What To Do in New Bedford, the Old Whaling Capital Outside Boston

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“I have some folks here who are painting the other side of the house,” my Airbnb host messaged me earlier than a street journey to New Bedford, Mass. “The guys are really quite awesome/talented artists, lots of good vibes.”

Certainly, when Aaren, my journey companion, and I turned off County Avenue to seek out our residence for 2 nights — a one-bedroom house in an 1855 Victorian that was once apparently rented by Herman Melville’s sister — three painters had been industriously updating the home’s exterior with cream, orange, blue and heat grey colours.

Nowadays, your entire metropolis, roughly 60 miles from Boston, appears to be getting a contemporary coat of paint. Indicators of rejuvenation are all over the place, from a park honoring abolitionists to new murals on previous buildings.

As soon as the world’s wealthiest city per capita and a powerhouse in whaling and textile manufacturing, New Bedford fell into decline within the mid and late Twentieth century, enduring a excessive crime price, excessive unemployment, city blight and unhealthy jokes (“New Bedford: The armpit of Cape Cod, maybe the nation”). In the event that they stopped in any respect, many vacationers would keep just for a meal, or a go to to the New Bedford Whaling Museum, earlier than persevering with by way of ferry to Martha’s Winery or driving Interstate 195 to Cape Cod.

Sure, New Bedford continues to lean closely into its maritime previous: Not solely did we keep at the charming Whalehouse and go to the Whaling Museum, we additionally ate on the Whaler’s Tavern and toured a restored mansion built on whaling money. However there’s a deal with the current, too. Outdated textile mills are being reimagined, new eating places are thriving and exhibitions and parks are increasing to raised inform town’s lengthy historical past of selling equality. Museums, downtown artist studios and performance spaces converse to funding in the creative class. As for the long run, the primary train service from Boston since the late 1950s is anticipated to start out subsequent 12 months. (Its deliberate route just isn’t without complaints.)

Due to well being care and commercial fishing and different maritime industries, New Bedford stays a working city. It doesn’t depend on tourism, although all over the place we went, we met proud, invested residents — from the volunteer docent on the Whaling Museum to the curator at New Bedford Free Public Library to the waitstaff at eating places.

“There’s no Cape Cod pretentiousness in the city, because we’re not really Cape Cod. We’re the South Coast,” mentioned Allie Copeland, the curator, including that New Bedford “has a very cool kind of vibe now.”

Our first night, after stopping on the Quahog Republic Whaler’s Tavern for a golden ale and a Mai Tai, Aaren and I met Bev Ehrich and Carl Freedman consuming outdoors on one of many metropolis’s cobblestone streets. The couple had not too long ago moved from Windfall, R.I., to the close by village of Little Compton. They’d pushed in for dinner with one other couple at Union Flats, a seafood restaurant that opened this winter. The 4 mates raved concerning the monkfish and mackerel (later we inhaled seared scallops, contemporary and cooked completely), in addition to town’s jazz and different cultural attracts.

“The only reason we used to come here when we lived in Providence was to get the ferry,” mentioned Ms. Ehrich, 69, a retired college administrator. “Now we are coming for fabulous restaurants, museums and music.”

In 2017, Margo Saulnier started her position because the inventive strategist for the city of New Bedford, charged with implementing an arts and culture program. Since then, town and companions have used grants and different funding to host free occasions, solicit and help native artists to create public murals and extra.

“The more that we invest in our creative economy and our local talent in arts and culture, the better it is for everyone,” Ms. Saulnier mentioned. “And that includes people who live here and people who visit here.”

For the individuals who go to, New Bedford might be comparatively cheap. The artwork assortment on the New Bedford Free Public Library shows work by up to date artists like Adrian R. Tió, in addition to previous favorites from Ralph Fasanella, Albert Bierstadt and John James Audubon. On the Cape Verdean restaurant Izzy’s, a heaping can’t-eat-fast-enough breakfast of cachupa rafugado, scrambled eggs and linguiça prices $13. The “See NB in Three” pass, $18 for adults, permits entry to the New Bedford Fishing Heritage Center, New Bedford Art Museum and the Rotch-Jones-Duff House & Garden Museum — whose rose beds alone are well worth the charge.

The collapse of the whale inhabitants on the finish of the nineteenth century got here as huge textile mills had been being constructed, reworking the cityscape. However as manufacturing within the South and abroad gained prominence within the mid-Twentieth century, these factories closed and New Bedford languished. The state of affairs grew bleaker within the Nineteen Nineties after native fisheries collapsed.

“For 50 or 60 years, there’s been nothing going on because the textile plants closed up,” mentioned Mr. Freedman, 71 and a lawyer, at Union Flats, talking of New Bedford and other old New England mill towns. “Those energy-consuming industries will never fill these big buildings ever again. And that’s why reimagining these buildings is the future.”

I spent the subsequent morning strolling round one reimagined mill within the metropolis’s South Finish neighborhood. Kilburn Mill, inbuilt 1903 and expanded in 1910, is a three-building advanced now residence to outlets, gyms, music performances and the brilliant, plant-filled Dough Company restaurant, which sells a scrumptious “Green Giant” egg sandwich ($8) — one with greens, pickled onions and goat cheese.

Breakfast fueled us as we toured downtown museums and strolled the streets. On one block alone, I found a toy retailer, a used report retailer and a witch store known as ​​Sanctum Folklorica. The spotlight of the day was the Whaling Museum (adults, $18), devoted to the brutal trade that remodeled New Bedford and the world. By a wealthy assortment — whale skeletons hanging from the ceilings, an explorable reproduction of a whaling ship, artwork collections and extra — we discovered not solely whaling historical past, but in addition the creatures’ biology and habits, the threats they face and conservation efforts.

The museum additionally appears to be like on the individuals powering the trade, beginning with native Native Individuals, and the mariners who got here from world wide, together with Cape Verde, the Azores and mainland Portugal, and settled right here. (By culinary and different cultural influences, their presence stays strongly felt.)

One expanded exhibition on the museum and close by park are devoted to Captain Paul Cuffe, a Quaker born regionally to a Native American mom and African father in 1759. At a time when many Africans and African Individuals had been in servitude, Cuffe ran blockades through the Revolutionary Warfare and later turned a rich shipowner and captain, utilizing his affect to petition the state for the correct for landowning males of coloration to vote, and to determine one of many nation’s first built-in faculties.

All through town, we discovered about New Bedford’s ties to Quakerism, which contributed to town changing into a stronghold for abolitionism, a station on the Underground Railroad and establishing a recruiting office for one of many first African-American regiments within the Civil Warfare.

This fall, the New Bedford Historical Society, together with town, plans to unveil a park devoted to the realm’s abolitionist motion. Abolition Row Park, constructed on an unoccupied nook lot, will embrace a statue of Frederick Douglass, a gazebo and group backyard area.

“What we have been intentional about — and are funding — is the certain stories that have not been told, or have not been told to the masses,” Ms. Saulnier mentioned. “There is this renewed sense of celebrating that past.”

Our final night, we biked south to the Harborwalk, a strolling and biking path on the hurricane barrier that protects the New Bedford Harbor. The large sea wall, constructed within the Nineteen Sixties, rises 20 toes above the Acushnet River and presents views of lighthouses, ships and passing ferries. Simply past one set of its huge barrier gates lies Cisco Brewers Kitchen & Bar, a 3.5-acre restaurant and bar out of doors area that opened final June and welcomes canine, kids and beer lovers with picnic tables, reside music and a dock for water-going company. Aaren ordered meals to share and two hazy I.P.A.s, and we settled in to benefit from the scene.

Farther south is town’s East Beach and Fort Taber Park, a 50-acre inexperienced area and military museum, however these must wait for an additional go to. We completed our fried clams, listened to at least one final tune and, within the cool ocean breeze, bought again on our bikes.

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