Corner of Middle and Purchase Streets - Courtesy of the N.B. Whaling Museum

New Bedford Streets; A Piece of Americana: Middle Street


A new street is born out of necessity
On the New Bedford side of the Acushnet River, Bridge Street abutted the farm owned by the Kemptons. In 1788 Ephraim Kempton, son of William Kempton was the current owner of the farm. His farm lay smack dab in the middle of physical and economic progress of the two cities. After people would cross Bridge Street and enter New Bedford they typically would go north or south along the waterfront or the many markets and businesses that lay on streets like Front, Water, Rodman and Centre. It was only a matter of time before people would, out of necessity need to get to other parts of the city in a more direct manner.

Ephraim decided to build a street going through the middle of his farm that connected to Bridge Street so as to maintain the progress of the city. Eventually the name Middle Street came into common parlance and replaced the Bridge Street name. The foresight that Ephraim had was born out as within that year Middle Street would undergo two extensions. Within 10 years it would reach County Street.

Middle Street Timeline
c1759: Granddaughter of Joseph Russel mentions an Indian Wigwam sat in the woods in what would eventually be Bridge and Middle Street.
1788: John Howland purchases property on the south side of Middle street and extends a wharf from it. Throughout the year the street would be extended two more times. First extended to meet Water Street, then to 2nd Street.
1792: Matthew Howland builds Samuel Rodman’s first house on the southwest corner of Middle and Water Streets.
1798: Middle Street is extended to County Road (now County Street.)
1799: McPherson-Bullock house built.
1804: John Avery Parker builds his first of many homes on the southeast corner of Purchase and Middle Streets.
1806: Post Office is moved to a site on Middle Street.
c1813: John Howland builds stone building for an oil manufacturing company on the corner of Middle and Water. It stood where is now the front of the Standard-Times Building on the JKF Memorial Highway.
1832: Post Office vacates it’s spot on Middle Street and locates to a small wooden building on Union Street.
1833: John Avery Parker purchases property at the foot of Middle Street and it’s called Parker Block.
1833: Sixth Street was extended from Elm Street to Middle Street. North Christian Church, designed by Russell Warren in a Greek Revival Style.
1836: The Post Office-Customs House is built.
1837: Middle Street is extended from County Street to Summer Street.
1844: Middle Street School is built.
1845: New Bedford High School built on the corner of Summer and Middle Street.
1852: Portions of Middle Street receive public sewer works.
1859: Vessel the John & Edward, 20 buildings, and 8,000 barrels of oil are burned in a fire that destroys sections of Middle Street.
1869: Possible first use of Macadam roads at Bridge Square.
1881: New Bedford Co-Operative Bank opens at 125 Middle Street.
1889: The New Bedford Co-Operative Bank becomes the Acushnet Co-Operative Bank.
1901: Main Building at Parker Block/Bridge Square torn down.
1902: The New Bedford Home for the Aged is incorporated at 396 Middle Street.
1922: North Christian Church is demolished and replaced with Sear’s Roebuck Store on corner of Middle and Purchase Streets.
1970: Explosion at 2:30 a.m. at 209 Middle Street, Sully’s Inn and Italian Spaghetti House.
1973: Urban renewal leads to the demolition of many houses.
1976: Middle Street becomes one of the boundaries for the County Street Historic District.
1980: Middle Street becomes one of the boundaries for the Central New Bedford Historic District, which includes City Hall.
2011: Hurricane Irene sends 4 boats crashing into the New Bedford/Fairhaven Bridge.

If you have any corrections, additions, advice or anecdotes to share please comment below or e-mail us at

#01: Otis A. Sisson’s Soap Factory, 1869. Corner of N. Water and Middle Streets. By N.B. Whaling Museum.
#02: Elm Baptist Church circa 1920, Middle Street East of County. Photo by Joseph S. Martin.
#03: Christian Church circa 1870. Middle and 6th Streets with 2 children in foreground. By Stephen F. Adams.
#04: Old New Bedford Custom House Corner – Water and Middle Streets. Photo by Gifford R. Swain.
#05: Corner of Middle and Purchase Streets. Photo by N.B. Whaling Museum.
#06: New Bedford High School circa 1905 on Middle & Summer Streets. By N.B. Whaling Museum.
#07: McPherson-Bullock House on corner of Middle and North Second Streets circa 1905. By Fred W. Palmer.
#08: Parker Block/Bridge Square at the end of junction of Bridge and Middle Streets. By N.B. Whaling Museum
#09: Parker Block/Bridge Square rounding Middle Street to Front Street. By N.B. Whaling Museum.
#10: Health department – 116 Middle Street. By Spinner Publications.
#11: Looking down Middle Street 1934. By Spinner Publications.
#12: School at Middle and Summer Streets. By Spinner Publications.
#13: Northwest corner of Purchase and Middle Streets. By Spinner Publications.
#14: Purchase and Middle Street circa 1940s.

If you would like more photos like those in the gallery, both Spinner Publications and the New Bedford Whaling Museum have Flickr accounts with thousands of images.

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About Joe Silvia

When Joe isn't writing, he's coaching people to punch each other in the face. He enjoys ancient cultures, dead and living languages, cooking, benching 999#s, and saving the elderly, babies and puppies from burning buildings. While he enjoys long walks on the beach, he will not be your alarm clock, because he's no ding-a-ling.

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  1. Is it my imagination, or are there more than one Middle Streets in New Bedford. Maybe it is just broken up?

  2. Hi Cynthia! You are correct. Middle Street is unlike many streets in that it is broken up and then continues again. Middle Street is interrupted by Summer Street and Cottage Streets and because of the Carney Academy and Housing. Then it continues until it runs into Park, Pierce and Newton Streets. It continues AGAIN until it hits Round Street.

    While it may not be what you are thinking of, coincidentally Brock Avenue was at one time called Middle Road.

  3. Great job on this; must have been a lot of work! Live in NJ now, but from New Bedford and still visit often. Love being able to read good history like this…Thanks!

  4. Thanks for the comment Steven!

  5. WOW !! Does this bring back memories!!! I was born, raised and lived the first 16 years of my life on the corner of Middle and North Second St (above the A&B venetion blind company). This really brings back memories. While I lived there I thought it wasn’t that great (No hot water, no bath tub etc) but now I miss it :-(. PS: There was a really old tunnel in that cellar that went under Second St. I was “told” at one time it went to the waterfront for rescuing slaves. Found two old pennies in that tunnel (big pennies) and other misc “stuff”.

  6. Great stuff Roger! Thanks for taking the time out, thanks for sharing the anecdotes, and thanks for reading.


  7. Wow, this is a wonderful short history of the NB-Fairhaven bridge. I knew it had once been a toll bridge, but didn’t know it had been built and rebuilt five times! I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised – nothing stops New Englanders 😛 Great piece, thank you for writing it.

  8. Love reading this history

  9. Joe, great story and photos,,,, however, I must point out one mistake,,, the last photo showing Middle and Purchase Sts is titled wrong,,,, that photo is not from the 1940’s as the cars parked on Purchase Street are all from the late 1950’s or 60’s,,, in fact, the third car up, if you can bring the photo closer for view looks to be a 1958 Chevy,,,,, other than this mistake, it’s a great article and brings back lots of memories,,,,,

  10. I happened upon this site yesterday and am enjoying reading everything! I was born in New Bedford (1949) and lived there until 1975. Moved to Boise, ID then to Bellingham, MA in 1977 for husband’s employment. Still have family in New Bedford and visit frequently.

  11. i would have liked a bit on why and when middle st got broken up. i grew up on middle st inbetween summer ans county. then moved back to the same house for 10+ years as an adult.

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