A Revival For The Kilburn Mill

A Revival For The Kilburn Mill

New Bedford will always be known as the Whaling City.  Its magnificent port was the inspiration for the legend of Moby Dick after all.  When you make your way through the city’s cobblestone streets and past the fleets of commercial fishing boats and quaint buildings, it’s easy to overlook the many giants that dot the landscape of New Bedford and hold the keys to the city’s other claim to fame- textile mills.

The textile industry in New England brought incredible wealth in a very short amount of time but for several reasons that wealth disappeared just as quickly as it arrived and the mills were inevitably doomed.  Today many of these grand structures sit crumbling throughout the northeast, a reminder of how fragile life can be, even for the strongest of entities. But there is a new industry that is starting to take shape, which embraces the storied history of New England’s textile era and is ushering in a new means of prosperity- mill renovations.

Investors are seeing the tremendous opportunities that these abandoned mills provide; the chance to merge antiquity with functionality. The combination of reclaimed brick and hand-hewn wooden beams makes for a very unique and comforting work environment. Businesses are moving into these renovated mills as quickly as the contractors can finish the work because they recognize the importance of an aesthetic workplace and its impacts on productivity.

Perhaps no mill in New England offers these qualities as profoundly as the Kilburn Mill at Clark’s Cove in the south end of New Bedford. When you walk through the halls on the second and third floors of the Kilburn Mill, you can’t help but think that Edward Kilburn chose his location on the shores of the New Bedford peninsula strictly for the view. Its rows of tall windows allow abundant natural light, which illuminates the wooden floors and rows of evenly-spaced support beams. The walls of glass create a panorama of blue water below that must have made for a much needed mental escape from the monotonous mill-work back in the day.

The Kilburn Mill is currently in the early stages of a full and monumental restoration. When finished it will be home to all types of businesses from retail to food and beverage, from artists to architects and light manufacturing.  In its current state, you could easily overlook the fact that there are already 90+ tenants occupying the building.  Its half-million square feet seem to hide them very well.  Many are artists and craftspeople who prefer to work mostly behind closed doors but who occasionally open their space to the public to display their expertise.  Others like Solshine- Yoga With a View, however, invite the public to come enjoy their beautiful space on a daily basis.  With a front row seat to the best sunsets in southern Massachusetts, it’s obvious why it is arguabely the most popular yoga studio in the city.

One of the first priorities of the mill’s owners, and just now receiving its final touches, is the Kilburn Event Center on the top floor of the main building. This 21,000 square foot space offers a unique venue on the south coast with a capacity of up to 700 guests.  Its nearly 400’ long row of windows frames Clark’s Cove like a painting fitting of the building’s best artists.

From July to October of 2018, the Kilburn Event Center in partnership with the New Bedford Whaling Museum, presented a Spectacle in Motion: The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World. For the first time in generations, the longest painting in American history- 1,275 feet, longer than the Empire State building is tall – was put on display for the public to enjoy and over 30,000 people came to Kilburn Mill to see it. The building had the perfect room for such a massive painting and it will continue to host other events that celebrate local history and culture.

The halls of Kilburn Mill have already enjoyed the sounds of the renowned New Bedford Symphony Orchestra, who enjoyed playing there so much that they booked another concert for April 13th of this year. It has also played host to the return of one of New Bedford’s favorite pastimes- boxing. In early February, seven U.S. sanctioned boxing matches took place, the first in many years for the area. The response was overwhelming and the property management has decided to continue the tradition on a regular basis, with its second evening of fights scheduled for March 23rd, 2019.

The Kilburn Mill is also refining the top floor to position itself as the premiere wedding venue in southern Massachusetts. Currently, its highly skilled on-site construction crew is working hard to complete multiple bridal suites and a catering area. Plans are in the works to turn the adjacent rooftop terrace into a functional use space for wedding guests, day visitors and building tenants alike. With no windows or walls to obstruct the awe inspiring view of Clark’s Cove and the distant Elizabeth Islands, the 9800 square foot rooftop space will certainly be one of the defining features that puts the Kilburn Mill on the map as a true destination in Massachusetts.

The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage

The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage

Grand Panorama-painting


Article & Graphics Courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling Museum

At Kilburn Mill, 127 West Rodney French Blvd, New Bedford

Grand Panorama-original

Limited Showing July 14 – October 8 
Free and open to the public
Open 9 am – 5 pm
7 days a week
Map and directions to Kilburn Mill (Google Maps)

Shuttle Service every half hour between the Museum and the Mill 
Daily from 10 am to 5 pm (July 14 through Labor Day)

Saturday, July 14

Family Day & Exhibit Opening
10 am – 3 pm
Free and open to the public

Click here for the schedule of activities beginning at 10 am.

Grand Panorama-set the stageSee America’s longest painting – longer than the Empire State Building is tall. All 1,275 feet of the Panorama will be on exhibit to awe visitors. This is the first time in generations that the entire Panorama will be seen by the public. Set amidst an historic textile mill in New Bedford, visitors will be able to travel around the world and back in time without ever leaving the city. The exhibition will also feature interpretive panels and kiosks to enrich the context and content of the Panorama. This once-in-a-lifetime experience will be free and open to the public, open during normal Museum hours through Columbus Day.

The Panorama is a maritime artwork of national historical importance, authentically depicting a whaling voyage originating from the port of New Bedford in the mid-19th century. It was painted in 1848, by New Bedford artists Caleb Purrington and Benjamin Russell, who traveled it around the country as a commercial enterprise. The panorama as a form of public entertainment was developed in Europe in the late 18th century and subsequently made its way to the United States after demonstrating its commercial potential to an armchair traveler audience. A “panorama” as defined by Robert Barker, who patented this exhibition style, means “all view.” He felt that spectators should feel like they were “really on the very spot,” that they should feel as if they were part of the scene in a surrogate reality, an imaginary “Grand Tour” of the world. This is precisely what visitors will experience.

In the late 1840’s and early 1850’s (proceeding the age of cinema) the Panorama was designed and performed as a moving panorama, a form of entertainment where multiple scrolls moved across a stage similar to how a reel-to-reel film would later be shown. After years on display, the wear and tear on the 170-year old painting was so extensive that it was deemed worthless and impossible to conserve. After decades of conservation planning and method strategy research, the Museum brought this national treasure back to life and is proud to share it with the public. However, due to the extensive conservation efforts that have been invested into the painting, it will no longer be shown in its original format – as a moving panorama – as this will undo the extensive work recently completed.

The Panorama drew crowds in the era of public entertainment before moving pictures and films. To celebrate this origin, the exhibition will be coupled with dynamic and engaging programming all summer long. Live performances, contemporary artistic presentations, and other unique interpretations will accompany educational programs and cultural celebrations.