THE ROTCH FAMILY
In 1834, during the Golden Age of Whaling, William Rotch, Jr. built his fine mansion on County Street. The Greek Revival architecture embodied a style of design that reflected the changing taste and culture of a thriving young nation, while also respecting the restraint and simplicity of Mr. Rotch’s Quaker roots.
William Rotch, Jr. was one of New Bedford’s most influential townsmen and entrepreneurs. He was a founding member of the New Bedford Institute for Savings, Friends Academy and the New Bedford Horticultural Society. As an elder in the Quaker meetinghouse, he was a guiding light in New England Quaker education.
In addition to the family’s notable wealth, the Rotches were an early example of a vertically integrated corporation. From 1770s forward, the family owned and built whaling vessels, built and operated coastwise trading vessels that supplied naval stores and lumber to its own shipbuilding enterprise, transported whale oil and other goods, outfitted whaling vessels, operated its own store, made candles, owned wharves and storehouses in New Bedford and Nantucket, sold oil and bone on both national and international markets and more.
THE JONES RESIDENCY
In 1851, Edward Coffin Jones purchased the mansion for $17,000. Mr. Jones was born on Nantucket, but raised in New Bedford, where he began his career as a clerk. He invested in whaling vessels and, by the mid-century, Jones was an agent and owned, in whole or part, sixteen whaling barks or ships.
Jones moved into 396 County Street with his second wife, Emma Nye Chambers Jones (1823-52), who had been born on St. Michael’s Island in the Azores, and their three young daughters Sara, Emma and Amelia. Nine months after the move to County Street, Emma Jones again gave birth to a fourth daughter also named Sarah. In that year, Mr. Jone’s eldest daughter and wife both died of scarlet fever.
Mr. Jones raised his three surviving daughters with great devotion. His daughter Amelia lived in the house for 84 years. She was a woman of charismatic demeanor who loved the arts, theatre, family and worthy causes. Among her many philanthropic endeavors, she funded Sol-e-mar, a hospital for disabled children, with a $1,000,000 gift. During Amelia’s lifetime, she witnessed many changes in New Bedford, including the demise of the whaling industry and the transition to an economy based on the textile trade. Upon her death in 1935, the property was placed for sale.
THE DUFF ERA
In 1936, Mark M. Duff purchased 396 County Street, continuing the mansion’s maritime legacy. Mr. Duff’s family business, David Duff & Son, initially handled whale oil and later expanded into coal and oil transportation.
Like the former residents of the House, Mr. Duff’s business holdings and influence in New Bedford were extensive. He was a leading Republican on the state and local level, the president of Merchant’s National Bank and The New Bedford Hotel, and he served on the board of numerous textile mills and related businesses.
Mr. Duff and his wife, Beatrice, redecorated the House when they purchased it, as reflected in the current bathrooms and wall treatments on the second floor. The Duffs also landscaped the gardens with ornamental beds, reflecting pools and graceful walkways. Over 7,000 tulip bulbs were planted during the Duff tenure, which concluded in 1981.
In 1981, the Waterfront Historic Area LeaguE (WHALE) purchased 396 County Street to save it from commercial development. This acquisition insured that the house, the history and the culture it represents would not be lost. In 1983, the house and gardens became a Museum dedicated to preservation and education of the National Historic Landmark.