Newburyport, High Street, Almost Destroyed in 1999

Readers of The Newburyport Blog have asked me what happened to High Street in 1999 that caused such alarm.

High Stree
What was once High Street between Summer Street and Winter Street
Courtesy of the Newburyport Archival Center
 at the Newburyport Public Library

The City of Newburyport got a grant to fix up High Street. And in 1998 the Massachusetts Highway Department (MassHighway) came back with plans for High Street that met the “robotic” federal regulations for the roadway. It took a year to get people’s attention to the threat to the historic roadway. Finally in January 1999 people started to pay attention. “Citizens to Save High Street” was created (by yours truly), and on February 4, 1999 there was a huge meeting in Newburyport City Hall, standing room only, and the citizens of Newburyport demanded that the plan not take place.

These are the “Highlights” of the proposed plan in 1998 by MassHighway.

The Massachusetts Highway Department considered trees to be a “safety hazard” because they were too close to the road, consequently, the future of many of High Street’s trees were in question. (i.e. they were going to remove almost all of the trees.)

Close off of Ferry Road.

Completely reconfigure the “Three Road” area up at Atkinson Commons and put in a traffic light there.

Put a traffic light at Toppans Lane, by the Newburyport High School.

Remove 10 feet of land along the side of the Bartlett Mall facing High Street, that belonged to the City of Newburyport, to widen the roadway.

Remove land from private property owners, from the area between Fruit and State Streets along the “Ridge” side of the roadway, and put in retaining walls to make the street wider.

Make High Street as straight, narrow and uniform as possible from one end of the street to the other.

Remove plantings and all historical elements.

Remove the statue of George Washington by Pond Street and the Bartlett Mall. There was no plan to relocate the statue of George Washington. Pond Street was completely reconfigured to be one way.

A Local Historic District (LHD) would protect against destructive changes that could take place to our historic roadway.  We would never want to go through this experience again.