformed into a national park in just two decades’ time.

New Bedford’s response to the 1977 Gas Explosions is an exemplar of its fortitude and resilience.  No historic preservation project today comes close to matching the seeming impossibility of the 1977 challenge. Restoration and adaptive reuse for city landmarks such as the Armory, Fort Taber, the Orpheum Theater, First Baptist Church and others must be assessed by the 1977 litmus test.

Sundial Bldg., 1977

Sundial Bldg., 1977

The question is not whether we can do it, but whether we have the will to do it.  As Rochefoucauld famously said, “We have more ability than will power, and it is often an excuse to ourselves that we imagine that things are impossible.”

History of seafood marketing in the Port of New Bedford, Massachusetts

Arthur P.  Motta, Jr.
Curator, New Bedford & Old Dartmouth History.HaddockFilletWrapSeal

In August 2014, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a law aimed at creating a “coordinated program to market seafood landed in the commonwealth and to take other actions to increase consumer demand and preference for local seafood products, to support the commonwealth’s fishing and seafood industry and the residents and communities that benefit from these activities.” More than seven years in the making, the promotional effort officially kicked off on August 7 at the 2016 Boston Seafood Festival with the launch of the Seafood Marketing Steering Committee. This is welcome news for the state’s seafood industry. As the state’s efforts gear up, it may be useful to review briefly a few of the public/private seafood marketing initiatives of the past, which were developed to address specific consumer preferences.

John_Linehan_by Paul Swain_2010090

John F. Linehan (1922-2016) photo: Paul Swain

Promotional efforts in the Port of New Bedford have periodically been undertaken over the years to position the city’s various seafood products for greater consumption in existing markets and to stimulate growth of new markets. These initiatives have variously been tried by municipal officials and their harbor agencies, industry groups and regional business organizations. These initiatives were enthusiastic but limited by the financial resources available, which restricted market penetration beyond the immediate region. Only the multiyear effort during the late1950s and ‘60s to increase the retail market for scallops had a transformative effect, which continues to sustain New Bedford’s working waterfront to the present day. It was conducted in part by the late John F. Linehan (1922-2016), a trailblazer in seafood marketing. Due in part to his early efforts and others that followed him, New Bedford ranks as the top commercial fishing port for the 15th consecutive year with a dollar value of $329 million for the landed catch (Standard-Times 10/29/15).

New_Bedford_#1_bumper_Sticker_2001

City of New Bedford bumper sticker, 2004.

Although the scallop fishery was known to exist in New Bedford as early as 1883, its localized consumer base was limited by product life and seasonality due to weather conditions, which affect harvest. With the introduction of refrigerated trucking in the early twentieth century, new markets began to develop in New York and New England. However, seafood consumers who were more accustomed to buying cod, haddock and other ground species as well as traditional shellfish such as lobster and clams, were reluctant to try scallop “meats,” due in part due to their shape, which looked to some like a strange byproduct of the catch. A 1939 article in a New York newspaper noted “Even those who have eaten scallop with a smacking realization of their goodness have harbored a vague belief that the small, soft round scallop, which bears no outward likeness to crab or oyster, fish, lobster, shrimp or clam, was punched in a faintly deceptive dodge out of some fish or other with a circular metal device.”

Renowned marine biologist and ocean conservationist Rachel Carson took the issue of scallop underutilization further in her 1942 seminal report titled Food From the Sea: Fish and Shellfish of New England for the Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service Conservation Bulletin. She noted “Only the large muscle that controls the shell movements is eaten. This muscle (called the “eye”) comprises only a small proportion of the total weight of the meat. The remainder is discarded or used as bait or fertilizer, although it is good, edible meat. In Europe the entire scallop is eaten, and there seems to be no good reason why it should be wasted here.”

Pearl_of_the_Atlantic_ad_1963In the early 1960’s an advertising campaign funded in part by the New Bedford Seafood Co-Op included the production of a film documentary titled “The Pearl of the Atlantic” which introduced markets beyond New England to the scallop with comparisons to meat, extolling it as “an excellent buy because there is no fat or bone to be weighed and paid for. High in protein and minerals; low in fat, low in calories and sodium. They’re a fine nutritious food for a balanced diet.” The Seafood Co-Op with the New Bedford Exchange Club launched in 1958 the New Bedford Scallop Festival as a major promotional vehicle for the fishery. Large tents were erected at Marine Park on Pope’s Island for the annual August event, due to the island’s high visibility to motorists and vacationers via US Route 6, the major interstate artery to Cape Cod and the Islands. The marketing included a cartoon mascot, Sammy Scallop, who boasted a top hat and pearl tiepin. Festival publicity subcommittee co-chairs, Charles E. Sharek and Otavio A. Modesto along with John F. Linehan – general manager of the New Bedford Seafood Producers Association – worked with a Hartford, Connecticut Sammy_the_Scallop_Says_1963advertising executive Tom McFarlane to develop the Sammy mascot, which was joined by Susie Scallop. Festival expenses were underwritten in part through the advance sale of certificates, “shares purchased by festival boosters,” which could be purchased in denominations of $5, $10, $25, $50 and available at multiple banks and businesses throughout the city. Mathias Bendiksen and Robert Selig comprised the Festival Certificates subcommittee, promoting them as a community minded effort to “help defray costs of putting on the effort.” The names of businesses and individuals who purchased certificates were published in the newspaper and on festival programs.

Sharek, a city pharmacist and active Exchange Club member, advanced the idea of jointly “holding a seafood fiesta to salute the fishing industry” with the New Bedford Seafood Producers Association. Sharek noted to the press, “After approval from the club aims committee we met with John Linehan… and we agreed adoption of the general theme, “Scallop Festival,” would be the most appropriate and have the best promotional potential.” He added that scallops were the chosen focus because “At that time, the Seafood Council was devoting most if its energy promoting this particular commodity.

New Bedford Scallop Festival at Marine Park, Pope's Island, New Bedford, c.1960

New Bedford Scallop Festival at Marine Park, Pope’s Island, New Bedford, c.1960

By 1963, the 22-member committee was headed by John Carew, vice-president of the Goodhue Lumber Company and a past president of the Exchange Clubs of Massachusetts. Roy F. Mason and Patrick L. Sweeney were vice-chairs. Melvin E. Fryer was site director and Omer E. Raymond was festival adviser. The large group included business leaders from almost every sector of the community. Subcommittees included Finance, Food Procurement, Equipment Procurement, Supplies, Utilities, Tents, Tickets, Certificates, Publicity, Beauty Pageant, Entertainment, Boat Rides, and Dismantling & Storage.

As John Linehan explained in a recent interview for this article, “In 1957, the New Bedford Seafood Council and the then New Bedford Seafood Co-op were off-shoots of the Seafood Producers Association, which was comprised primarily of the boat owners. The business of seafood was multilayered – with a company operating multiple subsidiary companies, which, due to the tax advantages realized, handled the buying, processing, and selling of seafood separately.”

Until the Scallop Festival, little in the way of cooperative promotional campaigns to stimulate overall sales or grow new markets for the port as a whole was undertaken. In many instances the various fish processors and producers of seafood were fierce competitors. An early attempt to simply brand all port products with a byline was initiated by the New Bedford Seafood Council. “Sea Harvest of the Great New Bedford Fleet” was a slogan, which the Council invited all local processers to include on their packaging and promotional materials. This effort was not widely adopted.

New Bedford Fillet Co. wax wrapper, c. 1955-60 (collection Arthur Motta)

New Bedford Fillet Co. wax wrapper, c. 1955-60 (collection Arthur Motta)

Many New Bedford seafood companies pursued individual branding. The New Bedford Fillet Co. dispensed their product in printed wax paper wrappers while extolling the convenience of ready to cook fillets. The 1950s was a decade of rapid growth for the New Bedford scallop fishery and several promotional activities were orchestrated to promote scallops through the New Bedford Seafood Association, according to John Linehan. “The first year there was $12,000 for advertising and we had to prove that it would work, but the budget was not enough to enter the New York City market, so it was launched in Hartford, instead. There we saw a 500% increase in sales. The next year they had $40,000, which allowed them to break into the New York market. Promotional activities included direct outreach to food editors via luncheons in Manhattan. French chef André Surmain was hired as a consultant and with James Beard arranged the gourmet scallop dishes for these parties. After that, scallops really took off,” Linehan said.

The other major challenge was price stability, Linehan explained. “We tried to establish a flat market rate of around 45¢ because scallops were about 30¢ a pound in the summer and 60¢ in the winter.”

New Bedford Seafood Council branding sticker, c. 1975-80. Designer: Clement E. Daley.

New Bedford Seafood Council branding sticker, c. 1975-80. Designer: Clement E. Daley.

In the 1980s a new branding campaign was initiated by the New Bedford Seafood Council with the slogan “The New Bedford Fisherman – He brings out the best in seafood.” The effort included print advertising and collateral such as decals, labels, bumper stickers and billboard graphics, created by artist Clement E. Daley. In a boarder way, the 1980s also saw a statewide campaign touting the value of Massachusetts products coupled with community pride messaging under the umbrella slogan “Make it in Massachusetts.” Funded by the Massachusetts Department of Commerce during the Governor Edward J. King Administration, the campaign included 30 and 15-second TV commercials featuring large Massachusetts-based corporations such as Polaroid, John Hancock Insurance and State Street Bank with voiceovers proclaiming they were “Making it in Massachusetts” and accompanied by a jingle soundtrack. TheMake_It_In_Mass_LOGO spots also included aerial footage of communities with large urban renewal projects underway, such as Fall River’s Battleship Cove district. While these efforts did not rise to the level of branding, they set a precedent for state-funded promotional activities for products and services.

Developing new consumers for currently underutilized species as a sustainable growth strategy harkens back to Rachel Carson’s concerns more than 70 years ago, and points to a comprehensive marketing approach with all the producing ports of the Commonwealth.

In 2009, the Standard-Times reported a “proposal, put forth by Rep. James Cantwell, D-Marshfield, would create a 13-member panel that would be tasked with investigating the feasibility of a statewide coordinated seafood marketing program… The commission, he said, would be made up entirely of volunteers and would require no state funding.” Near the end of 2013, it again reported: “The bill calls for a seafood marketing program to be set up within the state Division of Marine Fisheries. The lawmakers say the goal is a coordinated approach that will increase demand for seafood and consumer preference for products from the state’s own commercial fishing and seafood industry…. The legislation reflects the recommendations made by the Special Commission on Seafood Marketing in its July 2013 report.” (Dec. 27, 2013)

In the 188th Massachusetts General Court (2013-2014), the bill (S.1979) sponsored by Massachusetts Sen. Bruce Tarr, Rep. Antonio F. D. Cabral and others called for the program to “be established within the division of marine fisheries (DMF) a coordinated program to market seafood landed in the commonwealth and to take other actions to increase consumer demand and preference for the said local seafood products and support for the commonwealth’s fishing and seafood industry and the residents and communities that benefit from these activities.” A new draft of the bill was substituted (S.2422) on December 31, 2014. According to Rep. Cabral’s office, “Language to create the Seafood Marketing Program was included in an Economic Development Bill passed by the Legislature… Chapter 287 of the Acts of 2014.” The work of the state’s new seafood marketing initiative should ensure that New Bedford is a primary beneficiary.

New Bedford Harbor. (Photo: Arthur Motta)

New Bedford Harbor. (Photo: Arthur Motta)

Pieces of whaling history were pictured in the “Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World.”

Detail view of the port of New Bedford with the Seamen's Bethel flag flying at left and the Greek Revival steeple of the First Christian Church clearly visible at right. NBWM #1918.27.1.2

Detail view of the port of New Bedford with the Seamen’s Bethel flag flying at left and the Greek Revival steeple of the First Christian Church clearly visible at right. NBWM #1918.27.1.2

By 1848 when Benjamin Russell painted the “Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World,” New Bedford was a rich, successful, and world-famous mercantile seaport. With resulting pride the city’s citizens began to take a satisfied, if reflective, view of its progress. Colonial Bedford Village was founded in 1765 specifically to pursue commercial whaling, and in 1848, Yankee whaling generally, was well over a century old. After such a long time, the trade had a history, and Russell explored some of the more prominent stories of that history in several of the Panorama’s scenes. Arguably his interpretation of a whaling voyage in the 1840s was steeped in the industry’s larger historical context.

Although he focused on American whaling, he was not alone in broadcasting his perspective on New Bedford’s history. At 1850 the two-hundredth anniversary was approaching of the signing of the 1652 deed  by the Wampanoag tribe granting colonial settlers the lands of the Old Dartmouth region. Local New Bedford artists like William Allen Wall took a fresh view of formative colonial historical events, including the 1602 landing of English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold at Smoking Rocks, the 1635 story of Governor John Endicott and the Red Cross, and in 1853, Wall painted “Birth of the Whaling Industry.”

The firm of Britton & Rey of San Francisco produced this lithographic print of Wall's "Birth of the Whaling Industry." It appeared in Charles M. Scammon's Marine Mammals of the Northwestern Coast of North America (San Francisco, 1874) under the title of "A Whaling Scene of 1763." It is a perfectly faithful reproduction of the original paining which is currently owned by the New Bedford Free Public Library.

The firm of Britton & Rey of San Francisco produced this lithographic print of William Allen Wall’s “Birth of the Whaling Industry,” for Charles M. Scammon’s Marine Mammals of the Northwestern Coast of North America (San Francisco, 1874) under the title of “A Whaling Scene of 1763.” It is a perfectly faithful reproduction of the original paining which is currently owned by the New Bedford Free Public Library.

This painting (and the above print) shows a makeshift oil refinery along the shores of the Acushnet River around 1763. In a statement about it, Wall wrote in 1853: “seated upon the frame of a grindstone… is seen in his broad-brimmed hat and Friendly coat, the founder of New Bedford and the father of her whale-fishery, Joseph Russell.” He included many rich details including a Native American trader, a black hostler, laborers, oxen, the try-house with a sperm whale jaw on the roof, and most importantly, a sloop careened on shore flying the red ensign of the British merchant service. He described the sloop as “undoubtedly the workmanship of some Old Dartmouth mechanic.”[1] The “Friendly coat” is a direct reference to the typical plain Quaker garb of the period, but overall Wall is harkening back, he’s acknowledging the history of the Old Dartmouth Region within the Massachusetts settlement story. Wall adapted these stories, recognized them as significant, and interpreted them, not in the European tradition of history painting from classical themes, but rather as history painting from American themes.

William Allen Wall, "Endicott and the Red Cross," 1853. Oil on canvas, 49 x 60 inches. NBWM #1987.19.1

William Allen Wall, “Endicott and the Red Cross,” 1853. Oil on canvas, 49 x 60 inches. NBWM #1987.19.1

His oil painting “Endicott and the Red Cross,” is another example. Here, Wall folded local history into the story of events that had taken place in Salem, by deliberately painting a persecuted Quaker in the place of the persecuted Catholic of the actual event. In 1635, there were no Quakers. The sect had yet to be formed in England when the Puritan Massachusetts governor, John Endicott, in his fury with the perceived popish policies of Charles I, took his sword and cut the cross out of the English flag. By replacing the Catholic with a Quaker sitting in the stocks, Wall called attention to the later Puritan persecution of Quakers, making a larger statement about the evolution of colonial history in Massachusetts. He was evidently proud of New Bedford and its achievements, prominent citizens, beautiful locale and thriving harbor, and the mid-century mark seemed to have worked on the Wall and others profoundly.

Another significant addition to the story of New Bedford’s historical celebration came in 1858 when Daniel Ricketson, Henry Thoreau’s friend, and New Bedford’s resident Transcendentalist, penned the first history of New Bedford, appropriately titled, The History of New Bedford: Bristol County, Massachusetts. Ricketson had been thinking about the history of the region and its place in American history for years. He structured the book in such a way that it covered the story of Native Americans and King Philip’s War, early settlers, early whaling, and the American Revolution. It served for decades as the sole history of the region. In 1859, New Bedford painter Albert Bierstadt also painted a version of Gosnold’s landing at Cuttyhunk.

Bierstadt painted "Gosnold at Cuttyhunk," in 1858 for an exhibition of American paintings at the Boston Athenaeum in 1859. NBWM #1904.63

Bierstadt painted “Gosnold at Cuttyhunk,” in 1858 for an exhibition of American paintings at the Boston Athenaeum in 1859. NBWM #1904.63

There was a sense of growth and maturity on the part of both the community and the nation. Ricketson summarized this feeling in the introduction to his history: “While other nations are boasting of their antiquity, and exulting in the mysterious deeds of their ancestors, we pride ourselves in the recency of our origin, and the well-known achievements during the struggle for liberty, as well as for the rapidity of our increase.”

Albert Bierstadt would shortly leave New England entirely and travel out across the Great Plains to the Rocky Mountains, and beyond, seeking to capture on his canvases the wonder of the wild landscape and its Native people, and something of the new American spirit of destiny. Benjamin Russell also tapped into the feeling of history and civic accomplishment in several of the scenes that he painted. His obvious historical perspective lends some strong clues to the sort of narrative that he told when the traveled with the Panorama.

In the opening sequence of the Panorama Russell gives pride of place to the ship William Hamilton, built at New Bedford by Jethro and Zacharaiah Hillman to the order of Isaac Howland Jr. & Co. NBWM #1918.27.1.9

In the opening sequence of the Panorama Russell gives pride of place to the ship William Hamilton, built at New Bedford by Jethro and Zacharaiah Hillman to the order of Isaac Howland Jr. & Co. NBWM #1918.27.1.9

The first and most obvious example is his view of the whale ship William Hamilton outfitting in New Bedford harbor. The ship, built to the order of Isaac Howland Jr. & Co. at the Hillman Brothers shipyard in New Bedford in 1834, was named for an apocryphal Cape Cod figure of the mid-seventeenth-century who was said to have been the first American colonist to harpoon a whale. Naming a ship from an American whaling legend confirms the awareness of history that ran deep in New Bedford’s whaling community. Russell then went on to highlight a number of the 316 ships registered in the New Bedford port district at the time. Being a shrewd businessman, he included as wide a variety of house flags of New Bedford merchants as he could when he painted these ships. These merchants were, after all, potential patrons for his paintings.  Curiously, he also chose to paint and name the ship Lyra of New Bedford rounding Cape Horn.

Ship Lyra of New Bedford rounding Cape Horn into the Pacific Ocean. The Lyra was built at Fairhaven by Reuben Fish to the order of John & James Howland in 1822. NBWM #1918.27.1.75

Ship Lyra of New Bedford rounding Cape Horn into the Pacific Ocean.      NBWM #1918.27.1.75

The Lyra was built at Fairhaven to the order of John and James Howland in 1822. She sailed on a two-year sperm whaling voyage to the South Pacific that same year under the command of Reuben Joy, Jr. It was the Lyra’s fate to sail in consort with the ship Globe of Nantucket, Thomas Worth, master, upon which the famous and dreadful mutiny occurred on January 26, 1824. Reuben Joy was among the last to see Captain Worth alive, for in the night the Globe’s boatsteerer Samuel Comstock killed the captain with an axe. His fellow mutineers assisted Comstock in the murder of the ship’s officers. By daylight Comstock and the mutineers had control of the ship and were sailing it for Mili atoll near the Marshall Islands. Most of the mutineers who landed with Comstock at the island, revolted and murdered him, and most of them were, in turn, themselves killed by the Native islanders. Two men who landed at the island survived, neither of them mutineers, Cyrus Lay and William Hussey. They were rescued a year later by a U.S. Navy expeditionary force, the schooner Dolphin under the command of Lieutenant Commander John Percival, dispatched to the islands to round up any remaining crew of the Globe.

Fifteen years after the mutiny on the Globe, William Comstock published an account of his brother Samuel's life and the story of mutiny. William was also onboard the Globe at the time and the story of the murder of the captain and officers left little to the imagination.

Fifteen years after the mutiny on the Globe, William Comstock published an account of his brother Samuel’s life and the story of mutiny. William was also onboard the Globe at the time and his graphic telling of the story of the murder of the captain and officers left little to the imagination.

The mutiny on the Globe sent waves of horror through the whaling community and the event resonated through the popular memory for years. It was a significant part of the impetus behind the formation of the New Bedford Port Society for the Moral Improvement of Seamen in 1830. The preamble to the 1831 First Annual Report of the Board of Managers of the New-Bedford Port Society included the following insightful paragraph:

“Experience has placed the proposition beyond question, that on pecuniary grounds merely, it would be good policy to attempt seriously, the moral improvement of the men who navigate our vessels, and win their cargoes from the monsters of the deep. – Not to advert particularly to the horrid catastrophe that took place on the ship Globe, of Nantucket, or to other cases, where plans of a similar character have been at least meditated, how many voyages have been injured or ruined, by the desertion of sailors, or the misconduct or intemperance of the master, or officers?”

Russell’s inclusion of the view of the Lyra rounding Cape Horn evidently allowed him to expand upon the story in his narration of the Panorama. It was undoubtedly a riveting tale guaranteed to capture the attention of the audience. He followed up the Globe story with a more contemporaneous one, the mutiny on the ship Sharon of Fairhaven.

Russell's view of the re-taking of the ship Sharon of Fairhaven from the mutineers by the crew members in the whaleboats. NBWM #1918.27.1.122

Russell’s view of the re-taking of the ship Sharon of Fairhaven from the mutineers by the crew members in the whaleboats. NBWM #1918.27.1.122

The mutiny on the Sharon took place in the Central Pacific near Ascension Island in the Caroline Islands, in November of 1842. Around this same time, Benjamin Russell himself was whaling around the coast of Australia onboard the Kutusoff. The story quickly made the rounds of the fleet. Unlike the mutiny on the Globe, where the Nantucket-born ring-leader planned the whole affair beforehand, the mutineers on the Sharon were not even white men, they were three islanders, “Kanakas,” who had shipped onboard at Rotuma (Grenville) Island in April of that year to replace several crew members who deserted. These men  rose up in anger against the captain, Howes Norris, and decapitated him with a cutting spade. Norris, by all reports, had treated the crew very badly for most of the voyage, and may have been drunk at the time of the mutiny. The mutineers seized the vessel but a quick-thinking young fellow, Manuel dos Reis, the acting steward at the time, scurried aloft and began cutting up the rigging so that the ship became unmanageable. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew, who had all lowered for whales, attempted to re-take the ship under the cover of darkness which they succeeded in doing. The third mate, Benjamin Clough, was badly wounded in the fight but two of the mutineers were killed and the third taken to Sydney, Australia for trial. Clough was later honored by the owners with a presentation sextant and command of the Sharon on her next voyage. He went on to command another four whaling voyages.

Among the more unique views of the wreck of the ship Essex of Nantucket is Benjamin Russell's interpretation. Unlike the majority of popular, published versions of the event, Russell painted from the perspective of a whaleman, and while he was not a witness, was better able than most other illustrators to capture a believable sense of the scene. NBWM#1918.27.1.101

A unique view of the wreck of the ship Essex of Nantucket is Benjamin Russell’s interpretation. Unlike the majority of popular, published versions of the event, Russell painted from the perspective of a whaleman, and while he was not a witness, was better able than most other illustrators to capture a believable sense of the scene. NBWM#1918.27.1.101

If the story of the Sharon constituted more-or-less current events, Russell also harkened back to the most famous event of all (to date), in American whaling history, the wreck of the ship Essex of Nantucket. As has been told many times, the ship Essex under the command of George Pollard was struck by a large sperm whale on the “Off Shore Grounds” in the southeastern Pacific off the coast of Peru in November of 1820 and sunk. The crew took to the whaleboats and suffered unimaginable horrors and deprivations as they strove to survive on the open ocean. Of the crew of twenty men, eight survived. Captain Pollard and one seaman, Charles Ramsdell, were two of the survivors having been in the whaleboat for 90 days.  The wreck of the Essex was a high-profile event in American whaling history, indeed in popular culture as well. The story was published in a number of books about sea-faring adventures, so it’s no wonder that he illustrated it so effectively.

Other events are not so well-known, but are nonetheless picturesque. Among the Panorama scenes of the fabled Polynesian islands is one that shows a whale ship close in to shore tied up to a palm tree. The story originated in an August 16, 1824 letter written by Captain Richard Macy, master of the ship Maro of Nantucket, to a prominent island citizen Josiah Hussey. Macy wrote describing Eimeo Island, one of the Society Islands about twenty miles west of Tahiti:

I entered the harbor on the North side of the island, which is not to be surpassed for access, and safety by any harbor in this ocean. I took my ship 2 miles up this beautiful harbor (entirely landlocked) and tied her to an old tree. The scene that surrounded me was truly romantic.[2]

In one of the more beautifully composed scenes in the whole Panorama, Russell shows a whale ship tied up to a palm tree in the heart of the exotic islands of the Pacific. NBWM #1918.27.1.145

In one of the more beautifully composed scenes in the whole Panorama, Russell shows a whale ship (presumably the ship Maro of Nantucket) tied up to a palm tree in the heart of the exotic islands of the Pacific. NBWM #1918.27.1.145

Captain Macy, at the time, was exploring the Society Islands and the vast waters to the west. He wrote: “Impressed with the strong belief that great numbers of sperm whales existed among the islands of the Pacific… the Society, Friendly, Feejee and Caroline’s, I resolved to spend three months among those islands.”[3]

Many of the islands of the Pacific had achieved fabled status well before Macy visited them. It was their fame that provided Benjamin Russell fodder for his whaling voyage round the world story. Islands like Pitcairn, Juan Fernandez, Tahiti, the Marquesas and Hawaii were fabled to Western mariners. Russell included them all, as these were indeed the stuff of legends. Who hadn’t read of Robinson Crusoe marooned at Juan Fernandez, or heard of the mutiny on the H.M.S. Bounty with the mutineers sailing to remote Pitcairn and settling there? The death of Captain James Cook at the hands of the Hawaiian Islanders at Kealakekua Bay was common knowledge, especially through maritime communities. Cook’s Voyages had been published in many editions and were easily and widely available. Herman Melville himself perpetuated the exotic romance of the Pacific with his novels Typee (New York, 1846), and Omoo (London, 1847). In the Panorama Russell told all of these stories but he told them through the lens of the American experience.

Detail showing the settlement of the descendants of the Bounty mutineers at Pitcairn Island. Note the "celebrated banyan tree" in the center of the landscape and the cultivated fields surrounding it. NBWM #1918.27.1.84

Detail showing the settlement of the descendants of the Bounty mutineers at Pitcairn Island. Note the “immense banyan tree” in the center of the landscape and the cultivated fields surrounding it. NBWM #1918.27.1.84

When Russell painted Pitcairn Island, he painted it almost completely from the description published in Captain Frederick Beechey’s famous Pacific exploration narrative, Narrative of a Voyage to the Pacific and Beering’s Strait (London, 1831):

“Immediately round the village are the small enclosures for fattening pigs, goats, and poultry, and beyond them the cultivated grounds producing the banana, plantain, melon, yam, taro, sweet potatoes, appai, tee, and cloth plant with other useful roots, fruits, and shrubs, which extend far up the mountain and to the southward; but in this particular direction they are excluded from the view by an immense banyan tree, two hundred paces in circumference, whose foliage and branches form of themselves a canopy impervious to the rays of the sun Every cottage has its out house for making cloth, its baking place, its sty, and its poultry house.”

This superbly rendered scene of a ship foundering off Cape Horn was probably meant to represent an actual event although what that event was remains unknown. In this scene the dismasted ship is flying the American flag upside-down as a signal of distress. Note the single man standing at the stern of the sinking ship as the whaleboats wait alongside to effect a rescue. NBWM#1918.27.1.74

This superbly rendered scene of a ship foundering off Cape Horn was probably meant to represent an actual event although what that exact event was remains unidentified. In this scene the dismasted ship is flying the American flag upside-down as a signal of distress. Note the single man standing at the stern of the sinking ship as the whaleboats wait alongside to effect a rescue. NBWM#1918.27.1.74

Other scenes of the Panorama lend themselves to speculation about his intent. He had obviously crafted an illustrated narrative with a story to accompany the pictures. While the text of the narrative has not survived (or at least has not yet come to light), so many parts of the story can be guessed from actual events, that other parts may represent events remembered by him but which time and contextual separation have forgotten. One such scene, that may represent a known event, is the view of a dismasted ship foundering off Cape Horn. It appears from the action that one man is left onboard and about to leap into the water, while the whaleboats from a passing whale ship are rescuing the remainder of the crew. Such an event did happen. In May 1832, the ship Science of London left Hobart, Tasmania bound to London. In June, the ship was dismasted in a storm, and lost the lifeboats and four sailors about 350 nautical miles (402 statute miles) from Cape Horn. The ship Warren of Warren, Rhode Island rescued the fifteen survivors and the ship was abandoned. Benjamin Russell himself had business and family ties to Warren, Rhode Island and he died there in 1885. It’s possible that he was illustrating the wreck of the Science.

Much of what Russell conveyed through his monumental pictorial overview of the American whale fishery he either witnessed or experienced himself. A great deal of it, however, he gleaned through conversations with other people and possibly research like old newspaper accounts, published narratives and the like. We know that he owned copies of important whaling books of the period including J. Ross Browne’s Etchings of a Whaling Cruise (New York, 1846), because his signed copy is in the New Bedford Whaling Museum library. How he developed some of his ideas remains to be researched, but his intent seems to have been to cover American whaling not only from its current status as he experienced it, but also as an industry with a strong heritage. His emphasis on these events as well as those of the storied islands of the Pacific Ocean serve to put the growing American whaling industry on an equal footing with the European influences of the eighteenth-century.

[1] Richard C. Kugler, William Allen Wall, An Artist of New Bedford (New Bedford, 1978), p. 23.

[2] American Activities in the Central Pacific, Vol. 4, Moorea #2, p. 637.

[3] Ibid.

The Mystery of the New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company Models

D. Jordan Berson, collections manager, with the partially assembled New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company models. Photo: Arthur Motta.

D. Jordan Berson, collections manager, with the partially assembled New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company models. Photo: Arthur Motta.

As the community debate continues about whether a casino should (or should not) be built on New Bedford’s waterfront, the old New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company (NBG&ELC) buildings  stand at the heart of the latest proposed reuse of the site. Also known as the Cannon Street Power Station, the last redevelopment effort, launched in 1997, desired to transform it into a “world-class” aquarium. Turbine Hall, the 1917 monumental structure at the center of the site, once again figures prominently as an architectural centerpiece in the early conceptual drawings of a proposed casino complex.

The proposed New Bedford Aquarium, model, ca. 1998 (Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc.)

The proposed New Bedford Aquarium, model, ca. 1998 (Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc.)

I will not elaborate on the remarkable history and importance of the company, the building or its many additions constructed over the decades in order to deliver power to the region. It has been well documented by research historian Peggi Medeiros, for its nomination in 2002 as a Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places (an effort led by the Waterfront Historic Area League and its former executive director, Tony Sousa). Peggi also recently reviewed the site’s history in the Standard-Times in light of the casino proposed by KG Urban Enterprises.

Instead, my focus is to ask the public’s help in solving a mystery regarding a very unusual group of large wooden models of the old NBG&ELC complex, rediscovered recently in the Whaling Museum’s collections.

Now, you may be wondering: How does the Whaling Museum not know about these objects? The answer is: We do know a little about them, but not the maker or makers, when and where they were made and for what purpose. With more than 750,000 objects in the Museum’s collections, the curatorial staff continues its unending quest to preserve and interpret it all, and on rare occasion, is presented with mysteries such as this one, which any latter-day Sherlock Holmes would relish solving.

Some of the original exhibit labels remain attached to models. Photo: Arthur Motta

Some of the original exhibit labels remain attached to models. Photo: Arthur Motta

What we do know is that it was part of an exhibit by NBG&ELC at the New Bedford Armory for the City of New Bedford’s Centennial celebrations of 1947, and thus, it may be the only extant display of the New Bedford Centennial Industrial Exposition, which touted the city’s major business concerns. The model includes several hand-lettered labels explaining the functions of the buildings.

Portion of the Centennial feature in the Standard-Times, July 4, 1947.  Photo: Arthur Motta

Portion of the Centennial feature in the Standard-Times, July 4, 1947. Photo: Arthur Motta

Under the headline “Thousands Visit Centennial Industrial Exhibit at Armory,” a two-page feature article in the New Bedford Standard-Times remarked only briefly how “Miniature old and new plants, gas tanks and a model freighter were combined to make the novel display of the New Bedford Gas and Edison Light Company” (July 4, 1947). Despite its many photos, the feature article did not include one of the exhibit.  So it may be that the models were fabricated expressly for the exposition, however, this has not been confirmed with research to-date.

The models came to light relatively recently, when reallocation of all storage space was necessitated in advance of construction of the new Wattles Jacobs Education Center. Stored deep in the recesses of Johnny Cake Hill’s labyrinth of storage rooms, the models’ presence predate the living memory of the longest-serving staff member, Barry Jesse, who recalls it being in the attic in 1971. Even Eversource spokesperson, Michael Durand and Dana P. Howland, a former director of the company – both men with the longest institutional memories of the utility around – didn’t know of the models’ existence.

D. Jordan Bernson, collections manager, with the NBG&ELC models. The large metal tank model weighs approx. 50 lbs. (photo: Arthur Motta)

D. Jordan Berson, collections manager, with some the NBG&ELC models. The large metal tank model weighs approx. 50 lbs. (photo: Arthur Motta)

Recently, collections manager D. Jordan Berson and me committed to laying out the sprawling 24 models to see what we could see. It required more floor space than we had anticipated. Constructed of fir plywood, metal and wire, the models are of an undetermined scale, perhaps a quarter inch to a foot. The largest, Turbine Hall, is about 6 feet in length. Several of the models will require careful repair if the entirety is ever to be exhibited again. Indeed, Dr. Christina Connett and her curatorial staff debated the models’ inclusion in the recently opened exhibition, Energy and Enterprise; Industry and the City of New Bedford. However, without its full history, the models were deferred for perhaps a future project and the “Energy” narrative of the current show was related through other objects and images from the collection.

New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company complex, 1897.

New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company, 1897.

Using among several references an aerial photograph of the NBG&ELC complex reproduced in the Centennial “Official Souvenir Book” of 1947, we managed an approximate assembly of the plant, sans the missing freighter model aforementioned in the newspaper account. Mr. Berson indulged my request that he be photographed with the models in order to relate scale, although upon inspection of the photos his presence in them recalls for me some distant Christmas morning scene with a Lionel train set!

New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company,  New Bedford Standard-Times, 1924.

New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company, New Bedford Standard-Times, 1924.

The insides of the models are hollow; no internal details were meant to show. Only the exteriors are treated; all ofwhich are painstakingly hand-painted to include dozens of mullioned windows, entablatures, smokestacks, chimneys and vents.  It should be noted here that actual interior of NBG&ELC’s Turbine Hall is amazing, designed by the renowned engineering firm Webster & Stone – designers of the MIT dome in the same year – Turbine Hall’s interior looks like something out of a Jules Verne novel, with its colossal steel girders, massive bolts and riveted crossbeams. Only one of  four soaring smokestacks still stands at the site. The aquarium designers of 18 years ago took full advantage of these imposing elements, and it is hoped, any new project will, too.

Turbine Hall, ca. 1997 (photo: Cambridge Seven Associates)

Turbine Hall, ca. 1997 (photo: Cambridge Seven Associates)

So please contact me about what you may know of the origin of the NBG&ELC models. My email address is: amotta@whalingmuseum.org.

Perhaps a late, great uncle built it upon retirement. Or a great grandfather worked in a carpentry shop that was hired by the company to build a miniature of the power plant at a scale sufficiently large enough to create an impressive display in the Armory’s sweeping Drill Hall.

Many of the smaller models in the group have metal eyelets screwed in along their bases, it is assumed, in order to fasten each building to a very large base-board, probably painted to delineate the plant’s grounds and also to hold them in position. Unfortunately, the base is missing. To add to the puzzle, some of the models look like structures from an earlier era in the company’s history, as can be inferred from an 1897 illustration of the complex. Could it be that the models as originally exhibited were intended to show the company throughout its history?

Turbine Hall, ca. 1997 (photo: Cambridge Seven Associates)

Turbine Hall, ca. 1997 (photo: Cambridge Seven Associates)

Also, without the base we could not surmise the location of the mysterious so-called Lake Trinidad, noted in historical accounts of the site. As the Standard-Times reported “In 1924, a looming coal strike inspired the installation of an oil-gas generator. This inspiration had drawbacks – the oil-gas generator suffered from a bad case of by-products. The set yielded tremendous quantities of tar and lampblack. The tar was finally run off into a large puddle where it grew to be 3 feet deep and won the name of “Lake Trinidad!”” (Oct. 29, 1950) This was a mocking reference to one of the world’s largest natural asphalt lakes.

Turbine Hall, ca. 1997 (photo: Cambridge Seven Associates)

Turbine Hall, ca. 1997 (photo: Cambridge Seven Associates)

In closing, we need to learn more about the models and hope someone may know something about their creation. They represent a considerable slice of history for an always-strategic site on New Bedford’s central working waterfront – first, as a simple landing place for the native Wampanoag and then the earliest European explorers; then settlers; then colonial burying ground; then wharves and piers; then iron foundry; then illuminating gas manufactory, then electric lighting company; then New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company; then a wholly-owned subsidiary of New England Gas & Electric Association; then CommElectric; then NSTAR; then a proposed aquarium; now Eversource; and perhaps, a future casino.

Former New Bedford Cannon Street Power Station, 2015 (photo: Arthur Motta)

Former New Bedford Cannon Street Power Station, 2015 (photo: Arthur Motta)

SOURCES:

Ellis, Leonard Bolles. History of New Bedford and its vicinity, 1602-1892, Syracuse, N.Y: D. Mason & Co., 1892.

http://www.southcoasttoday.com/article/20150328/NEWS/150329366

KG Urban Enterprises

New Bedford Free Public Library (newspaper microfiche collections)

New Bedford Semi-Centennial and Industrial Exposition Official Souvenir, Providence, R.I.: Journal of Commerce Company, publishers. 1897.

Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc.

New Bedford’s Holy Acre: ethnic prejudice in the textile era

The upper part of Holy Acre, Turners Court, south side looking east from Acushnet Avenue, 1907. (1981.61.408)

The upper part of Holy Acre, Turners Court, south side looking east from Acushnet Avenue, 1907. (1981.61.408)

“Holy Acre” was the unofficial name for a small section of New Bedford, Massachusetts, during the latter half of the nineteenth century, a time when the city was rapidly transitioning from a whaling port to a textile and manufacturing center.  A working class neighborhood of immigrants, Holy Acre, was located south of Wamsutta Mills, east of the rail yards spanning east to the water’s edge of the upper harbor. Acushnet Avenue marked its western border; Wamsutta and Pearl Streets its northern and southern borders respectively; the tidal marshes of the near upper harbor its eastern border. It included “Turner’s Court,” a dead-end street east of the avenue.  At the turn of the 20th century, a new embankment constructed to elevate the railroad – stretching south from the trestle bridge over the intersection of Wamsutta Street and Acushnet Avenue – formed Holy Acre’s eastern edge.

Atlas of 1911 shows the area known as Holy Acre isolated by the rail yards and tidal lands.

Atlas of 1911 shows the area known as Holy Acre isolated by the rail yards and tidal lands.

Who coined the name of Holy Acre remains undiscovered. The New Bedford Standard-Times noted  “the surmise is that it was so named by some member of the Police Department in an earlier era when it was known as an unsavory neighborhood.”[1] Located literally on the wrong side of the tracks this area was constantly enshrouded by the heavy smoke of locomotives borne by the prevalent southwesterly winds. Several murders are purported to have been committed there, however, only two such crimes, in 1901 and in 1908 are cited in the same newspaper account.

Another theory for the moniker may be that it was a sardonic reference to the holy city of Acre, located in the Levant of old Syria, today part of northern Israel. Located north of the larger city of Haifa, the ancient section of Acre today remains surrounded by the sea on three sides and fortified by massive walls, which date to the Crusades, the site of many battles for its control. The allusion to an impenetrable enclave set apart from a larger community and located against the sea is made in a 1914 article titled “Holy Acre an Alien Walled Town Set Down Within the Limits of New Bedford,”[2] in which the local newspaper noted its denizens hailed “from Portugal, Syria, Turkey, Italy and men of the Jewish faith live here.”

The south side of Holy Acre, Pearl Street & Acushnet Avenue, 1908. (1981.61.221)

The south side of Holy Acre, Pearl Street & Acushnet Avenue, 1908. (1981.61.221)

Holy Acre was by the 1890s widely recognized as a settlement of Italian immigrants; however, the 1914 article also claims the neighborhood was originally built by Irish immigrants. “They made the town. From them, it came to be called Holy Acre and was known as a little emerald isle amid a population of nationalities.” In any case, the area was considered by New Bedford’s Anglo establishment an unsavory and dangerous section of town, “which has long been a menace to the health of this community.”[3] Not only in New Bedford but throughout the textile and manufacturing towns of the Northeast, mounting anti-immigrant sentiment was fueled by competition for mill jobs. Growing competition from southern mills and increased pressure to reduce wages and increase productivity were set amid an influx of immigrants seeking the promise of American prosperity.

Under the headline “Italian Colony – Numbers about 300 in New Bedford – Few Women in Holy Acre – Successful Italians Who Have Established Themselves in Business,” a 1909 Sunday Standard newspaper article (despite the latter half of the title), goes to considerable length to disparage the community. “In the work of excavating for the new mills, a large amount of unskilled labor is required, and such work is adequately supplied by the Italians who work with pick and shovel…. Education has been aptly called the gloomiest chapter of Italian social history; a chapter full of painful advance, of national indifference to a primary need and of a present backwardness that give to Italy, (next to Portugal), the sad primacy of illiteracy in western Europe.”[4] Almost as an obligatory to the headline, the article notes in closing two Italian grocers, a dentist of the second generation and an Italian-American policeman – whose beat was Holy Acre, as examples of success in the community. The article is remarkable in its prejudice, ignoring such national figures as Marconi, who six years earlier achieved the first U.S. transatlantic wireless transmission at nearby Wellfleet, Massachusetts and was a topic of the national press.

A view of Holy Acre's immediate neighborhood: the rail yards. The Holy Acre is just out of the picture to the right. 1994.39.20

A view of Holy Acre’s immediate neighborhood: the rail yards. Holy Acre is just out of the picture to the right. 1994.39.20

The threat of epidemics from foreigners arriving in port was a constant concern of the authorities, which included a quarantine officer whose job was the inspection of vessels before disembarkation was allowed. In 1893, the Evening Standard under the headline “Holy Acre to be Purged” detailed the Board of Health’s condemning of buildings “deemed unfit for habitation by the authorities.” The newspaper listed the owners and occupants’ names of the six houses condemned, out of approximately 40 structures in the neighborhood. The surnames were of a wide variety of origins rather than representing a majority group. Noting “Holy Acre had long been a menace to the health of the community” and “already known as one of the worst localities in the city,” the writer continued: “…as the land is below tidewater it is surprising that the unfortunate people who are obliged to occupy the buildings in this court have not long ago succumbed to contagious diseases more terrible than those which afflict children. It has been a regular breeding pen for diphtheria and kindred ailments, and during the smallpox outbreak many people in the community entertained fears that this disease would develop in this closely tenanted hamlet… water has been known to remain in the cellars of some of the houses nearly the whole year, and the yard next to the corner building presents a most sickening spectacle.”

The Police Department in its annual report to the municipal government kept detailed records of the ethnicity of those arrested under “Country of Origin.” Numerous articles appeared in New Bedford papers, which focused on the ethnicity of various sections and neighborhoods in the city. In 1914, the annual report of the Chief of Police listed 38 countries under its “Nativity of Prisoners” files. Three murders were committed that year out of 4,042 offences listed for 103 categories of crimes, which ranged from “Breaking and Entering” (69) to “Night Walking” (20), in a long list of wrongdoings which included Stubbornness, Injury to a Shade Tree, and Stealing a Trolley Ride. The largest number of arrests was for Drunkenness (2,426). The reports do not list the locations of offenses, and Holy Acre does not appear as a reference in any of them from 1880 to 1918.

Holy Acre is referenced in the Board of Health’s 1893 annual report as it related to drainage issues and the outbreak of typhoid fever across the city that year, however, a map of confirmed cases indicated only one case in that neighborhood.

City of New Bedford Board of Health Annual Report 1893.

City of New Bedford Board of Health Annual Report 1893.

Disease, contagion and risk to public health rather than violent crime appear to be more the general concern about Holy Acre. The Board of Health was established in New Bedford in 1878 under a new Act of the Commonwealth. Health concerns included stemming plague and disease from immigrant-laden vessels, implementing quarantines and investigating outbreaks of illness among mill operatives. Almost immediately, their annual reports document the work of licensing cesspools and extending sewers to the river’s edge. The “lagoon” south of Wamsutta Mills in the vicinity of “Turner’s Court also known as Holy Acre” is noted in reports dealing with the health risks of the generally filthy conditions in this area due to inadequate drainage, unlicensed cesspools and the need for sewer extensions.

"The house of the organ grinders" at Pearl Street & Acushnet Avenue on the Holy Acre, 1914. (1981.61.215)

“The house of the organ grinders” at Pearl Street & Acushnet Avenue on the Holy Acre, 1914. (1981.61.215)

Before its development this area consisted of tidal marshland and the 1883 report lamented that there was not in existence a city regulation restricting building or moving structures onto low land due to the unsanitary living conditions they created.

The lagoon was ultimately filled, which created new land east of the railroad corridor. The houses of Holy Acre as well as several shops and manufactories including a paint factory were demolished over the years into the 1940s. Addendums to the 1923 Sanborn Atlas of the city reveals the disappearance of all but a few structures along the streets of Holy Acre: Turner’s Court, Wall, Pope, Seneca and Peal Streets east of Acushnet Avenue.

The 1909 newspaper article concludes an ultimate solution for Holy Acre: its occupants’ migration to the interior of the country (the Ozarks, for example). “What the future has in store for Holy Acre and for the Italians of New Bedford is difficult to say. Whether or not the movement, now so prevalent in America, toward sending immigrants out to develop the rural districts will include such Italians as live in New Bedford and incidentally most effectually benefit their condition, is a problem which time alone can solve.”

Nearly a 150 years later, the irony is that New Bedford’s  Holy Acre did not entirely disappear, insomuch as its maligned reputation – earned or unearned – remains: a vestige of cultural weathering[5]  in the minds of some citizens. Contemporary Google Map® images overlaid with the 1911 Atlas reveal the current footprint of the former Holy Acre. Now the site of rubber recycling, supply and trucking companies, it remains an isolated district of the city, as hardworking, and perhaps for some few, as off-putting as it was formerly. Today, its high viability along the Route 18 Connector, which brings traffic from Interstate 195 into the downtown, has earned it the ire of urban planners and those who would promote a best first impression of the city to visitors. As for a solution to Holy Acre’s modern-day looks, it may be one that “time alone can solve.”

Holy_Acre_Merge_4-photos

SOURCES

[1] New Bedford Standard-Times, December 2, 1951, p.16.

[2] New Bedford Sunday Standard, March 1, 1914, p. 12.

[3] New Bedford Evening Standard, April 14, 1893.

[4] New Bedford Sunday Standard, November 7, 1909

[5] Heath, Kingston W. The Patina of Place University of Tennessee Press, 2001. P.xix

100 Years Ago Today: Johnny Cake Hill readies for a grand museum edifice

Johnny Cake Hill ca. 1900 (NBWM #2000.100.80.1)

Johnny Cake Hill ca. 1900 (NBWM #2000.100.80.1)

On a windswept March 13th, 1915 a group of men stood on the crest of Johnny Cake Hill, their backs to the Seamen’s Bethel. Their gaze was directed at two aged and weather-beaten wood frame houses directly across the street. The weather did not interfere with the task at hand: to clear the way for a grand museum edifice planned for the site.

A gift to the Old Dartmouth Historical Society from Miss Emily H. Bourne, the new museum building would greatly expand the Society’s existing galleries, which fronted on Water Street. It would be built to honor the memory of Emily’s father, Jonathan Bourne, Jr.; his name to be prominently carved into the frieze above an imposing front entrance, which would rise on this spot within a year’s time.

#12 and #14 Bethel Street (photo: New Bedford Sunday Standard, March 14, 1915)

#12 and #14 Bethel Street (photo: New Bedford Sunday Standard, March 14, 1915)

With the land beneath the structures already under control of the project, the task on this day was the dispensation of the buildings. In classic Yankee fashion, the public auction to sell the houses quickly commenced with the mandate that they be removed or dismantled in a requisite time. Auctioneer Fred W. Greene, Jr. called out the bidders’ offers for #12 and #14 Bethel Street; the former a well-worn shingled half-Cape style house with a bracketed awning over its front door, the latter a shabby full-Cape with nine windows placed symmetrically to its centered door serviced by a sloping porch and staircase.

Detail of  Bethel Street block, New Bedford City Atlas, 1911

Detail of Bethel Street block, New Bedford City Atlas, 1911

The 1911 New Bedford Atlas lists the owner of the #12 Bethel as Juliet A.M. Barney, and #14 as Henry E. Woodward. Boarders of many backgrounds and nationalities were typical in these tightly settled neighborhoods of the oldest part of town. The 1911 City Directory lists a few for these addresses: John Francis, laborer; Charles Williams, teamster; Manuel Lopez, seamen; Joseph Teixeira, mill hand; Mrs. Julia M Teixeira, widow.

News of the auction in the March 15 New Bedford Sunday Standard did not include information about former owners or occupants or what became of them; only that the sales were executed with dispatch and for short money. “The houses numbered 12 and 14 Bethel Street were sold to Zephir Quintin for a total sum of $79, the house on the south (#12) bringing $41 and the one to the north $35.” The Standard noted that the new owner had just ten days to remove them before excavation of the site would begin.

Johnny_Cake_Hill_1915_headline

Interest seems to have been tepid, perhaps due to the time constriction. “The bidding started at $10, then made a jump to $20, to $25, and by small jumps to $35.  The next jump was to $37.50. Dollar bids brought the price up to $41, the selling price. The bidding on the other house was much the same, with the price starting at $20.” The reporter concluded “While the houses were very old, the lumber in them was not valuable, and the price paid, considering that the structures are to be removed was a fair one.”

The larger building had a history, which was noted by Old Dartmouth Historical Society members present for the sale. “Particular interest was manifest in the larger building. Henry B. Worth, who attended the sale, said that a picture in the possession of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society showed the Friends’ Academy standing at right angles to the street, while the building now standing on the site is parallel to the street. That the school was swing around into that position is very probable, said Mr. Worth.”

With the houses at the crest gone, excavation began and swift progress on the new building continued uninterrupted until its dedication in November 1916. An additional house immediately south of the new museum would also be removed eventually, its footprint now the upper lot adjacent the south face of the Bourne Building. This area is destined to become the upper courtyard entrance of the new Wattles Jacobs Education Center, scheduled to open in fall 2015.

Bourne_Bldg_100_graphic_1

Herman Melville’s Return to New Bedford

Herman Melville

Herman Melville (1819-1891)

157 years ago tonight the author who immortalized the city in Moby-Dick returned to speak, on of all things, Roman statuary. What was it like to be there?

It had been 17 years since Herman Melville was last in the whaling city. His stay was brief then; just a few days before shipping out on the whaleship Acushnet, January 3, 1841. In the years that followed his reputation as an adventurer writer would make his name synonymous with the South Seas. Now, on the evening of February 23, 1858, his return was as a speaker at the New Bedford Lyceum. Just seven years after the publication Moby-Dick, one might expect his topic would be related to that ponderous tome; surely some in town had questions about it. But his lecture that night was titled “The Statues of Rome.” In the Republican Standard a week earlier his talk was listed within a diminutive advertisement.

What was it like that night, arriving at the Lyceum, finding a seat, and waiting for Mr. Melville to take the stage?

Melville’s manuscript of “Statues of Rome” has not turned up. Perhaps he spoke from scant notes; after all, he had been on the lecture circuit some several weeks speaking on this one subject. New Bedford was to be his sixteenth and final engagement in a tour  that left him exhausted. Whether he directed the attention of his audience to placards with illustrations of the works he discussed is not known but it is probably  unlikely. Certainly, many in the hall would be familiar with the stories behind the statues; Greek and Latin were taught in schools for those who could afford an education. Melville’s extraordinary gift of description doubtless could have provided all the visual imagery needed, though one would expect a portfolio of large illustrations upon an easel would have enriched the program for all. Nevertheless, Melville gave his audience their money’s worth.

Melville_Bag_concept_2Although the exact content of the program remains undiscovered, scholars have meticulously pieced together Melville’s talk by studying the many reviews published in local newspapers where he appeared. Thanks to the Melville Society Archives, housed in the Research Library of the New Bedford Whaling Museum, multiple sources are available to examine Melville’s lost lecture. Within the Archives “The Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces 1839-1860,” published by Northwestern University Press (1987), attempts such  a glimpse. In a section titled Reconstructed Lectures, “The Statues of Rome” is reassembled based upon more than thirty reviews and news articles in the local press where Melville appeared. It should be noted here that the Piazza Tales volume was the work of many academics, including contributing scholar Mary K. Bercaw Edwards, now the Melville Society Extracts Editor.

Thus, we can with  a degree of confidence know what Melville covered through this  Reconstructed Lecture. For example, the Boston Journal (December 3, 1857) reported that “He began by suggesting that in the realm of art there was no exclusiveness. Dilletanti might accumulate their technical terms, but that did not interfere with the substantial enjoyment of those who did not understand them. As the beauties of nature could be appreciated without a knowledge of botany, so art could be enjoyed without the artist’s skill.” (p.727)

Apollo_Belvidere

Melville included the Apollo Belvedere in his lecture on Roman Statuary.

In New Bedford, both the Mercury and the Republican Standard published reviews of Melville’s lecture; the former on February 24th and the latter on February 25th. Neither review noted Melville’s authorship of Moby-Dick. The Mercury reported “Mr. Melville gave an interesting and instructive lecture last evening on the Sculptures of Rome, more especially with many suggestive and thoughtful criticisms on art interspersed.” The Mercury article continued, noting the many works upon which Melville touched. “After enumerating other salient points of the Roman antique, and dwelling upon the vast ruins of the Coliseum and the Baths, the lecturer passed to the villas of Rome, which were the houses of the best collections of the finest objects of art, and where nature had been raised by culture and refinement into an almost human character.”

The Republican Standard was more critical in its review, which also confirms that Melville read from a prepared script.  “The lecture on Tuesday evening was a well written and scholarly essay, which would doubtless be read with much pleasure, but was not calculated to interest as a lecture.” Like the Mercury, the Standard related the various works, which Melville covered in sequence. “The lecturer then gave an account of some of the more ideal works, such as the Apollo Belvedere, which was a model for poets, and from which Milton must have obtained some of his grand conceptions of dignity and grace… The Laocoon, Castor and Pollux, and the Hercules Farnese, with other statues were also described.”

In the week before Melville spoke, the New Bedford Lyceum featured a lecture by the Reverend Henry Fowler (1824-1872), titled “A View of the Pulpit by the Pews.” The content of his lecture mirrored his book on the subject. However, Fowler’s program is important in relation to Melville’s program  because it inspired a parody piece in the Republican Standard, published on February 25, 1858 – the same issue in which its review of Melville’s lecture was published. Titled “The Audience as Seen from the Reporters Box,” the column vividly and humorously describes the scene in Liberty Hall as the audience assembles for the Lyceum lecture. It is a wonderfully witty piece of editorial, which doubtless records the scene of Melville’s program; so much so, the text in its entirety is included here so that the reader may be the judge:

Laocoon

Melville’s talk included this sculpture titled “Laocoön and His Sons” in the Vatican Collections. This image is taken from Smith’s Classical Dictionary, 1866.

“It is the night of the weekly lecture, an occasion which competes for the public attention with the auction room, the reading club, the itinerant psychologist, the prayer meeting, and the spiritual medium. On lecture night all these have to suspend operations. The beauty and the chivalry, the beaux and the belles, the whits and the blues of New Bedford, each having some especial taste to gratify, crowd to the lecture room. The doors are thrown open at an early hour, and those who are blessed with nothing to do, secure the best seats and pass away an hour or two with sandwiches and sewing, magazines and small talk.

“The reporter, to whom lectures, city council and school committee meetings, and all public gatherings which it is his duty to attend, are only a bore, defers his arrival to the latest possible moment. He winds his way through the furniture of the stage and at the risk of his neck, ascends the rickety ladder by which alone he can reach his lofty perch. He folds his shawl and places it on the three legged stool he is privileged to occupy, so as to have as comfortable a seat as possible, wipes his glasses and in the first place, glances over the evening papers, internally anathematizing the ill placed gas light which tries alike his eyes and his temper. The journals are speedily dispatched and he has nothing to occupy his attention previous to the entrance of the lecturer but the audience before him.

“The hall is already pretty well filled. A few however are dropping in. Every seat is occupied. From orchestra to loftiest gallery there is not a vacant space. The latest comers overflow upon the platform, hardly leaving room for the speaker, or stagnate in the aisles. What a sea of faces! What a study for a physiognomist! How many histories can be read in all these countenances! How character stands out not only in the features, but in the dress, the conduct and attitudes of all this crowd! What a contrast between the expression of that shrewd sharp-featured man of business and that dreamy large-eyed youth! Between that cold and calculating politician and that warm hearted and impulsive girl! Between those lineaments molded into sternness by long habits of thought, and the smooth, unmeaning vacant face of one whose mental faculties have never been called into exercise.

“Some are busied with their magazines and newspapers. Others are improving the time by knitting and sewing. Others are communing with their own thoughts. But most are engaged in conversation. Some, talking politics; some criticizing the audience; some talking over last evening’s ball; some whispering tenderly – but the reporter will not reveal the secrets which have reached his ear.

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Liberty Hall, at William and Purchase Streets was the site of the New Bedford Lyceum where Melville spoke on February 23, 1858. (photo ca. 1860, published in the Rotogravure Section, New Bedford Sunday Standard-Times ca. 1930-1950).

 

“Now a slight murmur of applause, which the boys in the gallery aggravate with their feet into a horrible din, announces the entrance of the lecturer. He pushes his way slowly down the aisle and along the crowded platform. He takes his seat, wipes his face with his handkerchief, and looks around him. He is evidently a good deal astonished. He thought he was coming to some small out of the way place to waste his fine thoughts and unappreciated eloquence on a hundred or two of uncultivated people. Perhaps he didn’t think it worth while to bring down his best effort. But he finds himself exceedingly mistaken. He finds, the reporter ventures to say, as fine and well-lighted a hall, as intelligent and appreciative an audience as anywhere in New England, out of the Metropolis. Well, he has got to make the best of it. He is announced. The murmur of conversation gradually dies away, and a profound stillness prevails.

“The lecturer’s fame has probably preceded him, and it now remains to be seen whether it will stand the test of actual experience. His exordium is listened to with attention. As he proceeds, the audience by their air, indicate the judgment they are forming. The politician sneers at some evidence of fanaticism. The eye of the dreamer kindles as he gets a new insight into some great truth. The man of business moves restlessly in his seat as he perceives the subject has no “practical” bearing.  The young girl whispers “beautiful” at some display of flowery rhetoric. The lawyer smiles as he detects a fallacy, and the head of the unthinking one whom no rhetoric, eloquence, humor or logic can move, gradually subsides as he sinks into a dreamless sleep. Sometimes there is a faint applause at some happy expression. But the reporter has observed that our audiences are timid in this respect.  They seem to be afraid of interrupting or disconcerting the speaker.

“But it is more likely that discriminating and genial applause helps to establish a more complete sympathy between the audience and the speaker, to give increased confidence to the latter, and more animation to his delivery. But cat-calls, whistling, and loud stamping, are rude, ill-tempered and abominable.

“So the hour passes away. If the speaker be a man of true eloquence, and sincere earnestness, if he is untrammeled by manuscript and speaks with animation and heartiness, he will generally secure the attention of the audience to its close. But if he be a near rhetorician, a bounding in words but scanty in ideas, if he be confined to manuscript or speaks in the manner of a school boy declaiming from memory, the attention of the audience will soon begin to flag. Conversation will be renewed. General uneasiness will prevail and a universal sense of relief will be felt at the close of the performance.

“But whoever the lecturer may be, he cannot please all alike. None has secured the unanimous suffrage or favor of those who have heard him. To some Beecher is merely theatrical; Chapin, only a thunderer; Phillips, a fanatic; Parker, an infidel; Cushing, a sophist, and Emerson, an unintelligible transcendentalist. In our estimates of lectures as of books, we are all more or less influenced by our prevailing habits of thought, our degree of culture, our standard of taste and our personal prejudices. “What is one man’s meat is another man’s poison” is true of the ineffectual as well as the bodily appetite. What one admires another abhors. What one approves, another condemns. And so, taking the course of lectures as a whole, each has heard something to disapprove of and condemn, but, we will hope, more to relish, entertain and instruct.

“ We should endeavor to divest ourselves of all personal prejudices, to expand our contracted habits of thought, to acquire a catholicity of taste, and to detect whatever there may be of truth in all the varieties of opinion and doctrine. For each of them is a partial development of the common mind, and what we find wanting in ourselves, we may supply by a candid reception of that which others seek to impart.

“But the reporter didn’t intend to philosophize. The lecture is over. The audience gradually makes its way out of the building, tarrying for the interchange of friendly greeting by acquaintances and of criticisms favorable or unfavorable on the evening’s performance. The lecturer remains behind to receive the fifty he has earned (?) and the reporter hurries home to decipher his hieroglyphic notes before the impression of the lecture has faded from his memory and thus rendered the task almost impossible.”

One wonders 157 years later, if anyone lingered after the lecture to shake Melville’s hand and ask him to autograph their copy of Moby-Dick? And did he smile?

SOURCES:

Melville, Herman. Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces, 1839-1860: Volume Nine, Scholarly Edition. G. Thomas Tanselle , Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker, Editors. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1987.

Parker, Herschel. Herman Melville: A Biography (Volume 2, 1851-1891). Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.

Wallace, Robert K. Douglass And Melville: Anchored Together in Neighborly Style. New Bedford, Massachusetts: Spinner Publications, 2005.

Smith, William. A Smaller Classical Dictionary of Biography, Mythology and Geography. New York, New York: American Book Company, ca.1866.

New Bedford Mercury, February 1858.

New Bedford Republican Standard, February 1858.

http://www.melvillesociety.org

 

 

 

100 years ago today: Jonathan Bourne Whaling Museum building project begins, 1915

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William Wallace Crapo

It was the letter William W. Crapo (1830-1926) had been waiting for. The aging lawyer, former congressman and first president of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society, had been anticipating some official word from his old acquaintance and client, Emily Howland Bourne (1835-1922) about her intent toward the building of a massive museum edifice, which would be like no other in the world.

Copy of Emily Bourne's January 4, 1915 letter.

Emily Bourne’s Jan. 4, 1915 letter.

On January 4, 1915, Miss Bourne finally penned a letter that confirmed she would build a soaring church-like structure atop Johnny Cake Hill adjacent to the Society’s gallery of whaling artifacts located down the hill in a former bank on North Water Street. Moreover, it would be purpose-built to receive the world’s largest ship model, whose main royal truck would rise to 50 feet from the floor/waterline to nearly touch the apex of the museum’s barrel-vaulted ceilings. She would build it as a memorial to her beloved father, Jonathan Bourne, one of New Bedford’s most successful whaling agents.

Emily H. Bourne

Emily H. Bourne

She wrote to Crapo, “I have held back in making this known to you by my hope that I might persuade my friend, Mr. Henry Vaughn (an Englishman) of Boston, to undertake the work.”

Henry Vaughn (1845-1917) was a distinguished architect of prominent churches in the northeast United States. He was one of the architects of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, New York, collaborated on Washington National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., and Christ Church, New Haven, Connecticut.

Vaughn planned an elaborate Georgian Revival exterior; within it would include open and balustraded upper galleries to survey the ship from three quarters of the compass, supported by colonnades of the Doric Order, which would give the entire space the reverential air of a Romanesque church. The half-scale model of the whale ship, LAGODA, dramatically enshrined at the center.

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Jonathan Bourne Whaling Museum under construction, Nov. 1915. Note the west-facing palladium windows of the ODHS museum bldg. on North Water (now the Docents Room) in the lower left of the photograph.

The entire project was more than Crapo and the fledgling society could have hoped for. In scale and grandeur it surpassed all expectations; it was what one might more likely expect to see presented as a national pavilion at a world exposition, than as a building addition to a newly formed museum operated by a regional historical society. Creating a dramatic and memorable spectacle was quite deliberate. Emily noted in her letter that the “old traditions, and activities of the city should be perpetuated, and put in a form to be easily recognized by its future inhabitants…” There was no denying that the magnificence of new building transcended language and would be easily understood by all groups and all ages.

The work soon commenced and the building rose swiftly in 1915, with enclosure before the end of the year. Immediately, the LAGODA began to take shape within the great hall, like a gigantic ship in a bottle, under the supervision of Edgar B. Hammond, who had taken measurements for it from the CHARLES W. MORGAN.

As inscribed above the main entrance on Johnny Cake Hill, the Jonathan Bourne Whaling Museum was dedicated November 22, 1916. Nearly a century later, it never fails to inspire awe upon entering the space.

For more on Emily Bourne and her munificent gift: Old Dartmouth Historical Society Sketch #44

 

 

New Bedford’s window on the World Series, 1915-1929

The Standard-Times Baseball Player Window, 1929 World Series, during which an estimated 4,000 fans cramped City Hall Square as far north as Elm Street, to gaze at Ashley’s magical contraption.

The Standard-Times Baseball Player Window, 1929 World Series, during which an estimated 4,000 fans crammed City Hall Square as far north as Elm Street, to gaze at Ashley’s magical contraption. (photo:S-T)

The 1915 World Series was the start of a tradition for New Bedford baseball fans. It was the year they “watched” the game in City Hall Square, and as the Series continued, the crowds grew into the thousands.

Transfixed, they gazed up at the second story window of the New Bedford Standard-Times Building. Above the Market Street entrance was a large white panel that spanned three windows. Upon this was mounted a metal panel in the center with a 3-foot diagram of a baseball diamond on which disks representing players moved as if by magic.

Like the Whaling Museum’s famed 1848 Grand Panorama of A Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World and other pre-cinematic devices such as ‘magic lantern’ shows and cyclorama pavilions, the Standard-Times “Baseball Player Window” was a contraption invented to give the sense that spectators were experiencing an event firsthand, in this case, they were in the stands watching the biggest contest of America’s favorite pastime. Live broadcasting was yet a thing of the future.

The former Standard-Times Building today. The Baseball window is above the Market Street entrance.

The former Standard-Times Building today. The Baseball window is above the Market Street entrance. (photo: Arthur Motta)

Here’s how it worked: ongoing telegraph messages on the progress of the game streamed into the Standard’s newsroom and were raced to the back of the Window. There the Window’s operators used electromagnets to move players around the diamond on the outside of the building. The magnets were affixed to scissor-arms which extended or collapsed in order to hold the players (represented by metal disks) to the field.

The players moved as telegraph reports came off the wire, to the ‘oohs and aahs’ of the crowd on the square. On either side of, and below the diamond, racks accessible from the rear allowed the operators to include players’ names as well as “balls and strikes, runs and outs, on the front of the board.”

Diagram of the exterior of the Baseball Player Window.

Diagram of the exterior of the Baseball Player Window. (U.S. Patent Office)

The Window was the invention of New York native, entrepreneur, baseball fan, William G. Ashley. It was first used during the 1915 World Series in which the Boston Red Sox played the Philadelphia Phillies, winning 4 games to 1. Ashley had little trouble convincing George Reynolds, then the S-T’s Circulation Manager (and avid baseball fan) that the newspaper’s building was the perfect setting for the Window. The growing crowds beneath it convinced Ashley to patent his invention, while Reynolds provided capital and promoted the effort.

Ashley's patent for the Baseball Player Window, "a Game-exhibiting device,: 1917

Ashley’s patent for the Baseball Player Window, “a Game-exhibiting device”, 1917 (U.S. Patent Office)

Ashley filed for a U.S. Patent for a “Game-Exhibiting Device” on November 17, 1915. By 1917 they were in business as the Standard Ball Player Corporation. They sold hundreds of boards over the next decade and also manufactured a cricket board, but as the 1920’s wore on, live radio broadcasts spelled the end of line.

Ashley continued to invent electrical components for the automobile industry and also was proprietor of the Ashley Storage Battery Company on Purchase Street.

As for Reynolds, he became a successful printer, “Reynolds the Printer.” The Reynolds Printing Company at William and Second Streets, produced many small books, pamphlets and brochures on New Bedford history in collaboration with the Old Dartmouth Historical Society and its Whaling Museum.