Renovations to Make Bates Home Historically Accurate
Home of Adventist Church cofounder gets restoration
BY BETH PERDUE
, staff writer, New Bedford
Standard-Times, reporting from Fairhaven, Massachusetts
historic house in Fairhaven, beloved by members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, is getting a makeover, with plans to return the home to its eighteenth-century appearance.
Set back off the road at 191 Main Street, the yellow two-story house with a peaked roof was the childhood home of Joseph Bates, Jr., one of the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Bates grew up at the site, living there from 1793 until 1807, when, at age 15, he went to sea.
The house is located on a spacious, tree-dotted lawn flanked by a matching barn, and has attracted visitors, particularly seminary students, even before the church's preservation organization purchased it in 2005, according to site director Dolores Wright.
Wright and her husband, James, have been caretakers at the home since 2008.
Although located on a busy section of Main Street, the house is reached by a long gravel-and-grass driveway that is far enough off the main road that the sense of congestion drops away to reveal an almost idyllic farmlike setting.
"It's like stepping back in time," said James Wright.
RESTORATION PROJECT: The 270-year-old Joseph Bates Home in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, is due to be restored through the work of Adventist Heritage Ministries. [PHOTO: Mike Valeri/New Bedford Standard-Times, reprinted with permission.
Ever since it was bought, the plan has been to renovate the house in a way that is true to its historical origins, she said. Adventist Heritage Ministry has done the same with other church-related sites that it owns, she explained, raising funds mainly through donations.
At the Bates home, architectural historians have already begun peeling away some of the layers that have accumulated over time to learn more about the house during Bates' years there.
Inside, wallpaper has been stripped away in sections revealing multiple layers beneath it, and the ceiling in one room has been removed and covered over with plastic.
Bates was a diligent man who held his beliefs fervently, Dolores Wright said.
"He studied his Bible, and what he believed in, he spoke about to everyone else," she said.
He is revered among Adventists for his role not just in officially founding the church in 1863, but also for bringing the concept of the seventh-day Sabbath to the denomination.
Until he retired at age 35, Bates was a ship's captain, famously remembered among Adventists for his response to the question "What's the news, Captain Bates?"
The question, from a fellow sea captain, was asked while Bates was crossing the old Fairhaven Bridge. According to historical record, Bates had just returned from New Hampshire, where he had become convinced that the Sabbath fell on Saturday, or the "seventh day."
"The news is that the seventh day is the Sabbath," Bates reportedly responded.
That next Saturday Bates and his sea captain friend observed the Sabbath, Dolores Wright said. It was an important moment in the church's formation, she added.
Although much bigger now, the Bates house began as a three-room structure that was purchased by Bates' father, Joseph Bates, Sr., in 1793. The house was too small for five children and two adults, and so Bates senior quickly added on three rooms on the first level, building in an L-shape around the original structure.
Later on, more additions were built, Dolores Wright said, but renovations will focus on the six rooms, four downstairs and two upstairs, that existed during Bates' time. The rest of the house will be left as is, she said, except for a small porch that may be removed.
No time line exists for the project, but the church hopes that once complete, the site can be more actively promoted, she said.
Although open to the public by appointment, the site isn't actively promoted, because, Dolores Wright said, "right now it's not in the shape it should be. We would like to invite more of the public here once it's done."
Although the Bates home is of extreme importance to Adventists, its significance is not religious, according to Dolores Wright. Adventists who visit aren't making a pilgrimage, per se, but are seeking to know more about Bates and the environment that shaped him, she said.
"We want to walk in the footsteps of a church pioneer," she said. "We just want to see what type of environment he lived in."
In that spirit, church leaders from around the world, nearly 120 of them in total, are coming to Fairhaven later this month to gather at the house. Many of them have never seen the site before, Dolores Wright said. The group will likely also visit other important sites in town, including the Washington Street Christian Meetinghouse (now the Northeast Maritime Institute), which Bates helped build.
Adventist Heritage Ministry may also participate in next year's bicentennial celebrations, Dolores Wright said, noting that church leadership is talking to tourism director Christopher Richard, but details have yet to be worked out.
"I'm going to find out what they're interested in doing, and I'm going to suggest some things that the bicentennial committee is interested in and see where it goes from there," confirmed Richard.
-Reprinted with permission from New Bedford Standard-Times
, New Bedford, Massachusetts.