When I read about the Union Congregational Church building in Amesbury, I realized how much Newburyport could be in the same boat.
The structure is part of an historic and regional view that is classic New England. That whole area along the Merrimack Valley is the very reason people invest huge dollars to buy property in this region. When the foliage turns this fall, thousands will be travelling along the river to see the leaves and the beautiful views and the historic buildings. But one view that marks the very bones of Amesbury could be lost.
That is why two principles of historic preservation need to be practiced. Not just in Amesbury but in Newburyport also. Yes, we could have our classic views marred by the loss of a ‘use’ for a building. A community asleep at the wheel could allow the very destruction of the things that make our two cities unique and a tourist destination.
The first principle is adaptive re-use. Fortunately, wise city planners in the past have been successfully using this principle in Newburyport. When the Hope Community Church built a new structure out on the Common Pasture, the new owners kept the intrinsic architecture of the church building and turned it into a restaurant and the city did not lose a landmark. The same occurred at the ‘French church’ on Federal Street. A religious building was converted to residences. The Odd Fellows Hall and the Veteran’s buildings were converted to homes. The building that housed the Daughters of the American Revolution became Ashby Cross.
The second principle is a preservation easement. These are special conditions to restrict the next homeowner’s use. (Or a developer’s wish to demolish the building) Such preservation easements can ensure for a few decades that the very ‘bones’ of the property or building will not violate the wishes of the original homeowners. In addition, though much more complicated, obtaining a preservation easement approved by Mass Historic will confirm the preservation of historic uniqueness for multiple future business and home owners.
In this case, it is bone-chilling. Does the church seek the ‘money’ or to leave a legacy? Unfortunately, too many seek the cash instead. How many farms have been lost never to be returned to the tilling of soil because of a promised purchase and sale agreement. A hundred years of history for some farms lost over the lure of ‘green’.
In the case of the church in Amesbury, less money and preserve the heritage & historic legacy or take the money and damn the consequences. It will be a choice seen over and over again Newburyport. Will these communities let it happen?
I would hate to only see this unique beautiful view in some future historic slide show of places lost to the ages.