“Citizens” Arise!

You’ve seen these homeowners all over the city.      These are the one’s with beautiful lawns, the very nicest building materials and the sharpest looks….

………But the sidewalk in front of their house is a tangled mess of weeds and dirt.

It all boils down to a total lack of understanding of what citizenship means!

The sidewalks, they say, are ‘city’ property and they feel no responsibility to lift a finger to maintain them.

The idea that you live only for yourselves was never considered or tolerated by our Founding Fathers.

Our country was founded on the ideals of a Republic in which each participant has a duty as citizens to contribute to the greater good.        Think taxes (Which these selfish people may claim excuses them), think jury duty, think military service for those eligible if a draft were ever held to defend our nation.        The citizen is duty bound to vote, to participate for the greater benefit of the community.      A good citizen obeys the laws, and is aware who is the Mayor, who are their ward councilors; what are the issues in the community.

The Nation was founded on the responsibility of the individual to be a citizen.

That’s why the sidewalks are not city property but public property.     It is owned by “us” the citizens of Newburyport.       It is a fact that in most of the country and in many municipalities in Massachusetts, the homeowner is responsible for the public sidewalk adjacent to their property.      My wife’s brother was cited in New Jersey because he had not kept up the sidewalks to the city’s standards.        Out of his own pocket, he had to upgrade them.

This ordinance – which I might add is in effect – continues the citizen obligation.

Citizenship requires sacrifice for the greater good.      We pay taxes so the greater good is translated into public schools, good roads and safe neighborhoods.

This is not Socialism.    It is the fundamental principle of America.

The greater good for Newburyport is to see our public (citizens’) sidewalks improved for the entire benefit of the community.

Can you imagine someone saying, “I pay taxes, therefore I am excused from jury duty!” or, “I don’t need to obey the law, I pay enough in taxes.”    The reasoning is ridiculous.     Our current ordinance doesn’t kick in until $100,000 in renovations.     And the general cost of sidewalks and trees to the adjacent property is from $5,000 to $10,000).       As I have previously posted, (with documentation) the IRS has demonstrated that good sidewalks in front of a private home can only benefit the owner.

What we are dealing with are those who feel they have no obligations as citizens because they pay “taxes”.    The developers (the bad developers since wise developers improve the sidewalks in front of their projects) hope a few selfish squawkers will allow them to get a pass on this expense.

These amendments considered tonight were, as the Mayor has stated that a ‘few’ homeowners have been caught under this ordinance and they just ‘can’t’ swing improving the city’s sidewalks as they do ‘moderate improvements’.

Supposedly, a $100,000 is a moderate improvement.

It is time we benefit the entire community rather than a few ‘special interests’ who refuse to embrace the duties of ‘citizenship’.       Be sure to show up and speak against these amendments tonight at the joint meeting of the Planning Board and the Council of the Whole. (City Hall, 7:00)

-P. Preservationist

Posted in Developers, Economics, Infrastructure, Preservation, sidewalks, Trees, Zoning | Leave a comment


Tomorrow Night will be another chance to stop an ill-conceived attempt to cater to special interests instead of taking care of the citizens as a whole.

We dodged a bullet when it came to 100 State Street as outrage was felt at the total disregard of the community as a whole for some get-rich-quick (and city’s pockets nicely lined) developer who wanted to create a monstrosity next to our beloved library.

Now politicians, developers and self-serving homeowners want to pass a bad ordinance.

This bad proposal was sent to sub-committee when everyone was on vacation or distracted by the summer’s pursuits.     Sneaking it on the books, now they hope the inertia of its presence will make it possible for it to pass.


While the rest of us were enjoying the summer, exploiting, greedy developers have been working with city councilors who care more about these special interests than the community at large.

Hoping that no one notices, an ordinance has been introduced to cater to special interest developers who want to exploit the City without giving any thing back in benefits to the community! (We certainly don’t want to inconvenience them!)

Back in June, a new ordinance dictated that developers and homeowners doing major work would improve the adjacent city sidewalk and install city trees.      Finally, instead of the usual raping of our community by demolishing homes, gutting homes and putting in enlarged, oversized housing; the citizens would at least see a nagging problem resolved that has been like a painful hang nail for decades: the terrible condition of our sidewalks would start to see a steady improvement as responsible developers and homeowners contribute to the city for short money, the sidewalks in front of their renovations and major work.

Now a city councilor (with his allies) want to introduce amendments through this ordinance that dump the requirements, and give the discretion to volunteer boards which are buffeted already by consultants, lawyers, and politicians.         They “may” require the sidewalk being improved.     They “may” want to see street trees installed.

Just to horrify and jog your memory.      Remember the Zoning Board of Appeals were presented with 43 abutters who were against a developer, and the developer won. (Tremont Street) or a developer who disregarded the building inspector and the Planning Board directives and the Historical Commission directives and got away with it with a small fine? (77 Lime Street)




Tomorrow night, Wednesday 7:00, City Hall.

-P. Preservationist


Posted in Affordable Housing, Businesses, Developers, Health and wellness, News & Politics, Preservation, Quality of Life, sidewalks, Streetscapes, Trees, Zoning | Leave a comment

A lightning bolt struck my front door!

There I was at my kitchen table reading the Mayor’s Daily Notice when I spied the top heading on the front page, “Port Resident Richard Lodge named managing editor of the Daily News”

My wife and I had already decided that we would cancel the MDNrichard-k-lodge starting this coming month as we were increasingly getting nothing or just about nothing of what was happening in Newburyport.      It is sad when the comics and Tim’s Tips were the highlight of the day, and most of the time spent was trying to read between the lines and figuring out what didn’t make it into the paper of record.

The MDN has been a disappointment even before I moved here nearly 30 years ago.       We subscribed in the hope that it would prepare us for living in the city, but it failed miserably.    Only later, did we discover that you had to go to the Obituary page where insightful articles would be inserted that revealed what was really going on in town.     To be fair, there were big headlines on major issues but the content was often sketchy.      The only thing I have figured over the years is that the editors didn’t want to offend any tourists coming into town.      Only later, did I discover there was a darker purpose.

But that’s another subject entirely!

The saddest part of the recent legacy of our paper was its latent and often aggressive hostility toward historic preservation.        As anyone with at least one functioning eye can clearly see, the restoration of the downtown started a chain reaction of ever increasing affluence.        It has had its ups and downs, but on average, the road to prosperity has been a good and steady thing.          And yet, the paper, edited at the time by Bill Plante, was hostile to such a movement.      The commonly held belief at that time was to demolish and replace with strip malls and modern buildings that would usher in ‘good times’.        As I have seen around the country, it often produced the exact opposite.       It gutted the culture and the community and left them as cold edifices of isolation.      Worse, the vacuum was filled with the lower baser sorts of our society and a spiral of crime.

I will never forget going to Haverhill when I first moved here to explore and enjoy their dining establishments in a town where that destructive mindset had been allowed to have free reign.       The local police thought we were crazy for showing up and gave us a police escort out of town!

But Bill Plante echoed the sentiment of that day, “If we don’t tear it down, it will fall down”.     It took a large block of concerned citizens to write up a petition posted in his very own paper to finally convince City Hall that the newspaper did not reflect the community’s view.          But this hostility has continued over the years.

Then John Macone came in 14 years ago and everyone in town was excited.      Finally, we would get news, yes, real news!     Plus, the attitude of the paper would reflect more of the views of the community!        Things did get better for a while though the strange fascination with some editorial topics made us scratch our heads.        The new Newburyport has a very tiny demographic of fishermen – it is sad reality but their fate rarely affects our city as a whole.      This is just one example.

But the ever constant hostility toward historic preservation, though more latent now; was still there.         And an ever increasingly shrinking tiny core of dark siders still had undue influence in the paper pushing for an economy that had little to do with heritage tourism or historic buildings or our beautiful environment.         Notice the glee recently as the paper put the silly Wolfe Tavern idea on the front page.        All that has happened is that now the real Wolfe family won’t be able to name their new restaurant Wolfe Tavern putting a damper on their long-term success.

But there I was reading rather glumly at the portfolio of the new editor when I came to nearly the last paragraph.       Sometimes great things are missed if you are not paying attention!

He is a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

It flashed across my eyes as a thunderbolt and struck my front door!       This was almost unbelievable.

Could this be a rebirth of what was once called the Newburyport Daily News?

How will Mr. Lodge deal with a Mayor who wants to demolish and gut and put in all new buildings?       How will he deal with developers who are gleefully joining in the exploiting and gutting of historic buildings in town?      How will he deal with dark siders who mock our high quality of life and yearn for the old ugly town of old?

How will he treat those who are pushing for a better quality of life for our city?     Will he join, or dare to join the Newburyport Preservation Trust?       How will he treat COW or the NRA?       And increasingly, as he will discover; the hot displeasure of City Hall if he practices what he believes as our building inspector oversees the destruction of the Newburyport Historic District.lightning-bolts

Lightning is hard to control – and it spreads this way and that – but it also follows the path of least resistance too.

Only time will tell!      But the clock is ticking on the Mayor’s Daily Notice – even if it is based on just economics; either the paper starts to represent the majority of the citizens who want a high quality of life or Mr. Lodge’s tenure may be a very short one.

-P. Preservationist

Posted in Economics, Education, History, Organizations, Preservation, Preservation History, Quality of Life | Leave a comment


It is a very sore subject in Newbury – but again, we have some ‘old economy’ believers who think that more residential development will bring in more taxes for the city.

But as has been well-documented and published across the country, business land development brings in positive revenue but residential development causes a huge upswing in infrastructure costs which results in needing higher taxes because it causes negative revenue.

As long time Newbury resident, Norm Rehn, knows:

“I have heard before from knowledgeable Newbury residents (Finance Committee people) that the typical new single family home costs more in services than it contributes to the town in taxes.”’

Newbury as done a tremendous job of re-zoning Route One so businesses can contribute to supporting the town in a positive way; but old bad habits persist.

The reason the town is in constant arrears because residential housing has sprung up all over the community on land that once was left to farming.   Each new house adds more  infrastructure.  Now the board of health wants to make it easier to squeeze in more of the same which will undo all those business revenue gains as the town has to increase its taxes to cover more students in the schools, and more and more services.

Most people are aware that increasing residential development does not cover the costs of those needed services.  What is the average cost to Newbury of a single student in Newbury Elementary or Triton?  $12,000, $13000 per pupil?  If 20 homes go in by the Parker River that could bring in an additional 40 students and the town would need to raise $500,000 per year to just cover the school costs.  Never mind additional costs for police, fire, etc.

Chuck Bear says there is a  beautiful 27-arce property along the river bend that could be developed as well as the town selling the Old Larkin Mill site. He quoted that broadening [i.e. increasing] the tax base for Newbury is a good thing!      Or so he thinks!

What about withdrawal, additional stress on the river edge, the impairments listed on EPA’s 305/303(d) list,  changes to wellhead protection zones, etc.

So why get rid of the bylaw?  If someone is proposing a project that they feel won’t harm the river, then go in front of the zoning board for a variance of the 300-foot setback and have them prove it.

The questions is – how many developments can the river and its community be stressed with, and the town take the burden on new services like fresh water supply for these new developments!?!

The meeting is tonight and the voices of the Newbury residents are needed!

Here is the meeting details.

-P. Preservationist


Posted in Businesses, Developers, Economics, Environment, Health and wellness, History, Preservation, Quality of Life, Real Estate, schools, Sewage, Taxes, Waterfront, Watershed, Zoning | 2 Comments

Fox in the Hen House

Have you ever wondered about the story behind the First Religious Society of Newburyport?     Recently, the church sponsored an absolutely well-documented history – but it only goes up to the American Revolution and then stops.       During that time covered by the book, the members played important roles in our country’s history and especially in its birth.       Theophilus Parsons, a member, coined the phrase, “The Bill of Rights”, advocated for it vociferously and pushed hard for “Checks and Balances” in our U.S. Constitution.     Other members were outstanding in the cause of liberty.        The book is called, Where We Stood: A New England Church and the American Revolution 1764-1783, Historical Committee, Newburyport, MA, 2012.

But, how did they go from being a Christian church to a Unitarian-Universalist religious body?

It all started by that old saying, “Don’t let the fox guard the hen house!”

The Unitarian Movement was started in America as a direct re-action to the Great Awakening.        The face behind the Great Awakening was in fact, Rev. George Whitefield.    It first started in England as people packed his church to hear him in London.     Later, he visited America.     But he really began the Movement in 1740 when he arrived in Newburyport which at that time was the fifth most important city in the colonies.    He stressed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as a person’s primary means for salvation and declared the resulting indwelling of the Holy Spirit as the means for learning and empowerment.     He was heavily critical of the standard minister’s stressing of ritual and form in worship as a means of attaining “religion”.     He also firmly held the literal interpretation of the Bible and believed in its doctrines.

After getting off the ship, the first place he preached was at the First Religious Society of Newburyport.     Their building at that time was in Market Square.      The Rev. John Lowell was the pastor.

But when Rev. Whitefield returned back that way from travelling across the colonies, the church’s doors were firmly shut and he was informed he was not welcome. Turned out, John Lowell had been insulted, slighted by Whitefield and was deeply offended by the ‘enthusiasm’ exhibited by his preaching and was alarmed at the attitude of the congregation. It didn’t help that the “First Lights” left by the hundreds not just from his church but from the churches in the area to start the Third Society of Newburyport. (Old South today) He was not a Unitarian but did not believe in the strict interpretation of the Bible and a couple of ministers continued with that stance that followed after him.     Many were Arminian in belief or stressed Natural Theology which believed that people would automatically do the right thing and naturally believe in a moral God. (Which was easy since the society was highly Judeo-Christian in moral practice and structure.) As well-documented in the Newburyport Library archives, hundreds came to Christ during the Great Awakening right from the pews of the First Religious Society. But they had no Sunday School and there was a heavy reliance on the leadership of the pastor.

Regionally, a shift toward Liberal Theology and Unitarian beliefs were beginning to take hold.

As I indicated earlier, The Unitarian Movement was started in America as a direct re-action to the Great Awakening.

At that time, Harvard University was slowly being taken over by Unitarians who embraced the belief that a person would naturally be drawn to do good works and believe in a higher God. In 1805, under their new President; they officially became Unitarian, and when the Divinity School was established, it was firmly Unitarian in principle and stayed that way until the late 19th Century. President Charles William Eliot took the reigns right after the Civil War and started turning the Harvard Theological Seminary into a purely secular teaching institute based on the concept of comparative religions.   And it has stayed that way ever since.

Since graduating from Harvard was a great badge of honor, Unitarianism spread like wildfire as trainees went out to fill churches throughout New England and the country. Writers began to codify the movement such as Jared Sparks and William Ellery Channing. Literarily and philosophically, it was championed by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The belief by the way started in all places in Transylvania, spread to Poland and then to England where it really took off. A great many of the upper class embraced it and colleges were established to spread its doctrine. Of course, hostility toward such anti-Trinity ideas caused some to flee to America and one of the advocates as the idea spread was Benjamin Franklin but he was just one among many. Not to get side-tracked but one of the most famous Unitarians was Neville Chamberlain. It was probably his firmly held belief in the inherent goodness of Man that made him unable to cope with Adolph Hitler who was trained in a Christian School and well-knew all the doctrines of Christianity.

Meanwhile, the First Religious Society was starting to drift away from the Bible.

A large group of members began to realize what was happening and left the church in the early 1800’s when a Rev. Andrews was there and started the North Congregational Church which for a time being stayed strictly Calvinist.    It is now called the Central Congregational Church.

The big tip off that the fate of the First was sealed was when a Harvard Graduate, Thomas B. Fox, an avowed Unitarian, took the reigns in 1831. Most of the other ministers in town flatly refused to attend his official ordination into the First recognizing his anti-Trinitarian belief system.

You would think the church would have been in trouble. But instead, Rev. Fox was a prolific advocate of education, philanthropy, political advocacy and most of all a powerful and effective preacher. He established a Sunday School that was very popular, pushed and achieved the first Women’s High School (first in the nation) on Washington Street. The attendance at the church grew to an astounding 1,800. After he firmly established Unitarianism, he left in 1845 and went on to a successful career in Boston and was very influential on many fronts in the nation.

As a passing note, and based on my personal experience dealing with Unitarians; the doctrine is very popular with highly disciplined, highly moral business people. They consider their highly ethical practices as derived from a natural form of inherent goodness and firmly believe that every person when given the right opportunity would do the same. These high achievers also have a real difficulty with Christian doctrine that pictures them as sinners, and therefore, in need of salvation. As Jesus said in Mark 10:25, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.”

In 1961, the Universalists merged with the Unitarians and now they believe basically the same as they have always held except now it is not even necessary to believe in God to be a good UU member. According to their belief, there is no such thing as absolute truth and the purpose of man is to revel in the process of seeking truth always remembering that you’ll never actually ever achieve it!

And that background is why the FRN is Universalist-Unitarian today.

-P. Preservationist

Arminianism is a teaching regarding salvation associated with the Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius (1560-1609). The fundamental principle is the rejection of predestination, and a corresponding affirmation of the freedom of the human will.

Calvinism – (also called the Reformed tradition, Reformed Christianity, Reformed Protestantism or the Reformed faith) is a major branch of Protestantism that follows the theological tradition and forms of Christian practice of John Calvin and other Reformation-era theologians.



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The Sunday School Movement & The Old South

Robert Raikes Founder of the Sunday School MovementBeing such an ancient church, the Old South on Federal Street has faced conditions that frankly most of us in today’s world; would be totally unfamiliar.      The Industrial Revolution was beginning to take hold in America.    If you study the building on 29 Federal Street, it is a mixture of ancient first growth logs literally shaped by axes and adzes into massive beams.    But by looking around the building, you can also see the smooth boards and timbers made by steam and water powered mills that were located along the Merrimack River.

The Industrial Revolution was an explosion of manufacturing that brought about natives actually having some money jingling in their pockets and the idea of weekly wages began to be a powerful draw attracting workers from the surrounding countryside and city.   As factories sprung up across New England, farmers and poor fishermen would often send their children to be employed in the city’s mills from Monday to Saturday.         Their work hours were often 12 plus hours a day and very little time was left for the parents to even teach the basics of education.   Robert Raikes (1736-1811) from Gloucester, England started the Sunday School Movement to reach out and try to teach these children who were already suffering this type of life in England.        The main thrust was to educate them on a Sunday before services using the Bible and other literature.

In America, the idea of Sunday Schools was started in Philadelphia among the Baptists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and other reformed churches in 1824.    To avoid denominational strife, the Bible was stressed as the ‘curriculum’ and not church catechism.  The group formed the American Sunday School Union that year and sent 49 missionaries out to establish these Sunday Schools in churches all across the country but especially on the Frontier.       The Old South, often called the Third Religious Society of Newburyport were pioneers in Christian Education and started the fourth sunday school in the country!

It quickly became a tradition by working class parents, even parents who didn’t attend church; to bring their children to sunday school.   They knew their children were going to get a good education!   Not only learning Scriptures, they would learn ethics and morality and good citizenship and often would learn basic traditional studies.

As public schools began to be mandatory in the 1870’s in America, the sunday schools began to turn their focus back to training up believers in the faith.   According to the Bible, studying the Scriptures daily is supposed to be a necessary part of a believer’s life.      Unfortunately,  the practical reality is the cares of making a living, and raising families and doing civic duty; chokes out most who are not given to extreme discipline or a habit early formed when they were young.     Great many ‘believers’ haven’t the faintest notion of what they are supposed to ‘believe’.     Many a church has gone apostate simply because it was way too easy for a demagogue minister to steer them away and there were simply not enough in the congregation to stop him!     Sunday schools have endured as a great way to strengthen the typical Christian church and avoid a congregation full of ignorant followers easily swayed by con men, extremists and flim-flammers.     In addition to stopping this great danger, the training time has allowed for a great resource of  students who would learn to be teachers themselves and thus guarantee sound instruction continuing in the congregation in the future.

Whenever you see the words, Sunday School, posted on a church marquis; that is a lasting tribute to that effort that was so powerfully needed in the past.    It was an effective solution for the rather deplorable state suffered during the 18th Century in England and especially in America, during the early years of the 19th Century.

-P. Preservationist



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Pollyannaish Newburyport

My last post produced some rather interesting responses that were very troubling, at least to me.      This city used to be a hot bed for politics – one side debating against the other with both doing (if they had a case) a fine job passionately debating the issues with pro’s and con’s, supporting facts and often with painful compromise.

Our Central Waterfront is a fine example of this where democracy works.      Yes, I know, hard to believe, but it works.     It’s messy but that’s the way things get done in a free society.

You’ve probably heard many cry out that there is no resolution – but wait.     If you look at the dilapidated  construction site in 1970 pictures, you can clearly see compared to the present – that much has been done!      There are gardens, and memorials, park land and trees, and along the water there is a boardwalk and more memorials and more gardens and art sculptures all set in lovely landscaping.       And though we’re stuck with parking lots, there are regular spaces for the cars, and lovely public ways to the water.

All that discourse produced what we see today.      Yes, there is figuratively blood spilt for every step we take on the waterfront; but that is not what our visitors see or our locals enjoy.

So I was very grieved when my blog produced the accusation of being salacious.      In essence, salacious is sexual conversation with lots of lewd detail not appropriate in public discourse.       In my blog, I cited many reasons why there should be a replacement for the Mayor with many supporting points.     In essence the reader is saying, “Shut up, I don’t want to hear it.”

What the reader and those similar in response are saying is that we don’t want to hear anything negative.     We want to go on without question, always looking for the positive; always assuming the best intent in anyone’s actions.      Not capable of thinking evil, they assume no one else is doing evil.     And if someone brings up something unpleasant no matter how true, they turn away.

By these, demagogues and tyrants thrive.

Today, being Pollyannaish means someone who is absurdly optimistic and good-hearted believing in a good world where everything works out for the best all the time.    It is derived from Eleanor H. Porter’s famous novel, Pollyanna, published in 1913 and later turned into a Disney movie.     The character, Pollyanna had an outlook on life of absolute optimism and whose problems were always straightened out in the end.

Unfortunately, in the real world; it takes a lot of effort with setbacks galore to get things straightened out and often times the end is just ever beyond the reach.

The Bible says that great evil comes from the love of money and that is what is being displayed today in Newburyport.      Facing this legion of money lovers are the citizens of Newburyport who value quality of life.      This great war has many battles won and lost and has been going on since the Sixties.

But the lovers of money are very clever and are counting on Pollyannaish citizens who want to hear nothing but happy thoughts.       These residents are not evil in themselves, in fact, far from it – but by their turning away from the real issues facing our city, they become an accessory to the evil acts.

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

                                                                        -Edmund Burke

-P. Preservationist





Posted in finances, Health and wellness, News & Politics, Quality of Life, Waterfront | Leave a comment