The Whaling City.

In New Bedford, fathers, they say, give whales for dowers to their daughters, and portion off their nieces with a few porpoises a-piece.  You must go to New Bedford to see a brilliant wedding; for, they say, they have reservoirs of oil in every house, and every night recklessly burn their lengths in spermaceti candles. -Herman Melville, Moby Dick (1851).

The coastline of Massachusetts has long been home to numerous species of whales, who have swum past the eastern coast of the Americas during their migrations. In the 18th century, entire towns sprung up solely to support a whaling industry that would reach its peak in the mid-1850s. Along with the island of Nantucket, New Bedford, Massachusetts was one of the centers of the whaling industry in America, its place in history cemented by the author Herman Melville setting the opening of his great novel Moby Dick there.

Despite whaling having long since ended as a major economic activity, whaling’s importance on the development of the early United States cannot be understated. An entire section of New Bedford has been preserved as a National Historic Landmark, buildings from the 18th and 19th century are preserved to teach future generations about the role of whaling in Massachusetts. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, with my fiancee in town for a visit, we set off to explore this historic site. Add in some automotive updates, great restaurants, and wind-swept beaches, and we have the making of a fun weekend adventure:

2012 Honda Accord EX-L V6 coupe, parked in a parking lot.
First, a quick update on the Accord. Now at almost 103,000 miles, everything is running fine, but a small rust-spot reappeared in the same place that had been repaired in October. The auto body shop that originally did the work took the car back, fixed it again under warranty at no charge, and then delivered it to my workplace for me. Columbia Auto Body, great service!
View of fog-filled Plymouth Harbor, from behind wheel of car. A tree is in the foreground.
We ventured to Plymouth, MA for dinner on Friday night and encountered more fog than in a Stephen King horror novel. There should be a harbor out past that tree.
Fog-filled harbor in Plymouth, with a pier and boats moored.
Yes, definitely something from a horror novel. As I have said before, it is easy to see why Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, and others have chosen New England as a setting for their stories.
Lettuce wraps on a white plate.
Dinner at Dillon’s Local in Plymouth was definitely NOT a horror story! The small neighborhood gastropub was simply amazing. Our lettuce wrap appetizer, filled with pan seared Mahi, crabmeat salsa, and poblano avocado dressing, was worth the drive for this dish alone.
Map of eastern Massachusetts, with a pin in New Bedford.
Our destination for a beautiful Saturday afternoon: New Bedford, MA.
Underpass with "Port of New Bedford" written on it.
After a winter filled with seemingly endlessly cloudy days, Saturday was sunny and warm. Our drive to New Bedford was easy and traffic-free.
2012 Honda Accord, parked on pier beside fishing boats.
Despite whaling long since having ended, New Bedford still has a large commercial fishing industry.
2012 Honda Accord parked beside fishing vessels.
City Pier 3 is used for mooring commercial fishing ships and also for vehicle parking. While we headed to lunch, my Accord got acquainted with his new neighbors.
Bow of ship with "Cape B IV Hear No Evil" written on the bow.
My fiancee is fascinated by ship names…. the funnier and more ironic, the better. “Capt. B IV: Hear No Evil” caught her eye.
Stern of fishing boats. Boat in center of frame is heavily rusted.
I was fascinated by some of the ships at port. Talk about rust…
Oyster bar at restaurant The Black Whale.
Lunch was at The Black Whale, a fantastic seafood restaurant on City Pier 3. We indulged in a salmon burger and a lobster roll. So good!
Stone monument entrance to New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park.
Full and happy from lunch, we set off for the New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park, run by the National Park Service.
Cobblestone streets in New Bedford.
Red brick buildings and cobblestone streets: much of this area exists as it did 150 years ago when New Bedford was a center of the whaling industry.
National Park Service Visitor's Center
Built in 1853, the National Park Service Visitor’s Center was first a bank and then a district courthouse.
Interior of the Visitor Center.
Despite its small size, the Visitor Center has an excellent collection of artifacts and does a great job telling the story of whaling in the United States.
Andrew Robeson mansion.
Across the street from the Visitor’s Center is the Andrew Robeson house. This mansion, which originally occupied two city blocks, is an example of the amount of wealth that the whaling industry could bring fortunate individuals.
Seamen's Bethel church.
Seamen’s Bethel. Built in 1832, this church was meant for sailors to visit before setting sail. As a sign outside the church states, it was built to save sailors from “liquor, licentiousness, and dishonest merchants.”
Signs outside Seamen's Bethel that state "The Whaleman's Chapel of Herman Melville Moby Dick Office Mariners Home" and "Seamen's Bethe."
Herman Melville also set a scene of Moby Dick in this church.
New Bedford Whaling Museum exterior.
Established in 1903, as the whaling industry in Massachusetts was drawing to a close, the New Bedford Whaling Museum is housed in a series of historic buildings along Johnny Cake Hill Road.
Whale skeletons, suspended from the ceiling.
These whale skeletons are suspended from the ceiling of the museum. A 66-foot long blue whale skeleton is the centerpiece. This whale, a right whale, was killed when a tanker hit it in 1998. After being brought to the museum, the whale bones were placed on the roof of the museum to be dried and bleached by the sun.
Lava glass vase.
New Bedford was also home to a glass industry in the 19th century. This vase is made from lava glass, which entails adding a small amount of volcanic ash to the glass as it is made.
Room filled with displays of nautical knots.
An entire room at the museum is devoted to the knots used at sea. The works of Clifford Ashley, who devoted his life to the study of knots (!), is featured in the room as well.
Kiribatian sword made form shark's teeth.
One item in the knot gallery that caught our eye was this sword, called a Kiribatian. Made in the Gilbert Islands in the 19th century, the sharp edges are shark’s teeth. Ouch.
Display of the Old Dartmouth Purchase, which has the items that were sold to the Native Americans in exchange for land.
In 1652, the inhabitants of Plymouth Colony purchased the town of nearby Dartmouth from the Wampanoag tribe for: 30 yards of cloth, 8 moose skins, 15 axes, 15 hoes, 15 pairs of pants, 8 blankets, 2 kettles, 1 cloak, 8 pairs of stockings, 8 pairs of shoes, 1 iron pot, and 100 shillings. It doesn’t seem like much when you view it like this…
Scrimshaw gallery.
Scrimshaw is the art of carving and engraving whale bones. This gallery houses over 3,000 pieces of scrimshaw.
Scrimshaw canes.
These scrimshaw walking canes caught our eye.
Carvings on whales teeth.
As did these carvings on whale teeth. Can you spot George Washington?
Model ship Lagoda in the museum.
This 89-foot ship Lagoda is a 1/2 scale model of a whaling ship that sailed out of New Bedford in the early 20th century. This is the largest whaling ship model in the world.
Try-pot on display.
These large pots, called “try-pots” were used on board whaling ships to boil the whale’s blubber and remove the oil, the oil being one of the most valuable commodities from hunting a whale.
Sails and rigging of the ship.
Despite being a model, the sails and rigging are made as accurately as possible. I wonder how many hours it took to construct just this one sail?
View of New Bedford harbor from observation deck.
A view of New Bedford harbor from the museum’s observation deck. Despite the great leaps forward in technology over the years, much of the New Bedford skyline remains as it was in the past two centuries.
The Double Bank.
Exiting the museum, we came across this building, the “double bank.” Built in 1831, this bank had two doors. The Merchants bank entrance on the left of the building was for the city’s wealthy elite, and the Mechanics Bank entrance on the right was for the less affluent shopkeepers, tradespeople, and workers.
City Pier 3, with the Wharfinger Building in the foreground.
As we headed back to City Pier 3, where we had parked, we passed the Wharfinger Building, which was New Bedford’s first fish auction house. Ever wonder how your salmon or tuna got from the ocean to your plate? In many cases, fishing ships auction their catches at market to commercial buyers.
Outside of the Red Cottage diner.
Easter Sunday, we ventured to Cape Cod to eat at the Red Cottage, a local diner in the town of South Dennis that’s been in continuous operation since 1951.
Eggs Benedict.
Eggs Benedict for Easter Breakfast? Yum!!
Menu board from 1981, listing items and prices.
The owners of Red Cottage are proud of their history. This is part of the menu board that hung in the restaurant in 1981. A grilled cheese for 65 cents? Yes please!
View of the Atlantic Ocean through the windshield of a car.
We left my Accord at home for a well-deserved rest and took my fiancee’s Jeep Grand Cherokee to breakfast and a quick stop at the beaches of Hyannis.
Beaches of Hyannis, MA.
Gray, cloudy, and windy. Really windy. Despite all of that, we both loved spending time by the ocean.

As I said, a beautiful day, but slightly windy (as the video will demonstrate… I’m usually pretty steady-handed with a camera, but you can see the wind buffeting me as I tried to shoot the video):

The New Bedford Whaling Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm and Sunday 11:00 am – 4:00 pm. Prices for tickets are $17 for adults, $15 for seniors, $10 for students age 19+, $7 for children 3-18, and children under age 3 can enter for free. The layout of the museum was a bit challenging to navigate, as the museum never seemed to achieve any sense of narrative flow – exhibits seemed to be laid out randomly, with no overarching theme or story throughout. There was a lot to look at, to be sure, and we learned a lot, but not without quite a bit of confusion.

Much better, and far more worth your time, is the New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park. The Visitor’s Center is open Monday through Sunday, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm, and is completely free of charge. Park Rangers stand ready to answer your questions, and numerous signs throughout the historic district tell you the story of New Bedford and whaling in the United States.

Thank you for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead!

‘Til next time.




2 thoughts on “The Whaling City.

  1. Yes I’d like a BLT for $1.30, please! This looked to be a very fun outing. I found George Washington on the whale’s tooth. My aunt Jodi used to do scrimshaw art back in the day. It takes a lot of patience! Someone needs to hit some of those ships at port with a rattle-can of Rust Oleum. Nice write-up!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Tyson! The level of detail on the scrimshaw I saw was astounding. And yes, I suddenly felt a lot better about the tiny speck of rust on the Accord (that was fixed) after seeing those ships!


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