Something Lost, Something Missing

Today is made of yesterday, each time I steal toward rites I do not know, waiting for the lost … ingredient, as if salt or money or even lust would keep us calm and prove us whole at last. -Ann Sexton

To many, especially in our modern world; so full of the transient nature of technology; everything is so empty.   I see so many drunk with a fascination of the “new thing” only to realize as I take my long commute to work, the front yards of hundreds of homes selling off vainly the “new thing” technology of yesteryear which no one wants. And yet, there is a thirst, an intense desire to find something that was lost, something that is missing which would make us all feel whole and reinvigorate our purpose in life. Newburyport is filled with this empty sensation.

It has a palpable substance to it.

Even as we are overcome with new construction and a building frenzy in the city; even as we see busy restaurants and varied shops; it persists!        The historians and historic preservationists in town know that something is missing; the developers and city planners know that something is not quite right – uneasiness that their business plans may come to nothing or a queasiness from the fear of failure.

What is it you may ask?


The fact is that Newburyport was designed to be in a leadership position.     Our town started with that in mind and when it reached its peak at the beginning of the 19th century – it shook the world with the ideas that came from the humble shores of the Lower Merrimack.         Even after the dark days from 1807 to 1825; you couldn’t keep this indomitable spirit down and wild times occurred from 1830 to the close of the 19th century. Because we have lost so much of this spirit; everything that occurs in our city is shallow; with no historic significance.   We have lost spirit of our founding fathers; we have lost purpose. We’re basically soulless performers making show for customers and tourists. And it shows in our lack luster results. We’re no better than the shiny Simons Malls surrounding Boston – just to walk in them is to feel emptiness.

It is my responsibility now that I have exposed this problem to offer a solution.       It is not my desire to drag you to this awful condition only to let you commiserate in despair.

And it is surprisingly apparent but it will require lots of hard work.

First, our historic restoration of the downtown was the spark of bringing back our city.    But so much has been lost in significance.       We can not trust historians to proclaim it.    We need the P.T. Barnum’s of this world to provide us the excitement, the romance and the energy of celebrating these accomplishments.

Second, we must not let the new demographics of our city population to smother and downplay these historic achievements.   We’ve got demo lawyers, real estate exploiters, cold-hearted business people, dark siders coupled with those who hate what America was founded on and despise it’s values; all chiming in to kill what made Newburyport great in its storied past.

Third, we need to be steeped in historic memorabilia.     I am shocked when I visit so many of our downtown restaurants who have bent over backwards to make sure there is nothing relating to the past in their dining atmosphere.     People “feel” the history of our city and then it just dies when they enter some of our dining establishments.      It was humorous when Ten Center Street worked so hard to strip away the history; Nix’s first move was to boldly proclaim the history on the outside of the building.      It is sad when outsiders ‘get it’ but the businesses here do not.

Fourth, we need to be a port again.     We must have the restored Revenue Cutter Massachusetts on our waterfront; perhaps a privateer and yes, perhaps in the future – a Clipper Ship.      At the very least we need a regular parade of these sailing ships on our boardwalk and along side it a culture to maintain and support them.      Whether it is The Ridge of Mansions or the humble homes of Joppa; our port is linked to our history and to our city.       It is the linking theme of everything and will give purpose to the Art Culture, the Historical Society, to the Preservationists and to the business community.

Without these necessary steps, we are as lost as so much of our history and much like Ann Sexton, look only forward to dying even as everything around us becomes modern and new.

-P. Preservationist Downtown tall ship spired

Posted in Art & Culture, Businesses, Developers, Downtown, Heritage Tourism, History, Quality of Life, Real Estate, Restoration, Streetscapes, Tourism | Leave a comment

What is our battle cry? Architecture!

Events are moving rapidly in our downtown – and if you are not sure what is happening; you can mistakenly expend all your energies going from one fight to another fight until you find yourself unfocused and involved in rear guard action until you find yourself losing in the end.

That is because so many want to preserve the city but have fallen into the trap of trying to preserve the un-preservable!

If you look at the city from an objective viewpoint; you can see that in urban design we have a lot of lacking elements:

An area stretching along the south end of Merrimac Street all the way west from the bottom of Green Street that is a mess.     We have a rather varied and rundown part of Merrimac stretching from the west side of Horton’s yard to the highway.     We have dirt and pavement parking lots on the waterfront.      Waterfront east and west are rather undeveloped. Not to out do the disorder, Liberty Street from the east side of Abraham’s bagels is composed of cinder block buildings and poorly constructed and poorly themed structures.      Then comes the disorganized and unused areas of the waterfront from the east side of the Coast Guard all the way to Joppa Park.

All of these are begging for big changes.

And to fill that gap will come a whole host of developers – some, like New England Development, with their own ideas of how to do things.     Each will have their pre-conceived ideas on how to develop and still make a profit.

Because of the uniqueness of Newburyport – every design and plan will be UGLY and WRONG.    Even their business plans will most likely be defective too.

Newburyport is the exception to the rule.        For it is our architecture and the history behind it that will dictate the success of the development.

And that is where the fight will be -

The MVRTA will fight to have an ugly, utilitarian parking garage much like the ugly one in Portsmouth and the ugly one in Haverhill and the ugly one in Salem.

Karp and Karp, jr. are going to try to wiggle out of the deal to blend their architecture with the downtown’s and they will try to make a development that is more fitting for Boston or Cambridge.     They may succeed but in the end they will fail commercially.

Other developers not realizing the importance of our history and design will try to put in ugly contemporary and/or utilitarian housing and commercial spaces to maximize profit.

The fact is that each and every one of these companies and organizations are going to hate us the citizens of Newburyport for forcing them to make their developments blend in with our downtown Federal theme.

Years later, they will be eternally thankful that we did.

It will be up to us to have a thick skin and to take the time to visit the Planning Office, talk to the Planning Director, persuade the any-development-is-good city councilors and the Mayor; and attend the dozens of boards and committees and commissions to drive home the message: either build to blend or take your crappy one-size-fits-all and shove it. (hopefully far from Newburyport)

-P. Preservationist


Posted in Architecture, Businesses, Developers, Downtown, Economics, Environment, History, Landscapes, News and politics, Organizations, Planning, Real Estate, Waterfront | Leave a comment

Too Much Information – Too Much Overload!

I have discovered that I have to be careful when talking about the reality of today’s situation in Newburyport or about it’s history.         There are so many who go about their business in town completely oblivious to anything except by pre-conceived ideas as established by the anecdotal information of family and friends and by what is ‘assumed’ to be true.

When someone comes along and tells them things they have never heard before, the first response is disbelief.     “What you are saying can not be true!” they respond.      And when you follow up with evidence, the full shock hits them and they’re second response is that they can not believe that nothing has been done or that it has not been proclaimed upon a hilltop!

Knowledge bears with it a heavy load of responsibility.       Once you learn something that is true and you know enough to recognize that something has to be done about it; then it sinks in that it will be now in the hearer’s control to do something about it!

Most will respond to the truth teller and put up a hand.

stop hand





And if the truth-teller insist on keeping on providing the information, and responsible citizens begin to gather around and determine to spread the information or to resolve the issues that the information has identified; then comes the ugly reaction.

You see, there is always a small faction that like it when the ‘assumed’ information has been propagated, or the unresolved issues keep on being unresolved.       In fact, a small fully-vested minority may be making a great profit from the present condition.

Then it gets ugly and it gets mean because you are cutting into their livelihood regardless how much it hurts others.     Then it becomes:

stop hand - really stop




Even in America, there is a price for free speech.     William Lloyd Garrison found out that the free press wasn’t free and ended up in jail and once – almost was torn to pieces by the mob.     In the short time I have been in Newburyport (27 years) I have seen those who wanted to make a positive difference in the area (and often did); yet eventually were driven out by one means or another.

Keep this in mind for those who would do well and want to benefit the public good.      Truth is a double-edged sword and it will cut both ways.

A terrible problem in our city may hemorrhage for years without any a word said in public until you declare you are going to try to resolve it; and a thousand arm-chair critics will rise up and declare there is a new problem, YOU!

Truth tellers!   Listen up!

If you want to make a difference in the city, forget the accolades.    They aren’t coming and the parades?     They’ve been cancelled.

Look at our history!  Theophilus Parsons, who gave birth to our Bill of Rights, forgotten!    Caleb Cushing, our first mayor; his work was tremendous for the nation and he doesn’t even get a footnote in a dusty history book, nor a monument fitting of his deeds.    Bartlett, Bromfield, Combs, Dexter, Garrison, Jackson, Lawler, Marquand, Matthews, Morrill, Wheelwright and many others made a difference in our area and few are known locally or nationally.

Seeing a benefit for the community come into reality and a long-standing problem resolved; that is your only sure reward and a lasting monument; and these men of history would agree fully.

-P. Preservationist



Posted in Education, History, News and politics, Quality of Life | Leave a comment

FYI – The Links are working!

As I slowly get back into the groove of goings on in Newburyport, I am pleased to report that many links that were broken on my website,, have been repaired.

Microsoft in their wisdom decided to rename folders making many links of mine inaccessible.

This means that vast resources normally available were cut off – almost making me think it was some kind of vast left or right wing (or both wings) conspiracy!

Please explore and make use of these resources especially as I gear up and rejoin the battles already being fought valiantly by our local community organizers such as the Newburyport Preservation Trust, COW and others.

-P. Preservationist

Posted in Open Space | Leave a comment

Fall Foliage Drives around Newburyport

This is it!      This is peak season for our area – it’s time to break away from your daily habits and take a little time to drive around in your own backyard.     And if you are lucky enough to be a visitor at this time – get around the area.

Route 1A Foliage Tour, Newburyport to Ipswich, 20 minute Drive

Start at Atkinson Common and drive along the full length of Newburyport’s High Street, Newbury’s High Road and through Rowley down to the center of Ipswich.      The historic trees of the city coupled with the mansions along the route will feed into the countryside, Great Marsh views and small country-town sites.      Great places to stop are the Little Farm run by Historic New England, Tendercrop Farm & Iron Moon Farm in Newbury.    To celebrate the drive, be sure to stop at Marty’s donut shop in downtown Ipswich for super doughnuts.      Marty’s closes by 1:00 so drive in the morning.   It is worth it!

Route 113 Foliage Tour

Newburyport to Groveland, 20 minute drive.    Start at the junction of Interstate 95 and Route 113 in Newburyport heading west.  West Newbury’s main road is the quintessential New England road – stone walls, farmed fields, pleasant old homesteads and rolling hills dominate the view.     Along the way are farm stands, Garden shops and Long Hill Farm’s ice cream stand as well as historic sites.     The route ends up at the bridge in downtown Groveland.    A special treat if you would like some walking is to take Hoyt’s Lane while still in Newburyport and travel down to Maudslay State Park where there are lovely walks along the river and strolls amongst formal gardens.

And the most magnificent of all, Main Street (Amesbury), Merrimac Street, Pleasant Valley & River Road Foliage Tour

Amesbury to Haverhill, 20 minute drive.    Start at the Newburyport side of the chain bridge.   Once across, take the first left and follow along the water.   This is one of the best river foliage views in the region.    The road hugs the shoreline of the Merrimack River, presenting fabulous water and foliage views.    Simply follow any road that takes you closest to the river.      There is one short detour.     You are forced onto Skunk Rod in Merrimac at a point where River Road washed out a few years ago.       Take Skunk to Middle, turn left and you’re back on the route.  You can walk this section of the road if you park your car on either end.  The road continues to Rocks Village in Haverhill near the bridge.     You can cross it into West Newbury and head back for more foliage views along the river or take the road north until you connect with Route 110.    Notable stops is the Lowell Boat Shop, Bartlett Museum and further along stroll around Rocks Village local historic district or work your way up to the Whittier House.    A small detour can be made up to Hodgie’s Ice Cream up on Route 110.

Fall Foliage Guide

   Dominant Colors: Orange, yellow, and green.

Peak Time: During the first week of October, plan a visit to the western and southeastern regions for foliage. Peak foliage occurs mid-October for the central area of the state while the eastern regions pop with colors during the end of the month.

Estimated Newburyport Peak Foliage: October 24 to November 8

Fall Foliage Hotline: 800-227-MASS (

-P. Preservationist

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Okay, We Get The Point!

Dry as dust, boring as heck – tedious at best – this seems to be the point with the Daily News’ “This Day in History”.       The basic subliminal message is that it should not be dwelt upon, there are no significant events to worry about and we should dispense with it and get on with the present.     And above all, there are no lessons to be learned from dwelling on our past.

If you’ve been enjoying walking around Newburyport as I do, one homeowner tried to underscore this fact with an interesting plaque put on their historical house:Here nothing happened in 1897

I guess that is the point.

Unfortunately for those who want to bury our past – how can you not feel excitement and passion when you hear that our little city helped shape the world’s only superpower.    How can you not feel adventure and romance at the significant events that Newburyport was part of during its first 100 years of existence.

And the people!     William Bartlett, Caleb Cushing, George Whitefield, Jonathan Parsons, etc. (Listing them all would really tire the reader!) and the heroes, known and unknown; adventurers, inventors, pirates, privateers, powerful businessmen, political powerhouses and daring soldiers not withstanding literary and spiritual leaders.

As I have said before, you can not leave history with historians – I have pitied poor Michael Mroz at the Custom House when these dry bones have spoken. (and the audience too)    In fact, history teachers have so turned off many to the study of past events and people by not explaining the importance and significance.

Why do we not study Joe the Plumber down the street or Harriet the grocery checkout lady?    Or for that matter, why not my neighbor or me for that fact?     It’s because we focus on significant events and people.      Why?     So we can be challenged with a vision, to marvel at their accomplishments and to learn powerful lessons so we too can mirror their successes by modeling our lives in some like-fashion.

Why did Edward Gibbon write the ponderous The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire?     Why didn’t he focus on its successes?     Because it was a powerful lesson that we too could lose our way of life and even our civilization by mimicking the mistakes made so long ago.

Newburyport has such mystery, romance and passion – the Mayor is right to play up the Birthplace of the U.S. Coast Guard but it is just the start!     We should celebrate, explore and learn all about our history.

The more we dig, the more exciting it gets!

-P. Preservationist

PS. The hatred of our past is purely motivated by economics.     If the past is of no value, and the city is not historically and nationally significant;  then no one should mind if we demolish old houses and bury our past.

Posted in Architecture, Art & Culture, Demolitions, Education, Heritage Tourism, History, Preservation, Quality of Life, Streetscapes | Leave a comment

“There Oughta Be A Law!”

This expression usually comes from some awful situation that’s been allowed to continue in the community or society but unfortunately no law exists to stop it.       Something so atrocious that law-abiding, upstanding citizens exclaim in desperation, “There oughta be a law!”

Here in Newburyport, we have just such a situation.   A violation of our decency that exists day in and day out and in every season.     So wretched that people have been seriously hurt and yes, even died from it.       Our economy suffers by it, our quality of life is severely damaged due to it and yet it just keeps continuing.

Crazily, without even tugging on our wallets – all it would take would be bold leadership by our legislators to resolve it.         Property values would rise, community spirit would be lifted and our visitors to which we depend on financially would spread the good news ever increasing our reputation and bringing more of them back.

We have horrible sidewalks.       They are uneven, consist of a wide-ranging list of materials from packed stone dust to brick to blacktop to concrete to cobblestone.     They are often cracked, crumbling, uplifted, choked with weeds, too narrow, and unpredictably wavy.     The locals have consciously and subconsciously adjusted by walking down the middle of our less-busy streets.     The children are endangered; and our visitors?      They have sprained their ankles, been seriously hurt and often leave our city with a sour view of our streets.

And what about those less-fortunate to have two good feet or even basic balance?    They too must use our public streets for motorized wheelchairs and even using crutches can guarantee a fall.     Curbs are precipitous and the lack of maintenance make the sidewalk terrain treacherous.      Our elderly too are endangered right along with our children trying to get to school.

And yet – the city’s attempt has been horrifying.     They won’t maintain the sidewalks leaving them (hopefully) for an adjacent homeowner to do all the work.     Many citizens don’t have the resources or if they do, they are told that is ‘city property’. (hinting at, ‘don’t touch’)    The city insists on putting in concrete (when they have the cash) right into the heart of the heritage tourism area (Newburyport Historic District) but self-consciously understanding the wrong they are doing, they allow certain stretches to be kept brick thus violating the American Disabilities Act about consistent surfaces.   They try to destroy our historic district with ghastly ramped areas in concrete ruining the look and feel of our historic city.    When they are tight with money they slather blacktop even though their own policies forbid it as a recommended surface.    And we have still street after street with crumbled Great Depression-era concrete, wavy blacktop and shattered brick and, of all things, nasty cobblestones. (because some homeowner thought it was ‘historic’ and attractive.)

There oughta be a law!


Incredibly, there are ALREADY laws and policies and standards that are right in place!    But they happen to have been passed by other heritage tourism towns and cities.     Their locals and visitors get to enjoy increased property values and a high quality of life, general safety for their children, for the elderly and for the handicapped.     Positive words have gotten around about their towns and cities and their economic conditions have been improved. (and I might add that last statement has been well-documented).

So, the question bears – when will our community and our legislators resolve this agonizing situation?       This as I will indicate in more posts is not a money problem; it is a lack of community and political will.

Laws need to come first!

-P. Preservationist

Posted in Economics, Environment, finances, Health and wellness, Heritage Tourism, Maintenance, News and politics, Quality of Life, Real Estate, sidewalks, Streetscapes, Taxes, Tourism | Leave a comment