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18th Annual Holiday House Tour
December 5 & 6

‘Tis the season to visit magnificent historic homes and the Rotch-Jones- Duff House and Garden Museum, all decked out for the holidays.

Candlelight Tour ~ Saturday, December 5
Afternoon Tour ~ Sunday, December 6 (1-5pm)

  • Historic homesdecorated for the holidays
  • Costumed portrayers
  • Spot the Peppermint Pig Scavenger Hunt } READ MORE
  • Holiday Collections on display at the RJD including an orchid display, ivy exhibit, art glass from the New Bedford Glass Museum, & holiday ornaments
  • Nativity set collection
  • Pre-tour brunch at the Wamsutta Club (Tour Headquarters)
    427 County St., New Bedford, MA ~ $15 / Sunday, 11:30am-1pm
    Reservations: 508.997.7431
  • Holiday Raffle

Both tours begin at the Wamsutta Club, 427 County Street, tour headquarters. An elegant pre-tour brunch at the Wamsutta Club will be held on Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., along with a holiday raffle of beautiful gifts, art, antiques and handcrafted items.

This year’s tour promises to be one of the biggest and best ever! In addition to viewing nine holiday-decorated homes in the “County” and “West of County” Street historic districts, visitors will be treated to the occasional “historic interpretation in period costume” of homeowners who once resided there.  An unlimited array of design ideas abound in the varied 19th century architecture and interiors, which are as diverse as the owners. In addition, the society is pleased to collaborate with the Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum to provide tour goers with a special visit to the museum to view special holiday collections on display, including a Portuguese Persépio, as well as the restored "Carpenter's Son" painting, recently returned to the parlors at RJD and unveiled to the public for the first time this weekend.

The Tour Begins at the Wamsutta Club, Tour Headquarters
James Arnold House
1821 ~ Federal
427 County Street

The James Arnold House stands at 427 County Street. It was built in 1821 by the housewright Dudley Davenport for Arnold, a native of Providence who became one of New Bedford's leading citizens. This Federal Style home has undergone many changes since its construction but is still recognizable behind these additions. Arnold's original home was "modernized" by his nephew, William J. Rotch, who inherited the property in 1869. (You will also visit the William J. Rotch House at 396 County Street on the holiday tour.) He added the Mansard third story in 1873, perhaps to accommodate his growing family, or his increasingly large household staff.

Arnold is less well known for his choice of architecture than for his love of botanical beauty.  He and his wife traveled to Europe many times seeking interesting trees and other plantings which would enrich their surroundings and his whaling ships allowed him to import exotic fauna from around the globe.  He welcomed the citizens of New Bedford to visit his extensive gardens and grottos constructed on his property, and they became a point of civic pride.  When Herman Melville came to New Bedford in 1857 he made a point of touring these gardens, though he was only here for an afternoon visit.  Upon James Arnold's death, his $100,000 bequest to Harvard University, earmarked for botanical research, formed the cornerstone for one of Boston's finest attractions, the Arnold Arboretum.

The dependencies on either side of the house were added when the building became the property of the Wamsutta Club in 1919.  One is always interested to learn that this sedate private club was initially founded in 1866 to introduce the modern game of baseball to the aristocratic youth of the city.

The Wamsutta Club property as well as the Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum (see below) have recently been named to the National Historic Register of Historic Places.

Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum
1834 ~ Greek Revival
396 County Street

One of the most outstanding (and only remaining) examples of the elaborate gardens for which New Bedford was once known exists next to the house built in 1834 for William Rotch, Jr. at 396 County Street. The house was one of the first projects by a young house carpenter named Richard Upjohn, only recently arrived in the city from his home in England and soon to become one of America's foremost architects. He had come to join his brother who had preceeded him and was employed by the lumber merchant, contractor, and builder, Samuel Leonard as a draftsman.

Owned over the years by only three families, this house bears the reputation of being one of the most beautifully preserved homes in New Bedford. The fine proportions of this Classical Revival house have been altered only by the addition of a belvedere and dormers on the roof, perhaps a contribution by Edward Cofffin Jones, a successful owner and outfitter of ships who purchased the house soon after the death of Rotch in 1850. It stands as supreme witness to the enormous success of the whaling merchants of New Bedford in the golden age of whaling between the War of 1812 and the Civil War.

This house was William Rotch, Jr.'s third house, built for him when he was 83 years old. His earlier houses had been built in the heart of the bustling whaling port where his business interests commanded his attention. This graceful home was one of only four or five mansion houses on County Street at the time and bespoke a man of conservative tastes and regal air. Built of brick that was then covered with clapboards, it is suggested that Rotch wanted the solidity of a stone house without the pretense exhibited by the granite massiveness of his near neighbors.

It still retains its grounds, greenhouses, and carriage house, as well as its Knot Garden, a design attributed to William Rotch, Jr.'s son-in-law, James Arnold. An entry in Charles Francis Adam's diary recalls his visit to this city with his father, ex-president John Quincy Adams; "We were taken to see the street which has lately risen like magic and which presents more noble-looking mansions than any other in the country.  The William Rotch, Jr. mansion is one of the finest where noble trees and over-reaching broad lawns lead to a charming garden."

William Rotch, Jr., was another of those successful Nantucket ship owners who moved to New Bedford shortly after the American Revolution. It was his uncle, Francis Rotch, who owned a large interest in the ship Dartmouth, the ship emptied of its cargo in the famous Boston Tea Party. And soon after peace was signed (1783) it was William Rotch, Jr.'s ship, Bedford, which first flew the flag of the United States in an English port under peacetime conditions. Thus, in ships owned by this New Bedford family, one finds decisive connections with both the beginning and the end of the American War of Independence.

The last owner was the oil merchant and financier Mark Duff, whose wife Beatrice was the last resident of the house. She contributed to its preservation when she sold the house to WHALE (the Waterfront Historic Area LeaguE), which affected its present existence as New Bedford’s only house museum

97 Madison Street

This house and the one next door at 95 Madison were built on land originally owned by whaling agent, Jireh Swift, whose home was diagonally across the street. Swift sold the land to a local builder, William Tillinghast, who constructed the two houses. Upon completion, he sold this one to Samuel Hudson Cook, a prominent insurance agent who specialized in marine insurance.

Cook was born in New Bedford in 1842. After attending Friends Academy, he began his career in the insurance business working for the Mutual Marine Insurance Company. Later he was to establish his own insurance firm specializing in marine and fire insurance. This firm still exists today under the name of Paul & Dixon. Cook retired from business in 1908. He was a member of the Wamsutta Club and Unitarian Church as well as serving on numerous business and civic boards. His main emphasis was his business, which was very successful. For many years he was the only agent in New Bedford offering marine insurance. The Morning Mercury noted that “His whole energy was devoted to his business.” He retired from the firm in 1908 and died in his home on March 19, 1910

His wife, Sarah Perry Cook and his daughter, Caroline Perry Cook, continued to live in the house.  Mrs. Cook died on March 23, 1931. At that time the house was valued at $13,000. Caroline lived in the house until her death on May 20, 1957. When she died she left $5,000 each to two female servants. Caroline’s passing ended over 80 years of Cook family residence in the home.

97 Madison Street is a Victorian home in the Stick Style.This is a contemporary term.  In its own time, it would have been considered modern and quite stylish.  Its design influences would have been recognized as medieval or gothic.

The distinguishing features of the style, which are plainly evident in the house, include the steep roofline and asymmetrical floor plan.

The vertical and horizontal bands of “sticks” ornamenting the clapboard walls are hallmarks of the style. The applied ornamentation under the eaves and window hoods is typical. The house has a small amount of cut-out decoration or gingerbread. Chamfering of porch posts and brackets is a distinguishing feature of the style. This house has its original slate roof and wrought-iron cresting.

710 County Street
Circa 1845
Italianate and Greek Revival

The home of William P. S. Cadwell built for him in 1845,
the year of his marriage to Charlotte Howland. This simple structure bears Italianate features in the round arches of the entry porch and the small square brackets under the roof line. The straightforward symmetry of the house is a very conservative form. At the time of its construction a taste for Classical allusions was being supplanted by references to other European historical periods, thus the transitional nature of this dwelling. The original owner of this house was a druggist whose apothecary shop was on the busy corner of Purchase and William Streets.

Whaling Captain Humphrey Shearman, who was the master of
the whalers Averick, Cora and Canton Packet before retiring from
the sea to this house, purchased this house from the original owner in 1869. The Shearmans, their daughters and their grandchildren (the Winslows) lived here for almost 80 years.

On your tour you will be greeted by the Winslow family and their servants in December 1928. The City of New Bedford took the house from the Winslows in 1946 for taxes. Today this is the home of Roger Labbe and Gil Cardona-Erazo

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New Bedford Preservation Society 2007