Newburyport — Resiliency

Market Square, 1972 from the alley next to the Fire House.
Market Square, Newburyport, around 1972, before Urban Renewal, from the alley next to the Fire House. Courtesy of Sharon Bauer, via the Newburyport History Buffs.

It always takes my breath away when I see photos of Newburyport before Urban Renewal. This is a photo, courtesy of Sharon Bauer via the Newburyport History Buffs on Facebook, of Market Square before the restoration of downtown. It was a slum. It’s very fancy now, in fact the whole town is very fancy now, but it was a slum. Sharon has the date as 1972, but it may be even earlier than that.

I moved here in 1981, downtown Newburyport had been restored, but the rest of Newburyport surrounding the downtown had not been. I was in the late part of the first wave that “discovered” Newburyport, an historic small city, surrounded by farmland, that seemed to be preserved in amber. We were painters, writers, musicians, teachers who thought we had discovered an unfinished masterpiece.

I bought my first house, a gorgeous Greek Revival on Federal Street, for $74,000 and was upset because the folks who sold it had it for one year and had doubled their money.

By the time I had driven down High Street and had parked on Green Street in front of the real estate agency, I knew this was home. I didn’t even know about Plum Island until after I bought the house (now that was an amazing surprise/plus). The Tannery was still a tannery (David Hall had not yet transformed it) and Maudslay State Park did not exist. The natives looked at those of us who came in early with a whole lot of suspicion (the subject of many, many blog posts over the years on The Newburyport Blog).

One of the things I sensed about Newburyport, I knew absolutely nothing about the city, was its resiliency. And Urban Renewal was not the first time that Newburyport had risen like a phoenix from the ashes. As a young woman that sense of resiliency resinated with me, it still does.

And now, 36 years later, Newburyport is in a “boom” phase. A friend of mine said to me, many, many years ago, that Newburyport was headed up, but it’s history was one of ups and downs, and it would decline again.

As I said, we are fancy now, so fancy I can hardly remember the resilient aura. I loved the city back in 1981 and I’ve loved it as it has blossomed in unimaginable ways. Yes there feels as if part of it is lost (so many blog posts on The Newburyport Blog) but I love where I live 36 years later.

Inn Street, Newburyport MA
Inn Street, Newburyport MA


Local Elections — Not Voting with the Tribe

I would like to offer my congratulations to Mayor Holaday on winning the mayoral election and to all the Newburyport City Councilors, At-Large and Ward Councilors who won, and a big thank you to all who ran but did not win. Thank you all for stepping up, showing up, and caring so much about the community that we all love.

89-91 High Street, the Ridge, Newburyport, MA
89-91 High Street, the Ridge, Newburyport, MA, Courtesy of the Newburyport Archival Center

This local election was really interesting. I supported a candidate for mayor, an honorable man who has served this community with passion and commitment, not just as a Ward Councilor for 8 years, but in other capacities as well, and not our current mayor — it was quite an eye opener — I didn’t vote this year with “the Tribe.”

It appears to me that people were shocked that I and Ward 2 Councilor Jared Eigerman supported Bob Cronin and were vocal about why we were not supporting the current administration. I absolutely understood why people voted for Mayor Holaday, I certainly would never hold it against them, in fact I completely understand why they voted the way that they did, and I am pleased that they cared enough to show up and vote, to get out there and care about our local civics enough to canvas, put up signs, organize. This is Democracy, thank goodness, I thank them for their passion. Apathy is what I dislike the most, not civic engagement, good grief.

There were some lovely people whose response to my “weird choice” was, “We will agree to disagree,” God Bless them and “thank you.” The anger that I saw directed at Councilor Eigerman and at times myself seemed way out of proportion. He and I have agreed that it feels as if we are pariahs (Jared’s phrase) and have semi-officially created “The Pariah Club.” I had thought of calling it The Newburyport Pariah Club, but “The Pariah Club” seems to be the moniker that appears to be sticking. It’s a fairly exclusive club.

What I saw directed at Councilor Eigerman and myself were bizarre rumors and character assassinations. I had people thank me for having the courage to publicly support Bob Cronin. I had people apologize for their fellow citizens. I had people tell me I was nuts and that I should keep my sentiments to myself, they certainly were, and would never let anyone know who they were actually voting for.

I’ve written about this on The Newburyport Blog, over the years my father would shake his head and tell me I needed to learn how to “play the game.” I’m lousy at what my father used to call, “playing the game,” it’s just not in my DNA. Apparently it’s not in Jared Eigerman’s DNA either, which is probably one of the many reasons that I “resonate” with him, and I am proud to be a co-founder with him of “The Pariah Club.”

The Ridge, High Street, Newburyport, MA
The Ridge, High Street, Newburyport, MA, Courtesy of the Newburyport Archival Center

Now as a btw, I would hate to see that anger which has been directed at Jared Eigerman result in a super to the left (if that is possible) challenger for the next City Council election, should Jared choose to run again for Ward 2 City Councilor in 2 years. (The Pariah Club doesn’t have any real world consequences for me the way it possibly could for Jared.)  Jared has been invaluable on the Council. Jared has the expertise, legal expertise, finesse, and political will to make things happens for historic preservation (one of my great Newburyport loves) that I have wished for.

Back in 2012 as the LHD wars were completely disintegrating, then Councilor Ives, now Senator Ives talked to and listened to all sides and came up with a compromise (which as a btw is one of Senator Ives incredible gifts that she has so wonderfully brought to her role as State Senator, I could not be prouder). Jared Eigerman, a then pretty much “unknown” wrote that piece of legislation which Councilor Bob Cronin co-sponsored. It went nowhere. In 2014 Jared Eigerman was elected as Ward 2 City Councilor. As Jared said in his recent Letter to the Editor, Bob Cronin worked with him on “creative legislation to prevent tear downs of historic homes and review major alterations downtown.” In 2014 a version of what Senator Ives had been trying to create became a reality. Since then Councilor Eigerman has had the political will to continue making zoning to protect our historic assets possible. The latest one, which he wrote, and was co-sponsored by City Councilors Ed Cameron and Barry Connell, protects “the Ridge.” I have been wanting this since 1999 when the city fought to save High Street–my own introduction to “civics.”

Just another btw, it used to be that local elections had nothing to do with party politics. It used to be that no one knew what political party local officials belonged to. Not so this election. I was dismayed (and lots of people do not agree with me) to see Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Congressman Seth Mouton (I’m fans of both) come and stump for one particular mayoral candidate and for the Newburyport Democratic City Committee to run one candidate’s Facebook posts on their Facebook page and to my knowledge not the other candidate. And that’s all I have to say about that (at least for now).

The historic photographs are Courtesy of the Newburyport Archival Center, the link to their online collection can be found here.