Created By: New Bedford Preservation Society
19 Irving Street, William J. Rotch, 1846 Gothic Cottage
The house was built for William Rotch, who became New Bedford‘s second mayor in 1852, and served as president of Friends’ Academy for forty-two years. The W. J. Rotch house was originally built on a site set back on a rolling lawn facing Orchard Street. In 1857, its original owner found the house too small for his large family, and commissioned an addition by William Ralph Emerson to the northwest. It was at this time that the dormers on the Irving Street façade were added. After 1883, this ensemble was moved back about seventy-five feet to its present location by its owner, Morgan Rotch, who was also mayor of that time. Maple Street was then cut through from Orchard Street to Cottage Street, and the resulting house lots developed. The 1857 addition was separated from the house, and now stands as a single family residence on Cottage Street. In 1980, lightning struck the south chimney, and the resulting fire destroyed the roof and third floor.
William J. Rotch Gothic Cottage is one of the nation’s best known examples of Early Gothic Revival architecture, and a home of which New Bedford can justifiably be proud. It was built in 1844, designed by the outstanding architect, Alexander Jackson Davis. Davis’s drawings for this residence were published in A. J. Downing’s Architecture of Country Houses in 1848. As design number XXIV in that widely distributed volume, this home became one of the primary models for this style of residence throughout America. The elaborate verge board designs and porch roof trim give dramatic emphasis to the picturesque steep roof line and graceful vertical thrusts of its many peaks. The use of the Gothic style, because of its associations with religious architecture in the popular mind, was seen by nineteenth century critics to reflect positively upon the upright moral fiber of the owner. To quote Downing, “We should say that the character expressed by the exterior of this design is that of a man or family of domestic tastes, but with strong aspirations after something higher than social pleasures.” The ornate embellishments on the façade of this house were revolutionary to the predominantly Quaker community of the day. W.J. Rotch, a Quaker by birth, had joined the more liberal Unitarian Church, whose edifice was also designed by Davis in 1835.
This point of interest is part of the tour: New Bedford Pathways: Tour #1 New Bedford, More Than Colonials