Back in the late 1960’s, when the City was practically on its knees in desperation, the desire to restore rather than demolish Newburyport began to take a heady steam. Enthusiasm began to spread and though it was tortuous, the Commonwealth and the Federal government were finally persuaded to pursue this landmark position. Unfortunately, the Daily News in their series, Port in Progress, decided to gloss over the resistance to this move. Articles about restoration being too "costly" were prevalent. The argument was that it was so much cheaper to demolish rather than restore were commonly bantered about.
An argument still heard today. But visionary leadership moved ahead and this became infectious.
A Local Historic District Study Committee was formed to also protect the rest of the city. They (As it turned out) unwisely decided to segment sections of the city and after much effort focused on High Street as the first part to place under the Local Historic District. They began to publicize in late 1970 appearing before boards, civic organizations, etc. Their biggest fear was that gas stations would be built on High Street and homes demolished if no protections were established.
Unfortunately, there was much resistance probably from the same people who squacked when their precious parking spaces were taken away under the High Street Master Plan. With a hue and a cry, the local historic district was voted down in March of 1971*. A very black time in Newburyport.
As many people forgot then and still forget today, LHD’s are designed to protect the exterior appearance of the homes. Now flash back into the late 90’s. The State began to propose turning our historic High Street into a Route 1-type corridor. You can read the horrid details here.
The point is, LOCAL HISTORIC DISTRICT ORDINANCES ARE HERE TO PROTECT US!!!
It took the outcry from the citizens of Newburyport and vigorous political action by our leaders to stop them decimating High Street.
NO SUCH ACTION WOULD HAVE EVEN BEGUN TO BE CONTEMPLATED IF THE LOCAL HISTORIC DISTRICT ORDINANCE HAD BEEN IN PLACE.
The Federal government is obligated under the Historic Preservation Act of 1966 to not fund any transportation project that would impinge on an historic district.
When the Local Historic District Ordinance is presented to the City, we need well-understand that future threats will come. Hopefully, the LHD Study Committee, the Historical Commission and the Preservation Trust will have done their homework and will have documented the past and present threats as examples of what the LHD will protect: our heritage economy and our property values!
* As a passing note, C. Bruce Brown moved the next month to have High Street designated as an R-1 zoning district to provide some protection from the vagaries of gas stations and the like. It is encouraging that Scott Brown’s father tried to do what he could to stem the tide and give some protection. Historic Preservation especially in Newburyport has been the concern of both parties whether Democratic or Republican.