New Bedford Seamen’s Bethel, Mariners’ Home Eyed for Restoration

The Seamen's Bethel on Johnny Cake Hill, New Bedford. Photos/New England Boating, Tom Richardson
The Seamen’s Bethel on Johnny Cake Hill, New Bedford. Photos/New England Boating, Tom Richardson

A collaborative project to restore 2 of New Bedford’s most iconic buildings, the Seamen’s Bethel and the adjacent Mariners’ Home on Johnny Cake Hill, is gathering momentum, organizers say.

Grant applications for the proposed “Port Society Complex” have been submitted and a gala fundraiser is scheduled for March 29, 2014, at the Whaling Museum with retired Congressman Barney Frank as keynote speaker. (For more information or to purchase tickets contact WHALE at (508) 997-1776. All proceeds benefit the New Bedford Port Society Complex. )


Signage in front of the Mariner's Home, New Bedford.
Signage in front of the Mariner’s Home, New Bedford.

WHALE, New Bedford Port Society and Working Waterfront Festival have joined forces to preserve these historic structures. Plans include making both buildings fully handicap-accessible and repurposing the Mariners’ Home to showcase the history and culture of the fishing industry.

Teri Bernert, Executive Director of WHALE, said that funding for the $2.3 million project is expected to derive from several sources such as state and federal historic tax credits, the Massachusetts Cultural Council and a Community Development Block Grant.

Historically, the Mariners’ Home provided lodging to seafarers between voyages but it has been vacant for the past several years except for Port Society office space on the ground floor.

A plague in front of the Seamen's Bethel explains its purpose.
A plaque in front of the Seamen’s Bethel explains its purpose.

When complete, the planned fishing exhibits will offer visitors a look inside an industry that has made New Bedford the number-one fishing port in the United States in terms of catch value.

JMBA Plus Architects of New Bedford have drawn up plans for the project. A glass-fronted connector will link the 2 buildings. Installing an elevator within this space will permit people with disabilities to freely enter the Bethel and the upper floors of the Mariners’ Home for the first time. Structural alterations to the historic structures will be minimal, according to architect Joe Booth.

The Port Society, WHALE, and the Working Waterfront Festival are working together to raise funds for the proposed complex, scheduled for completion in 2015.