Home / History / The Story of New Bedford’s Arks; Of Sketchy Denizens, Mob Violence and the Hard Dig Neighborhood
First Ark built by Asa Smith (Whaling Museum)

The Story of New Bedford’s Arks; Of Sketchy Denizens, Mob Violence and the Hard Dig Neighborhood


The Ark Reborn
As mentioned earlier, New Bedford has never really shrugged off its darker side and it always has been and always will be part of its flavor. A physical structure was destroyed, but the darker elements did not dissolve and it didn’t take long for a second Ark to pop-up.

And it didn’t take long for a second riot to crop up.

The incarnation of the Ark was up and running in by 1829. This structure was the old hull of the merchant brig “The Indian Chief.” and was located just a little north-west of where the first ark sat. This “business” was run by a fellow named Titus Peck, and he was described as “…a bully and desperado,” and his cohorts were said to terrorize the entire town, including the officials.

That spring a mysterious fire erupted and burnt down the Elm Street Methodist Episcopal Church. It was a common belief, in spite of the lack of evidence, that those responsible were Peck and his crew. It didn’t take long for the rumor to spread like the church’s fire and for a town meeting to be held to come up with ways to remedy the matter. Over 200 citizens showed up and town officials did their level best to quell the uprising, including many very influential personages and iconic historical figures like Zachariah Hillman, Jethro Hillman, Francis Taber, Samuel Rodman, Thomas Mandell, J.A. Parker, and Barney Taber.

This had little to no effect since a plan was derived to rid the town of the Ark once and for all and the folks were determined to stick with it. To complete what the first mob did not. At 9:00 p.m. that evening a mob formed. Part of the mob consisted of fire department officials as evidenced by the presence of a hook and ladder truck and the eyewitness report that stated “…25 men, distinguished by their uniform coats turned inside out, trousers covered in white canvas at the knees, and slouch hats.”

Man and woman standing at the entrance to their house built out of the hull of a ship. (Spinner Publications)

The fire department was not there to save the Ark, but protect the surrounding residences and business and nothing more. With the ringing of a local church’s bells and the cry of “Jerry is in town!!! Hurrah for the Ark!!!” the mob descended down Ark Lane and began to manually smash the Ark and battle with Peck and his crew. At midnight, the mob was in a frenzy and torched the ark and by morning nothing but embers remained. The fire department was commended for what it didn’t do even though the fire did spread and destroy many surrounding buildings.

The Start of the Protecting Society
On July 30th, 1830 a town meeting was held to try to prevent the public from rioting and a group consisting of 110 men called the Protecting Society was created and became part of the New Bedford Fire Department. These men were assigned to the task of preventing mob violence in the future.

Regardless, riots broke out in 1856 because of poor conditions on Howland and South Water streets which were full of dance halls (Oh my!), saloons, gambling houses, hotels and there were frequent fights, robberies, and other crimes. When there were indications of a mob rising, Mayor George Howland Jr. began to prepare to quell yet another similar riot, but he was too late. Saturday, April, 19 the Howland Street Riots broke out. 17 Howland Street was torn down and burned and when the fire department showed up to put the fire out, the mobsters cut the hose. There were too many mobsters for even the police to have an effect and little could be done until the men dispersed around midnight.

In 1836 William W. Swain erected a stone building at the site where the Ark stood at 160 North Water Street at the lawn in front of the current Standard-Times building. It was almost as if it was erected there to prevent any future arks from being started! This building eventually was taken over by Charles S. Paisler who had two businesses on the site and who the building would be named after.

#1: Apparently there was a surplus of sea vessel hulls and it wasn’t that uncommon to build a house atop them! (Whaling Museum Photo)
#2: The first Ark built by Asa Smith by the Whaling Museum
#3: This Whaling Museum photo shows a view down North Water Street from Ark Lane, where the first ark stood.
#4: The Charles Paisler building at 160 North Water Street by Spinner Publications.
#5: Perhaps the most common painting of the ark in circulation.
#6: A realistic and probably most accurate depiction of the ark that uniquely captures a building in the background. Whalin Museum.
#7: Another depiction of the Ark by the Whaling Museum.

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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. wonderful…great read! and very interesting! thanks.for sharing!:) hope ur well!

  2. Hi Ianthe! All is well. Same to you and thanks for commenting! 🙂

  3. Where did the photo “thumbs_man-and-woman-standing-at-the-entrance-to-their-house-build-out-of-the-hull-of-a-ship-an-arkwm.jpg” come from?

  4. Philly Joe Jones

    Sounds like a Blockbuster screenplay waiting to be written.

  5. @Michael: sorry. Your posts somehow slipped through the cracks. That photo is courtesy of the Whaling Museum.

    @Philly Joe Jones: seems more and more movies are popping up locally. You should do it! I think it would make a great movie reminiscent of the 5 Corners Neighborhoods in Daniel Day Lewis’ “Gangs of New York.” I can think of a few locals that would perfectly fill the roles from this article. Who would you pick for some of these folks?

    Maybe ex-Mayor Lang could come out of retirement and play Jake Peterson or Titus Peck! 😉

  6. Well written and definitely worth the read!

  7. Thank man. Love reading about.new b back in the day. Keep it coming.

  8. Very enjoyable article. I love reading all of your posts.

  9. Very interesting history! Are there more?

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