In 1866, baseball was already an established, popular sport in the United States. The New York Knickerbocker's version, invented in 1845 by Mr. Alexander Cartwright, was relatively new. The New York version was limited to New York City until the arrival of the Civil War, when men from other parts of the country learned to play the game in Union Army camps.
Mr. Charles Warren Clifford, then a graduate student of Harvard College, organized an athletic club in 1866 to play the new baseball. That was the beginning of the Wamsutta Club.
Baseball, at the time, was a social sport, played by professional men who could take afternoons off. The Wamsutta Club soon evolved into a social club. The original clubrooms were in the old Ricketson block on Purchase Street. In 1880, the club moved to the old Masonic building on Pleasant and Union Street. After being formally chartered in 1889, the club moved once again to the former Perry House, at Union and County Streets, across from the present location.
By 1925, the club needed more meeting space. The present building, an established, New Bedford landmark, was constructed in 1821 by Mr. James Arnold. Mr. Arnold died in 1868. The property went to his wife's nephew, Mr. William J. Rotch, who moved in with his family in 1872. Mr. Rotch died in 1893; his widow lived in the mansion until her death in the year 1919.
The Wamsutta Club purchased the Arnold Mansion House, as it was, and is, known. Two large wings were added to the north and south; squash courts were added to the west.
Between 1890 and 1925, the club was an important rendezvous for area businessmen, serving in the flourishing, textile industry. There is no way to estimate the number of bales of cotton that were bought and sold during meetings among the club members.
The Great Depression struck and the textile industry declined. The Club membership was re-established on a broader base.
The Club programs were expanded to meet the needs of a changing community at the Club.
In 2017 the James Arnold Mansion became a 501 (c)(3) charitable organization. The Wamsutta Club remains the same. They are now two separate organizations sharing the mansion.
Today, the Wamsutta Club offers its members and guests fine food and personalized service in the comfort of distinguished surroundings.
The James Arnold Mansion
On James Arnold’s passing he left the mansion and most of his fortune to William J. Rotch, Arnold’s nephew by marriage.
William J. Rotch was the second Mayor of New Bedford.
Between 1869 and 1872 the brick federal mansion was recreated as a French Second Empire with the removal of the Greek columned façade and the addition of a mansard roofed top story. The brick was plastered all over. The house was rebuilt in accordance with the vogue of that day. The grounds were curtailed of their proportions, but the wide frontage with the great trees that shade the lawns remained.
William J. Rotch moved into the house in 1872 with his seven children and second wife. An eighth child was born in the house. and it remained in the family until 1919. William J. Rotch made the Arnold home his dwelling place for 50 years or thereabouts. During the lifetime of Mr. Rotch the house once more figured prominently in the social life of the city.
William Rotch died on August 17, 1893. Mary Russell Rotch, his youngest daughter, died on February 19, 1917. After the death of William Rotch’s widow Clara Morgan Rotch on August 24, 1919 the lights of the mansion went out once more, and it was feared the house would share the fate of other estates which once distinguished the city. The future of the property was in serious doubt. None of the remaining Rotch children had either the inclination or the funds to care for this landmark property.
The family was interested in preserving the property and made favorable concessions which made the acquisition of the house and a part of the extensive grounds by the Wamsutta Club.
Today the handsome marble fireplaces and great gold framed mirrors on the first floor remain as relics of the past. The small room to the left of the entrance has not changed and the layout of the second and third floors is as it used to be, all else has changed.