The City that Lit the World - New Bedford, Massachusetts

historic area view  

We may be away from Nine of Cups at the moment, but that doesn't prevent us from yearning to be near the water again. The best thing we could do is to drive to a city with a maritime history that's long and rich and take it all in. New Bedford isn't far away and made a great day trip. We could smell the salt air, walk along the working waterfront and watch the fishing boats, all the while immersing ourselves in history. What a great way to spend a sunny September day.

In the 1850s, more whaling voyages sailed from New Bedford than from all other world ports combined. From the US Colonial period till petroleum was discovered in the 1860s, high quality whale-oil, derived from whale blubber, lit most of the world. For a short, but prosperous 30 years, the whaling industry made New Bedford one of the richest cities in the world. We spent an entire day roaming and exploring.

Here's a taste of what we saw.


new bedford whaling nationlal historical park


The New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park

Established in 1996, this historical park is an open air museum of cobblestone streets and historic buildings dedicated to preserving and interpreting America's whaling and maritime heritage. The main Visitor's Center offered lots of brochures and maps as well as a taste of what to expect in “The Whaling City.”


widows walks


Nautical Mile Historic Walk

We ambled along the cobblestone streets where Frederick Douglass, Herman Melville and thousands of others walked a century and half ago. Stately buildings erected with the proceeds from the whaling industry were all around us. A well-laid out self-guided tour took us past Rodman Candleworks, the Double Bank, the Customs Building (still in use) and the Sundial Building among others, and then down to the harbor.

Interesting to note are the widow's walks on the tops of some of the old houses. Hopeful wives climbed to these high vantage points to catch a view of their husbands' ships returning safely from their voyages.


seamans bether ship's prow pulpit


Seaman's Bethel

In 1841, Herman Melville shipped out of New Bedford on the whaleship, Acushnet. His experiences led him to the writing of the novel, Moby Dick.

Melville mentioned the non-denominational Seaman's Bethel (chapel) in his novel and sitting in Melville's pew and soaking up the energy of thousands of seamen who had visited and attended services here in the past was spiritual. The ship's prow pulpit described by Melville was not part of the original décor, but was added in 1959 to placate tourists.


new bedford whaling museum


New Bedford Whaling Museum

This is a world-class maritime/whaling museum. It boasts the Lagoda, the world's largest whaleship model plus an entire room of ship's models.There are outstanding scrimshaw and decorative arts displays. The five full-size whale skeletons knock your socks off. One room is thankfully dedicated to preservation as well as telling the history of pursuit to near extinction. It's a top shelf museum and well worth a visit (and another blog post).


waterfront visitors center


Waterfront Visitor Center

One of America's leading fishing/scalloping fleets still runs out of New Bedford, though the fishing industry is definitely having its problems. The working waterfront and the Waterfront Visitor's Center offers a first hand look at the city's fishing industry and its historical importance.


a dead whale or a stove boat


A dead whale or a stove boat

This sculpture outside the Public Library says it all. Little boat (with harpoons) vs. big whale with an attitude. Many lives were lost in this dangerous occupation … dangerous for both the crews as well as the whales.


nautical antique shop


Nautical shops and antiques

Though we weren't in the market for any antiques or nautical items, the shop windows were enticing and drew us in just for a peek.


whaling city diner


All Things Whale

From weathervanes to diners, New Bedford is all about whales. The City that Lit the World is also known as the Whaling City and it lives up to its name.


big milk bottle


Big Milk Bottle

Let's not forget the bizarre … every city has something that just doesn't fit. Here's a Big Milk Bottle on Acushnet Avenue at G&S Pizza. What's up with that?