If we didn’t have historic preservationists (Many were just ‘locals’ who loved their city.) we would not have the wonderful place that we call NEWBURYPORT. Right now, historic preservationists exist on the edges of our political life in Newburyport – they aught to be calling the shots BIG TIME, instead.
Let me explain why.
My wife and I originally came from a town that was a hundred years older than our City’s start in 1764. You couldn’t tell by looking at it. Somewhere in the past, that town tore down the old Dutch buildings, in preference for some ‘modern’ architecture, i.e. Victorian. Years later, much of that was replaced in the next round of prosperity during the 1920’s and then again in the Eisenhower years. You know, the type of buildings that Superman in the original TV series jumped over – so ‘modern’ then, so blah-looking now. And so, most American cities have experienced this perpetual remaking.
Sure, in Newburyport, we have rich history – but just like other cities, you’d get to see that at your local museum filled with pictures of the ‘way it was’. If the original urban renewal advocates had things done their way, Newburyport would look as ugly as downtown Salem (MA) or Marblehead or Gloucester. Haverhill was redoing their downtown the same way and swept away the old to their everlasting regret today.
As a matter of fairness, no one with any influence really believed that our City was going to become a beautiful, high-priced historic community. If they had they never would have instituted zoning in our City. Almost all of the major part of our community is in zoning violation! The intent was to wipe away all those ‘old’ buildings and build zoning-compliant neighborhoods. The intention for the downtown was to build nice shopping centers with PLENTY OF PARKING! Our downtown filled with 1970’s era architecture (Have you seen 1970’s architecture? The thought makes me nauseous.)
It was concerned citizens, many still alive today, who signed their name to a petition and worked aggressively to preserve the old buildings!
EVERYTHING WE SEE TODAY IS NOT DUE TO CLIPPER SHIPS, PRIVATEERING, RUM-MAKING, SHIP BUILDING, SILVERSMITHING OR EVEN BEING THE BIRTHPLACE OF THE COAST GUARD.
It was the dedication of historic preservationists in the 60’s & 70’s who worked to preserve the fabulous city we have today.
And yet, we have a slew of apathetic and sometimes hostile Mayors since then who often would not even treat this group with respect. This is why the Historical Commission has been so timid in the past. It is tough to stand up against the political tide! I give high marks to Mayor Holaday who has dedicated herself to putting this priority back to the top.
We still have so many in City Hall and who fill our boards and commissions who do not realize how utterly important historic preservation and the continuance of preservation is vital to our economic and community health. Unfortunately, historic preservationists stand politically outside the building department and the planning office and all too often do not have the influence that they should have*.
We as a city can not afford to make historic preservation a side issue.
* We have departments in the City who don’t want to be ‘bothered’ by a local historic district ordinance citing it would take too much administrative time. Such work should be a priority for our city not an option. With New England Development on the move and developers licking their lips at our prime position, we should be working toward this fact in a panic!