About the Region

Discover the History, Fall River

New Bedford Pier

Courtesy of Photographer Lisa Anne

Fall River is frequently referred to as the “Spindle City.” This is because the Fall River has long been an economic catalyst within Bristol County.

Fall River was originally called “Quequechan,” which meant “falling water” to the Wampanoag Indians. The Wampanoag’s, who have resided within Bristol County for thousands of years, named the area for the small river that turned into steep falls before flowing into the Taunton River.

An abundant water supply along with access to the Taunton River made “falling river” a great place to settle during the colonial period prior and through the Revolutionary War.

By 1850, the railroad connected Fall River to Boston and New York. The result was an influx of people seeking opportunity. Driving Fall River’s early growth was a booming textile manufacturing industry founded on print cloth production.

The manufacturing of cotton into print cloth was the first major industry in Fall River. By 1880, Fall River was the leading textile city in the United States. Over 500,000 spindles produced 1/6 of all cotton capacity in New England. Fall River also produced one half of all print cloth production in the world. This is why Fall River became known as the “Spindle City.”

World War I sustained the print cloth industry, but the post-war economy quickly slowed. Also hurting textiles was that production had finally outpaced world demand. During the interwar period of the 1920’s, Fall River’s mills faced serious competition from their southern counterparts. The South also had the benefit of transportation and machinery investments from the North as a result of policy during the Reconstruction.

The New York garment industry was solicited to establish itself in Fall River during the period immediately after World War II. The attraction was a ready workforce and abundant mill space. An economic resurgence followed. By the mid 1940’s, nearly one-fifth of the city’s workforce was employed within the garment industry.

Modern Fall River took shape in the period following WWII. The postwar “Automobile Revolution” during the 1950’s and 1960s transformed the city’s landscape after World War II, as the federal government and Massachusetts began planning and constructing new highway networks that linked major cities, while also easing urban congestion. Several local highway infrastructure projects were erected. Most notably were the Braga Bridge, the Route 79 Interchange System (originally referred to as the Fall River Expressway) and Interstate 195.

The Veterans Memorial Bridge, which parallels repainted and structurally improved “blue” Braga Bridge, compliments the now completed Route 24 exit 8B project. That $60 million infrastructure investment, which was dedicated to honor former State Senator Joan Menard, generated direct highway access to the newly established Life Sciences and Technology Park in Fall River. The Life Sciences and Technology Park is now home to Mass Biologics and the new 1.2 million square foot Amazon distribution center.

The final phase is of the waterfront reconfiguration is underway now as the focus has shifted to the construction of the $80 million Route 79 North boulevard. Route 79N is being restructured into a waterfront boulevard that will create access to approximately eleven acres of developable commercial property along the scenic Taunton River. The new scenic boulevard will also add to the quality of life for area residents by providing an enhanced multipurpose walking and biking pathway adjacent to Commonwealth Landing, Battleship Cove, the Iwo Jima (replica) Memorial and several marinas.

Another important development has been the restoration of the railway lines running along the waterfront. The once dormant rail lines have been repaired and enhanced for higher speed freight transportation. This $33 million rail and bridge investment has also laid the foundation for future tourism and commuter rail services from Boston to Fall River and New Bedford. Upon completion this $1.1 billion project will transform the southeastern region of Massachusetts.

Discover the History, New Bedford

The New Bedford area possesses a history marked by wealth, prominence and prestige. The determinedly thriving city dates back to the days of the pilgrims of Plymouth Colony, who first settled in the area in 1652. This region, originally dubbed Old Dartmouth, would come to know the footsteps of some very important historical figures and see the birth of many new eras.

One of the area’s finest historical attractions is Fort Taber, located in New Bedford’s south end. This great stone edifice was built to defend the city’s port from the Confederate Navy during the Civil War and is currently open to visitors who wish to experience its history first hand. Visitors are also welcome to pay a visit to Fairhaven’s Fort Phoenix. This site hosted the first naval battle of the American Revolution, which was fought by Fairhaven militiamen. These remarkable locations provide informational tours, revolutionary and civil war reenactments and a wonderful scenic view of Buzzard’s Bay.

In the mid-19th century, the ports of New Bedford were alive and thriving. In fact, the City of New Bedford was the richest city, per capita, in the world. At the peak of the whaling industry, our city’s whaling ports were filled with vast fleets of whaling ships emerging from every ocean. Our ships also carried the American flag to foreign ports around the globe, with integrity and grace. Today, the city’s ports still bustle with fishermen hard at work. Here visitors can take a walk along our historic waterfront, visit the Whaling Museum and Whaling National Historical Park Center to immerse themselves in the city’s background.

Visitors can also absorb the stories of the Underground Railroad during some of New Bedford’s famous walking tours. On these excursions, visitors will learn that the city was the site of one of the Underground Railroad’s major stations. Here, Frederick Douglas became one of the great leaders of the abolitionist movement, arriving in the city in 1837 as a runaway slave. The tours will also bring you to the Mariner’s Home, where Herman Melville stayed while researching his world famous novel; Moby Dick.

By the late 1800’s, the region’s economy shifted to cotton textile manufacturing as the decline of the whaling industry took effect. Surpassing all in quality and quantity output of fine goods, New Bedford quickly adapted to become one of the largest producers of cotton, yarns and textiles in the county.

To serve as a tribute to the city’s incredible past, Congress proclaimed 34 acres of New Bedford’s downtown historical district as a National Historical Park in 1996. Thirteen city blocks now represent the city’s great accomplishments and remind the world of its fruitful past. Our city’s local buildings, residential and institutional, illuminate the diversity and architectural beauty of this urban national park. Whether you are visiting one of our many museums or admiring a town monument, there is a constant reminder of Greater New Bedford’s important history and promising future.

Courtesy of Photographer Lisa Anne