Category Archives: Human Nature

Human nature and Newburyport, MA, the psychological and social interactions and the character of human conduct.

Riches to Rags, Alice Hooper (Fowle Cutler), Newburyport, MA

After I put up the post on Stephen Hooper (see earlier post) I got an email about his sister, a clue, which, with some research, gave me a huge glimpse/understanding of what his life must have been like back then in the second part of the 1700s.

Portrait of Alice Hooper, 1763, by John Singleton Copley

Portrait of Alice Hooper, 1763, by John Singleton Copley

Portrait of Alice Hooper (Stephen Hooper’s sister), 1763, by John Singleton Copley, The Milwaukee Art Museum

Stephen Hooper had a number of brothers and sisters, including two sisters who came to Newburyport.  Ruth, who married Tristram Dalton (The Dalton Club, that Dalton) and Alice, who first married Jacob Fowle Jr, and then as a widow married Joseph Cutler. Stephen, Alice and Ruth were the children of Robert “King” Hooper (see earlier post) the wealthiest merchant in Marblehead.

Alice Hooper Fowle Cutler is not one of those Newburyport folks who has been forgotten. A brief biography is on the website of St. Paul’s Church and she is mentioned on the website of the Clipper Heritage Trail. John Singleton Copley did a portrait of her that now hangs in the Milwaukee Art Museum, which was painted around 1763, depicting the young lady who was at that time seventeen years old, and whose portrait was painted in honor of her engagement to Jacob Fowle, Jr.

Alice moved in the same social circles as her brother Stephen Hooper, her sister Ruth (Mrs. Tristram Dalton) and their friends such as Nathaniel Tracy (Tracy mansion, the Newburyport Library, that Tracy).

I found this incredible and fascinating description of what life was like for these then “rare and important” people in Newburyport in the second half of the 1700s in Newburyport.

“Tristram Dalton, on his marriage with Miss Hooper, of Marblehead (Ruth), reached home (Newburyport) in this style: “His splendid new carriage was drawn by six white horses, decorated with white feathers; they hold four outriders, and footman and coachman dressed in new liveries.” So they rode down State Street, with the carriage-top thrown back.” *

And this extraordinary and really interesting description of Nathaniel Tracy:

“Nathaniel Tracy’s education was the best the country could afford. He was graduated at Harvard in 1769, and was in the vigor of his early manhood during the Revolution. His residence was the building on State Street now used for the Public Library, and, with his means and cultivated taste, it was one of the most attractive places in the Commonwealth. It abounded in all that heart could wish. His slaves — for that was the era of negro slavery in Massachusetts — served the guests at his tables, and they were not unfrequently the most distinguished men of this and foreign lands. His carriages, with liveried drivers, six in hand, and outriders, were such as have never been seen in the town since his day. He owned several country seats, summer retreats, hunting-grounds, and fine fish-ponds, with other conveniences and attachments such as would have become a British lord.” *

What is amazing is that Stephen Hooper’s father, Robert “King” Hooper, was bankrupt when he died. Stephen Hooper’s fortune was only a fraction of what it was when he died in 1802. Both Tristram Dalton and Nathaniel Tracy lost everything by the time that they died.  Yikes.

32 Green Street, Newburyport, MA

32 Green Street, Newburyport, MA, Google Maps

32 Green Street, Newburyport, MA

Alice and her second husband, Joseph Cutler, settled at 32 Green Street in 1787, a gorgeous Georgian three story brick building that still exists today.

According to the gentleman who emailed me, both of Alice’s husbands when they died left her with children, no fortune, and no means of support. Apparently she ran a rooming house in that beautiful building on the corner of Washington Street and Green Street as a way to make ends meet.  According to the Newburyport’s historic survey on the house, as well as the deed, in 1810, the house was divided in two, and Alice must have lived in one half and the wife and heirs of Joseph Bartlett lived in the other half.  Alice died in 1826 at the age of 81.  Alice is buried at St. Paul’s church between her two husbands, Joseph Cutler on the left and Jacob Fowle Jr on the right. ( Joseph Cutler died in 1801 and her first husband Jacob Fowle Jr died in 1778.)

Alice's grave at St Paul's Church in Newburyport, between the graves of her two husbands, Joseph Cutler on the left and Jacob Fowle Jr. on the right.

Alice’s grave at St Paul’s Church in Newburyport, between the graves of her two husbands, Joseph Cutler on the left and Jacob Fowle Jr. on the right.

Alice’s grave at St Paul’s Church in Newburyport, between the graves of  her two husbands, Joseph Cutler on the left and Jacob Fowle Jr. on the right.

* “‪Standard History of Essex County, Massachusetts‬: ‪Embracing a History of the County from Its First Settlement to the Present Time, with a History and Description of Its Towns and Cities. The Most Historic County of America‬” by  ‪Cyrus Mason Tracy‬,  ‪Henry Wheatland‬, ‪C. F. Jewett & Company‬, 1878

Stephen Hooper and the Houses by Frog Pond, Newburyport, MA

Detail of the 1851 Map of Newburyport showing houses on the Bartlet Mall across from where CVS is now located.

Detail of 1851 Map of Newburyport showing houses by the Bartlet Mall

Detail of 1851 Map of Newburyport showing houses by the Bartlet Mall

When I ended up researching Pond Street (see previous post), on the 1851 map there are a lot of things on Bartlet Mall which do not exist today, including houses. So I went on a hunt at the Newburyport Archival Center at the Library and I found a wealth of photos that I had never, ever seen before of Frog Pond and the Bartlet Mall, including photos of the houses that were once on the Mall by Frog Pond.

Houses Across from CVS once on the Bartlett Mall, detail courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Library.

Houses Across from CVS once by Frog Pond the Bartlet Mall, detail courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Library.

Houses Across from CVS once by Frog Pond the Bartlet Mall, detail courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Library.

And I wanted to know all about those houses, or at least something about those houses, but there is no address (somewhere on Pond Street across from CVS is not a Newburyport address). Somehow, when I Googled “Frog Pond, Newburyport” I got the name Stephen Hooper — no clue who in the world Stephen Hooper was.

I went to (which is free btw) and put in Stephen Hooper, Newburyport, which gave me a start, at least the right century, which was the 1700s.

And then I went to the new archived newspapers, which are now online, from the Archival Center, put in “Stephen Hooper” and found out that in 1856 the Newburyport Daily Herald had this to say, “Its (the Free Mason Lodge, now located on Green Street) first Master was Stephen Hooper and its second Nathaniel Tracy two eminent and wealthy merchants who will always be remembered in our history.”

A lot/most/many folks in Newburyport may know or heard of Nathaniel Tracy (as in Tracy Mansion, the Newburyport Library), but Stephen Hooper??  I’m pretty sure that Stephen Hooper is one of those folks, although he was “rare and important” at the time, has long been forgotten. So, it was time to find out who in the world Stephen Hooper was.

Somehow I figured out that Stephen Hooper and Tristram Dalton were acquainted (Tristram Dalton as in the Dalton House, The Dalton Club on State Street, that Tristram Dalton), and that Tristram had married the daughter of Marblehead’s wealthiest merchant, who turns out to have been Ruth Hooper, who was the sister of Stephen Hooper. So that means that Stephen was the son of the wealthiest merchant in Marblehead. And then, when I figured that out, things started to fall into place.

Stephen’s father was Robert “King” Hooper of Marblehead. Robert’s house is now the Marblehead Art Association, and his portrait was done by none other than John Singleton Copley, which is now in the Pennsylvania Academy for Fine Arts (museum) so we know what he looks like, and the portrait is pretty grand.

Robert “King” Hooper, by John Singleton Copley

Robert "King" Hooper, by John Singleton Copley

Robert “King” Hooper, by John Singleton Copley

I found in John James Currier’s book* this piece of information “Stephen, son of Robert Hooper, graduated at Harvard college in 1761, and came to Newbury soon after that date. He married Sarah Woodbridge October 10, 1764, owned and occupied a dwelling house on the southerly side of Frog Pond in Newburyport.”  Eureka!!

And I also found this in as essay by Martha J. McNamara** on Frog Pond,  “Domestic buildings at Frog Pond included a two-story, center-chimney house owned by Stephen Hooper.” Another Eureka!

Stephen Hooper’s two-story, center-chimney house on Frog Pond, detail courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Library. (And I think that the house is at the left in the photo at the top of the post, and the twin chimney is a later dwelling.)

Stephen Hooper's two-story, center-chimney house, detail courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Library

Stephen Hooper’s two-story, center-chimney house, detail courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Library

And then there is this map from 1771 that shows Hooper’s land on Frog Pond (which is found in both accounts by Currier and McNamara). Pretty cool. You can see the outline of Stephen Hoopers land, a drawing of his house, which would have been across from what is now CVS.

Survey by John Vinal of “Plan of land and Buildings in the Vicinity of Frog Pond,” 1771, Courtesy of the City of Newburyport.

Survey by John Vinal of "Plan of land and Buildings in the Vicinity of Frog Pond," 1771, Courtesy of the City of Newburyport.

Survey by John Vinal of “Plan of land and Buildings in the Vicinity of Frog Pond,” 1771, Courtesy of the City of Newburyport.

Who is Stephen Hooper? This is one of my favorite description of who he was, “Merchant and shipbuilder, son of Robert “King” Hooper of Marblehead, settled in Newburyport and became one of the town’s most prominent residents. Active in the West Indies trade, he was a partner in numerous privateering ventures during the Revolution. Although in 1786 he was the second richest man in Newburyport, by 1790 his net worth was only a fraction of what it once had been.” (From of all places, “The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, Volume 6,” Columbia University Press, By Maeva Marcus).

And I found a portrait of Hooper done by Henry Pelham (the stepbrother of John Singleton Copley), a miniature, set in gold,  painted in 1773, it’s a watercolor on ivory and it’s in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I’m not kidding.

Stephen Hooper, by Henry Pelham, the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Stephen Hooper, by Henry Pelham, the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Stephen Hooper, by Henry Pelham, the Metropolitan Museum of Art

There is a portrait of Hooper’s wife by Copley, which was loaned to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston around 1911, but it’s in a private collection, so there is no way to see what she looks like.

And Stephen Hooper moved in the rarified society of Newburyport, he “hung out” with folks like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Aaron Burr, General Lafayette, and yet, now in 2016, it’s really, really hard to find out much of anything about Stephen Hooper, an eminent and wealthy merchant who it was thought would always be remembered in our city’s history. There is Dalton Street, the Dalton House, Tracy Mansion (the Newburyport Library) all reminders of his contemporaries, business partners, brother-in-law, friends, but no hint that I know of, that Stephen Hooper was once a “player” in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Signature on a letter dated 1776 by Stephen Hooper

Signature on a letter dated 1776 by Stephen Hooper

Signature on a letter dated 1776 by Stephen Hooper

Piece of the envelope for the letter from Hooper, Newburyport 1776

A Piece of the envelope for the letter from Hooper, Newburyport, 1776

A Piece of the envelope for the letter from Hooper, Newburyport, 1776

*”History of Newburyport Mass: 1764-1905,” 1906, by John James Currier

**”From Common Land to Public Space: The Frog Pond and Mall at Newburyport, Massachusetts, 1765-1825″ by Martha J. McNamara, in “Shaping Communities, Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture,” The University of Tennessee Press, 1997

Romance, Politics, the Civil War Statue and a House on Pond Street, Newburyport, MA

Civil War Statue at Atkinson Common - Newburyport, MA

Atkinson Common – Newburyport, MA. Detail of a photograph by Scott Patterson of the Civil War Statue (found on flickr, the Creative Commons (CC) license)

One of the things that I love about “If This House Could Talk,” is that the stories that were told were not of Newburyport residences who Newburyport tends to think of as “rare and important,” but of folks, regular folks who had compelling stories, and people who had long been forgotten and who were remembered once more.  In looking for the next story, I was researching the Civil War statue at Atkinson Common and came across a name, “Walter B. Hopkinson,” and I thought, “Let’s find out about him.”

Atkinson Common, courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Public Library

Atkinson Common, courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Public Library

Alice Tappan Whittier Hopkinson

Walter B. Hopkinson was born in 1866 and was the son of William N. Hopkinson who served in the Civil War and lived at 339 High Street. As a very young man Walter married Alice Tappan Whittier. They lived at Bartlett Spring Farm, which if you go towards Maudslay State Park from Three Roads on Ferry Road, and go right (instead of left towards Maudslay) over the bridge, you end up where the the MerrimacK River bends towards the mouth of the river, and that is where the farm was located. It must have been gorgeous.  Alice, who was described as a “lady of rare accomplishments and universally beloved,” died in 1898, leaving young Walter Hopkinson a widow.

Where Bartlett Spring Farm would have been,

Where Bartlett Spring Farm would have been, Google Maps

Eleanor S. Hopkinson

Evidently Walter fell in love again, this time with his younger sister’s good friend Eleanor Robinson.  Walter was very much involved with the Republican party. And I found this wonderful story in The Chicago Tribune, Friday, June 22, 1900.


Although Walter B. Hopkinson of Newburyport , Mass., has not attracted great attention on the floor of the Republican convention at Philadelphia, few of the delegates have the object of more interest. Mr. Hopkinson’s claim to fame lies in the fact that he brought with him to Philadelphia  the only bride who attended the convention. According to the current story Mr. Hopkinson has been engaged for several years to Miss Eleanor Robinson of Newburyport, but has had great difficulty in getting the young woman to name the day. Finally he determined on desperate measures. “I am going to be a candidate for election as a delegate to the National convention.” he said one evening. “If you will consent to fixing our marriage at an early enough date I will take you with me if I am chosen.” Miss Eleanor consented, and then Mr. Hopkinson had a bad week or two, during which time he feared he might not be successful in getting the appointment. He was finally chosen, however, and the couple ate their wedding breakfast in Philadelphia last Monday morning. After the breakfast some of the Massachusetts delegation heard how matters stood and arranged a reception, which was attended by all the Massachusetts men, including Senator Lodge, who made handsome little speech of congratulation. National Committeeman Sam Fessenden of Connecticut, and other notables. Since the reception Mrs. Hopkinson has been known as the  ‘convention bride.’ ”

The Chicago Tribune: Friday, June 22, 1900

Walter B. Hopkinson, from the 1900 Chicago Tribune

Walter B. Hopkinson, from the 1900 Chicago Tribune

Walter B. Hopkinson was the 42nd mayor of Newburyport

I found out by chance in my search that Walter B. Hopkinson also became the 42nd mayor of Newburyport from 1917-1918. Apparently at the time he was “rare and important” –  just now completely forgotten, who knew? So I went to the Archival Center at the Newburyport Public Library where they have a history, written by Todd Woodworth, of all the mayors of Newburyport, and yup, Walter B. Hopkinson turns out the be a very important person in the history of our city. Again, who knew? And how quickly “we forget.” Walter’s portrait hangs in the foyer in City Hall, right by the stairs on the right hand side as you go upstairs.

It turns out that Walter was a descendant of one of the first settlers of Newbury (this is a very big deal). He was a tea importer, employed by a Boston firm for 40 years and was president of that firm for 12 years. He was mayor of Newburyport during World War I, from 1917-1918. And he was chairman of the committee which presented the Civil War Volunteer monument at Atkinson Common to the city, as well as presenting the Civil War tablets that are there. He researched records from all over the country to make sure that the list was accurate . Walter was also a Republican delegate to the national convention in Philadelphia in 1900 and an alternate delegate in 1904. And when he died all municipal flags were flown at half-mast, and the members of the city council met at City Hall and went to the funeral together. He died in 1946.

Portraits of four mayors of Newburyport, Walter B. Hopkinson is the portrait on the lower right hand side.

Portraits of four mayors of Newburyport, Walter B. Hopkinson is the portrait on the lower right hand side.

Portrait of Walter B. Hopkinson at Newburyport City Hall

Portrait of Walter B. Hopkinson at Newburyport City Hall

7 Pond Street

Walter and Eleanor lived at Bartlett Spring Farm, and in 1905 decide to move into town. They move to a lovely Victorian Queen Anne house, built around 1881 at 7 Pond Street. What’s really interesting is that the deed is not in Walter’s name, but is in Eleanor’s name and it stays that way until she, as a widow sells the home in 1949.  It is given to Eleanor for a dollar by Chauncey Dodge of the Newburyport Dodge Shoemaking empire (the story there – I have no idea, but another instance of a woman being given a piece of property for one dollar, like Abbie Foster of 74 High Street).

7 Pond Street, Newburyport, MA

7 Pond Street, Newburyport, MA – Google Maps

Everything is Infill

I went on a map hunt for Pond Street which is by the Bartlet Mall.  In the 1851 Map of Pond Pond Street and a large area close to Frog Pond is completely undeveloped.  According to the map, there is a school house where the George Washington statue now exists. Frog Pond is a different shape, and there are houses right next to Frog Pond.

1851 MAP

1851 Map

1851 Map

In the 1872 map, the railroad had come into the area (where CVS is now), but the lot where 7 Pond Street will be built is still empty. Walter and Eleanor’s house was built around 1881 and was part of 3 plots that were sold at that time.

1872 MAP

The Mall 1872 map

The Mall 1872 map

Detail of the 1872 map

Detail of the 1872 map

The 1924 map from the Newburyport City Assessors Office shows the area completely built up, and you can see where 7 Pond Street is located, along with the other three “developments,” three other beautiful Queen Anne homes.

1924 MAP

The 1924 map

The 1924 map

Detail of the 1924 map

Detail of the 1924 map


How a Yankee from Newburyport Massachusetts got Involved with some Passionate People from Louisiana and Learned about the Horrific Louisiana Floods of 2016

The spirit of courage and generosity of the people of Southern Louisiana

The spirit of courage and generosity of the people of Southern Louisiana

The spirit of courage and generosity of the people of Southern Louisiana

I have a pretty obscure Mary Baker Art Facebook page, 100 “likes,” no one much goes there. However, on Friday August 26, 2016 I started to get obscene and threatening comments, messages and emails, and they were off the charts enough that I called our local Newburyport Police Department just to make me feel better (and what you are supposed to due if cyberbullying occurs, as well as make copies of what is happening, and there are a few examples of cyberbullying comments/insults in this post).

A cyberbully insult

I finally got up the courage to ask one young man who I got a message from and who looked like he was in high school, what was going on. What was going on was there was another Mary Baker from Florida who was saying hurtful things about people in Texas and Louisiana and the people of Southern Louisiana who are experiencing unbelievable horror of the August 2016 Floods.

A cyberbully insult sent in an email

I put up a short statement at the top of my obscure Mary Baker Art Facebook page explaining that I was not that Mary Baker. And I thought that would do it. The next morning when I checked, that did not do it. So I took a look around Facebook and to my horror I found that the post about the other Mary Baker had gone viral. At this time it has been shared over 16,000 times, and as far as I can tell, it seems that a large portion of the population of Louisiana knows all about Mary Baker of Florida, and they even nicknamed the hurricane that has just hit Florida after her. Yikes!

A cyberbully insult for Mary Baker

On that Saturday, August 27th I put up another clarification, that I was from Massachusetts not Florida and that this post that had gone viral was making this Mary Baker’s life very unpleasant and that I was very upset that anyone would think that I would say those things. And then I began to get comments on that post, people apologizing and then telling me about the heartache and unimaginable and ongoing devastation that they were experiencing.

I learned that 80% of South Louisiana has been flooded and in the recovery process most people, including folks who replied to the post are now in the middle of gutting their homes. And I also learned about the Cajun Navy — private citizens who were taking their private boats down the flooded streets to rescue people and pets who were stranded. “First responders just couldn’t get to everyone fast enough. Now, there is a Cajun Army, going around helping those who need to remove destroyed belongings, sheetrock, etc. from homes that were flooded. All done free of charge. Others are providing free meals for flood victims. ” From a poster named Jan Hiatt

Two of the organizations that the people “on the ground” in Southern Louisiana seem to respect and trust are the Convoy of Hope and the  Samaritan’s Purse,  who are collecting and distributing clothes, cooked meals and money for survival and rebuilding, if you would like to make a donation.

And at the Cajun Navy is amazing. I am so impressed. Please check out their Facebook page and learn about all the courageous and incredibly generous people of Southern Louisiana.

The Cajun Navy 2016

The Cajun Navy 2016

Here are some of the photos and statements that show the horror that these folks are going through.

Louisina Floods 2016

Louisina Floods 2016

Louisina Floods 2016

Louisina Floods 2016

From the Cajun Navy

From the Cajun Navy

Louisina Floods 2016, photo via the Cajun Navy 2016

Louisina Floods 2016, photo via the Cajun Navy 2016


A plea for help to the Cajun Navy

A plea for help to the Cajun Navy

Louisina Floods 2016

Louisina Floods 2016

What the Floods were like. Photos from the Cajun Navy 2016

Louisiana Flooding 2016, photo from the Cajun Navy 2016

Louisiana Flooding 2016, photo from the Cajun Navy 2016

Louisiana Flooding 2016, photo from the Cajun Navy 2016

Louisiana Flooding 2016, photo from the Cajun Navy 2016

Louisiana Flooding 2016, photo from the Cajun Navy 2016

Louisiana Flooding 2016, photo from the Cajun Navy 2016

And as far as Mary Baker from Massachusetts, that ended up having a happy ending.  Here are a few of the astounding and unbelievably heartwarming comments that were left on the Mary Baker Art Facebook page — very, very different from the original comments.


“Mary you are an amazing woman! God sent us an angel!!”

“I am from Louisiana, Livingston Parish to be exact. It was one of the hardest hit places by the flood. I myself am in the 10% that was not effected but the devastation that my family and friends have suffered is unimaginable. In searching for Mary Baker I came across your post and I just wanted to thank you. Thank you for turning something so ugly into something worth sharing. People like you are the reason why the rest of us keep faith in humanity. Thank you for your prayers and thank you for sharing those sites. Bless you!”

“Louisiana ❤️’s Mary Baker of Massachusetts!”

“As the original poster…I’m glad to see so many apologies and hope 1000s more come your way….Mary Baker Art has been VERY gracious about this entire thing and someday I shall buy her lunch…..crawfish and jambalaya of course.”

“Louisiana loves Mary Baker Art and Massachusetts! Thank Mary for your love and support! God bless you!”

“Thank you for bringing attention to us in south Louisiana and Mississippi. There are so many hurting right now…..physically, mentally, emotionally, financially or all of the above. I have worked with an animal shelter here in New Orleans and there have been so many precious pets that were abandoned or were already homeless. Folks were underinsured or not insured because they were told they didn’t need it because they weren’t in a flood zone. This isn’t another Katrina, it is a disaster all on its own. Thank you, Mary Baker Art, for rallying around us at this time!”

“a beautiful and thoughtful post. So sorry that you received all the responses meant for the other Mary Baker. I personally didn’t know anything about it til just now. Hope you can now obtain some peace!”

“Thank you Massachusetts Mary for you graciousness during the confusion. As you can see my fellow Louisianan’s can show their spicy pride and hot temper that match our boiled crawfish! We are a passionate people and use our boot-shaped state to kick right back when we feel insulted. We are sorry for the hurt and fear some have given you. Please accept our apologies.”

Hope and Recovery for Southern Louisiana, Flooding 2016

Hope and Recovery for Southern Louisiana, Flooding 2016


Editor’s Note:

This is what I learned.

1)  Bad things can happen on the internet fast, and once they happen it’s almost impossible to undo them, and cyberbullying is very real.

2)  An apology goes really far. The apologies from the posters from Southern Louisiana meant the world to me. And because of their apologies I could hear their stories, and because I could hear their stories, my heart was broken for them, and because my heart was broken for them I wanted to do everything I could to get the word out to help them.  If the original Mary Baker had apologized, showed empathy and compassion, she would have saved me and herself a whole lot of heartache.

3)  Southern Louisiana has such a different culture and way of looking at the world than my Yankee Massachusetts world view. And the people of Southern Louisiana are such big hearted and generous people. Their story of survival, helping each other and ongoing recovery is so inspiring. If you want to learn about their story and follow their story, I check out the Cajun Navy 2016 Facebook page every day. I hope the national media does a story on the Cajun Navy 2016 because it is an amazing testimony of courage and hope and the goodness of humanity. And in a way I am really glad that this weird “Mary Baker mixup” thing happened, because otherwise I never would have understood about this heartbreaking Louisiana Flooding of 2016 and the magnanimous spirit of the people who live there.

The amazing Cajun Navy 2016

The Cajun Navy 2016 - "Love is all you need" (original photo via the Cajun Navy)

The Cajun Navy 2016 – “Love is all you need” (original photo via the Cajun Navy)


Abbie Parish Noyes, Newburyport, MA


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

“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.


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

Alma C. Roes and Learning about History

When Jack Santos proposed this wonderful mini-project for Yankee Homecoming, “If This House could Talk,” I was excited about it for all sorts of reasons, and because of finding out about my grandmother I had learned all sorts of “tricks” about finding out about the past.

In my family there is history about all my grandparents on both sides, except my maternal grandmother, on which there was always complete silence. I once asked my mother where my grandmother grew up and I was told, “In a German convent.” I was around 6 at the time, and if your mother tells you your grandmother grew up in a “German convent” then she grew up in a “German convent” end of story. However as I  grew older that made absolutely no sense at all, and I wanted to know about her life.

Long after my parents had died I thought about hiring a genealogist, and then I found out how much they cost, so I thought I’d try to see how much I can find out on my own, and it turns out I was able to find out a heck of a lot.

My grandmother was born in 1891, she died in 1963, that much I knew. I knew that she had eloped with my grandfather. One of the first things that I found was a newspaper article about the elopement, which gave me her maiden name, Alma C. Roes. The elopement made the front page news. It made the front page news because of my great-grandfather.

Story of my grandparents elopement in the newspaper

Story of my grandparents elopement in the newspaper

My great-grandfather came from an old New York family that lived at the end of Long Island on Shelter Island.  My great-grandfather was well educated, not much money.  However, he was very ambitious, smart, ruthless and knew how to “play the game,” as my father used to say.  He came to New York fairly penniless and he became very wealthy and very powerful in New York political and social circles.  He had two children, his daughter died as a young adult, and that left my grandfather.

I had my grandmother’s maiden name from the newspaper article and I also had her father and mother’s name and her adopted aunt’s name, so that helped me a whole lot to go on a hunt.

And this is what I found out. She was born in New Jersey, I have no idea if she was abandoned by her parents, her mother did indeed leave and eventually go to California the way the newspaper article indicates. And she was taken in, and eventually adopted by a German grocer and his wife. I found them in the 1900 Census (great tool by the way, I used which is free) living in New Jersey, Alma is 8.  I found my grandmother again in the 1910 Census, she was 18. There is no mention of her adopted father.  They are living on West 98th Street in Manhattan (it was not the glamorous Upper West Side at that time), Her adopted mother is supporting the family by doing embroidery while Alma is listed as a clerk in an office.  They have two boarders.  Why are they living in Manhattan, what happened to their home in Jersey City and my grandmother’s adopted father, I have no idea what any of these answers might be.

I have no idea what happened between 1910 when my grandmother was 18 and when she eloped with my grandfather in 1913 at age of 21. And one of the few things that I was told by my family was that when my grandparents eloped was that my great-grandfather disowned his son until the first grandchild arrived a year later, which apparently changed my great-grandfather’s outlook.  I cannot imagine what being the cause of your husband being disowned must have done to her psychologically. It cannot have been good. However when my grandfather was welcomed back into the family, there was money and lots of it.

I found my grandparents and now they have four children, 3 daughters and 1 son in Hewlett Harbor, Long Island. And I also found a brochure about Hewlett Harbor.  Apparently my grandfather was among other things a developer, and he is one of the people who invested in the land and developed Hewlett Harbor, as well being an attorney and a divorce lawyer.

My grandmother with her three daughters

My grandmother with her three daughters (my mother is the youngest)

My grandmother shows up again in the 1930 Census, she is 38, my grandfather is 39, they have four children living at home, my mother is 11, and there are five servants, gone are the boarders, they seem to be doing very well in Hewlett Harbor, Long Island. This is a long way from an abandoned child who is adopted by a German grocer and his wife in New Jersey.

However, my grandfather divorced my grandmother in 1934, the charge was cruelty on his part.  I found a short article in a Reno, Nevada paper.  Divorce in 1934 was a huge scandal. My grandfather made the paper again when her remarried three weeks after his divorce from my grandmother in Reno.  It sounds as if he married someone that she must have known, there seems to be a fair amount of gossip in the paper about the “new couple,”  and to me the description of my grandfather’s second wedding ceremony sounds, if you’re my grandmother and her children, callous, if not downright cruel (those newspaper articles my mother saved).

In 1940 Census my grandmother is listed as divorced, she is 48, my uncle, 15, the youngest and is the only one now at home. They were still in Hewlett and down now to three servants.  Financially my grandmother appears to be doing Ok, psychologically, from what little I was able to learn from my mother, things are definitely were not Ok, and had not been Ok for a long, long time.

My grandfather divorced again, leaving his second wife. And in the end he squandered all of his father’s money.

I found my grandmother in Church Creek, Maryland, a very small town (possibly just a post office?) on the Chesapeake Bay. She lived in the house I remember visiting once, 1823 White Haven Drive. I called the post office in Church Creek and told the story of my grandmother to the woman there who happened to have a great deal of “institutional memory,” her name is Ronnie Renolds, a wonderful woman. And when I told her about my grandmother’s life and where she came from, she said, “Good for her.” Ronnie Renolds put me in touch with a woman now in her 90s who lived across the street from my grandmother. Mrs. Branic told me that she never knew my grandmother had 3 daughters, which confirmed what I had always thought, that her three daughters, including my mother, for whatever reason, had abandoned her as well. She did say that her son, my uncle, visited her all the time and that she remembered my grandmother as a lovely woman.

So I found out the bittersweet story of my grandmother who is buried next to my grandfather on Shelter Island, the place where my great-grandfather grew up.

If you are trying to find out the story of your house for “If This House Could Talk–Newburyport.” is a great resource which has the different censuses as well as other things,  so is Google, especially putting whatever you are looking for in “quotes”.  Here we also have Salem Deeds Online which is an amazing resource. You can often follow your house back into the past by using “book and page” feature.  It is a great deal of fun.

Book and Page, Salem Deeds Online

Book and Page, Salem Deeds Online

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 is pretty amazing along with Salem Deeds online,

A Tale of the 204 Newburyport Parking Garage

204 & 244 Newburyport Parking Garage Comparison

204 & 244 Newburyport Parking Garage Comparison

I watched (I thought I wouldn’t, but I did, I just couldn’t help myself) Monday night when the parking garage vote came to the floor of the Newburyport City Council. Is this riveting stuff? it was to me. In the ongoing 41 year hoped-for/battle for a parking garage in Newburyport, the choice had come down to  244 space, a 204 space or a “no” space parking garage. Having counted the votes for a 244 garage (8 out of 11 votes were required), 8 votes simply did not exist, but would those folks who so desperately wanted a 244 settle for the smaller number or let a parking garage die yet one more time in its 41 year old quest.

City Councilor Bob Cronin put a motion (I don’t know what the technical term is) on the floor for a 204 garage.  It was immediately amended to a 244 — sudden death in the making. Councilor Jared Eigerman very calmly asked the 244 folks, that if they did amend to a 244 would they be willing to have no garage. The answer to Councilor Eigerman’s question was apparently “no” because somehow “it” got amended back to a 204 garage.

And then the speeches commenced. My favorite was probably Councilor Joe Devlin’s who read a long, long list of all the insults that had come his way (and he was by no means alone) including being called a misogynist (a misogynist over a garage–really?? Yes, actually really — bat-shit crazy, but really) and ended up his speech assuring the good people of Newburyport that if a large civic project came to their back yard the City Council would have their back. The theme of the strong 204 folks, Bob Cronin, Larry Guinta, Sharif Zeid, Greg Earls and yes, Joe Devlin, was that the people of Newburyport who were most affected by the garage, the abutters, were their major concern.

And then somewhere after lots of speeches a 244 seemed to be being thought about again, and Councilor Jared Eigerman one more time, very calmly reminded the 244 folks that he was only counting 5 votes for their cause — 8 votes not there. The vote for the 204 garage took place with a few grudging “yes” votes,  and after 41 years the Newburyport City Council made history, by taking an incremental step, getting 100 cars off the Waterfront, and moving Newburyport one small to medium step towards its future.

Congratulations to this Newburyport City Council — a job well done.

Walk Newburyport, If This House Could Talk, a Brilliant Idea to tell Newburyport’s Story

I love, love, love the idea that Jack Santos has come up with, it is so cool!  During this year’s Yankee Homecoming folks in Newburyport can take a pasteboard and a marker and write a story about their home (historic or current), and then hang it out in front of their house for the week. You can read more about it here on Walk Newburyport, if this House could Talk.

It is a simple and brilliant idea.  A phenomenal way to engage everyone in Newburyport’s story, especially the historic district — an idea that that brings people in the city together.

An example of a sign for Walk Newburyport, If This House Could Talk

An example of a sign for Walk Newburyport, If This House Could Talk

I contacted Jack and said that my house was built in 1958, and would that count.

And he wrote back, “Absolutely! could be stories about the house, the family that lives there, anything is fair game, doesn’t have to be historic house related (although I suspect for Newburyport many will be).”

God bless Jack Santos.

And what is so unusual about this idea, is that old or new in Newburyport, every home matters. This is inclusive, not exclusive.  And it’s an idea that’s about people, not just architecture, and I think that’s why the idea has practically gone viral over night.

An example of a sign for Walk Newburyport, If This House Could Talk

An example of a sign for Walk Newburyport, If This House Could Talk

One of the things that I hear about historic preservation is that often wood seems more important than people. Sometimes I think that there is some truth to this. But this idea is all about people and the amazing community that we all live in.

An example of a sign for Walk Newburyport, If This House Could Talk

An example of a sign for Walk Newburyport, If This House Could Talk

And one of my concerns is that the recent “advocacy” that is now happening by historic preservationists in Newburyport is often perceived as rigid, strident and shrill, the very thing that I would like to avoid, and one that I feel is alienating a younger generation, the very generation that Newburyport needs to carry on its story. Jack Santos is taking an absolutely different inclusive approach with Walk Newburyport, if this House could Talk and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

The images are courtesy of Walk Newburyport, if this House could Talk

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…”

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.

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.

My Opinion — The Worst Website in America, and Hurray for the People who are Standing Up and Speaking Out Against it

Newburyport, Massachusetts, my beloved hometown, got “grazed” by, in my mind, a horrible website called RoadSnacks.  That got me curious and I started looking into it.

The website is run by Christopher (Chris)  Kolmar and his partner Nikolaos (Nick) Johnson, of  Chasing Chains, L.L.C., 210 Strolling Way, Durham, North Carolina  (see previous post).

“Our goal is to show you the real side of places that not everyone wants to hear. We use data to create bite-sized snacks of shareable information about places and cities across the country. We call it the ‘other’ side of regional infotainment.”

Worst Website -- RoadSnacks

The labels that they have put on cities and towns across the country are things like “The Worst Cities in ___ State.”  Or even worse,  “The Most Dangerous Cities in ___ State.”  And this is hurting communities and the people who live in them all across the country.  And people are standing up and speaking out against  Christopher (Chris) Kolmar and his partner Nikolaos (Nick) Johnson of RoadSnacks, and I am wicked proud of them.  Here is a list partial of people who have had the courage to speak up and speak out.

People who have stood up to Christopher (Chris) Kolmar and his partner Nikolaos (Nick) Johnson (yes, “standing up to” implies standing up to bullies).  And these are just some of the many people who spoken out — it is a long, long list.

1)  Dr. Andrew J. Pegoda, Texas,   “An Open Letter to Chris Kolmar and Nick Johnson of RoadSnacks: Please Remember People Have Feelings”

“How would you feel if your hometown or present home came up on a viral list as among the worst places to live? Especially, if you didn’t have the means to relocate or make things “better” (a subjective state)? Imagine the 5 year-old or the 45 year-old sitting in front of the television or computer hearing that their home is among “the worst” places in Texas?”

“Additionally, your list, likely not intentionally but the effect is the same nonetheless, embodies and perpetuates racism. It could cause business to avoid areas where such business could really be needed in terms of jobs and services provided. “

2)  Molly McWilliams Wilkins, Georgia,  “In Defense of Small Towns”

“I’m immensely bothered by these list articles, and I even have to write some for the website I work for but let me tell y’all: I call each of the places I’m writing about, assuming I don’t have first hand knowledge of the sites. I do my research. I don’t hide behind numbers and algorithms and all that other nonsense. You know why? Because I, and the people I work for, realize something very important.

You can’t put a number on heart. You can’t measure the reach of souls.

An algorithm can’t accurately measure the worth of a smile and a heartfelt hug or handshake.”

“But you need to consider the soul, and heart, of the places you write about. And realize that there are some who not only choose to live in them, but cherish their hometowns.”

3)  Mike Parker, North Carolina,  “RoadSnacks’ blast gives me indigestion”

“He also admits that his conclusions are not really scientifically based as much as “opinion-based data” and “not to be taken for fact.” “


“My dad once told me: ‘Son, figures don’t lie, but liars can figure.’ “

“For the record: I am proud of the place I choose to call home.”

4)  Aaron Brown,  Minnesota,  “Warm greetings from Minnesota’s northern hellscape”

“Before you fall over yourselves rushing to see the site, know that it’s click bait. Believe it or not, is not a repository of our century’s finest thinking, but a website that profits when people look at their ads. It lacks the dignity of a site like this one, which has the class and intellectual merit to attract far fewer readers while making almost no profits whatsoever.”

5)  Barry Saunders, North Carolina,  “Rockingham deserves better from RoadSnacks”

“…many wonderful people there who are struggling to turn it around.

The last thing they need is some smarmy hipsters poking fun at it for what they call ‘infotainment.’ ”

“…it’s easier to pick on struggling municipalities in which you’ve probably never et a Vienna sausage than to look into what’s causing the problems you so erroneously and cavalierly catalogue – for infotainment.”

Worst Website Roadsnacks

6)  Brian Blueskye, California, “In Defense of DHS: An ‘Analysis’ Recently Declared That Desert Hot Springs Is the Worst Place to Live in California. Here’s Why We Disagree.”

” ‘The two people who run that website, they do one of those lists on every state,” Betts said. “They’re click-whores. They’re just doing that to build traffic. How can they possibly analyze all 50 states?’ “

“People who know me will vouch for the fact that I’m not much of an optimist. So believe me when I tell you that I see Desert Hot Springs as a decent place to live, that’s filled with people who care about their city, being led by a city government that’s working to solve problems.”

7) North Carolina, “OUR VIEW: Defy, don’t just deny, county’s ‘worst’ labels”

“We questioned the source — a three-month-old website that posts provocative localized listicles meant to serve as cheap clickbait that draws eyeballs to its advertisers.”

“..we reminded ourselves and each other about the natural beauty and local amenities Richmond County has to offer. From Hitchcock Creek, Hinson Lake and the Sandhills Game Lands to Discovery Place Kids, Rockingham Dragway and the Hamlet Depot and Museums, we listed the many things that make our county a truly great place to live.”

“That’s what’s really important, after all. Proving provocateurs like RoadSnacks dead wrong is just the icing on the cake.

Forget denial, Richmond County. This is a challenge that calls for defiance.”

8) Mark Saal, Utah, “Ogden second worst? That couldn’t be worse”

“It simply makes no sense.”

“— henceforth and forever I wasn’t going to report the source of these vacuous helpings of intellectual cotton candy. Mostly because the companies that compile these lists are what we in the business affectionately refer to as “publicity whores.”

“…an attempt to attract as much media attention as possible.”

“And finally, as authoritative as I’d love to consider RoadSnacks (D’oh! Mentioned it again), it’s important to note that the “company” — possibly just some 20-something with a computer, living in his parents’ basement — is headquartered out of Durham, North Carolina. North Carolina, people.”

Worst Website--RoadSnacks

9)  Mark Muckenfuss, California, Who asks the question, “Does Nick Johnson want to become the most hated man in America?”

“What’s wrong with Nick Johnson? Does he really want to become the most hated man in America?”

“I only know (Nick Johnson) because the guy used to work here at The Press-Enterprise. A nice enough fellow. At least he seemed so at the time. But now I’m wondering if he has a death wish.

Johnson has made it his job to tell people they live in terrible places. And that usually doesn’t make them very happy. They tend to get a wee bit sensitive when you say, “Hey! Your home town? That place you love? It’s a toilet.”

Johnson doesn’t actually say that. But he and his company compile lists of the worst cities to live in.”

” ‘I’ve had some really sappy letters sent to me that made me feel sad about doing this and we almost stopped. They said ‘You hurt everyone’s feelings,’ and we said, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t do this.’ ”  “…But then he (Nick Johnson) looks at the traffic on the website.”

10)  Steve Urbon, Massachusetts, “Worst? Buddy, you don’t know the meaning of worst — Mayor Jon Mitchell took the printout I had handed him, made a face and held it up like a soiled diaper”

“Some crackpot website in Durham, North Carolina, had messed around with some statistics…”

“You would think that if you’re going to publish something online that serves as cheap “linkbait,” you could at least get the numbers right.”

“If you’re going to cite four statistics and get at least two of them wrong, that does call into question the seriousness of this enterprise. And a three-year-old Google Maps photo of a deserted Union Street suggests you’ve never been here.”

11)  Tasnim Shamma, Georgia,  “Faulty Data Is Behind Georgia City’s Most Dangerous Ranking”

This article quotes the FBI which urges people not to use their data.  However, Christopher Kolmar and Nick Johnson do use this FBI  data in compiling some of their lists. The FBI warns against using the data, and this is what the FBI has to say:

“UCR (Uniform Crime Reporting) data are sometimes used to compile rankings of individual jurisdictions and institutions of higher learning.  These incomplete analyses have often created misleading perceptions which adversely affect geographic entities and their residents. Despite repeated warnings against these practices, some data users continue to challenge and misunderstand this position.”

“When providing/using agency oriented statistics, the FBI cautions and, in fact, strongly discourages data users against using rankings to evaluate locales or the effectiveness of their law enforcement agencies.”

The article quotes Robert Friedmann, the director of the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange at Georgia State.

“…the rankings are irresponsible clickbait. It makes people panic and can affect a city’s local economy if it prevents people from moving there.”

12)  Sam Burnham, Georgia, “A (Real) Georgian’s response to RoadSacks Top 10”

“I have friends that live in some, I have spent nights in some, played high school football games in some. I know these small towns. These are the places that produce the finest watermelons, peaches, pecans, and onions in the world. Many of these towns have storied histories, intricate architecture, even museums.”

“I’ve never felt in danger in Vidalia, Thomaston, Cordele, etc. I can’t say the same for the metro.”

“Give me real Georgia.”

13) The Mayor of Kinston, North Carolina,  “Responding to Crime Ranking Websites”

“Your ranking reports represent misleading marketing strategies that could be considered unscrupulous trade practices that can severely threaten economic development projects for the communities you rank. I am copying the Attorney General to request a review of your ranking methodology, which is designed to scare citizens and even consumers. Some companies have been known to utilize your misleading data to send marketing material soliciting the purchase of home security systems.”

This is what Distresses me about the Smart Growth 40R Process (and it’s not what you think)

This is what distresses me about the Smart Growth 40R Process.

By sinabeet on Flickr, "Hand say Hand Listen, Creative Commons License

By sinabeet on Flickr, “Hand say Hand Listen,” Creative Commons License

By sinabeet on Flickr, “Hand say Hand Listen,” Creative Commons License

The problem is with the citizens of Newburyport who are not paying attention, not with the elected officials and folks on volunteer boards who made the Smart Growth 40R District happen.

1) This is not new.

The 40R was first proposed way, way back in 2004.  This idea is not new to Newburyport. People are presenting this new zoning law as if it just came out of the blue. They are wrong.

2) No one was paying attention.

  • If people had been paying attention to the 40R as early as January 2014, things might have turned out much differently.
  • I was blogging about it since January 2015, and no one was listening, and I couldn’t get anyone to listen.  I actually went around and talked to people explaining that this was probably one of the biggest long term projects that Newburyport was looking at, and it would affect everyone.  I actually had people turn their backs on me and walk away while I was talking in mid-sentence.  No one cared.
  • I talked to at least one city councilor who had reservations about the project, and they couldn’t get anyone to listen either.  We both agreed that trying to get people to pay attention was like talking to a wall.

3) Do not complain after the fact.

If you do not show up and pay attention EARLY in the process when things are being decided and problem solving is taking place, do not complain after the fact.

4) Pay attention NOW.

This is a multi decade project that will go through multiple administrations and planning directors. The 2 things that are on the docket now is the Graf Road Pump Station and the Minco Building.

5) Stop making excuses.

If you really care about this project, and just don’t want to complain about it, follow those 2 initial projects, the Graf Road Pump Station and the Minco Building.  If you cannot make it to meetings, talk to city councilors and other people who do attend those meetings.  You can find out who is interested by asking around (I do), or reading the minutes (I do), which are online on the city’s website, see who shows up and contact them. Reading the minutes of the meetings helps too.

6) Stop throwing people under the bus because you think that they are not listening to you.

The time to get elected officials and volunteer boards to listen to you is in the BEGINNING of a project when decisions are being made — not after all the work has been done. Stop throwing elected officials and volunteer board members under the bus, because you were not paying attention when this 40R Smart Growth District was being worked on.

Things I Look for in a Newburyport City Councilor

Gandhi quote: You must be the change you wish to see in the world

You must be the change you wish to see in the world – Gandhi

There is a local Newburyport election coming up on Tuesday, November 3, 2015 for Newburyport City Councilors at Large, and City Councilors in Ward 1 and Ward 4, as well as Newburyport City School Committee members (for a list of candidates please press here).

There are a number of issues on people’s minds — the Waterfront, Schools, 40R Smart Growth District, Historic Preservation, seem to be the 4 that come to my mind. And each of the two Ward races have their own specific issues.

There are 2 characteristics that I look for in a City Councilor, whether I agree with their stances on certain issues or not.

1) An ability to have a dialogue with their constituents. Not to give the people that they represent their “spiel” on their stance on certain issues, but an ability to truly listen to the people that they speak for.  And also an ability to explain how they feel on a particular issue at that moment, which is different than a spiel — it assumes that City Councilors are problem-solvers, not people who proselytize. I think one of the worst things for a person talking to a City Councilor is to feel ignored, to feel invisible and to feel as if their insights are insignificant.

The issues in front of the city are all complex, and often have no easy answers, because life, people and civic issues are complicated. And to come to a conclusion on how to solve problems as a civic leader is not an easy one, and at the end of the day decisions are made.  And as a caveat to Newburyport’s electorate, it helps to get involved at the beginning of whatever issue/process is at hand.  To show up on the Newburyport City Council floor for the first time, at the second reading (which is the last reading of when something passes) with a short tempered opinion, is not part of a problem solving approach. In civics, it is a two way street.  Show up and pay attention early, and then tell what you believe to be the truth about an issue that you believe in, but show up, pay attention and get the facts first.

2) Civility. I think that this is a very important characteristic, and vital in having the ability to have a dialogue, build trust and problem-solve.  If someone, in the course of my civic involvement, has called me a “Nazi controlling zealot,” which is their right in a society that values free speech, it is difficult for me to imagine that person being capable of a civil, problem-solving dialogue as a city councilor.  It is also hard for me to imagine voting for a city councilor who has been arrested for assault. I believe in second chances, but this would give me pause in voting for someone as an elected official (although it has been pointed out to me that we had a mayor run the city from jail, and that the city named a bridge after him).

And another caveat to the Newburyport electorate. It would be great if civility worked both ways. The abuse that city councilors can get from the people that they try their darndest to represent, is often astounding and just downright mind-boggling.

Slouching towards Bethlehem, Newburyport’s Smart Growth, 40R District

Seal of the City of Newburyport

When Newburyport’s 40R Smart Growth District passed on the second reading by the Newburyport City Council on Monday night, I had sort of a sinking feeling, a slight feeling of foreboding.  Not necessarily because I think it might not work, and that really smart people, who care a great deal about our city, did their very best to create it over an 11 year period. My guess is that as a city we will “Slouch towards the 40R Smart Growth District” over the next couple of decades, parts of it working, parts of it sort of working and parts of it, not so much.  10-20 years from now, the city will have some idea if this was the “best of ideas,” or the “worst of ideas,” or something inbetween.

(And for all of you who are up in arms about the 40R District, the next actual concrete thing on the Smart Growth 40R docket, is when the Minco building comes up in front of the Planning Board for review (which is probably pretty soon) — if you cared enough to sign a petition about the 40R, please be there and speak up about it!!)

My foreboding, as I think and mull on it, is the feeling of “backlash” and “hysteria,” about what this project represents to I would say to a good 85% of the people that I talked to.  What I hear over and over and over again, is that there is so much happening in the civics/political world of Newburyport, the Smart Growth 40R District being the most recent, that people feel overwhelmed by it all and feel that things are out of control.  And they feel this very, very strongly.  Notice the use of the verb “feel.”  As a friend of mine says, “Feelings are not facts.” But, when it comes to the world of local politics, especially 4 weeks out from an election for Newburyport City Council (see earlier post for the candidates), the feeling/fact thing is important, and could (we will find out) be a motivating factor in the election.

When I talked to people yesterday and the days before that, yesterday being the primary election for Ward 1, one of the major things on folks’ minds, aside for the smell from the Water and Sewer Plant, you got it, the 40R Smart Growth District. And who did they vote for (I am sure there are many other reasons as well, I’m not saying that this is the only one), they voted for Sharif Zeid , an incredibly bright and engaging young man, who at the Ward 1 Meet and Greet, talked very eloquently about his reservations about the size of the 40R District. I was sitting at the back of the room at the Emma Andrews Library and Community Center, and you could almost see peoples’ heads going up and down in agreement.

(Just as a btw, the fact that a mere 10% of the voting population showed up to vote in the Ward 1 Primary for City Council is a bit discouraging, voting is a privilege, and who you vote for has consequences.)

This upcoming City Council election on Tuesday, November 3, 2015 is important for all sorts of reasons. Be sure to vote.  Make sure to vote with your head and your heart, and not with your panic button.

And as a PS

Ward 1 Primary Election Results

Sharif Zeid 143,  Ted Waldron 98,  Mike Ferrick 33
Mainland:  Sharif Zeid 130, Ted Waldron 65
Plum Island:  Sharif Zeid 13, Ted Waldron 33

Are Historic Homes in Newburyport Obsolete?

Rotary Phone

Rotary Phone

Historic preservationist, you are up against a cultural wall that has not been there before. Somehow you all need to take that into consideration.

For historic preservationists — think on this analogy. Once you’ve had an iphone, would most people ever go back to an old rotary phone.  The answer for 99.9% of people is NO.

And that is part of what you are up against. The old rotary phone probably still works, and it is made really well, but nobody cares, it was archaic decades ago.  Touch tone phones and now smartphones — and once you got a hold of a smartphone, everything else seems obsolete. And that is a little bit of the way historic homes are regarded these days, antiquated and obsolete. Yes, that is the awful and terrible reality.

It was not that way even 10 years ago, but it is that way today.  Ten years ago a historic home was assessed at a much higher rate than a new or “newly restored” home. That has changed. An older home on High Street that needs “remodeling” (which many historic preservationist would think is gorgeous just the way it is),  is probably assessed at 1 million dollars less than a “down to the studs reno” job that has been “updated.”

And when these new homes are staged, a realtor probably would tell you to get rid of that antique furniture and the oriental rug, that is if you want to sell it. They are gone with the wind too.

I do not know what historic preservationists do with this “new reality,” and whether it is a Newburyport thing or a larger nationwide thing. It’s not as simple as “the building inspector” as my buddy over at Brick and Tree hopes. I think it is much, much bigger than that.



Is Newburyport no Longer a Place where the Middle Class are Welcomed?


Within the last year I’ve had two experiences that I hope, hope, hope are not indicative of a trend.

I need some things done around my reasonably modest dwelling, and I went looking for quotes.

For the first undertaking, I got one quote from a young man, who was highly recommended, it was 7.5 to 5 times higher than other quotes.  This was a young man in his 30s. Apparently he felt that, if I was willing to pay such an exorbitant price, it was gravy for him, otherwise he wasn’t interested.  I said no, and told everyone about him, and everyone I told was pretty shocked.

It happened again, about 10 months later, a completely different sort of task.  Another young man in his 30s. This time it was only 4 times the going rate. And when I asked if the person would accept a lower price, because it was so outrageous (and I was very, very tactful), the reply I got, “It just doesn’t make sense for me to spend anymore time on this so I’m going to pass on the job.” Believe me, as a consumer, I am allowed to asked questions, get quotes. I’ve never before felt as if I’d been “fired” by someone I asked whether or not they might be able to assist me.

If I lived in Salisbury or Amesbury, would I have gotten this same treatment? I’m guessing, probably not. But then again, if I lived in Salisbury or Amesbury, they might not have even bothered to return my phone call, because apparently so much money can be made off of the people who now live in Newburyport, MA.

I was talking to a friend about the “chutzpa” (shameless audacity, impudence) and dismissiveness, and they said, it’s probably because of the kind of people moving into Newburyport now.  There is now a gorgeous multi-million dollar home within sight of where I live (it was not a multi-million dollar property before, see earlier post), a middle class family is not going to buy that one.

It feels as if Newburyport has gone over a tipping point. It feels as if this is not a place for the middle class, i.e. teachers, nurses, accountants, middle class professionals to find a home anymore. There was once a spot where there was a balance of the “old guard/natives” and the new arrivals. The carpetbaggers had come in, but they were teachers, nurses, accountants, people with small businesses, artists, craftsmen, writers, even some doctors and lawyers. It feels as if Newburyport may soon no longer be hospitable to those folks either.

Are we going from gentrification, which has been described as “the conversion of working class areas into a middle-class area,” to an exclusive, luxury municipal location that only the very wealthy can inhabit–what Nantucket has now become? And Stephen Karp hasn’t even started to build yet.

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.

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.”