Monthly Archives: July 2008

Yankee Homecoming Road Race

One of my favorite things about Yankee Homecoming in Newburyport, MA is the 10M and 5K Road Race, which is tonight, Tuesday July 29, 2008, starting at 6:25 PM at the Newburyport High School.

(The race is great provided that you are not trying to get out or into Newburyport during the time of the race, don’t have a must get to appointment in Newburyport, or have gone into labor.)

All the traffic is cleared from the course, the streets are quiet and filled with excitement. The neighbors come out of their houses, and folks get to see each other and chat.

And the first runners that come are so graceful and so beautiful and make running look so effortless. Every year they take my breath away.

Every runner, for me, is heroic. And I am so proud of all of them. And the crowds cheer for everyone.

And one of the things that I like the best, is that often the very last runner gets the biggest cheers of all. So many of us can relate to wanting to have the shear gumption and drive and courage to run the race, and would be proud to finish anywhere at all, including dead last.

Historic Preservation and New England Churches

Having thought so much about the historic preservation of Newburyport, MA, our small, seacoast New England city, I’ve always thought about residential and commercial architecture. I guess I’ve always taken the picturesque New England churches that populate Newburyport, MA and our surrounding communities and states, for granted.

Maybe this needs some rethinking.

After all in Newburyport one of our downtown churches is now a restaurant. The French Church (Federal Street) was made “recently” into condominiums (see previous posts).

There is a small church on Purchase Street that was made into a one family home, a long time ago. Over the years it has acquired decks overlooking the mouth of the Merrimac River and the Atlantic Ocean, and various beautiful gardens. I no longer think of it as a church that has had a “readaptive reuse,” but as a very interesting looking one family home.

I’ve stopped thinking of the “church” downtown near Newburyport City Hall, that has been made into a restaurant, as a “church.” I think of it now as a restaurant that is also an interesting piece of architecture. It has a different sort of “soul” now.

As the congregations of our New England churches dwindle (see previous posts) and small congregations are left with large historic structures to maintain, my guess is that 10 years from now, the iconic structures that are often taken for granted–many of them may be no more or have “readaptive reuse.” And somehow that would subtly or not so subtly change the “soul” of Newburyport and other New England cities and towns.

This weekend when I was at the Greek Orthodox Church on Harris Street (they have unbelievably wonderful homemade Greek food at a 3 day Greek food festival at the start of Newburyport’s Yankee Homecoming) in Newburyport, I found out a very interesting piece of information that I never knew before.

I remember it well, on August 7, 1983 the old Greek Orthodox Church had the most horrendous fire. It was heartbreaking. But the congregation rallied, and the new church was built.

But the old church was originally built by the 2nd Presbyterian Society of Newburyport in 1796. The Church bell (which survived the fire of 1983) was a gift of “Timothy Dexter, Esquire.” The old church was sold at auction in 1924 and acquired for the price of $6,500 by the Greek Community.

Weathervane Thefts

One of the things that has concerned a lot of folks, in Newbury and Newburyport, MA, is the rumored removal of the weathervane on the top of First Parish Church in Newbury (the beautiful New England Church right across the border from Newburyport on Rt. 1A–see previous post).

Yes, that particular rumor is true. My friends at First Parish tell me, the weathervane did indeed come down. And if it could be worth the kind of money I might imagine it could be, my response would be, “For goodness sakes do not put it back up there. Sell it at auction, it could receive an unbelievable amount of money, and put up a replica instead.”

Why, someone could ask.

Weathervanes, if real, can be unbelievably valuable, and have been stolen from the tops of New England churches and barns for years. I kid you not.

“That is what happened to a weather vane depicting the archangel Gabriel that was stolen in 2003 from White Church in Crown Point, N.Y. It was taken to Fred Giampietro, a folk art dealer in New Haven, who recognized it at once. The theft is being investigated.” From a story in the New York Times, by the Associated Press, August 2007.

“It is ”deceptively simple” to steal vanes, said Samuel Pennington, publisher of The Maine Antique Digest. Vanes turn on a spindle and need only to be lifted inches to remove them..” From another story in the New York Times, July 1988.

“Sometimes the thieves’ ingenuity has been almost as quaint as their plunder. It has been reported that in several cases they hired helicopters to pluck their booty..” from a story in Time Magazine, December 1970.

This has obviously been something that’s been going on for some time. In fact in my brief Googling, I found a reference to it by Homer Simpson (yes, really) and a book on the premise by the Hardy Boys (I kid you not again).

The sale of the First Parish Church weathervane at auction could help keep the church open for another few years, as they continue their struggle to keep spiritually alive.

In the meantime, it would be great if the church could put a preservation restriction on the building, the way Old South Church did in Newburyport, MA. It would also be great, not only if the community rallied round to help preserve this iconic piece of architecture, but also for the church to put the community’s mind at rest, that in the name of “going green,” the historic integrity of this historic landmark would not be compromised.

New England Churches Endangered

One only has to follow the trials and tribulations of Old South Church here in Newburyport, MA, to know that the historic structures of our beautiful New England churches could often be in mucho trouble.

And making the rounds of the rumor mill is that First Parish Church in Newbury, the one just over the border on Rt. 1A, is slated for a gut job, in the name of “going green,” in an attempt to stay spiritually alive.

Disclaimer: First Parish Church was my church for over 15 years (I was the Sunday School Superintendent, among other things, good grief!).

Because I still have very good friends at First Parish Church, I thought I would make a few phone calls and find out what the heck is going on.

So I did.

No news to anyone who has been vaguely involved in any New England church. Except for an occasional church here and there, the congregations of churches would be dwindling fast, and the maintenance of these historic buildings cost an amazing amount of money.

The church is not going to be gutted, or “sell all the old materials of the old church to restoration carpenters and rebuild a green smaller church on top of the existing basement” (First Parish Church Newsletter, July 2008).

Desperate enough to contemplate such an idea, but after talking to trusted friends, no, not going to happen.

However, it is this blogger’s opinion that this church, with all its history, needs to go on “Endangered Property” lists everywhere, in Massachusetts and Nationally.

So preservationists out there, if you care about New England icons, such as this gorgeous building, good grief, contact First Parish Church and help them submit the building to be put on the Preservation Massachusetts 10 Most Endangered Resource List, as an example of what would be happening to historic churches everywhere in New England. Much easier to write grants after such a designation could be given.

There are churches all over the place (the French Church on Federal Street readily comes to mind), that have been made into condominiums, and the property that goes along with it, often gets developed (often in sensitive ways, such as the Federal Street Overlay).

If that’s not something you want to see happen to this particularly historic icon, call and offer to help. Historic preservationists this is an SOS.

Activists Then and Now

Having written about Jim Roy’s activism in the community over decades, and taking a look at what SEED is doing (see previous post) and even thinking about my own activism, I had several thoughts.

It’s possible what we could be seeing in successful activism, a “new breed” of activists that no longer see themselves as “outside” the community, nor do they see themselves as “victims.”

One could see this with the Newburyport Preservation Trust (NPT) as well. The NPT is working with the Newburyport Chamber of Commerce, and it is also working with the City of Newburyport itself.

The emphasis is not that preservation is a victim of developers, but the emphasis would be that historic preservation would be vital to the local economy.

When we fought MassHighway in 1999, the emphasis was that our small New England city would be a victim of thoughtless bureaucracy.

When Al Decie and CEB fought for the Access Road (among many other things, see previous post), the folks fighting for the environment could be cast as victims of local business and politicians. And local business, it seems, could often complain of being “victimized” by CEB. Lots of drama.

In contrast, SEED has worked with the Newburyport Chamber of Commerce and has been embraced by the City of Newburyport, MA. They are seen as “non-political.”


Even recently, in the fight for the Override for our schools, last spring, the folks who were fighting for the school system, could be perceived by many as angry “victims,” who in turn could be “victimizing” other folks with their “demands.” And it appeared to not “sit pretty.”

The approach by SEED and the Newburyport Preservation Trust seems to be working. And they appear to be “unifying” instead of “divisive,” activists who are “non-activists,” who are “non-political.”

Activism without the appearance of “blame.” Activism without the appearance of “shame.” Activism without the appearance of a “guilt trip.”

Definitely a new possible prototype.

And it could have something to do with the time of Newburyport, MA. We seem to be through most of the transition (see previous post) from a blue collar, working class town, to a upper, upper-middle class destination, and there doesn’t appear to be as much tension (whether it would be good or bad) that once existed in Newburyport, MA.

Political Journals, Time and Place

When Tom Ryan came to town and started his local political journal in 1996, Newburyport, MA was somewhere between “at the beginning” and “in the middle” of a very interesting transition. A transition from a working class, blue collar town, to a professional, upper to upper middleclass destination.

Newburyport had literally rebuilt its downtown from destitution, and that renaissance had begun to spread gradually to the rest of the city. In 20/20 it was almost certain that it would become the desirable place to live, work, visit and play, that it is today.

Lisa Mead, a then Newburyport City Councilor, an intelligent, strong, interesting, young woman, became mayor, and started (consciously or unconsciously, probably a little bit of both) to move the city from its blue collar sensibility.

And folks didn’t like that, and there were some very strong and colorful characters who resisted Mayor Mead with vigor.

Tom Ryan, really and truly, had some real life drama to write about. He not only created a “niche” for himself and the Undertoad, but he was in the right place at the right time, with a gift for chronically a story, in a compelling way, that was gradually unfolding.

Not only did Tom Ryan have the talent for telling dramatic stories of Newburyport’s “heroes” and “villains” (see previous post), but he also had some real interesting folks and times to write about.

The dramatic internal struggles and power-plays that Tom Ryan wrote about in earlier years, seem to me, to be pretty much mitigated. A lot of the very colorful characters, might now occasionally, verging on never, make a “guest appearance.”

It seems to me (and I could definitely be wrong here) that this could make it more difficult for local journals (and blogs) to engage folks in the story and the issues of our small New England seaport city.

And, ironically, for me, Jim Roy, the editor of the latest political journal, The Newburyport Liberator, could be one of the most colorful characters in town.

Local Political Journals

In the previous post I talked about Jim Roy and his new journal, The Newburyport Liberator, which hopes to engage people in issues in Newburyport, MA.

The Newburyport Liberator definitely follows, in almost everyone’s opinion, including Jim Roy’s, in the footsteps of Tom Ryan’s political journal of 11 years, The Undertoad.

The Undertoad talked about issues, certainly. It also talked about people. And Tom Ryan had a knack for creating very entertaining drama, “heroes” and “villains,” twice a month, out of, let’s face it, for the most part, pretty ordinary folks and pretty mundane lives.

Our little seacoast town, every two weeks, was the subject of compelling drama. Joe or Josephina citizen of Newburyport, MA, could be elevated to a “hero” or a “villain,” or an accomplice to one or the other. It was riveting stuff. People bought it, because, who knew, “villainy” or “heroism” might befall or enfold about the person you might be talking to over grapes at your local grocery store.

The ordinary folks of Newburyport, MA, became “important,” frequently way larger than real life.

Often it was like reading a local tabloid, all about Newburyport, MA. And in between all that drama, Mr. Ryan also talked about issues. In between reading about the “good guys and the “bad guys,” one also learned about how government was run, who was on the city boards, who was your Newburyport City Councilor, what were the compelling issues that the people of Newburyport were fighting for. It was the stuff that one might have read, or glanced at or yawned about or ignored in one’s local print media.

Do folks pay attention about who is on a local city board or committee when it is reported in our local print media? Rarely.

But if those same people were mentioned in the Undertoad, “villains” or “heroes,” folks were engaged. They remembered those ordinary folks, because they remembered the story that could be enfolding about or around them.

The stories of ordinary folks, raised to high drama, were the hook that got people interested in reading about the issues that affected their lives.

The caveat was that folks didn’t mind being the “hero.” But they sure didn’t like it if they, or their friends or loved ones, actually became the “villain.”

Activism, Issues, Jim Roy

Jim Roy has been a long time activist in Newburyport, MA.

As folks, who are activists would know, there are lots of folks who have lots and lots of ideas, and most folks last for a couple of hours, maybe a few days, possibly a couple of weeks, on projects of varying importance.

There are very few people who actually would be willing to do the work, and actually do the work, which, in my experience, almost always turns into a fulltime job, often to 2 full time jobs, that often lasts for years (sometimes decades).

And as many activists have found out, after the initial enthusiasm has worn off, the activist project often ends up on the shoulders of one person, who cares passionately. Occasionally, there might be 2 people.

Over the decades, Jim Roy has been one of those few activists in Newburyport, MA who do the work, and who have consistently done the work, who “walk the walk” as well as “talk the talk.”

Jim Roy has been passionate about having an open waterfront in Newburyport, MA for decades. For decades he has worked on all sorts of committees to try and solve the traffic and parking problems in Newburyport, MA. He helped Frank Schaeffer find a solution to the hideous, looming, towers that were going to be built across the Merrimac River.

He was one of the people who stepped up to the plate for the fight to save High Street. Historic preservation has been one of his passions as well. There are many projects that Jim Roy has worked on behind the scenes, that no one knows about.

We as a city owe a lot to Jim Roy.

Jim Roy cares about the issues. Unfortunately, in our “Paris Hilton world,” people’s attention spans are short, and it is my experience that most folks don’t care about issues unless they directly affect them.

The fact that Jim Roy still has the stamina and determination to keep on fighting for what he believes in, is, in this blogger’s opinion, quite something.

Jim has started a journal in the hopes of engaging people in the issues that face Newburyport, MA.

It remains to be seen whether he would be able to entice folks to think about what the issues are, or whether, in our “Paris Hilton world,” people’s attention spans could be too short, and they might not be interested in the issues at hand, because the issues at hand might not apply directly to their lives.

The Newburyport Liberator can be bought at Richdales in downtown Newburyport, MA (that’s the one place so far that I have found it).

Hot New England Days

Early in the morning I can tell how hot it might be by the color of my neighbor’s white house.

Disclaimer: An artist–I notice subtleties of color.

If the color is bluish, it most probably would be what my Mother would have called a “Blue Bird Day.” One of those clear, gorgeous, New England days, cloudless always in the morning, with sometimes puffy clouds accumulating in the afternoon.

If the color is a combination of “yellow” and “purple,” the day almost always seems to be what some New Englanders might call a “scach’a” or a scorching hot day. Muggy and hot.

Early this morning, yup, my neighbor’s house was a combination of “yellow” and “magenta (purple)” and yup, today is a scorcher.

Up early, early, early to enjoy the “cool of the day.”

I don’t like scorchers much, but I find that they prepare me for winter. By the end of August, I’m ready for those muggy days to end, and relish the cool days ahead.

But then, by January, if it’s a bad, bad winter, I’m complaining bitterly and putting up photos of snow.

So I’m going to put up a picture of snow, and slippery ice, and a grey freezing day now, so that I’ll appreciate the scorcher that is today.

Yucky picture of snow to remind me how much I actually enjoy green, lush, hot summer days.

Hot summer day.

Ghost Town

It felt like a ghost town to me in Newburyport, MA over the 4th of July weekend. (And this is from a blogger who was “remarking” that it was “tourist season.” Does she stand corrected? Good grief.)

I asked someone else if they thought that could be true, and they said that they thought that it felt like that all over.


I went downtown on the 4th of July in the afternoon. I went into one of the shops to say, “Hello,” and the shopkeeper came outside, because no one was in the shop at all, to look around town to see if other people might be having the same experience as they were.

After barely waiting for an ice cream cone, I had a choice of 3 empty benches in the shade on Market Square, in the middle of the afternoon. I told my friend this, and the reply was, “3 benches? Empty? That never happens.”

And usually, if I would be coming from the South End of Newburyport, MA, on a holiday weekend, traffic would be backed up on High Street by the State and High Street light, and it usually could take 3 lights to get through.

Not this weekend for moi. No problemo.

My friend speculated that it could be the price of gasoline, and prices in general. Homemade picnics rather than eating out. Last years clothes, rather than a happy summer spending spree. People staying put, rather than riding around and using gasoline.

I have been acclimated to the “tourist crunch.” In fact complaining about tourists is often seen as a secret, or not so secret Newburyport past time, or guilty pleasure.

I’m not use to all that “quiet” in Newburyport, MA on a major holiday weekend. Wow.

Newspapers in Trouble

Newspapers are in trouble, for all sorts of reasons, from cable news to the World Wide Web, other stuff, multi-determined, not exactly new news.

I was reminded of this yet again by my friend Frank Schaeffer’s piece on the Huffington Post on the very same subject.

Newspapers are caught in the middle between the old form of print and, trying to persuade their advertisers to pay the same price for advertising on the World Wide Web.

I happen to read almost all my news online now, because I figure I’m saving a whole lot of trees. My small contribution to going “green.” I got a Sunday paper and felt as if I had felled a forest. No forests felled by reading stuff on my computer.

As Frank Schaeffer points out, the World Wide Web is instant news.

For example I waited for the Newburyport Daily News to report today that, from what I understand, our mayor and the Newburyport City Council got “served” by the landfill owner. Huge story. Huge, huge story. Not in today’s Daily News, that I can find. So if you might not have heard about that possibility, you have now.

And Tom Salemi did an excellent job in writing up in almost real time, the fact that yes, whew, a miracle happened, the Newburyport City Council voted “Yes” to designated a site for the Senior Center at Cushing Park. If you haven’t read it, read it here. And Gillian Swart was on the case too. Good go’n.

And the fact that we are losing newspapers, and newspapers are cutting back like mad, is, at least in the short run, for me, real bad news. Because there is less and less really hard journalism going on. All of this is discussed earlier on the Newburyport Blog, in particular in regards to Bill Moyers’ amazing speech on the subject.

Frank Schaeffer is always fun to read, and I’m glad he’s switched over to the Huffington Post.


A couple of Sunday’s ago after one of the spectacular thunderstorms and downpours that we’ve been having lately, I drove up State Street (for those who do not live in Newburyport, State Street is the main street of our small, historic, seaport city) after the sun had set, and it was dark, downtown Newburyport glistened, as if it had just had just been washed, had had a shower from the gods.

And I thought to myself, as I looked at it as it sparkled, “And it isn’t even black ice, thank goodness.”

And I felt very grateful to live in this beautiful place.

I’ll admit, after been hit by lightening (while in a car) in a downpour, during a flash flood, while driving through Des Moines, Iowa, I’m slightly thunderstorm phobic. (What was I doing driving in a flash flood in Des Moines, Iowa? I was very young, and frankly, let’s admit it, not too bright.)

But lately, I’ve found that the thunderstorms, that we seem to be having on an almost regular basis this summer, remind me more of the summer thunderstorms when I was very young. Curled up inside, safe and warm with friends, listening to the thunder roll. Much better than flashbacks to flash floods.