ROTCH-JONES-DUFF HOUSE AND GARDEN MUSEUM
396 County Street, New Bedford, MA 02740 - United States
Built by shipwrights in 1834 for whaling merchant William Rotch Jr., the Rotch-Jones-Duff (RJD) House and Garden Museum epitomizes the “brave houses and flowery gardens” described by Herman Melville in Moby-Dick. Greek Revival in style, it was designed by architect Richard Upjohn, a founder and first president of the American Institute or Architects.
396 County Street was home to three prominent and influential New Bedford families; William Rotch Jr., 1834 to 1850; Edward Coffin Jones, 1851 – 1935; and Mark M. Duff, 1935 – 1981. The estate chronicles important chapters in American history when New Bedford had a major influence on the international arenas of commerce, trade, and culture via whaling, and later through textiles.
The property encompasses a full city block of gardens which include a boxwood parterre rose garden, a boxwood specimen garden, a woodland garden and a cutting garden. It is the only whaling mansion open to the public in New England that retains its original configuration of grounds and outbuildings.
Today this National Historic Landmark offers house tours, a variety of cultural programs, changing exhibitions, and curriculum-based educational programming to more than 7,000 visitors annually.
Among the festive events held at the home of the Rotch, Jones and Duff families, now the Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum, were numerous family weddings. To Have and to Hold: Family Weddings Remembered displays gowns and memorabilia from those special celebrations. While not all family brides were married in the house, some of the clothing and items from their weddings have been donated to the museum over the years. The exhibition is the latest to open at the RJD with three rooms of the second floor turned over for displays of bridal gowns, men’s suits, photography and wedding accessories.
Sarah Rotch’s gown, worn at her marriage to James Arnold in 1807, as well as Arnold’s wedding vest, is laden with handmade lace. Emily Morgan was married in 1842 to William J. Rotch, second mayor of New Bedford. Her dress and Sarah’s gown show examples of hand stitching since sewing machines were not invented until the 1840s.
Sarah Jones Forbes was the first in a long line of Edward Coffin Jones descendants to marry in the mansion’s parlors. She married John Malcom Forbes in 1873. Sarah’s daughter Margaret married Arnold Klebs in 1898 and her granddaughter, Sarah Klebs, married George Stewart in 1925. Both Margaret Klebs’ and Sarah Stewart’s dresses are on exhibit.
The Duff daughters, Beatrice in 1941 and Betty in 1949, married in the house and tossed their bouquets from the curved staircase. Their mother, Beatrice Marceau Duff, lived at 396 County Street, and left her gown to the RJD. Clippings and snapshots from scrapbooks recall her wedding to Mark Duff in 1915.
A more body-conscious outfit from 1939 demonstrates the effect movie stars, like Jean Harlow, had on fashion in the 1930s. The dress Hilda Greenleaf wore when she married William Rotch Bullard in 1921 and two other Rotch family gowns round out the representation of the three families who lived in the RJD.
In addition to this special exhibition, visitors to the RJD can see rooms furnished in the periods of all three families (1834 through 1981) and two exhibitions focused on the Rotch and Jones families.
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