William Rotch Rodham Mansion

388 County Street, New Bedford, MA

Bank president and whaling merchant William Rotch Rodman, who hired formerly enslaved William Piper, lived in this granite mansion built in 1833. The architect, Russell Warren, was a Rhode Island designer who created the Greek Revival style in Southern New England; in the 1830s Warren designed more than a dozen private homes and public buildings for New Bedford’s whaling elite; these homes were seminal in the development of Greek revival architecture. Inspired by Stuart and Revett’s Antiquities of Athens (1762), Warren designed Rodman’s showplace home with fine Georgian plasterwork and handsome Corinthian colonnade. Warren’s masterpiece encapsulates the wealth and prosperity of the city of New Bedford in Massachusetts during its economic boom. In the 1830s this was one of the most expensive homes in America.

By 1849 Rodman’s house and two-acre lot were valued at $33,000. Rodman also owned land on Wing Street and 90 South Sixth Street, as well as shares ranging from one-sixteenth to full ownership of fifteen whaling ships, barks, and three schooners; his personal property was worth more than $230,000.

The mansion is on the original site with little alteration. After Rodman died in 1855, Abraham Howland, New Bedford’s first mayor, bought it; the house served as the political center of the city for a second generation when Abraham Howland, Jr., also held the mayor’s office. After Howland’s death in 1887, the mansion was owned briefly by members of the Grinnell and Howland families who purchased it to safeguard its legacy.

Rodman had close relationships with several people of color. For years he employed William Piper and sold him land. Thomas Randolph and John S. Jacobs (brother of famed author Harriet Jacobs), both fugitives, lived and worked at Rodman’s estate.

Local history and self-guided tours are presented in collaboration with the New Bedford Historical Society and the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park. Visitors can also access interactive digital components, VR tours, and videos originally created for the New Bedford Historical Society and UMass Dartmouth’s exhibition, Black Spaces Matter: Celebrating New Bedford’s Abolition Row.

This exhibition will be shown free and open to the public in downtown New Bedford outdoors at the YMCA green space on Union Street, between N. 2nd Street and N. Water Street from June 16 to September 12.


The Black Spaces Matter project is collaboration between UMass Dartmouth College of Visual and Performing Arts students and faculty, local New Bedford experts, and the New Bedford Historical Society.

Black Spaces Matter was exhibited from November 19, 2017 — January 29, 2018 at the Boston Architectural College’s McCormack Gallery, 320 Newbury St. Boston, MA, and from November 8, 2018 — January 30, 2019 at UMass Dartmouth’s University Gallery, 715 Purchase St. New Bedford, MA 02740.


Black Spaces Matter is supported by New Bedford Historical Society, Creative Economy Fund from the Office of the UMass President, UMass Dartmouth Provost Office, Perkins + Will Associates,  Rotch–Jones–Duff House and Garden Museum, Spinner Publications, New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park.


Consultant: Lee Blake | Lead curator: Pamela Karimi | Architectural renderings, model production, and maps: Pedram Karimi and students in Architecture and Sustainability class | Film, animation, and digital curation: Don Burton | Artistic representations: Michael Swartz | Consultants for the Documentaries: Janine da Silva, Ann Marie Lopes | Advertisement and graphic design: Ziddi Msangi, Racsa Soun, Vasco Pedro and students in Community Engagement Design studio | Digital stations: Michael Swartz, Don Burton, Ben Guan-Kennedy, and Merri Cyr | Production Manager: Jennifer McGrory | Curatorial assistance: CVPA students, Cynthia Raposa, Mark Walker, and gallery director, Viera Levitt.

Understanding the Past: Abolition Row as Counterpublic, by Don Burton Media. Originally created for the New Bedford Historical Society and UMass Dartmouth’s exhibition, Black Spaces Matter: Celebrating New Bedford’s Abolition Row.


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