October 3, 1996
New Bedford Historic District Receives National Park Designation
WHALE, the Waterfront Historic Area League, has been notified that New Bedford's National Landmark Waterfront Historic District has received Congressional designation as the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park. It is expected that the New Bedford Park Bill will be signed by President Clinton within the next 10 days.
The Bill was written after a lengthy Special Resource Study funded by Congress and conducted by the National Park Service determined that the New Bedford site satisfied all Park Service criteria.
The new National Park consists of approximately 20 acres which include the 14 block National Landmark Waterfront Historic District; the area lying between the eastern boundary of the Historic District and the east side of MacArthur Drive from the Route 6 overpass on the north to an extension of School Street on the south; the land north of Elm Street bounded by Acushnet Avenue on the west, the Route 6 ramps on the north, MacArthur Drive on the east and Elm Street on the south; and the National Landmark Schooner Ernestina, with its home port in New Bedford. In addition, the legislation designates several other whaling-related historic sites as eligible for federal assistance. They include the land area immediately south of State Pier known as Waterfront Park, the Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum, the Wharfinger Building on Piers 3 and 4, and the Bourne Counting House on Merrill's Wharf.
Although designation was the most difficult step in the process, it is only the first of many. The next step is implementation. To that end, WHALE will coordinate a number of groups made up of interested community members who will meet on a regular basis to identify specific needs and determine how the National Park may best be integrated into the heritage tourism services already offered by local organizations.
The National Park Service will staff and manage the District Visitors Center, but no other federal property ownership is planned.
The primary theme of the Park will be New Bedford's role as the 19th century capital of the world's whaling industry. It will provide opportunities for studying and interpreting whaling's contribution to the economic, social and environmental history of the United States. In addition to whaling history, the Park will also celebrate the New Bedford area's cultural diversity. Its sub-themes will include the role of Native Americans in the development of the whaling industry; immigration, with emphasis on the Portuguese and Cape Verdeans who were drawn to the area by the whaling trade; the role and influence of the Quakers in the development of the New Bedford community; New Bedford's prominent role in African-American history, including the Abolitionist Movement and the Underground Railroad; and the connection with Japan established by the rescue of John Manjiro by the whaling vessel John Howland.
The Park will also celebrate the 19th century link between New Bedford and Alaska. During that time period, over 2,000 whaling voyages sailed from New Bedford to the Arctic regions and joined natives from Barrow, Alaska, and other Arctic ports who were involved in whaling activities. Since the National Park System presently contains no sites commemorating whaling and its contribution to American history, the contribution of native Alaskans to the history of American whaling will be formally recognized for the first time with the creation of the New Bedford Park. The legislation establishes a formal link between New Bedford's Park and the North Slope Borough Cultural Center in Barrow, Alaska.
The National Park designation provides New Bedford with the national recognition envisioned by WHALE's founders more than 34 years ago when they worked to save the Historic District from demolition and decay. It is the culmination of more than 6 years' effort on the part of many private citizens, groups, and elected officials who have worked for its passage. WHALE expressed its thanks to the thousands of New Bedford area citizens who have contributed to the process in so many ways and to the many public officials whose efforts have succeeded in making the Park a reality, especially to Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Rep. Barney Frank, Rep. Peter Blute, Governor William Weld, Senator John Kerry, State Senator Mark Montigny, State Representatives Joseph McIntyre, Antonio F.D. Cabral, Robert Koczera, William Straus and John Quinn, and to Mayor Rosemary S. Tierney and the members of the New Bedford City Council.