Exploration generates pure joy

While I have been busy doing other things and not really been doing much blogging lately; Mary Eaton over at Newburyport Blog has been doing a bang up job of holding up the flame of historic preservation.

And I can tell that she is having a wonderful time discovering the previously unknown.       In our age, as perhaps in previous ages before; there is always this sense that anything that has been known, has already been known.   All the discoveries have already been unveiled and there is nothing left to find.          And yet, in the world of Archeology; more has been revealed from this discipline since the turn of the Millennium to the point that history books now have to be re-written!         Even Science has caused the burying of old assumptions (and embarrassing old textbooks) from revelations since 2001!

Now, don’t get me wrong!     There is a big difference between an adventure and exploration.     They can many times be one and the same but as Bilbo Baggins exclaimed, “Adventures make you late for dinner!”      Adventure is dangerous, risky, highly emotional and the resulting discovery is more about finding yourself than achieving a tangible result. (Which is often doubtful!)  In comparison, exploration is like digging for treasure not knowing what you’ll find but always expecting something new and wonderful.     Compare Indiana Jones (the real one, Anderson; not the fictitious one) who was always in danger and risked his life and Albert Einstein: both were explorers but Anderson who didn’t discover anything is largely forgotten while Einstein is a household word.

I can not tell you how frustrating it was to find out the Hamilton Room (The Archive Room) in the Public Library has barely been tapped – elusive findings are still there waiting for explorers from students to factory workers to those with doctorates to stumble upon them.

It has not been my main thrust in my doings but I’ve been steadily uncovering the facts on our smuggling tunnels; and I am not done yet!    A mysterious historic hole lies in a period of time when the tunnels were constructed from 1807 to 1825.      A period when such upheaval occurred that the population literally halved and many fleeing to greener pastures took their local knowledge with them.

But digging constantly reveals golden pieces of knowledge unknown never to have previously graced the electronic fields of the Internet.

One of the cool discoveries by Ms. Eaton is the man Truman Nelson who mysteriously appears in, “A Measure of Change”.      The first response when you see the video is, “Who is this guy?      Why was he approached?”

What a fabulous find by her digging!

What pure joy!

-P. Preservationist



Posted in Education, History, Open Space, Preservation History | Leave a comment

The Hounds of Hell

We have been so lucky this year but again, it could all change in a week’s time.     There seems a great fear out there that last February’s disastrous event would happen this year.     Reminds me of the terrified residents in the South Pacific after the devastating 2004, December 26th Tsunami.      The slightest rumor for the entire next year would send thousands fleeing back up hillsides only to find it was solely driven by panic.     The year that the US had one devastating hurricane after another -the news bureau’s began proclaiming the very next hurricane season would have a repeat of the same; instead it was a mild season.        As devastating as these events are, they are rare and unpredictable.      It doesn’t mean you put your life on hold and huddle in some 1950’s fallout shelter!      The best way is to keep calm and be prepared for the next time.

The same goes with some devastating floods that struck Newburyport.     They were called, ‘100-year’ storms; but they occurred within ten years of each other: 1996, 1999 and 2006.      There were some that cited the Mother’s Day storm of 2006 as a 500 year storm.     In other words, supposedly storms like these aren’t supposed to happen except once in a 100 or 500 year period.       The last one caused extensive damage to the Custom House and other city structures.

So we’ve had some good years since then, but we need to be ready.     Even with Qual Run Flooding IIINewburyport’s extensive wetlands in the Common Pasture that have helped our city avoid the damage that other communities suffer; there can be a point where these open areas hit a saturation level.   That’s when the industrial park and residential areas downriver begin to suffer property damage.        Councilor Connell, who has extensive environmental training, took that seriously  back then and now the city has an extensive Storm water Management Ordinance to help mitigate the impact in case we have one again.

Unfortunately, there is a growing source to increase flooding and it has been the commercial and residential buildup of Storey Avenue.     Called ‘The Plains’ the level of impervious surfaces has grown considerably making the storm water runoff excessive.      I was out on the nature trails this weekend on the Upper Common Pasture, and the grade up to Route 113 is such that the buildings look like castles and spires on Valhalla.      All these precipitous heights has caused conduits to burst forth like fire hoses during these powerful storms.

I always wanted to take pictures of these powerful drains in action but the brambles and brush The Old Conduits replaced by new Hounds of Hellwere so thick, I couldn’t get a clear photo.      Thankfully, I discovered that Tropic Star has torn out the old conduits and stacked them neatly on the side and now has put in more up-to-date conduits with extensive rock fall to avoid erosion.       These are, of course, not the only sources of run off – we have a major conduit that comes in from the Turkey Hill Road residential developments where the Little River actually is born; and a massive run off is generated by Mount Lavender. (i.e. the landfill)     All these come together to produce prodigious amounts of water but by far the bowl effect of the Upper River just below the Plains is the primary source.

I look forward to take videos of these Hounds of Hell in full force the next time we do have another 100-year storm.

The Hound of Hell on the Left

The Hound of Hell on the left

The Hound of Hell on the Right

The Hound of Hell on the Right.

-P. Preservationist


Posted in Environment, Flooding, Infrastructure, Landfill, Landscapes, Open Space, trails, Watershed | Leave a comment

The Color Green & Parks

After reading in the paper today, I discovered the NRA is considering doing yet another ‘pop-up’ park.     I can just imagine the rest of the city when they read that little news: generating a huge moan across the collective community.         “What will this one be like?”  they will exclaim!

And the NRA just doesn’t ‘get it.      They think it’s probably the citizens don’t like the whole concept of the ‘pop-up’.       No, that’s not it at all!

Somehow this group has an aversion to ‘green’ as in green grass.

Now, maybe this is just my opinion, but I think it has to do with the future of the NRA.      They know that one day, against all efforts on their part, and against all odds; there will be a large central waterfront park composed mostly of green grass.

They’re willing to blow $21,000 on this last pop-up; and probably a similar price tag for a second one; but they won’t spend the money to take this ‘brownfield’ and clean it up for a real park so when the citizens lie down on the cool grass; they won’t get up again with some cancerous growth later.

Green means there is a lovely park on the waterfront.

Green means the NRA is no more, their mission complete and they (finally) go off into the sunset.

And green means grass.

Consequently, we can all imagine what kind of second pop-up park we’re going to get.

And no, painting tarmac with some ‘natural green’ color from Benjamin Moore or Sherwin-Williams does not count.

-P. Preservationist


Posted in Environment, finances, Health and wellness, Landscapes, Open Space, Parks, Planning, Quality of Life, Recreation | Leave a comment

Damn Inconvenient & Damn Confusing Too!

I’m talking about the Colby Farm Property that lies at the intersection of Crow Lane and Low Street.    I was thinking ‘darn inconvenient’ but let’s face it – it doesn’t have the force of frustration that ‘damn’ relays.        It’s been frustrating for the Open Space Committee because they are eyeing a large agricultural open space just off of Turkey Hill Road that could be slated for housing – and it’s a gorgeous, pristine area that overlooks Newburyport from a high place – just picture it being turned into another Vinyl Village!

It’s been frustrating for the city too.     Hours and hours of meetings and public hearings to establish an Open Space & Recreation Policy.   Then all of a sudden, what with financial demands of new schools and new municipal development, that are putting tremendous pressure on the citizens – that same policy would dictate the acquisition of this last open vista off of Low Street with its potential for athletic fields.

Colby PropertiesIt’s been frustrating for citizens too.      They access Vision Appraisal and what they see for this open space has no reference to all this talk of Lot 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7.        That’s because the deed lines they see have no relation to the projected development of housing lots the owner has anticipated.        It’s doubly confusing because the owner is offering these lots at a price projected that a house lies on them, referencing perceived value rather than the real value of the land.

The Lots as Hoped for by the OwnerAnd that is where it is frustrating for our planning office.       Only Lot 8 was offered and so no clock is ticking on the 120 days of first-refusal for 61A agricultural lands for the other desired lots.      To make this whole deal work for the city, Lots 1, and possibly 2 and 7 would have to be purchased.        There is also the presence of wetlands – how much will it be impacted if athletic fields or community gardens are established?   How much land is needed to make it all work?    What’s the real purchase value of those lands if you couldn’t build a house on it anyway due to wetlands?

Dyke Hendrickson, just eyeing the city council subcommittees, made the passing reference at the end of the year, “A first refusal to purchase Lot 8 on Low Street will succumb….” and then made reference later that the will of the city is in doubt in pursuing this acquisition.

To clarify to the public, the city is very much committed.       To clarify, Lot 8 has definitely been acquired.     The deed transfer for the land has been finalized and a consulting firm has been commissioned to find out how much additional land needs to be obtained for athletic fields (or other uses such as community gardening).      In addition, a re-examination of the value of the additional lots has commenced to put them more in line with the real property value, which should save the city money when acquiring them.      Plus, additional monies have been set aside in case the other Lot’s are offered.

But the owner of the property has not offered the additional Lots 1, 2 & 7; therefore the clock has not commenced for the city to act on first-refusal.    This has been frustrating for Lillian Montalto, the realty agent, who would love to get on with selling the build-able parts of the property near Crow Lane and Low Street.

In one way, this is good; it allows open space funding to increase over time and other city priorities  to proceed unabated.

But just like the for sale signs hanging around the property and dangling in disrepair,

The waiting is just frustrating!

-P. Preservationist

Posted in Agriculture & Farms, Conservation, CPA, CPC, Developers, Ecology, Economics, Environment, finances, Flooding, gardens, Infrastructure, Landscapes, Open Space, Planning, Preservation, Quality of Life, Real Estate, Recreation | 1 Comment

A few more items on the Christmas List

Christmas Wish ListWhen we were children; one of the great Christmas traditions was to compile a Christmas Wish List; and sometimes when times were good to epic proportions.     Then, and I was very good at this as a child; would mount a marketing campaign of hints and nags to get what I wanted.   Most children are born with this nag gene and most parents, probably naggers when they were little too, somehow lose the ability to recognize it as it is and end up succumbing.        Of course, as if to drill this fact into our society; we get to see perpetual airings of an American Christmas Story every holiday season!

Well, perhaps I still have traces of this gene; because I have a BIG LIST for Newburyport – but I’ve got a special one concerning historic preservation.

Back in 2011, my list was long and it mostly had to do with an organization called the Newburyport Preservation Trust. It was unlike any other preservation organization I had ever known; nor after doing extensive research on these types of organizations had I ever seen a more ineffective entity.        Here it was, the Newburyport Historic District was the second largest National Register in size and number of houses; and yet, it was being under-served by…I don’t know what it was – but it wasn’t doing the job it was supposed to be doing!

Don’t get me wrong – its members had awesome aspirations and even knew what needed to be done in the future – but it was the doing that never got done!

Here was my Big Christmas Wish back in 2011:

“A real Newburyport Preservation Trust.    The present one [2011]has a  website which is underperforming and lacks current information.     There is no resource section for helping the beleaguered homeowners on taking care of their historic homes.  There are no activities during the year (except for Preservation Week) to add ‘value’ to having membership.     There are no fundraisers* to add to the coffers for the very expensive function of ‘preservation’.      There is no division working on preservation easements or keeping lists of preservation easements in the city.     There is no organized activist group for dealing with threats to historic buildings in the City.       There is no organized presence in City Hall to counteract the constant pressure from contractors and developers.

This new gift will desperately be needed as homeowners require tools and handbooks on how to preserve historical homes in Newburyport.    We need ordinances and local government practices that are sympathetic to historic preservation and heritage tourism and our valuable real estate.       And we need its muscle to help get the local historic district ordinance passed as well as a publicly-listed preservation easement listing.       And we need the host of members (which we already have) instructed on how to make a positive impact in the city.”

Well, I am happy to report here in 2015 they have come a long way.      Back then, they had a pitiful, immobile website and now it is truly a dynamic and spectacular online resource.      Back then, the leadership and the members were terrified to be exposed to the general public; which sadly translated into the average citizen thinking they were some kind of wealthy, aloof, elitist organization.       Now, even the more timid of the membership have been seen fluently making a difference here in this port city.      And as for politics, as before, they cringed in terror, now they are acting like young lions (and lionesses) roaring their disapproval.

The city has come along way from as recently as 2001 when historic preservation was snickered at; and most everyone had blank faces when it was mentioned.

I think the ‘Trust was transformed much like the Phoenix that is the symbol of our city; The Phoenixthe Fire of 1811 was terrible; and the suffering great – but out of the ashes came the beautiful city that we all love today.      The great battle over the local historic district ordinance in 2012 seemed a huge disaster for our future; but the ‘Trust was ‘burned’, and the fire of outrage cast off those timid feelings – and yes, even a bit of vengeance arose – It’s made a bolder organization.         They went from being humiliated to stacking their supporters into elected offices in  City Hall.

And the ‘Trust is still making a huge difference now.

But as you can see, My Christmas Wish of 2011 is still not complete.      There are more significant steps that the Newburyport Preservation Trust ought to be doing.

I’ve got my list.  I’ve documented and supported my list by citing dozens of preservation organizations in the country who are making a positive impact.      I’ve memorized that wish list.

Please, if you love the city as I do; and know what the ‘Trust must do, join me as we:

Nag, Nag, Nag!

-P. Preservationist




Posted in Architecture, Demolitions, Easements, History, News & Politics, Organizations, Planning, Preservation, Preservation History | Leave a comment

Newburyport’s ‘Grassy Knoll’

This last city council meeting and another one this immediate last Thursday, has uncovered some strange things that went on having to do with 8 Strong Street, the Board of Health and the Newburyport Historic District; especially dealing with the DCOD.

Brick and Tree Blog is not some glib Facebook page with spur of the moment accusations and off-the-cuff comments .(Though I am constantly being accused of doing just so.)

What we’re dealing with has the increasing ‘hint of conspiracy’ though probably not on the level of Watergate and Kennedy’s assassination.      But regardless, a lot of questions need to be asked:

Who are the players?      What is the sequence of actual events and what actually happened?      What laws were even violated or were they  just loopholes being exploited?     Is anything being ‘covered up’ or evidence destroyed?”     Were the sequence of events premeditated or by a step-by-step procedure?

And, to add a tiny hint of healthy governance; can anything be done to prevent this from happening again?

Don’t look into the Newburyport Daily News for any help; they are simply not an investigative paper.

I will do my best to compile everything but don’t expect another blog entry on the subject until I have discovered some of the questions that were posted above firmly answered.

-P. Preservationist


Posted in Demolitions, Developers, Health and wellness, News and politics, Organizations, Planning, Preservation, Zoning | 2 Comments

Let’s take advantage of this rare opportunity!

It’s time to get on foot or bike or car and travel around the City.

John Bromfield, bless his heart; did much to create the spectacular beauty called, ‘Newburyport’.      In old archival photos, the original downtown and immediate neighborhoods were barren of trees.      Food sources were unreliable back then, and just about everyone had chickens and cows and yes, even a pig or two for ’emergencies’.    Horses were everywhere.      All this required sun-filled yards to support grazing.

When he passed away just before Newburyport became a city in 1850; he bequeathed that a large sum (at that time) would be split right down the middle – 50% for street trees and 50% to create sidewalks.        For more than a decade, this new reality transformed us from a cold urban environment to the leafy and pleasant experience we have today.79 High Street II

Regrettably though, all this pleasant, quality of life environment has masked the absolutely stunning architecture that constitutes the Newburyport Historic District; more often than not, you have to get out of your car and peak through the foliage to note our beautiful homes and streetscapes.     For most of the year, walking is really the only way to enjoy our architecture.

The Ridge II - Smaller SizeBut once the trees are barren, then the true value of our historic neighborhoods comes shining forth for everyone to see!

But then comes the cold!

Half of us who aren’t native New Englanders (who have been spotted wearing a light jacket and eating ice cream outside in January!) are bundled up in layered clothing with just our eyes peeking out.      Then comes the icy sleet and cold flakes of snow that sting our faces and lower our eyelashes.       Later, all that frozen precipitation covers over the fine architectural features on the house with their delicate molding – as if anyone was outside caring to take a look in the first place!

It is these brief periods in November and early December and the snow-free (if we’re lucky) stretches of March and April – when we get to enjoy gazing out on the architectural wonder that is Newburyport.

Today, with a trick of nature, it has been extended beyond that brief time and with some very unseasonable warmth to go with it.

Now’s the time to get out and see why the Newburyport Preservation Trust’s fuss is all about.       We not only have the second largest National Register historic district in the country but our architecture is a National Treasure filled with a proud history that has affected the American Story in a big way.

high Street near BromfieldWe only have a short time before the cold will set in and the snow alas, following shortly thereafter.

So throw off those heavy coats and drooping hoods, and get out and see this wonder.

This is a precious time that won’t come again until late spring!

-P. Preservationist

PS. For those who are good at photography – this is your time – get out there and enlighten us with your images.





Posted in Architecture, Art & Culture, Downtown, Environment, Heritage Tourism, History, Landscapes, Open Space, Recreation, sidewalks, Streetscapes, Trees | Leave a comment