Category Archives: Culture

Culture, Newburyport, MA, the quality in people of Newburyport and Newburyport’s society, that comes from a concern for what is excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.

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 FamilySearch.org (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.

“THE CONVENTION BRIDE

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 THAT WAS ANSWERED IN THE MOST AMAZING WAY

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.

GOD BLESS THE PEOPLE OF SOUTHERN LOUISIANA

“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)

 

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

167 Water Street

167 Water Street

167 Water Street

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

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

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

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

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

Book on Gordon Welchman

Book on Gordon Welchman

Book on Gordon Welchman

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

Plaque for Gordon Welchman on 167 Water Street

Plaque for Gordon Welchman on 167 Water Street

Plaque for Gordon Welchman on 167 Water Street

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

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

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

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

1851 Map Showing Row Houses on Water Street

1851 Map Showing Row Houses on Water Street

1851 Map Showing Row Houses on Water Street

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

Bossy Gillis 1945 Deed for 167 Water Street

Bossy Gillis 1945 Deed for 167 Water Street

Bossy Gillis 1945 Deed for 167 Water Street

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

1992 Deed Claification by the Newburyport City Council

1992 Deed Claification by the Newburyport City Council

1992 Deed Claification by the Newburyport City Council

Bossy Gillis

Bossy Gillis

Bossy Gillis

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

Victorian in Newburyport, Everything is Infill, 20 Orange Street

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

20 Orange Street

20 Orange Street

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

THE PLANS BY D.S. HOPKINS

Plans by architect D. S. Hopkins

Plans by architect D. S. Hopkins

Plans by architect D. S. Hopkins

Plans by architect D. S. Hopkins

Plans by architect D. S. Hopkins

Plans by architect D. S. Hopkins

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

THE 1851 MAP SHOWING THE LOCATION

Orange Street, Newburyport, 1851 Map

Orange Street, Newburyport, 1851 Map

THE NEWBURYPORT HISTORIC SURVEY

20 Orange Street,Henry Moody House, Newburyport Historic Survey

20 Orange Street,Henry Moody House, Newburyport Historic Survey

20 Orange Street,Henry Moody House, Newburyport Historic Survey

20 Orange Street,Henry Moody House, Newburyport Historic Survey

THE ORIGINAL 1889 DEED

The original 1889 Deed for 20 Orange Street, page 1

The original 1889 Deed for 20 Orange Street, page 1

The original 1889 Deed for 20 Orange Street, page 2

The original 1889 Deed for 20 Orange Street, page 2

20 Orange Street

20 Orange Street

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

The house that Abbie Built

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A write-up on Daniel Foster

A write-up on Daniel Foster

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

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

Mark of N&T Foster Silver, Newburyport, MA

Mark of N&T Foster Silver, Newburyport, MA

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

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

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

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

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

The write-up of Abbie Foster's funeral

The write-up of Abbie Foster’s funeral

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

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

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 www.walknewburyport.com.

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

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

The subject here is windows.

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

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

Window with pansies, digital image © Mary Baker

Window with pansies, digital image © Mary Baker

Restore or Replace? The Options for Old Windows

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

Window Replacement or Restoration?

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

Replacement Windows

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

Window Restoration

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

Doing it Right

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

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

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

77 Lime Street

77 Lime Street, a before and after comparison

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

77 LIme from Lime Street, compare before and after

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

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

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

Historic Preservation was once Revolutionary, Elegant and Sexy

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

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

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

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

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

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

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

Grand Central Station, NYC

Grand Central Station, NYC

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

Grand Central Terminal was saved.

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

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

Restoring downtown Newburyport, from "A Measure of Change"

Restoring downtown Newburyport, from “A Measure of Change”

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

Restoring downtown Newburyport, from "A Measure of Change"

Restoring downtown Newburyport, from “A Measure of Change”

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

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

Truman Nelson, Newburyport, Historic Preservation, a Lost Story

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

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

Truman Nelson from "A Measure of Change"

Truman Nelson from “A Measure of Change”

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

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

23 Olive Street, Newburyport, MA

23 Olive Street, Newburyport, MA, Google Maps

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

15-17 Olive Street, Newburyport MA

15-17 Olive Street, Newburyport MA, Google Maps

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

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

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

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

The Truman Nelson Reader

The Truman Nelson Reader

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

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

The Disappearing Newburyport Iconic Chimney

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

Newburyport, Chimney

Newburyport, Chimneys, Google Maps

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

Chimney, Newburyport

Chimneys, Newburyport, Google Maps

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

Chimney, Newburyport

Chimneys, Newburyport, Google Maps

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

Chimney, Newburyport MA

Chimneys, Newburyport, Google Maps

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

New heating system, instead of chimneys, Newburyport

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

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

Federal Street Overlay, Newburyport MA

Federal Street Overlay, Newburyport, Google Maps

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

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

Madison Street, Newburyport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newburyport, State Street

Newburyport, State Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Historic Preservation in Newburyport in the year 2015

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

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

112 High Street, Newburyport

112 High Street, Newburyport, photograph from Coldwell Banker

This is the description:

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

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

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

And it is absolutely stunning.

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

110-112 High Street, Newburyport, Historic Survey

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Smartphone

Smartphone

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

money

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.

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

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

No Mandatory Composting in Newburyport

If I lived in a red-leaning Southern State, I would be viewed as a dark-green, environmental socialist.  In Massachusetts, I think I would be viewed as a light-green environmental trouble maker, pain in the butt.

When it comes to mandatory composting in Newburyport (we are not there yet, but that is the endgame). “NO.”

Newburyprt composting bin

Newburyprt composting bin

As a friend of mine said, “No is a complete sentence.”

A lot of people I know are really, really excited about the two year pilot composting program that Newburyport is “experimenting” with (the Newburyport Organics Pilot Program, Towards Zero Waste Newburyport) .  For them, “It’s the bomb.” And I’m thrilled for them.

As the old saying goes, on this one, “Live and let Live.” For all the folks out there who are wicked excited — Awesome!! And there are lots and lots of folks, who if it is compulsory, will not comply, period. And they are too afraid to speak up, because they feel as if they are being manipulated and railroaded into eventually having mandatory composting.

“No is a complete sentence.”  On mandatory composting, “No.” And for those who are excited, go for it, just do not make it obligatory for every resident in Newburyport, Massachusetts.