The New Bedford Friends Meeting House at 83 Spring Street, around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.
The building in 2022:
These two photos show the Friends Meeting House, which was built in 1822 by the large community of Quakers who lived in New Bedford. At the time, the town was a prosperous whaling port, and many of its leading citizens were members of the Religious Society of Friends, better known as Quakers. As part of their beliefs, Quakers generally rejected religious rituals and ceremonies, and this idea extended to the architecture of their meeting houses, which were generally plain, modest structures. The meeting house here in New Bedford is a typical example of this, showing an unadorned brick exterior that looks more like a house than a conventional place of worship.
This meeting house was built on the site of an earlier wooden one, which had been built in 1785. When the new one was built, the older one was moved diagonally across the street and converted into a residence at 17-19 Seventh Street. That building, which is still standing, was later owned by Nathan and Mary Johnson, an African-American couple who housed Frederick Douglass after his escape from slavery. It was there that he took on the surname of Douglass, at the suggestion of Nathan Johnson.
The first photo was taken sometime in the second half of the 1800s, probably around 1865 to 1885. Very little has changed since then, and the building remains in use as an active Quaker meeting house more than 200 years after it was completed. It is one of the many surviving historic buildings from New Bedford’s heyday as a major whaling center, and it is a contributing property in the County Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.