Newburyport, Lead Paint, Historic Preservation

One of the (number of) things that I think has worked so radically, and persistently against historic preservation in Newburyport, MA or in fact anywhere, is the “Lead Paint” law.

I seem to remember a Newburyport developer saying that he would love to bring up his young family in a large house where he was not haunted by the specter of “lead paint.”

No, I am not against the health of young children. No I am not for the abuse of landlords who let their properties decline and expose young children to the hazards of lead paint.

I think, however, that when the law was enacted, only one issue was thought about. What the ramifications might be for historic preservation did not seem to have been on the radar.

And face it, the lead paint laws are pretty spooky for a home owner, or a developer, or a landlord who owns a property built before 1978.

“The Lead Law requires the removal or covering of lead paint hazards in homes built before 1978 where any children under six lives.” “This includes owners of rental property as well as owners living in their own single family home.” “If a child is lead poisoned by lead hazards where the child lives, the owner is legally responsible.” (

In 1987 the law was revised. It became mandatory that prospective buyers of residential properties receive notice about the lead paint law. It also became mandatory that doctors give blood tests to screen children for lead.

According to The National Architectural Trust, Newburyport, MA has lost one third of our historic properties since 1984.

Could there be a correlation? I’ve always thought so.

Let’s say if lead paint was not a hazard, would we see so much of the whole sale stripping of the interior and exterior of historic homes, or for that matter a gut instinct to go for demolition over preservation.

Why go through an expensive deleading process, when it is easier to take out the offending pieces of wood and replace them with features that carry no possibility of litigation?

And we see this all over Newburyport, MA.

Whenever I see a homeowner outside in their backyard stripping an old door, I always want to go up and hug them and say, “thank you so much.”

And one of the things that I really appreciate about the Newburyport Preservation Trust is their emphasis on education. How and why is it so important to preserve those small seemingly unimportant pieces of our historic assets. And what we in Newburyport, MA have seen, is that when put together, those “small” pieces that have been destroyed over the years have become an overwhelming number.

Mary Eaton