Saturday brought the chance to take a trip someplace new, and, since there is no railroad access to New Bedford, the City Record and Boston News-Letter team drove down to New Bedford for the first time. Our destination was the New Bedford Whaling Museum, which is one of the museums participating in Bank of America's free museums in May program. New Bedford first came to prominence as a whaling port (in 1857 one half of the whaling ships in the United States were registered in New Bedford) and later as a textile center, and suffered from the attendant decline during the 20th century that accompanied those two industries in New England. An excellent history of New Bedford can be found here.
In the face of decline, concerned citizens founded WHALE (the Waterfront Historic Area LeaguE) in 1962 to preserve and redevelop New Bedford's historic buildings. As an early leader in preservation efforts, WHALE saved and preserved several New Bedford landmarks, including the 1853 New Bedford Institution for Savings building (seen above), which was converted to the Third District Court of Bristol County in 1899 and later was used for commercial ventures, including an auto parts store, before its acquisition by WHALE. WHALE donated the building to the National Park Service for use as a visitors center for the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park vistor center, which was created in 1996.
The Whaling Museum proved to be a treat. The museum, founded by the Old Dartmouth Historical Society in 1907, has an excellent collection of whaling related objects, exhibits on whale biology, a half-size replica of a whaling ship, and an exhibit on the connections between New Bedford and the Azores, among other intepretive themes. Also impressive were the whale skeletons, the size of which have to be seen in person to be truly appreciated.