If there is any more potent reason to protect the entire Newburyport Historic District as a local historic district (Therefore protecting the exterior of the homes), it is the hidden history packed into this area. Back in August of 1884, Mr. Greely’s birthplace and residence was bedecked with ribbons and a huge roadside banner in front of his home that said, “Here lives a hero”. You would think that his accomplishments and deeds have settled into the dust of history but not so. I just watched a documentary last week on how the receding ice cap has finally made the legendary Northwest Passage navigable. His exploration of Ellesmere Island and parts of Greenland was a significant achievement and has contributed to the navigation knowledge of this now important shipping lane. But where is his home? It is located at the bottom of Parsons Street in the South End. Shockingly, there are no banners, plaques or markers anywhere on the house indicating this famous Congressional Medal of Honor winner (granted 1935) lived.
The home is marked in the assessor’s records as 1850 but the historical survey reveals the actual truth that no one knows the exact date of this Georgian home. The architectural style hints that the construction was somewhere in the late 1700’s. It was converted to separately deeded half-houses somewhere in the 19th century. Pictures of the home with the hero banners shows it had already been converted into two homes so the division may have occurred around 1850 but no one is actually sure.
Adolphus Washington Greely was born in this house on March 27, 1844 and when he was not serving in the military lived here. Mr. Greely fought in some of the bloodiest conflicts in the Civil War and was promoted through the ranks by his valiant deeds. After the war, he remained in the service and joined the U.S. signal corps in 1876. He was married in 1878 to an Antoinette and shortly thereafter became the commander in charge of the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition, the first to the North Polar Sea. The purpose of the expedition was to establish the first of a chain of international circumpolar meteorological stations which could be used later as a staging ground to reach the North Pole. He created a large settlement called Fort Conger. In fact, Colonel Peary later used the base for his successful attempt at the North Pole in 1909. Regrettably, Relief ships failed to reach Greely’s party and as planned as an emergency Greely’s group travelled south to Cape Sabine; where the third attempted relief vessel arrived in 1884. By that time, only Greely and six others survived and the rest had perished from starvation, drowning, or exposure. The survivors themselves were near death, and one died on the homeward journey.
After his return, he was roundly criticized but when all the information came in on his exploits, he was acknowledged to have conducted himself heroically and honorably. He continued in the army and became the chief signal officer for the entire U.S. Army and moved to Washington, D.C. When he retired in 1908, he was at the rank of Major-General. Among his other achievements, he directed the relief efforts after the great San Francisco earthquake and fire and was commended for his conduct. He also founded the National Geographic Society after returning from a world-wide trip. He died shortly after receiving the Congressional medal of honor in 1935 and is buried in the Arlington National Cemetery.
His wife kept the home until 1943 when it was sold to a Harold Hudson. It changed hands several times until a Linda J. Maquire owned it in 1984. In the next sale in 1985, it became divided into separately owned properties. It is not known if Jo-Anne Barbour of 105 Prospect or Susan Elam of 107 even know the fame of their home.