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WHALE Purchases John Howland Jr. House

Local Bank Rockland Trust finances deal to save endangered historic property from demolition

The Waterfront Historic Area LeaguE (WHALE) yesterday officially purchased the John Howland Jr. House located at 38 South Sixth Street in New Bedford saving the property from demolition. The nonprofit historic preservation organization closed on the property Thursday afternoon, purchasing it from F & S Enterprises Inc. of Rhode Island.

“Today is a great day for WHALE, the City of New Bedford, and historic preservation” said Lisa Bergson, Executive Director of WHALE. “Today, WHALE was able to rescue a rare, brick mansion from the bulldozer. It is exactly what we were established to do and what we should be doing.”

The deal was made possible through a loan from Rockland Trust noted Ms. Bergson. “We needed a banking partner to make this deal happen because we self-imposed such a short closing deadline due to the compromised condition of the building. There wasn’t a lot of time to complete a major building campaign or hold fundraisers. We needed someone who understands the risks that WHALE takes, who would look at our success record and believe in what we do,  and step up to the plate to make a difference in New Bedford. We found that partner in Rockland Trust.”

“Rockland Trust is pleased to support WHALE’s efforts to save the Howland House,” said John Clark, First Vice President of Rockland Trust. “As a local community bank, we are committed to strengthening the communities we serve. Projects like these preserve history, improve our neighborhoods, and help keep New Bedford a special place.”

“We are just beginning,” stressed Ms. Bergson. “Closing on the house and purchasing the property was, in some way, the easy part. Now we have to work hard to raise all the funds needed for this house to pay off our loans and complete Phase One and Phase Two stabilization. We have a long way to go, but we will get there just like we always have.”

Ms. Bergson noted that the 100% of WHALE’s Board and staff personally contributed more than $10,000 and WHALE members have matched it. In addition, WHALE has applied for state emergency funds for the acquisition and to several private foundations. In addition, the City of New Bedford has committed $50,000 in non-city funds for the acquisition of the John Howland Jr. House and $75,000 for phase one stabilization.

“The John Howland Jr. House is too important to lose”, said New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang. “Demolition of this historic property was not acceptable and my administration has been working on saving it for well over a year through the Receivership process with the Attorney General’s Office. I am so pleased that WHALE has stepped in to purchase the house and save it from demolition. I am proud to partner with WHALE to bring the Howland House back to life.”

Ms. Bergson noted that ASAP Engineering, a structural engineering firm located in Middleboro, has been hired to complete a building assessment and develop plans and specifications for the two stabilization phases.

Built in 1834, the John Howland Jr. House, with its ties to a prominent and wealthy New Bedford family and the whaling industry, an industry and era of national importance, is both architecturally and historically significant and worthy of preservation. It is an exceptional example of a transitional Federal/Greek Revival style architecture and the period of great wealth brought to New Bedford from whaling.

Anyone interested in donating to the John Howland Jr. House can go to WHALE’s website at or contact WHALE at 508-997-1776. Donations are tax deductible to the full extent of the law.

WHALE is a nonprofit, historic preservation organization dedicated to promoting the value and reuse of historic properties in New Bedford through preservation, education, and advocacy. In its 48-year history, WHALE has saved and ensured the rehabilitation and reuse of 45 historic resources in the New Bedford area saving significant pieces of our history and architectural heritage.

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