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New Bedford in Two Hours

Whale skeleton detail at New Bedford Whaling Museum (c0 SeacoastNH.comHISTORIC TOURS

Gloucester means fish, Salem means witches, Plymouth means Pilgrims and New Bedford means whales. Branded by history, this heritage destination point has added a visitor’s center that made our quick trip a smooth and friendly stop. Click for photos from our recent visit.





If you’re not home, you’re a tourist. Which is why I can’t muster much sympathy for those who cry about "them furiners" taking over Portsmouth, and then pack off for a week to Disneyland. We’re all just visiting each other’s hometown in a gigantic game of musical chairs. And when we get there, it’s nice to have someone show us around. That is the travel corollary to the Golden Rule – give directions unto others, as you wish others to give directions unto you.

Seaman's Bethel in New Bedford (c) SeacoastNH.comAnd so we found ourselves driving home the other day from a Massachusetts wedding and passing right by the historic whaling capital of New England. That was the sum total of our knowledge about New Bedford – whales. Unlike our generic "historic Portsmouth," this place has branding. It also has, unlike us, a Visitor’s Center. Instinctively we headed toward the harbor area and when the streets turned to cobblestone, parked the car. The first thing we saw was an imposing building constructed like a Greek temple. It was once the district court. Now it is the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park Visitor Center, or the NBWNHPVC, for short.

A tall young park ranger was standing on the steps wearing a park ranger hat. "Would you like a quick tour?" he asked? "How much? We asked back. "It’s free," he said, and introduced himself as Malcom. "When does it start?" we asked. "Right now," Malcom said. A dozen more tourists joined us within minutes as Malcom pointed out the sites in what had been the commercial center of the whaling industry in the 19th century. I had no clue the city was begun by Quakers, which made it a safe haven for African Americans who made up a sizeable percentage of seamen during the Age of Sail.

New Bedford only got its visitor center a decade ago, thanks to persistent politicking by Senator Barney Frank. This is a federally funded project, unlike our dreams for an independent Portsmouth cultural center. But like our plans, New Bedford has recycled a grand old building that seems to attract visitors simply by standing there and looking important. Inside there are a few displays, the requisite information racks, rest rooms and orientation video. But mostly, there are people, really nice people, who make you feel like it’s okay to be a tourist and to ask dumb questions. The New Bedford VC does not compete with the long-established Whaling Museum or other historic sites. It touts them, helps them raise funds, partners on projects and events. The visitor center exists, we were told, to boost the local economy and tell the New Bedford story.

Malcom at New Bedford Visitor's Center /

Each tour guide is supposed to pick a theme. Malcolm is interested in Black history, so he took us to a monument dedicated to African-American soldiers. We saw the statue of Lewis Temple, a Black blacksmith who invented the deadly barbed harpoon that took the whaling industry on a profitable Nantucket sleigh ride. One of those harpoons was recently found embedded in the flesh of a whale that survived an attack more than a century ago.


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News about Portsmouth from

Tuesday, February 20, 2018 
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