The River and the Rail: A Symposium on Enterprise & Industry in New Bedford

Thank you to all presenters, sponsors and participants for contributing to the success of this symposium.

Saturday and Sunday, February 15th and 16th, 2014
The New Bedford Whaling Museum convened a conference addressing the historical evolution of the port of New Bedford as a manufacturing and commercial center. The 2014 keynote speaker was New Bedford native Kingston Heath, Ph.D., author of The Patina of Place, a study of the New Bedford architectural house style commonly called the “triple-decker,” and how and why this iconic New England structure came to be and it’s links to immigration, industry and urban landscapes.

Symposium Summary
Michael P. Dyer, Senior Maritime Historian

The subjects addressed by presenters were broad in their ramifications. At the turn of the 20th century several of these subjects including architecture, banking, steam power and manufacturing ceased to be generally local in their scope. Industrial mills, factories, railroads along with coal production and trade were interstate in their commercial management and large-scale examples of each were typical of many urban East Coast centers. The New Bedford story is atypical in that manufacturing and production were conducted on a very large scale over a relatively short period of time, and the harbor and its resources functioned as an adaptation of a much older maritime industry. The list of books and articles below cannot begin to address all of the complexities of New Bedford’s harbor and its evolving industrial uses. For many of these topics, the scholarship is too, evolving. However, the below reading will certainly give a good grasp of the issues involved in this history and would certainly prove fundamental to new or ongoing research projects.

Acushnet Water Board. New Bedford Waterworks: Report of the Acushnet Water Board, to the City Council. [New Bedford, MA]: Printed by order of the City Council, 1871.

Arato, Christine A., and Patrick L. Eleey. Safely Moored at Last: Cultural Landscape Report for New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park . Volume1: History, Existing Conditions, Analysis, Preliminary Preservation Issues/Cultural Landscape Publication 16. Boston, MA: National Park Service, Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation, 1998.

Boss, Judith A., and Joseph D. Thomas. New Bedford, a Pictorial History. Norfolk, VA: Donning Company, 1983.

Centenary, 1825-1925, New Bedford Institution for Savings: Register of Industry and Thrift. New Bedford, MA, 1925.

Clayton, Barbara and Kathleen Whitley. Guide to New Bedford. Chester, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 1979.

Cummings, O.R. “Union Street Railway,” in: Transportation Bulletin, No. 85 (January-December 1978).

Ellis, Leonard Bolles. History of New Bedford and its Vicinity. Syracuse, NY: D. Mason & Co., 1892.

Georgianna,  Daniel, with Roberta Hazen Aaronson. The Strike of ’28. New Bedford, MA: Spinner Publications, Inc., 1993.

Gordon, Robert B., and Patrick M. Malone. The Texture of Industry: An Archeological View of the Industrialization of North America. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Grieve, Robert, ed. New Bedford Semi-Centennial Souvenir, Containing a Review of the History of the City. Providence, RI: The Journal of Commerce Company, 1897.

Heath, Kingston W. The Patina of Place: The Cultural Weathering of a New England Industrial Landscape. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press [2001].

History of the Old Colony Railroad… from 1844 to the Present Time. Boston: Hager & Handy [1893].

Hough, Henry Beetle. Wamsutta of New Bedford, 1846-1946: A Story of New England Enterprise. New Bedford, MA: Wamsutta Mills, 1946.

 [Metcalf & Eddy]. Report to the City of New Bedford, MASS. Upon the Proposed Plans for the Construction of Intercepting Sewers, and the Disposal of Sewage by Dilution in Buzzards Bay. Boston, 1911.

McCabe, Marsha and Joseph D. Thomas. Not Just Anywhere: The Story of WHALE and the Rescue of New Bedford’s Waterfront Historic District. New Bedford, MA: Spinner Publications, Inc., 1996.

New Bedford Five Cents Savings Bank. New Bedford, MA: Reynolds the Printer, 1923.

[Office of Historic Preservation, New Bedford. Mass.] New Bedford Mills (Textile and Non-related Industries). New Bedford, MA: Historic Building Survey, 1977-78.

100th Anniversary of the New Bedford Mercury, 1807-1907/Supplement. New Bedford, MA: The New Bedford Mercury, Wednesday, August 2, 1907.

Parker, W.J. Lewis. The Great Coal Schooners of New England, 1870-1909. [Mystic, CT]: The Marine Historical Association, Inc., 1948.

Parr, Ed. The Last American Whale Oil Company: A History of Nye Lubricants, Inc., 1844-1994. Fairhaven, MA: Nye Lubricants, Inc., 1996.

Pease, Zephaniah, ed. History of New Bedford, 3 vols. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1918.

Pease, Zephaniah W. The Centenary of the Merchants National Bank. New Bedford, MA, 1925.

Pease, Zephaniah W. and George A. Hough. New Bedford, Massachusetts, its History, Industries, and Attractions.  New Bedford, MA: The Board of Trade, 1889.

Parrott, Charles. Industrial Heritage ’84, New England: Guidebook, Lowell Excursion.  n.p., 1984.

Sanborn Map Company. Insurance Maps of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Boston: Walker Lithography and Publishing, 1911.

Spinner: People and Culture in Southeastern Massachusetts, 5 vols. New Bedford, MA: Spinner Publications, Inc., 1981-1996.

Stevenson, Charles H.  Aquatic Products in Arts and Industries. Washington: GPO, 1903.

Thomas, Joseph D., et al., eds.  A Picture History of New Bedford, Vol. 1. New Bedford, MA: Spinner Publications, Inc., 2013.

Whitman, Nicholas. A Window Back: Photography in a Whaling Port. New Bedford, MA: Spinner Publications, Inc., 1994.

Wilson, Kenneth M. Mt. Washington and Pairpoint Glass, Volume 1.  n.p.: Antique Collectors’ Club with the assistance of Old Dartmouth Historical Society and The Chrysler Museum of Art, 2005.

Wilson, Kenneth M., and Jane Shadel Spillman. Mt. Washington and Pairpoint Glass, Volume 2.  Corning, NY: The Corning Museum of Glass, 2011.

Wolfbein, Seymour Louis. The Decline of a Cotton Textile City: A Study of New Bedford. New York: Columbia University Press, 1944.

Wright, Robert E. The Origins of Commercial Banking in America, 1750-1800. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.


PURCHASE The Patina of Place


River and the Rail Symposium Schedule

Download  The River and the Rail: A Symposium on Enterprise & Industry in New Bedford schedule here. (PDF)

$65 (non-members $75)
(Students $50 with valid i.d.)
Included all sessions, Saturday’s full breakfast, Saturday’s luncheon, Sunday’s continental breakfast, refreshments and admission to all Museum galleries throughout the weekend.

$30 Saturday breakfast and Keynote lecture only

How to Register
Tickets were available via our secure Museum Store

By Phone: 508-997-0046 ext. 100

By Mail: River & Rail Symposium
New Bedford Whaling Museum, 18 Johnny Cake Hill
New Bedford, MA 02740

Make check payable to: New Bedford Whaling Museum
Memo on check, write: River & Rail


Saturday, February 15 | 8:15 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

8:15 – 9:00 a.m. Registration and Complete Breakfast
9:00 – 9:15 a.m. President’s welcome

SESSION 1 – Origins of Industry
9:15 – 10:00 a.m. Keynote Address: Kingston W. Heath, Ph.D. – Whalers to Weavers: New Bedford’s Promoted and Neglected Legacies. Dr. Heath is author of The Patina of Place: The Cultural Weathering of a New England Industrial Landscape (University of Tennessee Press, 2001); Director, Historic Preservation Program, University of Oregon.

10:05 – 10:35 a.m. New Bedford – The Capital of Nineteenth Century American Whale Oil Refining presented by Mark Foster, exhibit designer, researcher, author and illustrator.

10:40 – 11:10 a.m. Beyond Whaling: Three Families and their Diversified Investments presented by Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr., Corporate consultant, lawyer, poet and family historian descended from the Rotch, Rodman and Morgan families.

11:10 – 11:20 a.m. Questions, answers and session wrap-up.

SESSION 2 – Developing Industry
11:30 a.m.  – 12:00 p.m. The Wisest Marriage of the All – Rachel and Matthew Howland  presented by Peggi Medeiros, local historian, researcher, preservation advocate and blogger.

12:05 – 12:35 p.m. New Bedford’s Glass Industry presented by Kirk Nelson, Director, New Bedford Museum of Glass.


2:20 – 2:50 p.m. Steam Mills in a Seaport:  The Textile Industry in New Bedford presented by Patrick M. Malone, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, American Studies and Urban Studies, Brown University.

2:55 – 3:25 p.m. The Textile Factory in New Bedford as Architecture presented by Charles Parrott, Historical Architect, Lowell National Historical Park.


3:45 – 4:15 p.m. Questions, answers and session wrap-up.



Sunday, February 16 | 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

8:30 – 9:00 a.m. Coffee, etc.

SESSION 3: The Harbor’s Changing Uses

9:00 – 9:30 a.m. Water Wealth: A brief history New Bedford’s Public Water Supply presented by Arthur P. Motta, Jr., Director, Marketing & Communications, New Bedford Whaling Museum.

9:35 – 10:05 a.m. An Ecological Response to the Industrial Pollution of New Bedford Harbor presented by Mark Rasmussen, President and CEO, Buzzards Bay Coalition.

10:10 – 10:40 a.m. Changing Tides: The Story of New Bedford’s Commercial Fishing Industry presented by Jim Kendall, Executive Director, New Bedford Seafood Consulting.


11:00 – 11:30 a.m. The River and the Rail: A Pictorial Tour of New Bedford’s Evolving Waterfront presented by Michael P. Dyer, Senior Maritime Historian, New Bedford Whaling Museum.

11:35 – 12:05 p.m. Wind, Water and Rail: the Future of New Bedford’s Waterfront Industries presented by Matthew Morrissey, Managing Director, New Bedford Wind Energy Center.

12:05 – 12:30 p.m. Jonathan Bourne, Jr.: A Case Study in Commercial Acumen presented by Brian Witkowski, Education Programs Manager, New Bedford Whaling Museum.

Questions, answers, wrap-up and closing remarks.




Major support for this program came from


 William M. Wood Foundation

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this symposium do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Last modified: August 30, 2016