Category Archives: Historic Photographs & Images

Historic photographs and images of Newburyport, MA

167 Water Street, Newburyport – Gordon Welchman (and Bossy Gillis too)

167 Water Street

167 Water Street

167 Water Street

This is another story discovered from “If This House Could Talk-Newburyport” – 167 Water Street.

167 Water Street, poster for “If This House Could Talk”

167 Water Street, poster for "If This House Could Talk"

167 Water Street, poster for “If This House Could Talk”

For those who remember the film “The Imitation Game” which was about how the German code was broken in during World War II, there was one person who was there and who was left out of the film – Gordon Welchman, a hero who along with his colleagues shortened the war by two years and saved millions of lives.  There is a recent documentary in 2015 by the BBC called “Bletchley Park: Code-breaking’s Forgotten Genius” about Gordon Welchman. It was aired on the Smithsonian Channel as “The Codebreaker Who Hacked Hitler.”

Book on Gordon Welchman

Book on Gordon Welchman

Book on Gordon Welchman

Gordon Welchman is a fascinating person and a very big deal. He moved to America and became an American citizen. In 1972 he moved to Newburyport and bought 167 Water Street. He died here in 1985. 167 Water Street is now a B&B and has a Gordon Welchman plaque.

Plaque for Gordon Welchman on 167 Water Street

Plaque for Gordon Welchman on 167 Water Street

Plaque for Gordon Welchman on 167 Water Street

The house next door was also part of “If This House Could Talk” and their sign gives the the information that the Greek Revival Row House (which includes where Gordon Welchman lived) was built in 1845 and was part of the factory complex of the James Steam Mill.

Poster for 169 Water Street – “If This House Could Talk”

Poster for 169 Water Street - "If This House Could Talk"

Poster for 169 Water Street – “If This House Could Talk”

1951 Map Showing Row Houses on Water Street

1951 Map Showing Row Houses on Water Street

1951 Map Showing Row Houses on Water Street

And in my hunt to find out a little bit more about 167 Water Street I discovered that in 1945 it was bought from the City of Newburyport by Bossy Gillis a multi-time mayor of Newburyport (Bossy Gillis has had books written about him – another big deal). And during “If This House Could Talk-Newburyport” Yankee Homecoming 2016, it turns out that Bossy Gillis owned two other properties that were documented in this very cool project. It doesn’t appear that Bossy Gillis actually lived at 167 Water Street, I’m guessing that he rented it out.

Bossy Gillis 1945 Deed for 167 Water Street

Bossy Gillis 1945 Deed for 167 Water Street

Bossy Gillis 1945 Deed for 167 Water Street

And the last fascinating tidbit that I found was that Bossy Gillis’s deed in 1945 was signed by the treasurer of Newburyport not the Mayor.  And 1992 it was brought before the City Council for clarification. The person who sponsored it was then City Councilor and future mayor Lisa Mead. Then City Councilor (and former mayor)  Ed Molin moved that it be approved and was then signed by mayor Peter Matthews. (There may be a story about Bossy Gillis’s 1945 deed, maybe a clerical error, I do not know.)

1992 Deed Claification by the Newburyport City Council

1992 Deed Claification by the Newburyport City Council

1992 Deed Claification by the Newburyport City Council

Bossy Gillis

Bossy Gillis

Bossy Gillis

Abbie Parish Noyes, Newburyport, MA

ABBIE PARISH NOYES

Abbie P. Noyes

Abbie P. Noyes

When I did all the research into Abbie Foster to find out all about her, one of the things that really struck me was how little valued women were, especially single women, during the time of my research which was from about 1850 to 1913. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised but I was. Abbie was an entrepreneur, she had a business downtown for over 10 years. She built a gorgeous house on High Street. Little praise would be an understatement, even in her obituary. Obituaries of married women were different, the church and civic organizations that they belonged to and a flattering portrait of their character were mentioned, but for Abbie Foster, none of that.

However, during the research for “If This House Could Talk,” I did find a lot of research on another Abbie, Abbie Parish Noyes who inherited 85 Lime Street. The glowing write-up was not in Newburyport, but in Utah. You got that right, Utah. Abbie P. Noyes was a missionary to the Mormons in Utah and she appears in the the book Women in Utah History. She also appears in the Utah Division of State History, in “The Abbie Parish Noyes Papers, A Register of the Collection at the Utah State Historical Society.”

85 LIME STREET

85 LIme Street

85 LIme Street

“Abbie Parish Noyes was born in Dedham, Massachusetts on 28 August 1861. Her parents are something of a mystery: her father was evidently a school teacher, for she later described her own teaching experiences to him as she would discuss them with a colleague. In an autobiographical sketch written later in life, she indicates that her mother died on 4 January 1871, yet her letters home during 1889-1890 are addressed to “Mother” or “Folks,” which seems to indicate that her father remarried and that she developed a close relationship with her stepmother. She also had a brother, James Young Noyes, who was born 7 March 1864. She visited and wrote to her brother in Colorado Springs during the school year of 1889-1890, while he was evidently a student at The Colorado College, another Western outpost of the Congregational Church, though he is not listed among that college’s alumni.

Illness and death seemed to plague the Noyes family during her youth. In addition to her mother, her paternal grandmother and an uncle died in January 1871. Most critical in terms of her own life, however, was the death of her mother’s father while Miss Noyes was visiting her grandparents in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Her grandmother was seriously afflicted with rheumatism and unable to care for herself and Miss Noyes agreed to live with and care for her. It must have been a difficult decision for she had just graduated from high school and a friend in Dedham, Miss Martha Burgess, had offered to finance her college education.

Miss Noyes stayed with her grandmother until her death eight years later. No doubt aware that she was devoting the best years of her youth to the care of an invalid, she determined to make the most of the situation and to mitigate her loss of college training by seizing any other educational opportunities that presented themselves. Her grandmother, fortunately, was herself well educated and appreciated Miss Noyes’ willingness to read aloud to her. During the summers, too, she took advantage of the close proximity of a Chatauqua program at Framingham and completed nearly the entire course for a diploma. Immediately upon her grandmother’s death, Miss Noyes wrote, “I felt myself free to offer myself to the New West Education Commission to teach in some one of their many schools.” The Commission accepted her application and sent her in 1889 to Ogden, Utah to teach in the Ogden Academy.” From the Utah State Historical Society.

So I was very impressed to see this young lady, who inherited 85 Lime Street get the credit she so richly deserved.

THE POSTER 85 LIME STREET FOR “IF THIS HOUSE COULD TALK”

Poster for 85 Lime Street "If This House Could Talk"

Poster for 85 Lime Street “If This House Could Talk”

All of this was discovered because of “If This House Could Talk.” The poster that the owners of 85 Lime Street made includes Abbie Noyes as well as the history of this beautiful house.

Abbie and her husband S. Foster Jaques along with their daughter Mildred Noyes Jaques are all buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Newburyport.

Where Abbie Foster got the Money to Build 74 High Street

74 HIgh Street, the house that Abbie Foster built

74 HIgh Street, the house that Abbie Foster built

A while back I wrote a post about Abbie Foster who built that beautiful, fancy mansion at 74 High Street. I found out that she was given the land for $1.00 but wasn’t able to figure out how a working/middle class, 48 year old lady got the kind of money to build such an amazing house. Well, I found out.

Ghlee Woodworth had suggested it was probably from an inheritance, but when I wrote the first piece on Abbie, I couldn’t figure out who might have given her that much money. Some more digging and mystery most probably solved.

Abbie married Daniel Foster in 1891. Daniel was 20 years older than she was and they were married for a couple of years before he died.

I found Daniel’s father’s will in the digitalized version of the newspapers, and it turns out that his father, Thomas Foster left everything to Daniel, with the hope  that if he had no children, he would like his money to be divided between various religious and civic groups.

During the time after his father’s death, Daniel seemed to lead a fairly modest life. He boarded and then eventually lived as a married man and died in Abbie’s maternal home at 14 Spring Street, which she shared with her sister Helen. No fancy stuff.

And then eureka, I then found Daniel’s will.  He left Helen, Abbie’s sister, $6,000, which was a whole lot of money back then, he left Abbie the rest of his estate and made her the executor of his will. He left various family members very small amounts of money.

Daniel’s family then, according to the newspapers, contested the will. They lost. Daniel clearly loved Abbie and liked her family a whole lot better than his own.

So that is how Abbie Foster came to be able to build that gorgeous Queen Anne Victorian at 74 High Street.

Young Victorian Woman

Young Victorian Woman

And it is so frustrating no to be able to find a photograph of Abbie. I did however find a couple of photographs of Victorian woman around the time Abbie would have been alive.  One is of Abbie P. Noyes (maybe more about her later) who was about Abbie’s same age and owned a Victorian home in the neighborhood on Lime Street. The other is of Frances Folsom Cleveland, the wife of President Grover Cleveland – a bit of a stretch, but I so much would like to give Abbie Foster of Newburyport who has been forgotten all these years a voice and a “face.”

Young Victorian Woman

Young Victorian Woman

Everything is Infill, Horton Street, Newburyport, MA

Horton Street form the Newburyport Historic Surveys.

Horton Street from the Newburyport Historic Surveys.

Doing research for “If This House Could Talk” (which was/is awesome) I learned a lot about our neighborhood.  Horton Street is a small Street that is just below High Street and runs between Federal and Lime Street.

THE OLD ALMSHOUSE

The old Almshouse, built in 1794, Newburyport, MA

The old Almshouse, built in 1794, Newburyport, MA

Most of that area was owned by the City of Newburyport and that is where the old Almshouse used to be with its gardens and orchards going all the way back to almost Lime Street. The old Almshouse was built in 1794 and was on the corner of what is now Prospect and Federal Streets. The Newburyport Archival Center has a photo of it, and the building looks gorgeous.

THE NEWBURYPORT HISTORIC SURVEY ON HORTON STREET

Horton Street, Newburyport HIstoric Surveys

Horton Street, Newburyport HIstoric Surveys Page 1

Horton Street, Newburyport HIstoric Surveys Page 2

Horton Street, Newburyport HIstoric Surveys Page 2

Reverend Horton left money in his will for a new Almshouse, and the old was was demolished in 1888. Horton Street was laid out in 1887.

REV. WILLIAM HORTON

Rev. William Horton

Rev. William Horton

The old Almshouse shows up on various maps.

1872 MAP

1872 Map showing the old Almshouse

1872 Map showing the old Almshouse

1884 MAP

1884 Map showing the old Almshouse

1884 Map showing the old Almshouse

1880 BIRDS EYE MAP

1880 Birds Eye Map showing the Old Almshouse

1880 Birds Eye Map showing the Old Almshouse

And then I found a 1900 map that show all the houses, all the new development, the incredible infill that had been built pretty much all at once on Horton Street and also along Federal Street and part of Prospect Street where the old Almshouse had once been.

1900 MAP

1900 Map showing Horon Street and all the new development

1900 Map showing Horon Street and all the new development

ONE OF THE HOUSES BUILT ON HORTON STREET

Horton Street House

Horton Street House

Victorian in Newburyport, Everything is Infill, 20 Orange Street

Alex Dardinski wrote awhile back ago that the during the Victorian era, Victorian architecture was what we would call “major infill” from about 1885-1900.  20 Orange Street, which is gorgeous (as well as 74 High Street, see earlier entry) was infill.

20 Orange Street

20 Orange Street

Craig Bobby a Victorian house enthusiast from Northeast Ohio contacted me and wanted to know if I could locate a house that he thought might be in Newburyport. And, yup, it is in Newburyport – 20 Orange Street, an absolutely gorgeous Victorian built around 1890. Mr. Bobby had matched the house to plans by an architect by the name of D. S. Hopkins, author of “Cottage Portfolio” and “Houses and Cottages.”

THE PLANS BY D.S. HOPKINS

Plans by architect D. S. Hopkins

Plans by architect D. S. Hopkins

Plans by architect D. S. Hopkins

Plans by architect D. S. Hopkins

Plans by architect D. S. Hopkins

Plans by architect D. S. Hopkins

I’ve included a detail from a 1851 map of Orange Street, and I’ve circled where the house is now. And, yes indeed, back in 1890 that house was major, major infill.  The house is now historic. Its original owner was Henry T. Moody. It is a Queen Anne Victorian and is part of the historic surveys done to make our small New England City a National Historic District.

THE 1851 MAP SHOWING THE LOCATION

Orange Street, Newburyport, 1851 Map

Orange Street, Newburyport, 1851 Map

THE NEWBURYPORT HISTORIC SURVEY

20 Orange Street,Henry Moody House, Newburyport Historic Survey

20 Orange Street,Henry Moody House, Newburyport Historic Survey

20 Orange Street,Henry Moody House, Newburyport Historic Survey

20 Orange Street,Henry Moody House, Newburyport Historic Survey

THE ORIGINAL 1889 DEED

The original 1889 Deed for 20 Orange Street, page 1

The original 1889 Deed for 20 Orange Street, page 1

The original 1889 Deed for 20 Orange Street, page 2

The original 1889 Deed for 20 Orange Street, page 2

20 Orange Street

20 Orange Street

The House that Abbie Built, Newburyport, MA, Abbie L. Currier, Abbie L. Foster 1846-1913

The house that Abbie Built

Abbie L. Foster's House, 74 High Street Newburyport, MA

Abbie L. Foster’s House, 74 High Street Newburyport, MA

Abbie Foster seems to be one of those forgotten people with an intriguing story, and the story so far has a huge hole. In 1895 Abbie Foster built a HUGE Victorian McMansion on High Street. I’ve figured out a whole lot about Abbie Foster, but not how she got an astounding amount of money at age 49 to build that glorious Queen Anne house.

I started to get curious about all of this thanks to Jack Santo’s project of “If This House Could Talk.” Jack is trying to get folks to write something very short about their house and put it on a poster board during this year’s Yankee Homecoming so that folks can walk around Newburyport and learn about the city’s history. It’s very cool.

I started to look into the history not only of my house but of our little Newburyport neighborhood.

In our neighborhood there is a short little dead-end street called Foster Court, and I found out that it was named after a woman, Abbie Foster.  I don’t know of any street in Newburyport that is named after a woman, so I wanted to know more.

Abbie Foster was born in Newburyport to David Currier a shoe maker and his wife Mary Currier. They were working/middle class folks, Abbie had one brother and two sisters. Her sister Helen Currier never married and they lived together all of their lives, either with their parents, then boarding with their mother and after their mother’s death, together.

I found an article in a 1886-1887 city directory about a “Fancy Goods” shop downtown, “A. L. Currier” and yup, that’s Abbie. Here it is:

Miss A. L. Currier, Laces, Trimmings, Jewelry, etc., No. 58 State Street. –The attractive lace, trimming, and jewelry establishment of Miss A. L. Currier, No. 58 State street (where the Book Rack is now, on the corner of Pleasant and State Streets), has for ten years been one of the popular shopping places for ladies of Newburyport and vicinity.  The store is arranged with taste, and the stock is always select and desirable.  Every fashionable article in laces, trimmings, gloves, and notions generally, the latest novelties in ladies’ fancy goods, and all kinds of elegant jewelry, are to be had here at lowest possible prices, and satisfaction is uniformly guaranteed.  Miss Currier is a very prompt and reliable business lady.  She is a native of Massachusetts.”

A description of Abbie's store from a 1886 City Directory

A description of Abbie’s store from a 1886 City Directory

Abbie was single until she was 44, and in 1891 she married Daniel Foster who was 60. This was Daniel’s second marriage, there were no children from his first. He came back to Newburyport in 1887 and seems to have boarded in different places, including where Abbie’s family lived, which was 14 Spring Street.  Daniel died in 1893 only 2+ years after they were married.  Abbie was a widow for 20 more years.

AFTER Daniel dies, in 1894 the heirs of Solomon Haskell and Mark Haskell gave Abbie the land that she built her house on on High Street and the land that what was once known as Haskell field and is now known as Foster Court. They gave the land to her for $1. Abbie gives the right of way to the City of Newburyport in 1898 and it is named after her because she owns the land. Foster Court does not show up on any map until 1940.

The first question I had was why in the world would these folks give land for a $1 to Abbie?  I talked to Ghlee Woodworth and Melissa Berry and they both suggested that there was probably a family connection between the Curriers and the Haskells. And yup, after a lot of digging around, there was a connection, and I’m going with that they were distant cousins, and they gave her the land. It’s the only thing that makes any sense.

And Ghlee Woodworth and Sharon from the Newburyport the Archival Center went and looked in City Hall for the tax records, and Abbie starts paying taxes on the land in 1896, which probably means she probably built the house in 1895, however, she did not take out a mortgage, so she must have built it with cash?  The tax records show that the house was worth $9,000 which in todays’ money is somewhere around $250,000 and $300,000 but the house itself in today’s market would be well over a million dollars. It’s a fancy place.  Abbie did take out a mortgage for $10,000 from the Institution for Savings in 1910. I have no idea why.

I looked into Daniel Foster, her husband, thinking maybe the money came from him. But if he had that kind of money, why did he board all those years, why not buy a house. I’ve included the write-up of Daniel as well as the write-up of Daniel’s father Thomas Foster, who among other things was a Revolutionary War hero, and owned N & T Foster with his brother Nathaniel Foster downtown in the building that is now called the Phoenix Building. Nathaniel was a clock and watch maker, and Thomas was one of the “old time” silver smiths, before Towle Silver existed, and many people apprenticed with him.  I thought the  money might have come from there. Some obviously did, but Thomas had a whole lot of children beside Daniel. I haven’t found Daniel’s will yet, it sounds like there was money, but not that kind of money, not the kind of money to build a High Street fancy mansion.

A write-up on Daniel Foster

A write-up on Daniel Foster

A write-up on Daniel Foster's Father, Thomas Foster

A write-up on Daniel Foster’s Father, Thomas Foster

Mark of N&T Foster Silver, Newburyport, MA

Mark of N&T Foster Silver, Newburyport, MA

The other person I thought might have helped Abbie was her brother Warren Currier who lived at 190 High Street.  Among other things he was Mayor of Newburyport from 1873-1874 and was a partner in Summer, Swasey and Currier a very successful shipping merchant business at 45 Water Street. I did find Warren’s will, and he gave Abbie maybe around $1,000, big bucks, but not enough money to build a $9,000 house on High Street.

Helen Currier, her unmarried sister who lives with her all her life and dies in 1901, living at 74 High Street, had first been a school teacher and then the principal at a school on School Street (I’m assuming it was or became the Jackman School). I looked up the salary of a woman teacher and it was miserable, enough to help support her mother and father, but not much more than that. No money there.

So Abbie builds this spectacular house at 74 High Street. The 1900 census shows that she lives there with her sister and a servant.  The 1910 census shows that she is living alone in that great big house with one servant. She lives there for 17 years. This is far, far away from where she grew up as a shoe-maker’s daughter.

And I found someone who knew someone who remembered Abbie, someone who lived in the neighborhood. He referred to her as “Old Lady Foster.” Abbie was in her 50’s and 60’s when she was referred to as “Old Lady Foster.”

And I found a write-up of her funeral. Not an obituary, and no obituary for her sister Helen.  A write-up. Here it is:  “The funeral of Mrs. Abbie Louise Foster, widow of Daniel Foster was held from her late residence, 74 High street, yesterday afternoon. Rev. C. S. Holton officiated. There was a large number of friends and relatives present.”  The pallbearers were her doctor, another doctor in town, her neighbor at 62 High Street and a clerk at one of the banks. No family.  It doesn’t include any glowing details of how wonderful she was, what church and organizations she belonged to the way many of the write-ups in the newspapers seemed to do (at least all the ones I saw when I was going on a hunt for Abbie’s obituary).

The write-up of Abbie Foster's funeral

The write-up of Abbie Foster’s funeral

And I asked around at the Archival Center at the Newburyport Library as to what folks thought it meant. I know when I moved here in 1981 there was still a very strong class system here in Newburyport. There was still the upper crust on High Street and then everyone else, and it was even more pronounced earlier in the century. “Old Lady Foster” for me is kind of a derogatory term. Maybe she “made it” and was accepted by the folks on High Street, or maybe not. I’m hoping that when the old newspapers from the 1890’s which are being digitalized by the Library’s Archival Center come back sometime this summer, maybe I’ll know more. Maybe I’ll find out some more answers about Abbie Foster and the house she built on High Street and where she got all that money.

Many thanks to the Newburyport Library’s Archival Center and all the wonderful people who work and volunteer there. I found a lot of stuff on Google and FamilySearch.org is pretty amazing along with Salem Deeds online, salemdeeds.com.

Is it possible for historic preservation to have gray areas? Not to be absolutely black and white?

Is it possible for historic preservation to have gray areas?  Not to be absolutely black and white?

The subject here is windows.

I’ve lived in old houses, and quite frankly old windows, in the houses I’ve lived in, were hard to get up and down. But the joy of looking through old pane wavy glass windows is remarkable. I’ve seen friends who did a beautiful restoration and put in new windows, their delight when they showed me how easy they were to put up and down was palatable.

When I talk to historic preservationists, the impression I often get is that keeping old windows is the only way to go. I found this article on the web, a website for old houses, and it discusses the pros and cons of keeping old windows.  And remarkably it is nonjudgmental.  It is one of the best and most balanced articles that I’ve ever read.

Window with pansies, digital image © Mary Baker

Window with pansies, digital image © Mary Baker

Restore or Replace? The Options for Old Windows

Many old homes boast their original wood windows, and in some cases, the architectural detail is magnificent. Unfortunately, the older the windows are, the less likely they are energy-efficient. Upgrading the windows means either restoring them to their original condition or opting for replacement windows.

Window Replacement or Restoration?

Deciding between window replacement and window restoration can be a tough choice. Study the pros and cons of each option before you make a decision.

Replacement Windows

•    Replacement windows can be well-insulated, cutting down on energy costs and noise.
•    You can open the windows with minimal effort, and they stay open, unlike old windows with no springs or pulley systems.
•    You can replicate the architectural designs of old windows, although extensive designs might become a bit pricey.
•    Efficient, thorough weather stripping is a given on new replacement windows.
•    You can install replacement windows quickly, which leads to less disruption for those who live there.
•    Removing the existing windows can damage the surrounding wallboards, stucco, or plaster and can lead to expensive repairs.
•    Replacement windows with pulley systems, bubbled glass, and other historic details necessitate a custom order and can become very expensive.
•    If you are seeking a landmark or historic designation, reviews of the window replacement details can take quite a bit of time, and might hold up the work schedule.

Window Restoration

•    The original materials and design are preserved.
•    Most historic windows were built of durable wood taken from large trees, and in some cases, those woods are now extremely rare–some species have died out or are not plentiful enough for new construction.
•    Any damage to the surrounding area during a restoration is minimal, and usually only cosmetic.
•    Unique, beautiful original glass details can be left undisturbed.
•    If the windows are in good shape to begin with, restoration might be surprisingly affordable.
•    If the historic windows are single-pane, simply restoring them provides no significant energy savings.
•    Restoration can take a great deal of time.
•    Old windows are often painted with lead paint and require costly, specialized removal.

Doing it Right

Professional installation for replacement windows is a must to ensure the full value of energy-efficient upgrades. If you choose to restore the windows instead, restoration professionals can make certain your windows are as secure and energy-efficient as possible while maintaining all the unique features so important to a historic home.

Whether you choose to replace or restore the beautiful windows in your old home, hire a professional to get the job done right!

About the Author
Shannon Dauphin is a freelance writer based near Nashville, Tennessee. Her house was built in 1901, so home repair and renovation have become her hobbies.

77 Lime Street

77 Lime Street, a before and after comparison

77 Lime Street from Prospect Street, a before and after comparison (the before photograph is from Google maps)

The rancor over the renovation on 77 Lime Street mystifies me.

This is the deliberation from the ZBA meeting in June of 2014:

Mr. Ciampitti commented on the thorough and detailed presentation. He agreed that it is rare to see a historic structure renovation with a reduction in massing and scale. The proposed alteration will exacerbate non-conformities and increases open space. This is hard to do! He was prepared to support.

Mr. LaBay agreed. He commented that there were no neighbors appearing in opposition. Both Mr. Harris and Ms. Niketic noted the sensitivity of the owner to historic structures.

Mr. Pennington agreed. The presentation was well articulated. His only concern coming in was intense massing, and that was not the case. It will be a successful project in the way in the addition is distinct and not to be confused with the original historic structure. He was prepared to support.

A year later, a member of the ZBA had this to say:

Mr. LaBay was pained to have to say that this was not what he thought we were approving a year ago.

And someone speaking at that meeting had was, “angered and saddened driving by this rehab.”

I think for this particular project it was one of expectations.  The historic preservationists in town expected the renovation to be done a certain way, it was not done the way that they had expected.  It was done differently. There has been a renovation of a house on High Street that was done exactly the same way, the expectations of historic preservationists were “low,” I think, and I’ve heard good to great things about the results.

And as a btw, one of the many things that historic preservationists are upset about is that the windows on the third floor are not the original size. I asked, and that is because, if a renovation exceeds a certain percentage, code kicks in, and modern code calls for larger windows, that is why larger windows are on the third floor. And the windows are painted black instead of white (which is the new “thing” for windows), and I think the black color makes them look larger, although (and I asked), except for the third floor, they are exacly the same size.

I’ve put a side by side comparison of the before and after comparisons of 77 Lime Street from Prospsect Street, and I am by no means horrified by the results.

77 LIme from Lime Street, compare before and after

77 LIme from Lime Street, compare before and after, before image is from Google Maps

Editor’s Note: And I’ve just included the before and after comparisons of 77 Lime Street from Lime Street. The before image is from Google Maps.

And I’ve known Gus Harrington and his wife Sue for over 30 years.  Among other things Gus works at Historic New England, previously known as the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA).  Gus is the owner of 77 Lime Street and I’ve talked to him a great deal on my daily walks. I live in the neighborhood and take a walk through Newburyport’s South End every day, and 77 Lime Street is on my “route.”  I have been constantly curious about this project and try and ask questions and have a dialogue about the process. And because I know and trust Gus, maybe I’ve been more open minded.  I think an ongoing dialogue and “listening” on any project is important for community harmony, something that I strive for and is often difficult and at times down right impossible to achieve.  But we are a community, and I would much rather have constructive dialogue and an effort to problem-solve than community animosity.

Historic Preservation was once Revolutionary, Elegant and Sexy

Yup, historic preservation was once revolutionary, elegant and sexy.

When The National Historic Preservation Act was passed in 1966 (see previous post) it was revolutionary.  Historic preservation became the means of reclaiming America from the onslaught of bulldozers, reclaiming its past. Fighting the demolition of Urban Renewal became a noble and heroic act.

“We do not use bombs to destroy irreplaceable structures related to the story of America’s civilization. We use the corrosion of neglect or the thrust of bulldozers… Connections between successive generations of Americans are broken by demolition. Sources of memory cease to exist.” – Albert Rains, who helped prompt the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966

And then there was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who when she was first lady, restored the White House to its former glory and saved Washington’s Lafayette Square from being replaced by ugly government office buildings in the early 1960s.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

And in 1975 Mrs Onassis stepped up to the plate and helped save Grand Central Station, a  symbol of old Manhattan, a city that her grandfather had helped build.

At a press conference for Grand Central Terminal she said, “If we don’t care about our past we can’t have very much hope for our future. We’ve all heard that it’s too late, or that it has to happen, that it’s inevitable. But I don’t think that’s true. Because I think if there is a great effort, even if it’s the eleventh hour, then you can succeed and I know that’s what we’ll do.”

Grand Central Station, NYC

Grand Central Station, NYC

And writing to the mayor of  New York City she penned, “Dear Mayor Beame…is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud moments, until there is nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future? Americans care about their past, but for short term gain they ignore it and tear down everything that matters…”

Grand Central Terminal was saved.

The wonderful article that can be read here, describes her efforts as “subtle, genuine and classy.”

And we in Newburyport look back at the people who saved our downtown Newburyport in 1968 as heroes.

Restoring downtown Newburyport, from "A Measure of Change"

Restoring downtown Newburyport, from “A Measure of Change”

For years I’ve heard historic preservationists referred to as the “hysterical committee,” or some variation thereof (and recently I asked a person who used this term if it only applied to people in Newburyport, and what they said is, “No, preservationists all over Massachusetts are called that.”)  Somewhere along the way, historic preservationist went from being precieved as heroic and revolutionary, to being thought of as fussy and a nuisance, and quite frankly today, they/we are often on the defense, often losing, instead of on the offense and being identified as revolutionary and heroic.

Restoring downtown Newburyport, from "A Measure of Change"

Restoring downtown Newburyport, from “A Measure of Change”

(The photos of restoring downtown Newburypor are from the video, “A Measure of Change“)

In re-evaluating where historic preservation is in the 50th year of the passing of the The National Historic Preservation Act,  somehow historic preservationists need to get their Mojo back. We need a present day Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, on the local and federal level.  It sometimes feels as if we are right back in 1975 when Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis wrote, “Americans care about their past, but for short term gain they ignore it and tear down everything that matters…”

Truman Nelson, Newburyport, Historic Preservation, a Lost Story

On one of the Facebook Newburyport groups Dick Sullivan (former City Councilor and mayoral candidate) mentioned that Truman Nelson had played a big part in the restoration of Newburyport during Urban Renewal.

My response was that I did not have a clue who Truman Nelson was.  Another member of the group said that he was on the video about Newburyport, “A Measure of Change.”

Truman Nelson from "A Measure of Change"

Truman Nelson from “A Measure of Change”

This is Truman Nelson, the photo is from “A Measure of Change.” I’ve seen that video a ton of times and had never questioned who in the world he was.

And it’s hard to find out information on Truman Nelson.  Going to Salem Deeds Online, Mr. Nelson owned 2 homes in Newburyport on Olive Street, 23 Olive and 15-17 Olive, both bought back in 1966, before Urban Renewal.  Dick Sullivan remembers Mr. Nelson’s family at 23 Olive and Tom Kolterjahn remembers going to Mr. Nelson’s house at 15-17 Olive to talk about how to renovate the old homes in Newburyport that people were working on.

23 Olive Street, Newburyport, MA

23 Olive Street, Newburyport, MA, Google Maps

23 Olive Street is described as, “One of the oldest homes in Newburyport; built 1699. Five working fireplaces,wide pine board floors, gunstock corners, beautiful moldings and trim. Full bath up half bath down.” The information is from Zillow.

15-17 Olive Street, Newburyport MA

15-17 Olive Street, Newburyport MA, Google Maps

15-17 Olive Street is the John Burrill House, c 1790, There is a write up on the Massachusetts Historic Commission, as well as on the Historic Surveys on the City of Newburyport’s website.

And in my hunt to find out exactly who Truman Nelson was, I found this writeup on Amazon, The Truman Nelson Reader:

“Truman Nelson (1911-1987) was a self-educated novelist, essayist, lecturer, and social activist. He never finished high school and supported himself in his early years as a factory worker, labor organizer, actor, and playwright. Encouraged by F. O. Matthiessen, he turned to writing and in 1952 published his first historical novel, The Sin of the Prophet, a study of Theodore Parker and the Anthony Burns case. That book earned him his picture on the cover of Saturday Review and designation as the magazine’s “Writer of the Year.” Two novels soon followed: The Passion by the Brook (1953), on George Ripley and the communal movement at Brook Farm, and The Surveyor (1960), on John Brown’s abolition efforts in Kansas. These three novels established Nelson as a major writer on the history of American radical thought. His later essays and polemical writings were influential in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, when Nelson traveled, taught, lectured, and acted in the front lines of the struggle for racial equality.

In recent years, Nelson has been neglected by scholars, critics, and the general public, and many of his writings have been allowed to go out of print. The Truman Nelson Reader is intended to restore his voice and to prompt a reevaluation of his work. The collection brings together excerpts from Nelson’s published novels, selected essays, and a portion of his last, as yet unpublished, novel on John Humphrey Noyes, founder of the Oneida Colony. Also included are essays on William Lloyd Garrison, Henry David Thoreau, John Brown, and W.E.B. Du Bois, as well as selections from the 1960s: “The Torture of Mothers,” written after the first Harlem riots; “The Right of Revolution,” reportedly found on Ho Chi Minh’s desk at the time of his death; and “The Conscience of the North,” a meditation on Theodore Parker’s meaning for the civil rights movement.”

The Truman Nelson Reader

The Truman Nelson Reader

And I found this reference to Truman Nelson on Martin Nicolaus’s website, where he refers to Mr. Nelson’s preserving his colonial-era home in Newburyport:

“One of the speakers at the Town Hall rally after the Cuba trip was Truman Nelson. He was a high school dropout who worked in General Electric factories until he was 40, but meanwhile educated himself during long hours in public libraries and began writing fiction. His first book, The Sin of the Prophet, was published by Little, Brown; it told the story of the abolitionist intellectual Theodore Parker. When I met him, Nelson had recently finished The Surveyor, a novel about John Brown and the Harper’s Ferry raid. He was fiercely interested in Cuba and was a strong supporter of Robert F. Williams. He had just bought a colonial-era house in Newburyport, a short drive from Boston, and was busy removing generations of old paint to reveal the beautiful old woodwork underneath.”

The Disappearing Newburyport Iconic Chimney

One of my most favorite small houses in the South End is getting a redo. As I looked inside, nosey person that I am, what was being taken out was the center chimney that ran up the middle of the house. And it was amazingly massive, as I walked by the next day and the chimney removing folks were still at it. They said that they were removing the chimney because it took up too much room in the new redo.

Newburyport, Chimney

Newburyport, Chimneys, Google Maps

And as I was taking a walk through Newburyport’s historic South End, I was looking up, and I began to realize that there were a lot of houses that no longer have chimneys. And one of the other things that I began to realize, is that in the Fall there is rarely that chimney smell, the smell of burning wood, that I used to notice when the weather fisrt started to turn chilly.  For a whole lot of reasons the Newburyport iconic chimney is beginning to disappear from the city’s street scapes.

Chimney, Newburyport

Chimneys, Newburyport, Google Maps

For me the chimney has always been a symbol of warmth, family, hearth, home. Houses with chimneys were in drawings by small children when they drew a picture of a family house, with the smoke going up the chimney. Santa comes down the chimney. Chimneys are a big part of what is important to historic preservationists and folks who love old towns and old homes, for a good reason, they are iconic.  Iconic New England historic houses have chimneys.

Chimney, Newburyport

Chimneys, Newburyport, Google Maps

The new heating systems no longer need chimneys. Chimneys take up a lot of room in a house.  Instead of creating ambiance, and being valued, they now seem to be a nuisance.  Chimneys are often in the middle of a house, which now gets in the way of a family having an open concept.  And compared to wood fireplaces, gas fireplaces are less  trouble, they might not smell as homey, but they are a whole lot easier — just a flick of a switch. Gas fireplaces can be put in a whole lot of places, and they don’t need chimneys. And not a whole lot of people cook in a fireplace anymore (oh, how I love those huge fireplaces in some of the old homes in Newburyport where people once cooked their meals). Times have changed and are changing.

Chimney, Newburyport MA

Chimneys, Newburyport, Google Maps

People who do renovations, a gut and redo, every now and then put up a “fake” chimney where the real one used to be.  These folks are often made fun of, but I would far prefer that, which is at least an attempt to keep Newburyport’s story, than many of the candy cane exhaust systems that I see sticking out of houses now as I walk around the South End.

New heating system, instead of chimneys, Newburyport

New heating system, instead of chimneys, Newburyport, Google Maps

The new heating systems, although wonderful in their efficiency, are one more thing that is slowly changing the historic city scape of Newburyport.  This change is fairly recent, when the Federal Street Overlay was created, not too long ago, chimneys were a “must have.”  Every home in the Federal Street Overlay has chimneys. Chimneys are no longer a “must have,” they have become an inconvenience.

Federal Street Overlay, Newburyport MA

Federal Street Overlay, Newburyport, Google Maps

And sometimes with these small incremental changes, it feels as if the historic fabric of Newburyport, Newburyport’s story is being shredded by a thousand papercuts. What is a historic preservationist to do?  How can we who love old homes and historic cities, inspire people to keep that part of the story, while also appreciating the practical reasons why this change is coming about.  More hard questions with no easy answers.

Keeping Historic Preservation Relevant, Re-evaluating the Mission of Historic Preservation in Newburyport

Madison Street, Newburyport

Madison Street, Newburyport, Google Maps, a modern addition to a historic home

I’ve thought about this a lot, a whole lot (see many previous posts). The Newburyport Preservation Trust has standards that are a 10. My standards are a 2 hoping for a 5. And I have been thinking, that the The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for historic preservation, that is the standard for historic preservation in the United States, may need to be re-thought and re-evaluated for our city, Newburyport, MA – heretic that I may be.

And I’ve been thinking that the mission of historic preservation in Newburyport might also need to be rethought and re-evaluated.

Alex Dardinski has pointed out that every historical house in Newburyport went through a process of adaption when indoor plumbing became available. Alex has pointed out that, “It was a modern amenity that changed domestic life. And I am sure that none of us want a home so historically pure that we have to pee in an outhouse.” And his thought is that,  “Ultimately, houses must remain relevant,” and that we are in a cultural sea-change that is the equivalent to the advent of indoor plumbing.

Alex’s other thought is that it would be a mistake to lock homes into one era of history, which is what the The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards calls for. For historic preservationists, this would be a radical way of thinking.

I like houses in Newburyport that have been added onto, that are a mixture of different eras, because it tells the story of not only the house, but of the people in Newburyport who inhabited that house.  And I like the idea that a modern addition to a house, if done thoughtfully, is adding to the story, not destroying the historic integrity of the home.

My first draft of a new mission statement for Newburyport’s historic preservation might be, “A thoughtful renovation that honors the past, makes a property relevant in the present, and preserves its story for future generations.”

The National Historic Preservation Act is Celebrating its 50th Anniversary – Something that Newburyport’s Urban Renewal benefited from

The National Historic Preservation Act is celebrating its 50th Anniversary, I had no idea! This is something that Newburyport’s Urban Renewal benefited from! http://www.nps.gov/subjects/historicpreservation/NHPA-50.htm

Newburyport, State Street

Newburyport, State Street

“After World War II, the United States seemed poised at the edge of a limitless future, and its vision of progress was characterized by the sleek and the new. Urban renewal was seen as a way to clear out the slums, get rid of “obsolete” buildings, make space for an exploding population, and accommodate the burgeoning car culture. Wide swaths were demolished: entire blocks, neighborhoods, business districts, all razed to make way for the new. By the 1960s, urban renewal had changed the face of the nation’s cities.

But out of this wholesale erasure of the old grew the most important law governing how we treat those places that define our past: the National Historic Preservation Act. It was the first national policy governing preservation and it would shape the fate of many of our historic and cultural sites over the next half-century. There had been earlier measures to foster preservation—the Antiquities Act of 1906 and the Historic Sites Act of 1935—but none were as sweeping or as influential as the National Historic Preservation Act.

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson convened a special committee on historic preservation. The committee studied the dismal situation, then delivered a report to Congress. Their report, called With Heritage So Rich, became a rallying cry for the preservation movement. Up until that time, the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) had documented 12,000 places in the United States. By 1966, half of them had either been destroyed or damaged beyond repair. The HABS collections, the committee wrote, looked like “a death mask of America.” The federal government needed to take the reins, said the authors. Federal agencies needed to make preservation part of their missions.

Before the year was out, Congress passed the National Historic Preservation Act. It was the most comprehensive preservation law the nation had ever known. The act established permanent institutions and created a clearly defined process for historic preservation in the United States.

Historic structures that would be affected by federal projects—or by work that was federally funded—now had to be documented to standards issued by the Secretary of the Interior. The law required individual states to take on much more responsibility for historic sites in their jurisdictions. Each state would now have its own historic preservation office and was required to complete an inventory of important sites. The law also created the President’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the National Register of Historic Places, an official list not only of individual buildings and structures, but also of districts, objects, and archeological sites that are important due to their connection with the past. Federal projects—or those using federal funds—were now subject to something called the Section 106 review process: Determining whether the work to be done would harm a site and if so, a way to avoid or minimize that harm.

With the passage of the act, preservation in the United States became formalized and professionalized. The National Historic Preservation Act was tied to a growing awareness of the past and of community identity. Many communities realized that there was an unexpected economic force behind preservation. The act helped foster heritage tourism, attracting visitors who wanted to experience the past in ways that no book or documentary could match. The distinctive character of old architecture and historic districts became a powerful draw for many Americans, and antidote to anonymous suburbs and strip malls.

The 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act is an opportunity to reflect on the significance of this singular piece of legislation. The law is perhaps the nation’s most important advocate for the past. Buildings and landscapes that serve as witnesses to our national narrative have been saved. The quality of life in our cities and towns has been improved by a greater appreciation—reflected in the law—of such intangible qualities as aesthetics, identity, and the legacy of the past.”

http://www.nps.gov/subjects/historicpreservation/national-historic-preservation-act.htm

What is Historic Preservation in Newburyport in the year 2015

What is historic preservation in Newburyport in the year 2015?  This is a question I now ask myself.

112 High Street, one of my favorite dwellings in Newburyport is for sale. It is the grey house on the corner of State and High. It is a double house, and the part that is for sale also goes along State Street.

112 High Street, Newburyport

112 High Street, Newburyport, photograph from Coldwell Banker

This is the description:

“First time for sale in over 45 years! The Grand Pope-Mosely House c. 1855/1894. This landmark home is one of the finest examples of Colonial Revival with Georgian influence in Newburyport. With its exceptionally fine architecture, gambrel roof, roof balustrade, faux Palladian window, oversized curved windows, 7 fireplaces, heavy crown moldings, 10+ ft. ceilings, elegant circular staircase, back stairway, pocket doors, pine floors through-out all 3 levels and many more classic historic features throughout the home. Private “Beacon Hill” style Courtyard; off-street parking for 2 cars. This prime, in-town location offers a wonderful opportunity to experience the Newburyport lifestyle. The property is in need of exterior/interior renovation back to its grandeur of yesteryear. Property being sold “As Is”.

It is 3,518 square feet. It is on the market for $699,000.  There are “modern” houses in Newburyport’s Historic District selling for much, much more.

I haven’t been inside, but I’m guessing that it lacks some crucial modern amenities like lots of large bathrooms and walk-in closets and an open concept.  From the photos online, the floors look painted, which is how they were 45 years ago, and are, in my mind, charming. I’m sure it is loaded with lead paint, a now selling nightmare-panic.

And it is absolutely stunning.

Ten years ago, this amazing home would have been a “catch.” Today, it is being sold “As Is,” with a caveat that is full of apologies.

110-112 High Street, Newburyport, Historic Survey

110-112 High Street, Newburyport, Historic Survey, courtesy of the Newburyport Historical Commission

I talked to one/many of our local, very knowledgeable real-estate brokers, and what they tell me is that people coming into town now want a new house in an old shell, to quote one broker, a “faux antique.”  And, yes, they are right.

To go back to Alex Dardinski’s guest post where he has this wonderful comment, “I don’t want to live in Williamsburg, but in a tapestry of history rather than a single place in time.”   How is that done with a property like this one in the year 2015, with the lead paint laws and the HGTV must have list (see earlier entry) :

1) Walk in closets
2) Spa bathrooms
3) En Suite bathroom
4) Open concept
5) Large kitchens with an island
6) Gas fireplace with a place for a large flatscreen TV over it
7) No lead paint
8) Warm in the winter, cool in the summer, insulated, no drafts
9) Windows that go up and down easily
10) Up to date wiring (no knob and tube wiring)

This is a question that I ask myself, and I have no answer.

Newburyport, The Stretch Code and Historic Preservation

Rennovation on Lime Street, September 2015

Rennovation on Lime Street, September 2015

Jerry Mullins over at Brick and Tree is on a tear about the city’s Stretch Code.

Jerry is right, the Stretch Code does not apply to historic buildings in Newburyport. This is from the Q&A from the Green Communities Grant Program (page 4):

12. Does the stretch code apply to historic buildings?
Both the stretch code and the base energy code exempt historic buildings listed in state or national registers, or designated as a historic property under local or state designation law or survey, or with an opinion or certification that the property is eligible to be listed.

According to Jerry this information is not being explained in a comprehensive manner by the folks responsible at City Hall. And unlike Jerry, I am unwilling to throw the mayor and the building inspector under the bus, because I think that it is more complicated.

The EPA has a pamphlet on “Energy Advice for Owners of Historic and Older Homes,” in which they give great advice and information, and also talk about “comfort levels.”

When I bought my first home in Newburyport in 1981, a historic home, it never occurred to anyone I knew to take an old historic home down to the studs. We did a lot of things recommended by the pamphlet by the EPA, but we were also willing to live with a lower “comfort level” for the privilege of living in a historic house. Yes, the houses were drafty* but that was just part of the deal, and also the codes are very different today, then they were in 1981.

My impression is that folks who are buying homes today in Newburyport want a 100% “comfort level.” It’s not just what the building inspector may or may not be saying, bottom line, the people moving here now often want a new home inside an old shell, (please see a previous post about other things that folks want, and Alex Dardinski’s very thoughtful reply). How to balance historic preservation, and all the regulations and expectations in the year 2015 in Newburyport?? I do not think that there are easy answers to that question.

Alex Dardinski articulated his point of view, “I don’t want to live in Williamsburg, but in a tapestry of history rather than a single place in time.”

Rennovation on Lime Street, September 2015

Rennovation on Lime Street, September 2015

*This is from “Energy Advice for Owners of Historic and Older Homes”

“Walls: To insulate or not to insulate?
Wall insulation can be problematic in historic structures as it is difficult to install properly due to the unpredictable nature of historic walls.
• There may be old knob and tube wiring in the wall which would present a fire hazard.
• Blocking, fire stops, or forgotten or obsolete chases will result in cold pockets. Anywhere the insulation does not or cannot reach, such as the junction between the exterior wall and the floor joists, can create thermal bridging. These cold pockets and thermal bridges set up areas where moisture can condense. (Imagine a cold glass on a hot day and the beads of water than form on the glass to understand this concept.)
• Any time you have moisture in the wall, the possibility of decay and mold increases.
• Pumping in dense pack cellulose insulation in the walls can cause the keys that attach plaster walls to the supporting lath can be broken, necessitating repairs.

The trouble and expense of insulating historic walls may not be the best bang for your buck. Once you have air sealed and insulated your attic, tuned up (or replaced your furnace), and completed some of the higher priority energy saving techniques you might then consider insulating your walls but get advice from an expert. By undertaking these other energy-saving measures first, you may find that your comfort level goes up and your energy expenses go down significantly without the need to insulate the walls.

Tip!
If your home dates to the 1850s or earlier and its frame is made of wood, there is a good chance that is has post and beam construction rather than balloon framing. This is an important consideration if you’re thinking about adding insulation in the walls.

Without modern vapor barriers and insulation, air and moisture in the house moved more easily between inside and outside. Adding insulation to the wall cavities without understanding how the house functions as a system and without establishing new ways to circulate air through the home can cause moisture to accumulate. High moisture levels can result in mold and rot, creating serious problems for the homeowner as well as unnecessary expense.”

Newburyport’s Future, Balancing the Love of New with the Love of Old, Historic Preservation

This is Alex Dardinski’s reply on Facebook to an earlier post of mine, “Newburyport is Losing its Patina, and Historic Preservation.”

“I don’t want to live in Williamsburg, but in a tapestry of history rather than a single place in time.”

House before renovation © Alex Dardinski

House before renovation, photo courtesy of Alex Dardinski

I think about this concept all the time in my work life designing products,  as well as my personal life, restoring a historic Newburyport home — how to balance the love of new with the love of old? The term I always come back to is “palimpsest,” which in architectural terms would be the traces of the many years of use and reuse upon a facade or plan.

I struggle with the notion of doing a perfect museum grade restoration for many of the reasons that you have stated. I have lead paint concerns with my young family. I want a more open plan than the carpenters of the 19th century could provide. I want to have some modern conveniences too. I also want my house to have some patina, some soul. A connection to its past with real quality materials that were crafted when the house was built.  The best find I ever made in my house was evidence that my house was “converted” from a square 2 story box into a stately 3 story second empire victorian by the Caldwell Rum family. That was an earth shattering revelation. I wonder how controversial that was at the time. It was a pure case of gentrification, circa 1870! But that is my favorite detail about my house and that part of its history makes me love it even more.

We MUST have some essential historic protections and zoning that keeps the character of our city intact. But I don’t want to live in Williamsburg either, but in a tapestry of history rather than a single place in time.

The first room I renovated when I was 25 years old was truly in need of a gutting. It was heavily water damaged and the horsehair plaster was falling off the walls. I took out the plaster, accidentally destroyed most of the trim, then went the lath, then I added modern insulation and rewired it all. It was 100% new. Now that is the most soulless sheetrock clad room in my house.  So since that overreach, I have tried to fix real problems more surgically. Leaving many traces of the past as I go, knowing that in 100 years the work I do today will be part of the historic archive too — that the work of every tradesperson that will have touched my house adds to the “palimpsest” of the house.

On a larger scale, that is the story of Newburyport. The first period houses sat far apart from one another on large tracts of land. You see houses that once fronted the river, but now are 2 or more blocks away from the banks. They might face the wrong way from the street and seem odd until you close your eyes and imagine the wide open acres that separated these early structures from one another, long before the streets were fully laid out.

Second period houses came and filled in the density of our historic neighborhoods. That early construction boom must have come as a shock, but it makes the density (and one could argue the sense of community we enjoy is because of it) of our little city. Mid century Italianates then Victorians that must have seemed like modernist heresy to the purely colonial streetscapes of the early 1800’s.  But in retrospect where would we be without them today? They add such color to the fabric of the town.  In the period following the depression and post industrial Newburyport, many bad architectural choices were made, largely out of poverty, and so many of them have been erased in our city’s recent evolution.

So I guess my image of “the right thing to do” on my house of for the town in general is also still evolving. But I know that every change came with controversy. We must recognize that the best changes stand the test of time and the worst most often do not.  We won’t be a town of vinyl siding in 100 years. The good choices will stand and the McMansions and the other the hasty choices will be largely edited away.  We will still be a historic town, a beautiful town. And the things happening today even if controversial will be but one part off the palimpsest of the city’s history.

Editor’s Note: Many thanks to Alex Dardinski for his thoughtful, informative and optimistic addition to The Newburyport Blog.

House after renovation

House after renovation

The Newburyport Marsh and Paintings by Martin Johnson Heade

Sunlight and Shadow: The Newbury Marshes (c. 1871-1875), Martin Johnson Heade

Sunlight and Shadow: The Newbury Marshes (c. 1871-1875), Martin Johnson Heade

Sunlight and Shadow: The Newbury Marshes (c. 1871-1875), Martin Johnson Heade, Oil on canvas, Size: 12″ x 26.5″ John Wilmerding Collection (The National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.)  Press image to enlarge.

I always love the Newburyport marshes and Martin Johnson Heade is one of my favorite Newburyport and Newbury marsh painters.  I love them all year round, but especially in the summer and the fall.

 

Martin Johnson Heade, Newburyport Marshes: Approaching Storm, c.1871

Martin Johnson Heade, Newburyport Marshes: Approaching Storm, c.1871

Martin Johnson Heade, Newburyport Marshes: Approaching Storm, c.1871 (Press image to enlarge.)

 

Martin Johnson Heade Sunset Over the Marshes, 1890-1904

Martin Johnson Heade,  Sunset Over the Marshes, 1890-1904

Martin Johnson Heade Sunset Over the Marshes, 1890-1904
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Press image to enlarge.)

 

Martin Johnson Heade, Sudden Showers, Newbury Marshes, c. 1865-1875

Martin Johnson Heade, Sudden Showers, Newbury Marshes, c. 1865-1875

Martin Johnson Heade, Sudden Showers, Newbury Marshes, c. 1865-1875
Yale University of Art (Press image to enlarge)

 

 Newburyport Meadows, ca. 1876–1881 Martin Johnson Heade

Newburyport Meadows, ca. 1876–1881 Martin Johnson Heade, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Martin Johnson Heade, Newburyport Meadows, ca. 1876–1881
Oil on canvas; 10 1/2″  x 22 “
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Well Loved Newburyport Postcards

Newburyport postcards–whether you’re a native, have lived here for a while or a short time,  people who live in Newburyport seem to love old postcards.

Newburyport Hay Stacks, postcard

Newburyport Hay Stacks, postcard

This postcard is of the haystacks on Newburyport’s Plum Island marsh, when they built the haystacks by hand and not by machine.

YMCA Newburyport, postcard

YMCA Newburyport, postcard

This is of Newburyport’s former YMCA on State Street that burnt down July 1987.  The YMCA was at the corner of State Street and Harris Street, where the expansion of our beautiful Newburyport Library exists today.  The YMCA was so decimated by the fire, that it was un-salvageable, eventually demolished, with a few of it’s elements incorporated into the MBTA train station in 1998.

Old Newburyport Bridge, Postcard

Old Newburyport Bridge, Postcard

This is a post card of Newburyport’s old Bridge, before Rt 1 was built in the 1930s. It is a view from Water Street, downtown Newburyport, looking towards Rings Island, Salisbury, MA.

Newburyport Mall, postcard

Newburyport Mall, postcard

And this is the Bartlet Mall along High Street when the stately elm trees existed. The Court House is to the left, and High Street is to the right.

The Master Plan for the Bartlet Mall had been worked on for a very long time, by a whole lot of people, and was finally finished in 1998. Restoration of the Bartlet Mall took place in 2001, 2003 and 2005. The Bartlet Mall was restored to its original design and the avenue of elm trees was replanted so that one day the beautiful canopy of trees would exist once more..

Newburyport is now High End, it used to be a Slum

On December 7, 2007 I wrote on the Newburyport Blog, wondering if Newburyport was headed for “high-end.”

And seeing where Newburyport has come since then, even in a short amount of time, now in July 2015, the answer is definitely, “Yes.” And I’m guessing it’s going to get more and more “high end.”

Market Square, downtown Newburyport, from the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport, from the film "A Measure of Change" by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport, from the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum, press image to enlarge.

Downtown Newburyport, Water Street, from the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport, from the film "A Measure of Change" by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport, from the film”A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum, press image to enlarge.

And this is where we as a city were back in 1970. Yes, Newburyport was a slum, it is really different now (vast understatement).

The film “A Measure of Change” was made in 1975 by Lawrence Rosenblum (it was uploaded with permission by Jerry Mullins over at Brick and Tree).  It is a film that chronicles the pivotal time (Urban Renewal) when the city transformed itself from a worn-out mill town (a slum) to a vibrant destination city by using historic preservation (first in the nation to use restoration rather than demolition for urban renewal). And Newburyport is now a prototype for other municipalities across the United States.

The photos in this post are still photos from the film. The link to the film “A Measure of Change” on YouTube can be found here.

Link to a Measure of Change

Link to a Measure of Change

Downtown Newburyport, Water Street, from the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport, from the film "A Measure of Change" by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport, from the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum, press image to enlarge.

The Waterfront, downtown Newburyport, from the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport, from  the film "A Measure of Change" by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport, from the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum, press image to enlarge.

The Waterfront, downtown Newburyport, from the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum.

Newburyport, from the film "A Measure of Change" by Lawrence Rosenblum.

From the film “A Measure of Change” by Lawrence Rosenblum, press image to enlarge

Some of The Newburyport Blog’s Favorite Historic Photographs and Images

Here are some of The Newburyport Blog’s favorite historic photographs and images.

Bossy Gillis, Mayor of Newburyport, courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection

Bossy Gillis, Mayor of Newburyport, Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection, press image to enlarge

Bossy Gillis, Mayor of Newburyport, Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection, press image to enlarge

Bossy Gillis, mayor of Newburyport, in Salem jail, courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection

Bossy Gillis, mayor of Newburyport, in Salem jail, Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection, press image to enlarge.

Bossy Gillis, mayor of Newburyport, in Salem jail, Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection, press image to enlarge.

Bossy Gillis’s garage, Market Square, Urban Renewal, found in the Newburyport Public Library’s Archival Center

Bossy Gillis's garage, Market Square, Urban Renewal, press image to enlarge.

Bossy Gillis’s garage, Market Square, Urban Renewal, press image to enlarge.

NRA land c 1920, courtesy of the Historical Society of Old Newbury

NRA land c 1920, courtesy of the Historical Society of Old Newbury, press to enlarge.

NRA land c 1920, courtesy of the Historical Society of Old Newbury, press to enlarge.

Wolfe Tavern, photo courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Print Department

Wolfe Tavern, Photo of the Boston Public Library, Print Department, press to enlarge

Wolfe Tavern, Photo of the Boston Public Library, Print Department, press to enlarge

Postcard, Newburyport clam shanties with trolley

Newburyport clam shanties with trolley, press image to enlarge.

Newburyport clam shanties with trolley, press image to enlarge.

 

Newburyport, a Romantic City and the Proposed 40R District

I’ve been trying to pinpoint what it is about Newburyport that I love so much. What keeps me longing to stay here despite a winter like the one we’ve just had.

High Street, Newburyport,  photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

High Street, Newburyport, photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Jerry Mullins in his blog post uses the word “romance” in connection to Newburyport, and it is an adjective that describes this small New England seacoast city north of Boston, that had never occurred to me, but it is a wonderful adjective. So I went on a hunt to see what showed up for “romanic cities.”

Newburyport's Waterfront, courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Public Library

Newburyport’s Waterfront, courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Public Library

And I found a blog post by Ken Benfield, a specialist on “smart growth and sprawl,” with this list:

  • Strong sense of place anchored by historic preservation
  • Lively, walkable, diverse downtowns
  • Compact development patterns
  • Extensive and well-used public transportation
  • Great public spaces for lively human interaction
  • Parks and quiet places mixed in with urbanity
  • Great traditional neighborhoods with a strong sense of community
  • Welcoming to people of diverse cultures

In the comment section of the blog post there was this observation:

High Street, © Sally Chandler, 2004, Courtesy of "Historic Gardens of Newburyport"

High Street, © Sally Chandler, 2004, Courtesy of “Historic Gardens of Newburyport”

“Cities that are dense, walkable, have accessible and vibrant public spaces, and have a vibrant mix of independently-owned businesses are the most enjoyable places to visit – and to live. It is at the intersection of these features where real neighborhoods and a sense of livability is created. These cities are also strong, have committed populations and diverse economies, and can survive many challenges. In essence, they are not only beautiful and livable, they are resilient.”

State Street, Newburyport, courtesy of Wikipedia

State Street, Newburyport, courtesy of Wikipedia

We as a city are considering making the area around the train station and the traffic circle into a 40R, Smart Growth area. I have many reservations about what is projected for that area, including the Minco Project in back of the train station (which I think is wicked ugly). And I think that Jerry has nailed the adjective for me. It may be (or not be) good urban planning, but what the vision lacks, is the “romance,” “beauty,” a “sense of place” that draws so many of us here to Newburyport.