The Building Blocks of Historic Preservation

So, the question begs to be heard, “How did the 1970 Pariah called Newburyport which most visitors would hurry by quickly on their way to Plum Island become this hot place on the North Shore everyone enviably wants to visit?      I was in Harvard Square last night and wore my Preservation Trust T-shirt. (Proudly I might add.)      People looked and gave one of two classic responses: One, “I just LOVE Newburyport” or Two, they gave this look of intense desire which clearly said, “I wish I was there right now.”       Yep, in Cambridge of all places!

Rome wasn’t built in a day and ditto for Newburyport.     It’s been a hard-slog over the years so I have laid down just the highlights of historic preservation.     I omitted the fight over the Waterfront and the taking down of that ghastly power line that used to sling down low over the water preventing tall ships from coming into Newburyport.       The struggle over the Thermofix, the saving of the Common Pasture and countless battles that citizens have waged to protect this treasured place have been left out.

I’ll leave those fights for readers to fill in between these major blocks that has led us to become a regional envy:


Through the hard work of citizens and leaders in the 60’s & 70’s, the urban renewal plan went from making the city a manufacturing & retail center to using historic preservation as a means of economic renewal.  This meant casting aside the years of being a mill town and choosing an entirely different history based on our Federalist glory days.  Consequently, and first in the nation to use as a tool for economic prosperity, Newburyport became a heritage tourism site and a new future was put into place.



Though the Downtown was gaining strength, the greater part of our treasured assets, our historic homes were not recognized or worse, identified.     Through the hard work of citizens and the Historical Commission, an effort was begun to classify which homes were historic and needed preserving.    This monumental task was completed and recorded in the Commonwealth’s archives in 1984.    Though it in itself could not protect the homes, the official listing  in the National Register of Historic Places would pave the way for future protections and also open a path to receive Federal and state funding.


With the National Register completed, The City began to map out the process by which it would protect these assets.     One was a demolition delay.    Another was by granting preservation easements on the most valuable homes and recommendations for other measures .    Spurred on by Mayor Peter Matthews, the Historic Preservation Plan was adopted in 1991.


A Master Plan published in 2001 recognized the opportunities available through the Massachusetts’ Historic Districts Act, and made adoption of one or more local historic districts a priority.



And when Newburyport voters adopted in 2002 The Community Preservation Act, they sanctioned a small percentage of property taxes as a source of funds for local historic preservation and to preserve open spaces.      With money in hand and matched by the state in varying degrees, the citizens empowered the recommendations of the Historic Preservation Plan of 1991.    Consequently, a series of buildings have been placed under easements and many historic places restored including City Hall.      The historic Common Pasture and Curzon Mills became protected through property purchases and/or conservation easements.


In 2003, High Street became recognized officially by the state as a Heritage Byway.


In 2005, the Newburyport Preservation Trust was established with the goal of advocating the protection of the historic homes of Newburyport and educating the citizens on how to maintain and protect these historical treasures.


In 2007, Newburyport’s first attempt at true protection of its historic assets came into place with the establishment of its first local historic district, the Fruit Street LHD.


In 2011, High Street became recognized as the first part of the Essex National Heritage Coastal Scenic Byway that stretches from Newburyport to Lynn.

And, now in 2011 and probably to be enacted in 2012 will be the establishment of another local historic district that will protect the most valuable areas: the Downtown and High Street.

Every block has required the hard work of our citizens and the wise guiding of our political leaders, but everyone of these is building up our city and placing it in an enviable position of singular prosperity. (Even in these tight times!)

-P. Preservationist

PS. I realize the Children of the Now could care less but it might be nice for them to read this post and understand where the lovely Downtown, the pretty neighborhoods, open spaces, parks and all those coffee shops came from.


About P. Preservationist

Dedicated to the Enrichment & Preservation of Newburyport
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2 Responses to The Building Blocks of Historic Preservation

  1. Mary Harbaugh says:

    I’m thinking that some of your readers might get the impression that the Common Pasture is entirely protected. I’m hoping instead that residents will understand that the effort is a landscape-scale, multi-year, regional effort to protect the heritage landscape, working farms, and critical ecosystem services of the Common Pasture. That effort is currently perhaps a bit more than one third completed. So we have lots of work to do yet. I’m thinking that when people understand the nature of the effort and the degree of progress we’ve made, they’ll continue to support work to complete the project.

    Thanks for any effort you can make in future posts to help clarify our progress.

  2. It is true that I have inadvertently created this impression that the battle is at hand. Since we still have issues over Woodman Farm, the property easement proposed by the developers of a CVS, the landlocked property below Crow Lane and many ‘pieces’ stretching across the pasture overshadowed by the Turkey Hill properties; we do have much work to do in the future.

    I will elaborate more about this later in a full post.

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