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.

Are Historic Homes in Newburyport Obsolete?

Rotary Phone

Rotary Phone

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newburyport, The Stretch Code and Historic Preservation

Rennovation on Lime Street, September 2015

Rennovation on Lime Street, September 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rennovation on Lime Street, September 2015

Rennovation on Lime Street, September 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Newburyport is Losing its Patina, and Historic Preservation

Lime Street development

Lime Street development

Definition of Patina:

“A surface appearance of something grown beautiful especially with age or use.” Merriam-Webster

If you ever watch anything on TV that has to do with old stuff, from the tonier PBS “Antiques Road Show,” to “Pawn Stars” on the History Channel, something old would be brought in, and if it has been refinished, and the original finish has been removed, whether it’s an old gun, a coin or an old piece of furniture, the value of that piece, whatever it might be, would be greatly, greatly diminished.

When I moved here over 30 years ago, Newburyport had a whole lot of soul and patina. I loved walking down the street and feel the stories behind the homes that I would walk past.

That “patina” in Newburyport is going.  And because The Newburyport Blog was started in part to help fight for that, “patina,” I’ve done a lot of thinking about “why.”

And that brings me to the renovation on Lime and Prospect Street being done by a long time resident and lover of historic houses, Gus. And that renovation has gotten people’s panties in a twist (vast understatement).

Lime Street development

Lime Street development

And this time, instead of being horrified by a “take it down to the studs, gut, reno job,”   I’ve asked myself, Ok, if Gus, the owner and “developer,” who loves historic houses, is going this route, what does it say about us in Newburyport, and us as a society.

1) Lead paint laws
When I used to walk into an old house in Newburyport and see the layers of paint, I’d think, “patina.” Now if I see layers of paint I think, “lawsuit.”  The lead paint laws have done a whole lot to hamper historic preservation everywhere.

2) Newburyport has become a wealthy community, and people expect specific things when buying a house.

Yup, that is my thought. HGTV has done a whole lot to influence about what people think they want when they buy a house. And now that Newburyport is upscale, folks expect certain things.
a) Walk in closets.
b) Spa bathrooms.
c) En Suite bathroom
d) Open concept
e) Large kitchens with an island
f) Gas fireplace with a place for a large flatscreen TV over it.

Even 10 years ago, were any of these things a “must have” for your average buyer? Very wealthy people, maybe (Ok, flatscreen TVs didn’t exist even back then), but your average person, 10-15 years ago, I don’t think those things were on their “must have” list.

How we got to that “must have list,” is a whole other post or series of posts, or mulled over in all sorts of books (written by people other than me). But when a house is “developed” all those things, lead paint and the HGTV list come into play.  Not to mention people no longer tolerated drafty houses (they want to be warm in the winter and cool in the summer time, “green stuff,” they would like to save on their heating and cooling bills), and have a hard time with windows that don’t easily go up and down.

Is Newburyport losing its historic character because of the lead paint laws, how people want to live today, the influence of HGTV and the fact that we are now a wealthy community? Alex Dardinski makes a great contribution to that question, when he remarked, “I don’t want to live in Williamsburg, but in a tapestry of history rather than a single place in time,” in a reply to this post on The Newburyport Blog’s Facebook page.  And I was so impressed with his thoughtful observations, that I put his whole response up on The Newburyport Blog as a separate post.

The Newburyport Marsh and Paintings by Martin Johnson Heade

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Martin Johnson Heade Sunset Over the Marshes, 1890-1904

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

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


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

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

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


 Newburyport Meadows, ca. 1876–1881 Martin Johnson Heade

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postcard, Newburyport clam shanties with trolley

Newburyport clam shanties with trolley, press image to enlarge.

Newburyport clam shanties with trolley, press image to enlarge.


Newburyport’s 40R Smart Growth, Trying to Bring Back Rental Units to the City, and the Data from 1989 to 2010 of the Rising Income Gap

Income percentages in Newburyport from 1989-2010 from the City of Newburyport's website

Income percentages in Newburyport from 1989-2010 from the City of Newburyport’s website

It is really hard to find a place to rent in Newburyport these days. If you go to Zillow and look for rentals in Newburyport, it’s very depressing.  That is why the city is so hopeful about the proposed 40R, which is a real effort to bring back rental units back to Newburyport.

Here is a document from the city that articulates with data the gentrification that has taken place since Urban Renewal, especially interesting is the “Income Distribution by Household, 1989 to 2010″ on page 20 (an image of the table is in this post), that document can be read here.

In 1989 the largest percentage of income was $10,000-24,999. In 2010 the largest percentage is $150,000+, and that is in 2010, when we were still in the “great recession,” and I would think in 2015 that percentage would be much, much greater now.

And here is Jerry Mullins’, over at Brick and Tree, worst fears about what would happen to the proposed 40R. That post can be read here.

And here is a link to the discussion on The Newburyport Blog’s Facebook page, it can be read here.

Previous post on the proposed 40R District can be found here.

Here are some more table from the City of Newburyport’s report “Income Distribution by Household, 1989 to 2010.”


Renters and Owners

Housing values

Housing values

Rental costs

Rental costs

And here is a map of the proposed 40R Smart Growth District.

A map of Newburyport's proposed 40R District.

A map of Newburyport’s proposed 40R District.

Street Art, Newburyport

It all started with this beautiful drawing left on my driveway on Easter.

Drawing left on my driveway on Easter day

Drawing left on my driveway on Easter day

It made my day. And it was done by my very lovely young neighbor, Lily.

Lily, came back and did a whole lot more gorgeous street art. I originally thought of her as my very own graffiti artist, but thinking about it, “street artist” seems so much more appropriate.

Lily, making the neighborhood beautiful

Lily, making the neighborhood beautiful with street art

And Lily started a trend. Five more young street artist showed up with their baskets and boxes of chalk, and started decorating our street. Grace, Ella, Brooke, Collin and Roan joined Lily.

Ella, working hard making the neighborhood beautiful with street art

Ella, working hard making the neighborhood beautiful with street art

It almost made me think that our neighborhood could be in the process of getting it’s very own “pop-up” park. How lucky are we!! (A very fun non-professional video on pop-up parks can be seen here.)

Drawing by Roan

Drawing by Roan

Drawing by Lily

Drawing by Lily

Newburyport, a Romantic City and the Proposed 40R District

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

State Street, Newburyport, courtesy of Wikipedia

State Street, Newburyport, courtesy of Wikipedia

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

Health Professionals Alarmed about Removing Fluoride from Newburyport’s Water System


I had someone in the medical field call me up last night and they were besides themselves about the possibility of taking fluoride out of Newburyport’s water system, because of what it would do to the health and welfare of our children and residents.

What I told them that it is really, really important for all the pediatricians, family doctors, internists, general practitioners, and yes, even all specialists in Newburyport and the surrounding areas, to speak up ASAP and contact everyone of our Newburyport city councilors. Apparently, dentists no longer count as doctors who have a valid opinion (which is that fluoride is essential to dental health) because they have been marginalized by the anti-fluoride folks for looking out for their own self interest, and being (I’m not kidding here) in the pockets of the chemical companies.

Our doctors have incredibly busy lives (and this is a vast understatement, and who knows if they can take the time to be proactive).  And this is only my opinion, but I am mystified that Daniel Enyink of Dr. Dan’s Natural Healing Center has the time, not only to aid in the mobilization of anti-fluoride folks in Newburyport (see earlier post), but to give testimony at other communities as well. I know how busy my doctors are.

I have read Enyink’s testimony in the minutes of other communities, and it is very convincing, but again this is my opinion, as one local health professional said to me it is “irresponsible,” and in my opinion, just plain old crazy.

An article by Dr. John Colquhoun (now deceased), written in 1997, is one of the pieces of literature that the anti-fluoride folks point to.

There was a response written in 1999 in Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, by Dr. Ernest Newbrun and Dr. Herschel Horowitz, a short excerpt is below, and the whole article can be read here.

…”Colquhoun presented no new data. His paper rehashed earlier criticisms of water fluoridation, using selective and highly biased citations of the scientific and nonscientific literature [2-10]”…

…”Opponents of fluoridation like nothing more than to have public debates on the radio, television, or in the press because it makes fluoridation seem a “controversial ” issue and gives them free publicity. In such debates with an equal number of speakers pro and contra, it appears as if the health science community is evenly divided on this issue. In fact, the overwhelming majority, probably well over 90%, of scientists, physicians, dentists, nurses, veterinarians and public health professionals fully support community water fluoridation.”

Again, the entire article which address the issue of how dangerous and crazy it would be to take fluoride out of Newburyport’s drinking water can be read here.

And as a PS, I never knew I would end up thinking about, much less researching and knowing as much as I now know about fluoride. Who knew? Who would have ever imagined?

The First Draft of the 40R District around the Train Station

I’ve seen the first draft of the new 40R Smart Growth District around the train station.

The proposed 40R District (see previous post) would allow for mixed use buildings near the train station, traffic circle, parts of Rt 1 and the area on lower State Street between Lunt and Kelly and the edge of the cemetery. There is a new updated map (see below), the larger area subdistrict B is zoned for 4 story buildings (45 ft), Subdistricts A and C is zoned for 3 story building (35 ft), and the Minco building would be zoned for 5 stories (55 ft).


Four story buildings in Portland Maine, please press image to enlarge.

And I’ve gone on a hunt for some good looking 4 story buildings. I have found only one photo that is in the public domain, it is in Portland Maine.

I’m a little confused about Google’s copyright laws, and WordPress does not allow me to embed Google’s images, so what I’ve done is put links to 4 story buildings in Portland ME, Providence RI and Haverhill MA. Haverhill has, on Washington Street, what I think is a gorgeous, but rundown historic section of 4 story building. I love them.

And when you press on the links for the different cities, you can go on a “Google drive” through the areas and see what you thinks works and what does not work. Interesting stuff. Also, the buildings take a few seconds to show up after you press the links.

Portland Maine’s links can he found here, here, here, here and here.
Providence Rhode Island’s links can be found here, here and here.
Haverhill Mass links can be found here, here and here.


Updated 40R Smart Growth Village District map, please press image to enlarge.

In looking at the initial 40R draft (this is just the beginning of a large process that the city will go through) a couple of things stand out.

1) The design review is outstanding. Yah!! I hope that means that the Minco building will be forced to look awesome.

2) There is extensive input into the affordable housing aspect of the district (I’m sure the affordable housing folks with Phd’s in the subject, will have lots of input). It looked great to me.

3) Parking seems a little “skimpy” to me. A residential unit only gets one parking spot. But there is “shared parking,” with businesses and residents, which use parking at different times during the day and week, the objective being not to have lots of wasted, barren parking lots. There are so many people in this city who have Phd’s in parking, and I am not one of them. I am hoping, and pretty sure that they would figure out the “Goldilocks” version of parking, “not too much, not too little, but just right.”

4) The setbacks of the buildings are puzzling to me. There are “no requirements” on setbacks on front, side and rear yards. The way it was explained to me is that there would be no requirements for setbacks for mid-block buildings, but it might be a good idea to look at the setback requirements for intersections (and there seem to me to be a whole lot of intersections). At this point, we do not have close-up renderings of what buildings would look like in different areas of the proposed 40R District.

This is one of my main questions. I can’t imagine 4 story building around the traffic circle where Dunkin’ Donuts is and where the Bird Watcher is located. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to live on that dangerous and noisy area, and being so close to a busy traffic circle. Renderings are definitely needed.

5) Not in the 1st draft, but backup information that would be arriving in the coming weeks that would include:

(1) estimated maximum dwelling units
(2) expected sewer flows (and how to pay for them)
(3) expected traffic impacts
(4) renderings/photo-simulations of new buildings
(5) expected impacts on schools
(6) expected c. 40R and c. 40S payments from the Commonwealth
(7) expected property tax revenues

Newburyport’s 40R District around the Train Station

Newburyport is beginning the process of thinking about rezoning the area around the train station, so that there can be a mix of residential units and businesses. This is called a 40R Smart Growth District. This is nothing new, the city has been talking about this since 2004.

“Chapter 40R, encourages communities to create dense residential or mixed-use smart growth zoning districts, including a high percentage of affordable housing units, to be located near transit stations, in areas of concentrated development such as existing city and town centers, and in other highly suitable locations.”

Here is a 2015 map of the proposed 40R District. It includes the area around Lunt and Kelly, where Dunkin’ Donuts is around the traffic circle, it goes up Rt 1 by Haley’s Ice Cream and includes the proposed building by Minco at the train station.


The 2015 map of the proposed 40R District (press image to enlarge)

Here are the 2 conceptual drawing that were done in 2004 by the Planning Office. The view is from Parker Street coming from Newbury. The first rendering is the way it looks now, the second rendering, done in 2004 (we don’t have an update yet) is what the proposed 40R District might look like. It’s a little confusing, but if you download the two renderings and put them side by side it becomes a little clearer.

Strategic Land Use Plan-small

The 2004 rendering of how the area looks now (press image to enlarge)

Strategic Land Use Plan2-small

The 2004 rendering of what the 40R District could look like (press image to enlarge).

At the moment there is a certain “rush” to get this 40R District going, because Minco would like to build at the train station (this is nothing new, it has been going on for a while) and has a deadline (which may or may not be flexible). And the city gets money for a 40R District (we always need money).

BUT, I think that it is very important to ask hard questions during this process, and be sure to think things through.

So here are a few of my “hard” questions and concerns and reservations.

1) The Minco design at the train station has to look great. At the moment I haven’t talked to anyone who thinks that it is in anyway acceptable.

2) There needs to be a “design review” for that area. This gateway to the city can’t look awful.

3) Traffic. The maximum buildout, when last I heard was 800 units. Folks that I’ve talked to think that it would be a lot less, more like 500 units. We don’t know the exact numbers yet, but even 400-500 units is a lot.

The 2004 rendering of what the area would look like, seems idyllic to me. There are no cars. If that area were to be built out, at rush hour it would be a complete nightmare.

4) Pedestrian traffic. Even with the rail trail, there is no way to safely and or practically cross either the traffic circle or Route 1 to get downtown, even at the crossing at Rt1 at what is called “Back Bay.” People want to get from the area on foot and they want, and do try to get to State Street, which is insanely dangerous. I think at one point there was an idea for a pedestrian bridge, but, oh my, that would cost so much money.

5) I still can’t envision anyone wanting to live up along Rt1, even with the rail trail there. The view is butt ugly, with Rt1 on onside and a view of the Industrial Park on the other.

6) I also can’t imagine anyone wanting to live around the traffic circle, especially where Dunkin’ Donuts is located. The view towards Newbury as it is now, is lovely. However, I would think living next to a dangerous traffic circle would be unappealing, and figuring out a way to walk from there, much less having a denser number of people trying to exit at that location by car, raises the question of safety to me.

7) The area on State Street.  The intersection where the Court House, Parker Street, State Street and the Traffic Circle intersect is wicked dangerous. I’ve seen really bad accidents there. If that area becomes densely populated, that intersection becomes even more dangerous. And I don’t like the prospect of getting MassDOT involved–Salisbury Square is a cautionary tale for everyone, of what never to do, and of how MassDOT can really mess up an area.

So, I totally get building at the train station if it is done well. And I have a lot of questions about building in the other proposed areas. And I hope, that through this process we don’t ram this through because of Minco’s deadline, and the fact that we would like the money from the state.

Leading–the Best and the Worst of the Legislative Process, Newburyport 2014


This year, 2014, it is my opinion that Newburyport saw the best and the worst examples of the legislative process in the Newburyport City Council


The best was the attempt to preserve Newburyport’s historic assets.

The process had its origins in Newburyport’s raucous and rancorous LHD debate (see endless posts). The two sides as I now look back:

1) Preserving Newburyport’s historic assets through regulations governed by a particular commission.
2) A concern about the control of that commission, and a distrust of commissions like it in other communities.

I ended up thinking that both were valid points of view.

And then Newburyport City Councilor Katy Ives spent a good year and a half listening to all and sundry and came up with an incredible win-win solution.

1) The properties before 1930 in Newburyport’s Historic District could not be demolished.
2) Newburyport’s commercial downtown, our “brand,” needed to be preserved.

Katy Ives got elected to the Massachusetts State Senate, and the compromise by Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives died. Poof.

That is until Jared Eigerman got elected as Ward 2’s City Councilor. And Councilor Eigerman met with the “Yes LHD” folks, the “No LHD” folks, hardcore preservationists, and hardcore property rights folks. It was made clear that no one was going to get everything they wanted, and that an ordinance would be presented that was possible in the existing political climate. It was basically what Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives had proposed a year and a half before.

People may have not liked all of it, but it passed unanimously with an 11-0 vote.

And people, whether they liked all of it or not, did not:

1) Feel ignored
2) Feel invisible
3) Feel as if their insights were insignificant

People felt that a decision had been made that took into account a wide variety of feelings and thoughts about the issue.

The result = a whiff, or slightly more than a whiff, of trust and hope.


The worst legislative process in 2014 by the Newburyport City Council in my opinion was the Plastic Bag Ban.

For me this was the most frustrating and appalling legislative process that I have been involved in. During that process, all kinds of very productive points of view and ideas were presented. They were swept under the rug.

As a result people:

1) Felt ignored
2) Felt invisible
3) Felt as if their insights were insignificant

People felt that a decision had been made that did not take into account a wide variety of feelings and thoughts about the issue.

The measure passed with a split vote of 6-5 with 2 of the City Councilors who voted for the measure, expressing doubt and reservation on the Council floor.

The result = a huge lack of trust, a festering sore and lingering resentment, and discouragement (the opposite of hope) in a process that did not reflect the larger representation of the citizens of Newburyport.

Newburyport, Market Basket and Artie T are Back!!

Market Basket Associates excited to be back

Newburyport Market Basket Associates excited to be back

What an emotional roller coaster this has been. I have put up photos of the associates at Newburyport’s Market Basket as they have been triumphantly boycotting the store (along with Newburyport area customers), but I didn’t put up any photos of the times that I checked on them, when things seemed bleak, and there spirits struggled.

But this morning, the associates were elated that their boss, Artie T and his entire management team, including the 8 who were fired, are back.


Market Basket sign inside window

And I listened to Arthur T. Demoulas’s talk to the associates this morning. It was incredibly moving, and I cannot imagine too many CEOs in this country saying anything like what he said today. Here are some quotes from the speech.

“It is not about a “Greek Tragedy,” it is about justice, and a moral compass that unites the human soul.”

“Everyone has purpose, everyone has meaning, but no one person is better or more important than another.”

“No one person holds the position of privilege, whether it’s a full timer, a part timer, a stacker or a cashier, or a grocery clerk, or a truck driver, or a warehouse director, a store manager, a supervisor, a customer or a vendor, or a CEO, we are all equal.”

“You, associates, customers, vendors, have taught professors and analysts that the workplace at Market Basket is so much more than a job.”

“Today is a day in modern history where people were put first and all the money in the world did not matter.”

I hope that this Market Basket revolution changes how places like Harvard Business School teach its students how to be CEOs–fairness, dignity and people first, money second. It sounds simple, but unfortunately in our culture, it is a truly revolutionary approach to being a CEO.

Market Basket sign inside window

Market Basket sign inside window

A video of Arthur T. Demoulas’s speech and triumphant return, courtesy of the Lowell Sun, can be seen here.

Newburyport, Market Basket, Update August 1, 2014

This morning, before I went to Shaw’s to go grocery shopping, I stopped by Market Basket to see how they were doing.

Empty Parking lot at Market Basket, Newburyport

Empty Parking lot at Market Basket, Newburyport

The parking lot was empty.

The employees at Market Basket are not afraid of the yesterday’s threat by the two new CEOs. They were out protesting again on Storey Avenue, and people were honking like mad in support–a practical symphony.

Employees protesting on Storey Ave, at Newburyport's Market Basket

Employees protesting on Storey Ave, at Newburyport’s Market Basket

There were signs all over Market Basket’s front windows.

Signs on Newburyport's Market Basket's front window

Signs on Newburyport’s Market Basket’s front window

And signs in front of the door.

Signs in front of Market Basket's door

Signs in front of Market Basket’s door

And the front window is now littered with receipts from other grocery stores, put there by customers.

And the front window is now littered with receipts from other stores from put up by customers.

The front window is now littered with receipts from other stores, put there by customers.

There is even a heartfelt letter from a customer taped to the window.

A heartfelt letter from a customer

A heartfelt letter from a customer

The parking lot at Shaw’s was jammed. And inside Shaw’s the aisles were full and there were lines at the checkout counters. Peoples’ carts were full. They were shopping there for the weekend.

And I talked to folks. I talked to one woman who said that she had been shopping at Market Basket since 1968, and she wouldn’t go back until Arthur T was once again in charge.

Customers continue their boycott of Market Basket and employees continue to protest (on their days off and on their breaks).

And again, as for the threat of a job fair, if people are working, who is going to go.

And you can see coverage on this story by MSNBC’s “All In with Chris Hayes” here.