The Rotch-Jones-Duff House is one of the finest Greek Revival homes in the country and is considered a national historic landmark. It was built in 1834 for whaling agent William Rotch, Jr. and designed by architect Richard Upjohn, one of the best architects at the time. The house, which belongs to the County Street Historic District and is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was owned by two other families: the Jones family and the Duff family. All three families were prominent in the whaling industry as well as active participants in the community. The Duff family owned the home until 1981 when the Waterfront Historic Area League purchased it. It opened a year later as a museum featuring period items and furniture owned by the three families. The museum also features exhibits about the whaling industry and about the environment. Many educational programs are offered as well.
The Rotch-Jones-Duff House was
constructed for a successful whaling merchant, William Rotch, Jr., and his
family in 1834. The house was designed
by architect Richard Upjohn. Upjohn was the founder and first president of the American
Institute of Architects. The architectural style of the home is described as “Greek
Revival.” The one-acre property is situated on an entire city block. It
includes the home and a boxwood parterre rose garden, a boxwood specimen
garden, a woodland garden, and a cutting garden.
The mansion was home to three
prominent New Bedford families over a 150-year period. William Rotch Jr., 1834 to 1850; Edward Coffin
Jones, 1851 – 1935; and Mark M. Duff, 1935 – 1981. Each of the families were involved
in civic and philanthropic activities within New Bedford, and had earned their
fortunes from the significant whaling industry that had centered in the
City. After the whaling industry declined,
textiles became a commercial interest of the most prominent families in the
city. All three families maintained
landscaped gardens, which are still preserved today.
In the classic whaling novel, Moby Dick, Herman Melville described the
“brave houses and flowery gardens” of the nearby homes. This is reminiscent of
the Rotch-Jones-Duff House, which was built for a whaling merchant at a time
when the whaling industry was at its peak, and in the most significant whaling
community in the country. However, the Rotch-Jones-Duff House had several
features that were very different from other houses being built in New Bedford at
the same time. Rather than a two-story front porch, it had only a single-story
porch on the ground floor. Also, other
houses in the area were being constructed with five bays at the front façade,
whereas the Rotch-Jones-Duff house was built with only three bays.
The Rotch-Jones-Duff house is the
only mansion in New England that has been restored as a historic house museum. In
1981, the property was saved from possible destruction and commercial
development when it was purchased by the Waterfront Historic Area LeaguE
(WHALE). Two years later, the home and its gardens were opened as a museum
dedicated to preserving the its history and importance to the City of New
Bedford. The grounds and outbuildings are set in their original configuration from
the mid-nineteenth century. Today, the home is considered a national
historic landmark. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.
Visitors can be treated to a variety of programs and exhibits. Educational
programs are offered to more than 2,000 students each year. In addition to the educational
opportunities available at the historic home, the house and its grounds can be
rented for weddings and other events. The house is also shown as part of the National Park Service's Behind the Mansions Tour.