Newburyport, The Significance of Memory and Place


“There can be no significance without memory…And if memory is necessary for significance, it is also necessary for both meaning and value. Without memory nothing has significance, nothing has meaning, nothing has value…

The city tells it own past, transfers its own memory…and it is memory that makes places significant.”

© Donovan D. Rypkema, 2007, PlaceEconomics

When I moved here in 1981 and bought an old home I had no clue about the culture of Newburyport, MA. And it took me years to understand the ethos of Newburyport, Massachusetts. I was young, and it didn’t enter my head that comprehending the small New England city that I had instantly fallen in love with, would be a worthwhile, if not an essential thing to do.

I am reminding myself of this fact now, as I see new folks come into town and immediately start making either physical changes to the city, as in major alterations to an historic home; or by deciding to run for a major political office immediately, or wanting to make major political changes (and then being surprised when it doesn’t work).

I do remember, however, that when I had the privilege of buying that wonderful old house back in 1981, that the memories of the previous owners were so strong, that I wanted to sweep out the cobwebs and add my own memories to the house right away.

And one of the things that I was struck by, when I was given the tour of 87 High Street (see earlier entries), was the sense that the old memories had been left intact, but it was as if the cobwebs had been cleaned out and the house was being filled full of light and aired out.

And all of that has me thinking about, of all things, yes, historic preservation in Newburyport, MA. There seems to be the gamut in town from keeping things exactly as they were, to keeping some things and combining the old with contemporary elements.

So, guess what? For this blogger, even historic preservation has entered that “grey area.”

However, I haven’t quite figured out where the line is. Where the line is for me, which when it is crossed, completely destroys, discounts, disregards the “memories” of this historic small seaport New England city.

Mary Eaton