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New Bedford Streets; A Piece of Americana: Kempton Street

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Welcome to the second installment of New Bedford Streets: A Piece of Americana. If you missed the inaugural article, please read, as that article sets up the entire series and covers William Street. I’d like to re-iterate the importance of reader feedback, correction, and contributions. By all means, let us make this an open discussion.

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In this installment, we will swing 180 degrees and go from being unsure why the street was named, to being positive of its origin. Kempton Street is one of the most trafficked streets in the city, and the Kempton family name is one of that goes back to the very origins of New Bedford and the arrival of the first Europeans in the New World.

The first mention of a Kempton in the historical record is from 1623. The names Manasses/Mannasseh and Ephraim Kempton (though other documents suggest he came later) are mentioned as arriving on the ship Anne, or possibly on the Little James, vessels that were contemporaneous with the Mayflower. Both were born in Berwick-Upon-Tweed, Northumberland, England of parents George Kempton and Mary Jersey.

Anne and Little James
Anne and Little James

Mannasses’ soon to be wife Juliana (nee Carpenter) Morton, recently widowed, was also aboad the vessel, as was Ephraim’s two year old son Ephraim. Ephraim Sr.’s wife Elizabeth nee Wilson had already passed away so father and son made the journey without. A two year old surviving the journey across the Atlantic is a minor miracle unto itself, perhaps one could say he was destined to a future in the New World. They were some of the very first inhabitants of Plymouth Bay Colony or New Plymouth.

Mannasses Kempton (1589-1663)
By 1627 Mannasses married Juliana, and while they had no children of their own, Mannasses had five stepchildren to rear. Mannasses shared in the division of cattle, and by 1633 became a Freeman, eventually serving as deputy to the Plymouth General Court.

He was also one of the original proprietors of Old Dartmouth spearheaded by William Bradford. The land purchased in 1652 was from “the west side of Acoughcusse to a river called Accusshaneck and three miles to the eastward of the same, with all islands, meadows, woods, waters, rivers, creeks, and all appurtenances, thereunto belonging…” or in today’s parlance the land on the west side of the Acushnet River, beginning at Clark’s Point and following the County Road to the head of the River. The original group broke up the territories purchased from Wamsutta and Massasoit into 34 shares, and Mannasses Kempton owned one full share.

Ephraim Kempton Sr. & Jr. (1591-1645)
Ephraim Kempton, Sr. a tailor, and his son Ephraim Jr., eventually moved onto land owned by Mannasses in Scituate by 1640. Ephraim Sr. had other children, John who stayed behind in England, Mannaseh and Lettice who did emigrate, and Annis of whom very little is known. There were rumors of other children, most likely daughters, however there are scant records to confirm this.

Ephraim Jr. married Joanna Rowlins in 1646, and they had six children, two Joannas (one had passed away within a year), Patience, Ephraim III, Mannasseh, and Ruth. After wife Joanna died, Ephraim re-married Sarah Maddox in 1656, and they had two sons Nathaniel and Thomas. Ephraim was a prominent figure in the region and held many positions. He served on the grand jury, was a surveyor, town committee official, constable, and deputy to the general court, before becoming a freeman himself in 1631.

Frank Jones' Store on Kempton Street
Frank Jones' Store on Kempton Street

These Kemptons were the very first Kemptons in the New World that our Kempton Street was named after. By the time of the first U.S. Census in 1790 , thirteen Kemptons are named as residents in New Bedford. The census also lists the number of children of these thirteen residents, effectively raising the number to over a hundred. Thus are the humble beginnings of the Kempton Family, that would leave a indelible mark on New Bedford’s history.

Street Name Origins
Kempton Street was originally called Smith Mills Road, a road that led from Westport to New Bedford and passed through a village of the same name, that is now North Dartmouth. It included Rockdale Avenue and Hathaway Road. One of the region’s earliest settlements, the village was the home of many ship-owners, had a large general store, two blacksmiths, and stone-grist and saw mills. This is a road that most people in the region travel often, as it is now called the Grand Army Highway or State Road (Route 6).

The mills were powered by the Paskamansett River, which can be seen off of State Road between Rose & Vicki’s and Midas Brake and Muffler. On the site now sits Paskamansett Landing, a small historic park, picnic area and canoe launch. There are anecdotes that the village was dubbed Smith Mills Village when Elisha Smith (1680 -1766) purchased the property, mill and water rights in 1706. However, I have been unable to corroborate this. I have come across mention that it was named because of the two Blacksmiths that utilized the mill and river to work, or that it was named after any other number of important “Smiths” that lived in the region. The latter is true.

John Smith (1618-1691) was born in England and was apprentice to an Edward Dotey. He attained Freeman status in 1633, built a home and began to acquire land in the area. A tract of land that he purchased from Edward Doty Jr. came to be called Smith’s Neck. His son, Eliashub Smith bought land and “all mill interests” from Abraham Tucker on May 4th 1707 and from this Smith, was the name Smith Mills adopted.

As the Kempton family grew in prominence and significance, and the villages grew into towns and cities Smith Mills Road became Kempton Street as it crossed into New Bedford and became what it is today.

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Kempton Street Timeline
1769: Thomas Kempton leaves his homestead between what would be Kempton and Hillman Streets to his son Ephraim.
c1775: Ephraim Kempton house is built on the north west corner of County and Kempton streets, where the Haven Baptist Church is today.
1778: Smith Mills Road officially becomes Kempton Street as it cross the New Bedford and Dartmouth town lines. It is opened for the first time as a “traveled lane” and served and as a division property line for brothers William and Thomas Kempton. William Kempton wills the section between Elm and Kempton streets to three other sons, Benjamin, Manasseh and Ephraim.
1826: In the “Hard Dig” neighborhood a body is discovered by some boys picking huckleberries just west of what was to later become a baseball park. Sgt Wm H Carney Academy‎? When they alerted adults and returned, the body was gone and a mob was formed and began to burn down houses.
1842: Historic Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church is built.
1845: First documented mention of Cannonville Village which is located at the intersection of Kempton Street and Rockdale Avenue, to the east on Kempton St.
1855: Historic Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church is destroyed by fire.
1868: Benjamin Butler is born at the old Ephraim Kempton house.
1898: West End Police Station is erected on the corner of Kempton Street and Cedar Street.
1904: Station 3 is located at the corner of Kempton and Reed Streets.
1907: West End Library opens above the West End Police Station.
1923: St Mary’s Church is founded.
c1925: A building modeled after the Butler Flats Lighthouse is built on the corner of Mill and Kempton and used as a headquarters for Pacific Oil Company for a gas station.
c1928: Table Talk Bakery, based in Worcester opens a facility.
1929: Battery Park, a minor league baseball park is built where Kempton Street runs into Route 6 in front of the old Silverstein’s.
1950: West End Library moves to a building on the southeast corner of Kempton Street and Rockdale Avenue, and later becomes a pharmacy and T-Mobile Store.
1951: United House of Prayer For All People is built and the church organized by Bishop Charles M. Grace.
1953: Angelo’s Orchard Diner opens up on the corner of Kempton Street and Rockdale Avenue.
1960: The St. Ambrose African Orthodox Church on 416 Kempton Street has a wall completely destroyed after a condemned 4 story building that is being torn down by the J.J. England Construction Company accidentally strikes the church. No one is injured.
c1961 Coca Cola opens a bottling and canning plant and operates it through the 60s.
1970: Race Riots broke out here and over much of the West End. Details go beyond the scope of this article. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) building is erected.
1973: Historic Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church is purchased and demolished by the Redevelopment Authority.
1979: North Bedford Historic District which is roughly bounded by Summer, Park, Pleasant and Kempton Streets is placed on the National Historic Register.
1980: Construction of Routes 195 & Route 18 cause the loss of 122 blocks of houses and businesses. Memorial Square Plaque is erected by the 20th Century Club in memory of African-American men and women who contributed to the civic, cultural and social life of the community. Corner of Cedar and Kempton.
1985: The St. Mary’s building is transformed into the Eastern Massachusetts Correctional Addiction Center.
1991: Fire Station 3 is disbanded and the building temporarily houses the Bureau of Fire Prevention.
1995: Rescue Company No. 1 is organized as a specialized “Special Hazards” unit and was stationed in Engine 3’s former quarters at the corner of Reed and Kempton Streets.
2000: Buttonwood Park is added to the National Historic Register
2002: Rescue Company No. 1 is disbanded. Today the New Bedford Emergency Management Agency and New Bedford Animal Control use the building.


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


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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17 comments

  1. Dear Mr. Silva:

    Your article is awesome! What a great piece of writing and dare I say, an even better detective story! Your research skills are inspiring!

    I’m not a local of New Bedford, if truth be known, I’m from NYC. Your article reminded me one of our famous streets, Houston Street. Most natives pronounce it HOW-STON and most tourists call it HU-STON as in Houston, Texas. I’ve always wondered the origin of the name. Your article has inspired me to try my detective/research skills!

    Thank you the inspiration and empowerment!

    ~iggy

  2. How enjoyable, your timeline was, Joe.
    I just have a question of when Bethel AME was rebuilt. I understand that the timeline
    states that it was demolished in 1973. What year was it rebuilt after the redevelopments purchase??? Since it is active today.

  3. Hi Martha! Thank you!

    In 1854 the original site of the Bethel A.M.E. was burned down, likely by arsonists. It was re-opened in 1855 (Rev, Joseph R. Turner laid the cornerstone) but wasn’t completely finished until 1872. Another fire in 1917 destroyed the inside and the church was restored due to a campaign spearheaded by the Rev. Dougal Ormonde Walker. October 29, 1972 was the last time a service was conducted there by A.M.E. Bethel. It was subsequently demolished in 1973 during the urban renewal initiative.

    In 1974 the church relocated to it’s current site on 532 County Street, a building which was built in 1915 by Christian Scientists.

    Thanks for reading!

  4. This is a great article. I am the 9th great granddaughter of Ephraim Kempton. I will be in New Bedford mid-October of this year. I am taking a Family History Vacation. Kempton St. is new information for me. I am looking for a bridge or bridge site that was operated by William Kempton. This is the only information that I have on the bridge: “John’s father and grandfather participated in the American Revolution to win freedom for America. John’s father was a gunsmith and later a tavern owner. He was also operator of a major bridge in and out of New Bedford, so he probably had some education whether formal or from his father’s businesses.” Do you have any information on this bridge or can you tell me where I might be able to find out about it. I am looking forward to visiting New Bedford and will be making a trip to Kempton St. as well as looking for the Acushnet River, Clark’s Point and the County Road that leads to the head of the River. Thanks for your article and any information that you can give.

  5. Thank you Lynne!

    The bridge that you are discussing is the “infamous” New Bedford/Fairhaven Bridge. If Kempton Street were to continue over water it would eventually connect to “the bridge” as it is known around here. You simply need to follow route 6 from New Bedford to Fairhaven or vice versa and you will be on the bridge. If you look on Spinner Publications or the Whaling Museum’s Flickr accounts you will come across hundreds of photos of the bridge in its various incarnations.

    You will come across a lot of info on the earliest Kemptons by checking out another installment of this street series: New Bedford Streets; A Piece of Americana: Middle Street which discusses this very bridge in some detail with photos.

    Please feel free to field more questions. I’ll help any way that I can!

    -Joe

    • Thank you for your quick response. I have read and printed your New Bedford Streets: A Piece of American: Middle Street. We leave for Massachusetts in the AM. My question is, do you know of other “Must See” places that are tied to this Kempton family?

  6. Great information article on Kempton St West End area. My question is about the 1970 race riots that occurred in the Kempton St-West End area. I (along with many of my friends and family) grow up in the area. During that time I was stationed/working in Berlin, Germany. I was wondering if you have any articles (newspapers, etc.) that I could check out (and make copies) Any help on this matter would be greatly appredciated. Thank You

  7. Great Piece of History!! Kudoo’s To The Author!!
    I Grew Up On “Kempton St’ Kempton-N-Cottage st. To Be Excate All My Childhood Life And Have Fond Memories Of The Area. Perashine’s (Local Grocery Store) ‘ Local Barber, (Tommy Schroud) “Bethel Church.(Went To Sunday School There) Even Sunday Mass with My Grandmother!
    the “West end Tavern”! “Ernie’s (Local Pharmacy And Ice Cream Shop)This Building Became The headquarters For The “Black Panther Movement During The 1970 Riots!
    “Reca’s Pharmacy” (Now T-Mobile) Oh Yes!!! Bottonwood Park!!! (Went There EVERY Sat Morn) . In The Mid 70’s My Family Moved Futher Upn Kempton St. (Kempton-N-ParkSt.) But Thats Another Chapter. Thank You For The Memories And Letting Me Share!

  8. Arthur, I am sorry. I am just seeing your comment now. Information on the race riots are difficult to come by, though not rare. I am going through the experience now, coincidentally because I am in the process of writing a piece on the riots. I am trying to consolidate all the sources into one place. Please, stay tuned.

    Hi Richard! Thanks for sharing. Your comment was like a walk through time! Some of those places I’ve heard of and some not. Thanks for sharing!

  9. I recently started tracing my family lineage. My father explained to me that Ephraim Kempton was the first in our family to come to America and I started from there. I came across this article and loved it. I am still trying to decipher which Kempton’s are relatives….can be very confusing. Thank you for this article.

  10. Hi Cheryl! The intermarriages between families make it VERY daunting to pinpoint anyone. If there is any way I can help, please feel free to e-mail me at nbgarts@gmail.com

  11. Great article! Definitely learned a bunch I hadn’t known before like the fact that there was actually a Kempton family! Just curious, but is the school on Shawmut Ave named Horatio A. Kempton associated with the Kempton family as well? I went there as a child so I’d love to know! Thanks. (:

    • Hi Kelly, thanks for the kudos!

      Horatio was born on June 7, 1812 of Ephraim and Mary Kempton right here in New Bedford. He spent his entire life, born, raised and died in New Bedford. He was a businessman in the city and owned a lumber yard on Hillman Street for some years. He is buried at Oak Grove.

  12. Dear Joe,

    Your article is so fascinating and brought back lots of memories. I grew up in the West End on West High Street, located between Middle Street and Kempton Street. My youngest brother and I drove to New Bedford in 2005 some 50 years after we had moved away and found everything very changed. We were lost! The location of our beloved home on West High Sreet as far as we could tell was part of a huge housing project. What a wonderful neighborhood it was to us as children in the late 1940s and early 1950s. I attended the elementary school (a wooden structure) on Cedar Street from 1950 on and our mother brought us to worship at the Seventh Day Adventist Church off Cedar Street as I remember. I wish with all my heart I could be in touch with someone who lived there or remembers the neighborhood. Thank you for bringing back cherished memories. God Bless.

  13. What a great article. I was showing our granddaughter some of the things about where I grew up and came upon this. Several years of my childhood were spent at 805 Kempton Street, and I attended the nearby Rodman Elementary School in the early to mid-1960’s.
    We lived right across from the old Belli’s Delicatessen, one block away from fire station number 3. One of my friends, like me, lived very close to the fire station, and we loved to visit it. We even knew what the bell patterns meant, allowing us to tell when the local fire engines were going to roll. My friend ended up a fireman for his career and I worked EMS a number of years, so it must have had an effect on us.
    One tragic note in all of this was that my grandmother, who lived next door to us, was struck and killed by a car in 1959 after leaving Belli’s and attempting to cross the street back to her house.
    We’ve been in Michigan for almost 30 years now, but still have family in the New Bedford area and get back there most years. Lots of mostly great memories!

    • I was New Bedford MA in Oct 1996. with my 82 year old Dad. This was his final visit to his beloved hometown. My Dad passed away 9 months later. He was born August 15,1914.

      We had traveled there from Sunnyvale California.

      While we were there, we stopped at the abandoned building of St Mary’s Grammer school. He loved that school so much, that for most of his adult life, he wore his St Mary’s Grammar School Pin on the lapel of his suit jacket

      We were able to open the gate that was intended to kept intruders out. My Dad wanted to go to the back of the building and look up at the factory window that his Dad would open, lean out, and wave to him.

      My Dad cried as he looked up.
      For us both us, this was a very touching and emotional moment.

      I would appreciate your help in trying to locate where we were that day. Street numbers and side street names would be helpful. I am very sure we were on County Rd. I believe the factory behind the school was Morse Drill and Machinist Company.

      I have seen a notation on this website about a St Mary’s building. I am positive, the building I saw in 1996, appeared to NOT to have been used for many, many, many years.

      The next thing I recall after leaving St Mary’s was driving on County Rd untill we came to St Lawrence the Martyr Catholic Church. In the distance, behind the Church we could see part of a Catholic High School. I believe it maybe Holy Family High School. He attended his first year at that high school Would appreciate if you could also verify this for me.

      Thank you

      Dotty

      • What a great story!

        The Morse Cutting Tools building was torn down in 1997-1998 and consisted of a little more than 3 acres at 163 Pleasant Street. The school you are talking about is St. Mary’s Parochial School that was run by the Sisters of Mercy. The building still stands, but is no longer a school. It has been turned into apartments.

        You can check out the area on Google Maps. It’s the corner of Acushnet Avenue and Wing Street.

        Unfortunately, I do not know whether the school has simply relocated or whether St. Mary’s a has a presence in the city at all. There is at least one St. Mary’s church and I believe a St. Mary’s Home for Children. I do not know the connection, but you could call them and see if they still have records.

        Let us know how it goes. Good luck!
        -Joe

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