Monday, December 12, 2016

Nautical Town

A banker once told me that a loan for a house in New Bedford would be difficult because it is not near the water. Being a geographer, I showed her a map. We did not end up with that house anyway, but continued to enjoy visits to Whaling City.

Recently a friend shared this much earlier (1876) map of New Bedford, which shows that not only is it near the water, but that water is the whole point of New Bedford. It is a kind of lithograph that was common at the time, often used to promote cities by presenting idealized versions of them (see Cities on Stone by John Reps for many great examples).
Click map to enlarge
So these maps may be imperfect records, but they do reveal a lot about nineteenth-century urban places. This one reveals the importance of both manufacturing and nautical trade at the time -- during the overlap between the age of sail and the age of steam. Note that a rather sophisticated draw bridge was already in place (as it is 140 years later), signaling the importance of both rail and sea in the development of the city.

During our New Bedford Fortnight class, we will have the chance to explore this and many other printed maps of the city and its surroundings; today's geography is very much shaped by geographies of the past!

Back to the banker...
A year later, the same banker facilitated a loan for a house in Fairhaven, without checking for its water proximity. Perhaps she knew about views like this one, which I took after a morning row in the harbor shared by these nautical municipalities.
Fairhaven waterfront, December 2016
Foreground: Pope's Island Marina in New Bedford'