The Tunnels – Pictures Please!

I’ve written quite a bit about the smuggler tunnels; and as we get closer to solving the mystery with research and a whole lot of sleuthing, we need something desperately to fill in the blank parts of the quest.

Tunnel entrances.

I have heard since I moved here in 1987, about walled up tunnel entrances in people’s basements.      It seems someone has one in their cellar; or they know someone who has one in theirs.       It’s almost becoming a standard part of conversation when anyone ventures into the subject of our mysterious tunnels.

It reminds me of one of the reality shows that airs on television.     A show about explorers determined to find evidence of big foot.      They were pretty convincing that basic, big foot smilingscientific evidence was going to finally reveal solid proof of the Big Man of the Forest.      Well, it didn’t take only a few episodes to figure out they were never going to find any such thing; if they did so – oops, there goes the profitable series!      They are just wasting our time.

I am getting really exasperated at the reluctance of those who supposedly have seen these entrances around Newburyport.      We now live in an era where everyone is walking around with a camera in their hand.

Take a picture of these entrances!

You may say, “Why, what’s the point?”      First, it proves they actually exist, and not someone’s romantic notion.      Two, the structure of the entrance, the size of the entrance and the type of brick around the framing plus what was used when it was walled up; tells us reams about the tunnels.       The brick used, the shape of the entrance – all reveal clues that are badly needed.     Plus, the final element is the location – who’s basement which gives us a hint as to the size and extend of the network of the tunnel across town.

Smart phones are becoming common – start using them.

If you take a picture of one of these doorways, please send to        If you need the house location to be confidential and not shared; definitely indicate clearly in the e-mail.

WE NEED PICTURES – please send them along.

-P. Preservationist

PS. The recent Newburyport Magazine issue on tunnels is excellent reading. (though I wished they had a picture of my face!)    The usual doubters and critics though are included which is fair since it was a very balanced and informative article.     But alas, these people do not take into account the terrible state of Newburyport from 1807 to 1825; when the population radically reduced in size and the city went from extreme wealth to extreme poverty literally overnight.  Newburyport became infamous during this period for being heavily involved in smuggling.    So why no records?  Much of Newburyport’s involvement with the Revolutionary War was secret or hidden because of the danger of the enemy knowing; the same case with Smuggling – unlike classic cartoons, the smuggler is not broadcasting his activities.      The merchants in town in 1807 had the money to build the tunnels – and if we can eventually locate these subterranean entrances, early accounts indicate they had a rail system much like mining carts to haul up from the waterfront.        Now to find them!

Posted in Archeology, History | 1 Comment

DON’T throw out the baby with the bathwater!!!!!!!

 As things become more competitive in the city council races; I want to put forth this warning in order to make sure that whatever you may feel toward the Mayor, or the city’s policies; may not reflect in the way you vote on November 3rd.       Yes, our four-year mayor has managed to generate anger from Turkey Hill to Plum Island; and especially in the South End and Back Bay which have received the full brunt of her policies.

The city in general is just now beginning to receive the considerable tax increases and ramped up water & sewer bills, educational ‘service’ fees, etc. and the simmering is just under a boil and may even be ready to knock the pot lid right over.

But if you have obviously noticed; many measures designed to benefit the citizens; not monied groups or outside developers; have graciously come from the leadership of the city council.

If you recount, though they lost on the LHD issue, historic preservationists roared back and took a majority of the seats.        They have done much good but now our powerful Mayor has basically divided their loyalties – are they for her “bulldozer” approach or do they continue to stand for preserving our high quality of life by keeping our historic neighborhoods?

Don’t, because you are angry at some of the councilors closest to the Mayor, cast them out and replace them with candidates who would actually cheer the Chief Executive on in her destructive policies (I refer to the gutting and destruction of historic houses).       Don’t put inadequately-equipped candidates in just because you are furious.       Don’t put in one-issue candidates, thugs, crazies, criminals or demagogues just so the whole city’s administration gets ‘mucked up’ – it will only make things worse.

Mayor Lisa Mead in her first term was actually pretty good and she accomplished a lot, and people genuinely appreciated her contributions to the city; but then she resigned and went to work for John Kerry’s presidential bid.       She came back and easily won re-election.

But she had changed.        Instead of calling her followers Meadies, people began to label them Meanies; and the mayor was no longer the happy, smiling candidate from before.      For whatever reason, she just plain got mean.

So, in a shocking slap in the face, at the next election; they chose Al Lavender (Who by the way was just as surprised as Lisa that he had won!)      Not prepared, he started making mistakes – he made a weak Host Agreement and today, we celebrate his creation (and the odor that frequently reminds us all) by staring at the highest structure in the city, the Landfill (unofficially called Mount Lavender).     Still in litigation and still troubling the community.    He arranged for patronage deals such as selling part of the rail trail over by March’s Hill for example.   Worse, because he was not prepared, some 9 million dollars in state & federal grants were literally turned away during his administration.

The city was set back for some years.

So, remember!      We need historic preservationists on the city council; we need competent, experienced councilors who are seeking ways to compensate for the “bulldozer” before she does more

Don’t put in someone that will weaken the council which, in turn, will only make the Mayor stronger in doing things,

“Her way,”

-P. Preservationist

Posted in News and politics, Preservation, Preservation History, Quality of Life | 2 Comments

Primary Endorsement

Ted Waldron III

I was going to write this involved blog and add links and rational, and then it hit me.

All three candidates are good people.

Okay, a little crazy, of course, because they’re dipping their feet into the political fire; but still – these are Newburyport citizens who want to make a difference and to work toward improving our neighborhoods.

So, I dumped the long blog and what you see, is what you get.

He is the only one that is clearly for historic preservation  – which, if you have any clue about our city, is a primary issue in this election.       My only misgiving is Tim’s “Bridge to Nowhere” statement about a pedestrian link from the garage over to Karp’s hangout.     Obviously, he is not well versed on the subject or the attempt by just about everyone else to make sure the garage blends seamlessly into our historic Federalist downtown.

But his general attitude will only reinforce those on the council who are better informed.

As for the other candidates in Ward One; who am I to judge what they might do, or could possibly do; until they actually do it?        There is not much of what they have said or done in the past to hang much of a hat or anything else for that matter.

They actually represent the very best representation of our city; and very glad they are making the collective attempt.

-P. Preservationist

Posted in Education, News and politics, Preservation, Quality of Life | 1 Comment

Old is the new green

Architecture Boston CoverOur historically-preserved neighborhoods are the gateway for us to be a truly sustainable, zero-output community.       So I won’t be accused of plagiarism, recently Architecture Boston, which is a cutting-edge trade-magazine for the construction industry  (not meant for us plebeians), in the most recent issue; they have stressed historic preservation as the new green.       In a graphic picture, they show discarded architectural features thrown into a landfill, sadly discarded.         Their most poignant article is called, “Old is the New Green” and is definitely worth reading. (Please do!)

That is why I am going after City Hall, in particular, the Mayor and the Building Department.        Molly Ettenborough is very familiar with what I laid out in my previous post; but she can go just so far; it is time that our Green Community begin to impact the architects, craftsmen, contractors and developers so they are instructed on the rules of this sustainable city, given instruction on ways to preserve our structures and if need be, inhibit and warn them if they continue to do the ‘old methods’.        It will take some time to re-shape the attitude in City Hall.        Hopefully, we can even slow down the “Bulldozer” herself.       But it is going to take all of us, not just a few concerned about ‘old houses’.

Most people think of historic preservationists as exotic specialists sitting around fondling ancient moldings and gaping at houses.       What they don’t realize that when you monetize historic preservation – it is the very key to Newburyport’s economic prosperity.

I stood at the south end of Atwood Park and gazed over at a moderately-sized house that is going for a million dollars.       Where I work, I have several employees who are having trouble finding a buyer for their houses because they are out in suburbia; or they are up in rural New Hampshire.       And yet, here in Newburyport; there are mid-size houses selling (and being purchased) at crazy prices.      Just down the street a few houses down, a huge Federal in the 70’s sold for $60,000.     Now it is worth well over $2,000,000.      It is our historic neighborhoods that are making it possible for all, not a handful of developers; to increase equity, property values and to enhance our quality of life.

When historic windows are ripped out, the sheathing is thrown in a dumpster, history is dug up and discarded and the embodied energy of an already built house is now replaced with short-lived materials, all because it’s ‘new’; the entire community suffers.

We must preserve our historic neighborhoods if we ever hope to be a true Green Community!

Remember, we need to take to heart what Architecture Boston is relaying to the building industry, “Preservation is central to a sustainable world.”

-P. Preservationist

Posted in Architecture, Art & Culture, Businesses, Craftsmen, Developers, Economics, Education, finances, News and politics, Planning, Preservation, Quality of Life, Real Estate, Streetscapes | Leave a comment

It’s not easy being ‘green’ but it could be easy being green

Is that title confusing you?     In other words, you can make it hard to achieve a green community or you can make it easy – it’s all in your attitude.

The purpose of the present Green Building Movement is to recycle, reuse, conserve and design a built society through technology and community effort to attain a balanced, environmentally sensitive system with the goal of encouraging a rich quality of life.

There are four terms that are commonly used in the Green Building Movement.

Green building.   This is a structure that is designed to not only have energy-saving material and systems but to have minimal impact on the environment.

Smart Growth.     Growth that achieves neighborhood livability makes them more equitable, more accessible with less traffic, concentrating whenever possible on “existing” buildings; avoiding sprawl and keeping open space open.

Sustainable Development.   It is the ability to meet our needs without prejudicing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. One of the factors in sustainable development is embodied energy defined below.

Embodied energy.   This is the total expenditure of energy involved in the creation of the building and its constituent materials.     In simple terms, how long will it take in cost-savings to get reimbursed from the benefits of the construction?

If you haven’t guessed it already, Historic Preservation is exactly in the forefront of that effort.

When we teardown an historic building it results in many violations of the Green Building Movement.   Tragically, we are throwing away thousands of dollars in embodied energy.     A study was done recently which calculates that the total embodied energy in existing buildings is equivalent to ten years of the total energy consumption of the entire country.       When we discard this material, we are losing and must replace in an ever expanding way, the lost material, which puts an ever increasing pressure on the nation’s resources. The EPA has indicated that nearly 30% of the nation’s solid waste is building material from old buildings! Adding to the problem, it is more expensive to replace the older material compared to today’s higher price levels.

The populist green movement wants to build, build, build “green”.   But every time they construct another “new” green building, it will cost 15 to 30 times the annual energy use of that building.   In other words, it will take several decades to recover the cost from the construction process.

In comparison, the embodied energy in an historic building that was built in the past and no longer draws materials from the environment increases the energy savings dramatically as the years go by.     And the best part is the durability of the historic home.   The older the home, the more durable they are and the embodied energy increases.   What are most historic houses built from?   Brick, plaster, stone, concrete and timber.   What are the least energy-consumptive materials?   Brick, plaster, stone, concrete and timber.   In comparison, new buildings are constructed of plastic, steel, vinyl and aluminum which tend to be the most energy-consumptive materials.

The concept of devouring more land to build more new buildings regardless if the building is “green” or not is non-sustainable!

To compensate for such devastating oversight, the new revisions on LEED* certification now contain procedures on “existing buildings”.   Congress is working hard to push the American Clean Energy & Security Act and one of the Acts main initiatives is to provide funding and tax incentives for the restoration and retrofitting of existing built structures and make historic buildings sensibly upgraded for energy-cost savings.   Recently, the EPA has reinforced its dedication to preserving land and to reduce waste generation and to increase recycling.

All this effort is refocusing on the green value of historic buildings.     Newburyport has a huge resource of embodied energy that makes our City a beacon for sustainable development.   Newburyport’s historic preservation efforts make our city viable, make it livable and make our city equitable.

The renovation and restoration and preservation of historic buildings are powerful means toward that end.    It is that reason that the preserving of our historic district is paramount in the coming years not just for heritage tourism and property values but to reinforce our community’s commitment to be a Green City.

Right now, the city is doing the opposite and trying to buck a trend that is spreading across the nation; unless it changes its policies; no historic house is safe from utter destruction.

Once the building department and City Hall realize that preserving is the key to our prosperity – only then can we preserve the fantastic embodied energy of our historic neighborhoods.

-P. Preservationist

* LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.    I will have a separate blog on their drive to preserve buildings.    They started this recently as they’re earlier stringent rules caused a devastating destruction in existing structures as the public sought to make their buildings energy-efficient without consideration of sustainability and embodied energy.


Posted in Architecture, Conservation, Craftsmen, Developers, Economics, Education, Health and wellness, News and politics, Planning, Preservation, Quality of Life, Real Estate, Streetscapes | Leave a comment

We need to throw off our hypocrisy (Starting in the Building Department)

When the  Green Community Act was embraced here in Newburyport; it meant that we, as a city would begin to become “Green”.        This is not some light-hearted affair sticking a solar panel there, and an electric charging station here; it is a serious commitment.       Being green is actually turning around and changing our lifestyle to become a better community.          Green communities are tightly defined and the practices are being observed all over our country – and just in time as environmental impacts of pollution and waste are beginning to overwhelm our health system, and our environment.      As Pope Francis recently noted, “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”       Recently, a fellow blogger has decided to become the unofficial apologist for the consumer wasters in our city; elevating their intense desire for “comfort” over health issues, environmental impacts and the negative affects to our community.

As has been demonstrated recently, a great number of people have adjusted to the plastic bag ordinance; businesses have compensated and lifestyles have been altered to the new reality of brown and cloth bags.      It’s actually been a weird ritual trying to wade through cardboard boxes piling up in the basement until you can’t move and then filling up the car to return them all.

This all happened because the city took leadership and implemented a change.      But when it comes to the principles of a ‘Green Community’; the city has decided to surrender it all for money – more money can be generated filling up our landfills with construction debris, receiving in large quantities of construction product transported from far away with much energy; and pushing for petroleum and artificial products that have a built-in shelf life of no more than 20 years.    Worse, the receiving in of these short-lived items that are supposed to be so new and shiny and energy efficient can never be recouped because the savings from greater efficiency will not be compensated for in monies from 10 to 80 years.*    Just as they pay off, they in turn must be cast into the landfill!

The city needs to take leadership and begin to take concrete action to stop the wholesale ripping and gutting of long-lived materials.     In my next post, I will show you the real components of a Green Community.

We need to cast off this hypocrisy, face the fact that what we claim to be doing does not match our reality.         The Building Department as well as the Planning & Development Department as well as the Health Department need to take leadership action to convince, educate and promote in order for us to have a truly sustainable community.

Once you see what a true Green Community is, then you will know what will need to be done in our city; and to stop the destruction so thoroughly being perpetuated from the Corner office to our local developers.

-P. Preservationist

  • 2012 Report, Cascadia Green Building Council in Partnership with Skanska and the National Trust for Historic Places.
Posted in Businesses, Conservation, Craftsmen, Developers, Education, Environment, News and politics, Planning | Leave a comment

A New Survey for the Election Season

Posted in Open Space | 1 Comment