There was Newburyport all in a shambles. The last shoe factory closed in 1964 and the downtown began to be boarded up. The factory workers were largely gone and the remainder were preparing to move out. The beautiful homes in the historic neighborhoods had already begun in the fifties to be in a sorry state and as the older generation left, the upkeep and maintenance were largely abandoned.
The plan was to restore the downtown through urban renewal and to establish a light-industry base in the Common Pasture. Through many mayors and years of struggle and not a little political heat, the Lord Timothy Dexter Industrial Park was established and the HUD-financed downtown was complete. Unfortunately, the vision of a prosperous city evaded the planners. Yes, the LTD was expanding and prospering but the number of workers who actually lived in the city began to dwindle. The small businesses as they do today, could not provide adequate income for those struggling to live so close to tax-free New Hampshire. The large portion of homes were filled with fixed-income elderly or low-pay workers. The percentage of renters was very high and if anyone knows landlords, the minimal work was put into the rental property. The touristy downtown did its job but only in the small windows of the holiday and tourist seasons. Newburyport was visually restored but as an economic powerhouse, it was a disappointment.
Even when I moved here in the 80’s, most people in New England knew nothing about Newburyport. I would speak to Bostonians. As far as they were concerned, there was Peabody, Danvers and then Maine. I even spoke to friends in Danvers who acknowledged that they knew nothing about our city. Newburyport could not generate enough tourist revenue because only those who stumbled on the city knew about it! And the shabby housing and derelict streets? Who wanted to live in a shack and many homes were by this time in very poor condition. So many commuters refused to live in Newburyport because it was just too far from Boston.
In the early 80’s, a major report on urban renewal, actually declared historic preservation as an appalling failure in Newburyport.
The problem was the party streamers had been put up, the caterers had delivered and the show started but unfortunately someone forgot to invite the partygoers!
Today, it is not just the historic downtown but the entire city’s Newburyport Historic District that has made Newburyport a shining light upon a hill! Many people working in Boston and the 128 corridor have chosen the excellent neighborhoods and quiet pastoral scenes of the Common Pasture and the closeness to recreational activities as a perfect place to raise a family. As they have moved in, the homes have been improved, property values have skyrocketed and the general welfare of the citizens has improved. The historic downtown has become famous in Boston as a unique experience and regionally Newburyport has gained a reputation. Now, instead of blank faces and curious looks, the name of Newburyport brings out the exclamation, "Newburyport? I love Newburyport!" And the fact that such a beautiful place exists and is yet hidden from the national and international scene has made Karp and his NED come knocking. He is also attracted to a unique trait. Newburyporters have this strange attitude toward celebrities. We first act like they are just like anyone else and then we respect their privacy and guide them, if they wish, toward a good time.
It is why so many feel welcome when they visit our city and not threatened.
Newburyport has been whispered in New York and Washington. Our time is coming. That is why our shabby sidewalks and dilapidated infrastructure has to go. They are unwanted lawsuits in the making and will impede the recognition our city deserves.