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.

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

167 Water Street

167 Water Street

167 Water Street

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

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

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

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

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

Book on Gordon Welchman

Book on Gordon Welchman

Book on Gordon Welchman

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

Plaque for Gordon Welchman on 167 Water Street

Plaque for Gordon Welchman on 167 Water Street

Plaque for Gordon Welchman on 167 Water Street

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

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

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

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

1951 Map Showing Row Houses on Water Street

1951 Map Showing Row Houses on Water Street

1951 Map Showing Row Houses on Water Street

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

Bossy Gillis 1945 Deed for 167 Water Street

Bossy Gillis 1945 Deed for 167 Water Street

Bossy Gillis 1945 Deed for 167 Water Street

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

1992 Deed Claification by the Newburyport City Council

1992 Deed Claification by the Newburyport City Council

1992 Deed Claification by the Newburyport City Council

Bossy Gillis

Bossy Gillis

Bossy Gillis

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.

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

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

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

House before renovation © Alex Dardinski

House before renovation, photo courtesy of Alex Dardinski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

House after renovation

House after renovation

Three Young Men that Give me Hope for Newburyport’s Future

What these three young men have in common, to paraphrase President Kennedy, is, “Ask not what Newburyport can do for you, but ask what you can do for Newburyport.”

And for me, these three young men honor Newburyport, they link the stories of Newburyport’s past to what will be the story of Newburyport’s future.

Tom Salemi

Tom Salemi

Tom Salemi

I first got to know Tom Salemi when he became a fellow Newburyport blogger, the editor of The Newburyport Posts.  Tom had been a reporter for the Newburyport Daily News in the early to mid 1990s, left Newburyport and then returned to our wonderful city.

Much to my surprise (and I was somewhat alarmed for his sanity), Tom jumped in feet-first  into the world of Newburyport civics, and became a member of what I think of as Newburyport’s most toxic committee, the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority (NRA).

Tom became a member while the NRA was exploring the possibility of putting some buildings on Newburyport’s Waterfront.  The chaos and hostility that ensued was mind-boggling, I was sure that Tom would step down.  But Tom Salemi did not, instead he became chair of the NRA (I worried for his sanity), and has throughout his tenure conducted himself with grace and dignity, listening to the overall call for the Waterfront to remain “open,” and withstanding the onslaught of Citizens for an Open Water Front (COW) and calls by members of the Newburyport City Council for the NRA to disband.

You got to really love your city to preservere and work as a member of the NRA and to look  for a solution that has alluded the city for 50 years. This young man, Tom Salemi, self deprecating, funny, and without a hint of entitlement, gives me hope for Newburyport’s future.

Jared Eigerman

Jarred Eigerman

Jarred Eigerman

I first got to know Jared Eigerman during the push to have Newburyport have a Local Historic District (LHD).  And then, much to my delight, Jared decided to run for Newburyport City Council for Ward 2, and he won.

Jared was born in Newburyport, left our city and has now come back. He is a native son. Jared is one smart cookie, and again, self deprecating and without a hint of entitlement.  He wanted to become a city councilor not for power or to one day become mayor, but, in his words to me, “to write good laws.” And the first law/ordinance that Jared sponsored, was to protect downtown Newburyport and Newburyport’s Historic District, something that people had been trying to do for 50 years. It passed the Newburyport City Council unanimously, with the support of the “No LHD” folks and the “Yes LHD” folks.  No small accomplishment.  Yes, Newburyport historic preservationists still fight on, and people find ways to maneuver around the ordinance, but still, what an accomplishment.

Jared Eigerman honors Newburyport’s past, its stories, and wants to make sure that its history is intertwined with the story of Newburyport’s future.  And Jared Eigerman is one of the young men in our historic city that gives me great hope for our future.

Alex Dardinski

Alex Dardinski

Alex Dardinski

I don’t really know Alex Dardinski except through Facebook and talking to him while he takes his young son in his very cool bike, riding around our historic city.  Alex was born and raised in Newburyport, his family moved here in the early 1970s when real estate could be bought for $9,000. Alex has witnessed the change in Newburyport and can envision its future. And Alex is passionate about a vision to make Newburyport more walkable and pedestrian friendly, and reducing a reliance on the automobile.  He is involved in Newburyport’s Greenway and Newburyport’s Open Street Event.

Alex has also written a very thoughtful post for The Newburyport Blog on historic preservation in Newburyport, and his own personal experience of renovating an historic home.

As many people know, I love walking in Newburyport. I do it every day, and I also love historic preservation, and that may be why I resonate with Alex Dardinski so much.  And Alex is one of those people who links the stories of Newburyport’s past to what Newburyport’s story will become, and he gives me great hope for the future of Newburyport, Massachusetts.

The Newburyport Blog, What Makes Newburyport “Tick” and Google Search

 

What Makes Newburyport "Tick?"

What Makes Newburyport “Tick?”

The Newburyport Blog has all but disappeared from Google’s search engine, and I wanted to figure out why, I always have liked that question, “Why,” and got me to thinking, “What exactly is The Newburyport Blog anyway??”

The Newburyport Blog is not a place to find out where to eat or shop in Newburyport. There are many Newburyport websites now, including Google (which is almost becoming a website itself instead of a Search Engine), which would give answers to that question.

The fascination that I have, is not where to eat or shop in this wonderful historic city, but the fact that over the years the kind of restaurants and shops have radically changed (The General Store, the hardware/lumber store  have  been replaced by high end restaurants, spas, boutiques and very expensive furniture stores), and “Why” is that? and what does it say about Newburyport and how the culture in Newburyport is changing. What makes Newburyport “tick?” (the definition of “tick,” a verb, is “The motive and explanation of behavior” — that is what engages me.

The question of what makes Newburyport “tick,” was one of the reasons I was so hooked our once local political journal, The Undertoad.  Despite Tom Ryan’s very often, in my opinion, offensive, bombastic, childish and sometimes just downright sadistic approach to reporting the “underside of Newburyport,” The Undertoad’s basic premise was “What makes Newburyport tick?”

When Ulrika Gerth was editor of The Newburyport Current, she had an underlining theme, “What makes Newburyport tick??”

And Tom Salemi, the editor of The Newburyport Posts, with his journalist education, and his light, amicable, often deceivably “simple” posts, also had an underlining theme of “What makes Newburyport tick.” (Come back to blogging Tom Salemi!!)

And Jerry Mullins, God bless him, with his long, researched, valuable content (that Google  seems to ignore, so much for Google valuing “valuable content”), over at Brick and Tree, has that same theme too, “What makes Newburyport tick??”

And there are also the blogs by many Newburyport Councilors that address that very same question in a variety of ways.

The Newburyport Blog does have stuff on “gluten free,” but have you noticed the changes in restaurants, etc, gluten free has roared into out culture.

Where to park in Newburyport?? earlier post. Well, I never, ever thought we would have paid parking, but we do. It says something about our town (good stuff for a blog post).

And lots of Google search changes:

Ask for “Newburyport restaurants.” Google itself, not the webpages it “represents” in its search engine, will give you an answer.

Ask for 20+10, you will get an answer from Google, no need to go looking for a calculator on a website anymore.

Ask for information on “zucchini” and you will get Google’s answer. No need to look for a webpage anymore.

Ask for “Following Atticus,” Tom Ryan’s (Undertoad Tom Ryan) book.  Google will tell you all about it, need to got to a website?? Maybe.

Look for “Newburyport,” Google will give you an answer, maybe not a good answer, but an answer. That answer will get better, more refined, and pretty soon — no longer need to go to a website anymore.

Look for “Why Newburyport is the way it is today, culturally, socio-economically, architecturally, politically?”  That is not a simple question.  And if that sort of question is important, maybe check out The Newburyport Blog, the Newburyport City Councilors’ websites,  or go over to Brick and Tree and get Jerry Mullins take on what makes Newburyport “tick,” and maybe Tom Salemi will come back and blog again one day.

Inn Street, Newburyport, MA

Inn Street, Newburyport, MA

Mobile Phones and Historic Preservation and Losing Newburyport’s Story

I have this theory that mobile phones are changing our culture in ways that its inventor never would have imagined.  And the cell phone has been amazing in many ways, and, I think that they have had some unintended consequences.

The street artist Bansky had something to say about one of those unintended consequences.

Mobile Lovers, street art by Bansky

Mobile Lovers, street art by Bansky

Mobile Lovers, street art by Bansky

And I’m wondering what the impact of the culture created around mobile phones has on historic preservation.

With a cellphone culture “immediate and superficial gratification” is taken to a whole new level. It’s a Buzzfeed way of getting information.

What turns up when I search my mobile cell phone for “Newburyport” is Tripadvisor, restaurants and places to shop. The Newburyport Daily News used to be in the top two on a desktop computer.  It’s now more difficult to find the Daily News on a mobile device. It’s hard to find  detailed local content. It’s difficult to find real meaningful, thoughtful content.  Mobile devices are not geared for reading profound and thoughtful knowledge. It’s a Buzzfeed, quick bullet-point, mobile world.

And this has to have some “interesting” effects.

It feels in the new mobile world (which is now global) “new” very suddenly, almost wipes out anything “older.” And sometimes I wonder if  people now look at historic homes with the mindset, as something to be replaced, like an old version of an iphone.

If this is remotely true, and the previous post about HGTV and Newburyport losing its patina, is remotely true, historic preservationist need to rethink their approach. They need to adapt.

This is from Bernice Radle  (now part of HGTV), a preservationist in Buffalo, NY.

“Few people understand the changing nature of preservation, because our reactionary language looks backward and is architecture-centric. We’ve too often allowed ourselves to be framed by others as nostalgic – seeking to return to the past because we can’t cope with the reality of life today.”

There are so many people scrambling to preserve not only Newburyport’s historic homes, but Newburyport’s story as well. And I think for so many people, Newburyport’s story feels as if it’s being lost, it is slipping away, and they are puzzled and sometimes slightly panicked about what to do.