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Rotch-Jones-Duff House and James Arnold Mansion open up to talk about the city’s past

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NEW BEDFORD — Within walking distance of each other, the Rotch-Jones-Duff House and the James Arnold Mansion opened their doors Sunday afternoon to crowds of people seeking a glimpse into New Bedford’s past.

“We’re related,” Richard Asquino, president of the James Arnold Mansion, Inc., said of the two houses, noting James Arnold’s wife, Sarah Rotch. Nephew William J. Rotch inherited the property in 1869 and later added the third story with a mansard roof.

From noon to 3 p.m., the Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum and James Arnold Mansion co-hosted a free open house featuring tours, lawn games and activities for kids.

“I like old buildings and this is a beautiful building. It deserves to be preserved,” Asquino said.

Of Arnold and Sarah, he said “They have a legacy. We want to preserve that.”

The mansion houses the Wamsutta club and has some tenants that rent rooms. Also, it contains two indoor squash courts, one of which is currently used for storage. The sport is played by two or four people with racquets and a small, hollow rubber ball.

Asquino said the slate roof has to be replaced, set to cost $80,000. James Arnold Mansion, Inc. is in the process of moving dumpsters on the property and enclosing them, which would include moving some of the asphalt, Asquino said. The group plans to do an archeological survey there.

Over at the RJD House, groups of people walked through the house as tours of the upstairs and downstairs seemed to be nonstop. Those who weren’t yet on a tour could watch an eight-minute video in a hallway to get background information on the house and those who lived there.

The house was built in 1834 for whaling merchant William Rotch Jr. and is now a national historic landmark. Arnold came to New Bedford to work for Rotch Jr., Sarah’s father, according to the James Arnold Mansion website.

In one of the bedrooms, tour guide Brenda Dias talked about Edward Coffin Jones, a whaling agent who bought the mansion for $17,000 in 1851.

“Here we have a staff from a ship,” she said, showing visitors. Carved in it were names of the 16 ships he owned or was a whaling agent for. His wife’s name, Emma Nye Chambers Jones, was on the staff since he had a ship named after her.

Stopping in the children’s’ room, Dias said “We like to remind everyone that there were children in this house.”

Mark M. Duff and his wife Beatrice redecorated the house when they bought it in 1936, according to the museum’s website, which is reflected in the bathrooms and walls on the second floor.

Behind the house is what’s referred to as the coachman’s house. The first floor of that house is used for storage and class space and the second floor is rented out as a private residence.

Executive Director Dawn Salerno said the collaboration with the James Arnold Mansion was meant to raise visibility and awareness of both houses and was “thrilled” with the turnout.

This story first appeared in the Standard Times on August, 19th, 2018 – HERE