The American Cyclopædia (1879)/New Bedford
NEW BEDFORD, a city, port of entry, and one of the capitals of Bristol co., Mass., in lat. 41° 38′ N., lon. 70° 55′ W., 50 m. S. by E. of Boston; pop. in 1870, 21,300. The municipal limits embrace an area 11 m. long by 2 m. wide; the city proper, about 2 m. long and 1 m. wide, is on the W. side of Acushnet river, whose mouth here forms a commodious harbor and is crossed by a bridge 4,000 ft. long.
The notable public buildings are the city hall, a Doric granite structure, the Unitarian and Catholic churches, the custom house, the almshouse, which accommodates 400 inmates, the public library, and the house of correction. There is a strong fortification at the entrance of the harbor; and around Clark's point, at the S. end of the city, is a fine public drive 4½ m. long. The city water works were constructed in 1867-'9, at a cost of nearly $1,000,000. From the head of Acushnet river, which is dammed up to form a reservoir with a capacity of 400,000,000 gallons, the water is brought 6 m., and is pumped for distribution to a height of 100 ft. The city has a paid fire department. A street railroad was constructed in 1872. The school system includes a high school and 23 grammar and primary schools, with 99 teachers and 3,500 pupils. The public library, established in 1803, was assumed by the city in 1852, and became the first free public library in the United States. A fine building was erected for it in 1857, at a cost of $45,000. In 1870 it had 30,000 volumes. In 1863 Miss Sylvia A. Howland bequeathed to the city $100,000 for the increase of this library and the support of liberal education, and an equal sum for the introduction of water. There are 27 religious societies, a domestic missionary society with two free chapels, a young men's Christian association, a Roman Catholic hospital, an orphan asylum, and a “Union for Good Works.” New Bedford has long been the chief seat of the American whale fishery, which was pursued here as early as 1755. In 1765 four vessels were engaged in it, and at the revolution from 50 to 60, most of which were destroyed during the war. The business revived, but was again prostrated by the war of 1812. In 1818 it received a fresh impulse, and continued to nourish till 1853-'4, which was the culminating point of its prosperity. At that time there were 410 whalers, of 132,966 tons, in the district, and the imports were 44,923 bbls. of sperm oil, 118,672 of whale oil, and 2,838,800 lbs. of whalebone. The panic of 1857, the destruction of 30 whalers by confederate cruisers during the civil war, the wrecking of 24 at one time in the N. Pacific in 1871, and the substitution of other articles for the products of the fishery, proved disastrous, and it is rapidly on the decline. In December, 1873, the vessels engaged in it in the United States numbered 171, of which 128, of 35,261 tons, belonged in New Bedford. The proceeds were 30,961 bbls. of sperm oil, value $1,251,109; 25,729 of whale oil, $413,555; and 150,598 lbs. of bone, $162,645; these constituted about three fourths of the entire importation. The other imports in 1873 amounted to $160,000; exports, $32,350; duties collected, $36,000; entries, 62; clearances, foreign 33, domestic 136. The loss occasioned by the decline of the whale fishery has been partly compensated by increased attention to manufactures. The principal establishments are the Wamsutta cotton mills, with a capital of $2,000,000, running four mills with 86,000 spindles, and producing in 1873 goods to the value of $2,500,000; the Potemska mills, for print cloths, erected in 1871, with a capital of $500,000, 2,000 looms, and 22,500 spindles, and products in 1873 of about $1,000,000; the Gosnold iron mills, copper works, cordage factory, twist drill works, glass works, tannery, Prussian blue works, four oil and candle works, paraffine manufactory, five shoe factories, two manufacturing photographic establishments, gas works, kerosene oil works, two flour mills, and three paint mills. The aggregate value of the manufactured products in 1873 was about $8,000,000. The valuation of property in 1874 was: real estate, $11,665,400; personal, $11,719,900. There are four national banks, with an aggregate capital of $3,200,000; two savings banks, with deposits in 1874 of $10,021,921; one fire and one marine insurance company; two daily and two weekly newspapers, and a weekly shipping list. There is a line of steamers to New York, and one to Martha's Vineyard. The New Bedford railroad was formed in 1873 by a consolidation of roads running to Framingham, Mass., and was extended to the water front of the city. Large amounts of coal are brought here for distribution, and return freights extensively taken to points south. A branch road from Fairhaven, on the opposite side of Acushnet river, communicates with the Old Colony road, and affords an additional route to Boston and Cape Cod.—New Bedford was originally part of Dartmouth, from which it was set off as a town in 1787. It received a city charter in 1847. It was at one time the wealthiest city in the United States in proportion to its population.