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.