Chaos was the order of the day. It was 1811 and a huge fire was devouring the downtown. The City was already reeling from the Embargo Act of 1807 in which so many merchant ships were frozen in place and left rotting on the docks. Right in the middle of all this, the wealthy merchant (who we do not know to this day) faced an uncertain financial future as he tried to finish his Federal home on Middle Street. As was common, the house was being constructed at the very beginning as a two-family structure enabling income from the sale of the other half. After the great fire, many merchants left Newburyport seeking their fortunes in Boston. It is not even certain the building was actually finished until about 1820. The owners’ names left holding the property have been lost even today.
The first time a definitive purchaser is known is by the new City’s records. In 1851, a Thomas Lancaster owned the eastern side of the house in 1851. He was a carpenter whose business was located at 15 Liberty Street. The western side of the house was owned by George W. Green at that time. Green had a provisions store at 75 Water Street.
By 1872 Nathaniel Pierce had purchased the dwelling from Lancaster. Pierce was a lawyer and his office was located at 19 State Street. Pierce started his practice in Newburyport in 1864. He had served as an alderman from Ward 2 in 1861. Between 1868 and 1870 Pierce served as mayor of the city. He then became a representative to the General Court in 1871.
By 1924, 80 Middle Street was owned by John F. Banford, a meat cutter. The dwelling at 82 Middle was at that time, owned by Nellie Sullivan. She was the wife of John Sullivan, whose occupation is listed in the city directory as an operative.
It cracks me up what a different city our town has become! Mary and Daniel Herlihy purchased this huge building for $43,000 in 1980. It is now valued at 850,000. They are presently upgrading and renovating the house and it can be assured it will go well over a million. How’s that for getting a good return on an investment!?! Fortunately the Herlihy’s care very much for the history of this building and we can rest assured the long legacy of this home will be sustained on into the 21st century.
National Register of Historic Places’ Historic Survey, National Park Service, Department of the Interior, 1984.
J. J. currier, History of Newburyport, 1764-1905, Volumes I and II, reprint, Newburyport 1977.
Newburyport Daily News, August 15, 1968
1851 Plan of Newburyport, Mass. H. Mclntire
1872 Map of the City of Newburyport, Mass. D. c.
1851, 1872 City Directories
1884 Atlas of Essex County, G. H. Walker Co.
Assessor’s Records, 1890-1980.