It’s Working!

Okay, let’s rephrase that: it’s working if we all chip in together.        As I indicated in today’s Daily News article, The History of Yankee Homecoming, which I have in it’s ‘unabridged’ version here; the whole point of Yankee Homecoming is to bring in an influx of visitors.

So many of the locals fail to understand that all the good things they enjoy in this community has been brought about by eco and heritage tourism.      Quality of life and high property values have created a nexus of quality services that only a much larger (and more congested) urban center can readily provide.          Only the delusional amongst us actually think that a handful of marinas (which only operate for just a few months of the year), parks (which can only be endured a few months of the year); and a small group of companies in the industrial park. (which generate little direct benefit to our tax rolls); are our source of wealth.

You may, as a resident, may not like our ‘guests’ but each one translates into a gold mine.      Because of that, they need to be conjoled, pleased and welcomed at any chance we get.      We need to refrain from the thoroughly thought but fortunately not spoken, “Welcome to Newburyport!      Spend your money and get out!”

Fortunately, I might add, because a significant percentage, do come back and live here or, and this is our source of wealth, want to live here – which makes our desirability translated into high equity and property values.

And don’t forget that we have The Curse to contend with!          This ancient doom is trying to make sure that Newburyport is not known nationally or internationally – that we are forgotten – and that urge to shout out at our visitors only reinforces the curse even more.

Yankee Homecoming has been since it’s very beginning, a fantastic way to fight that obscurenous existence.

Locals invite their relatives which are probably scattered across the country and even the globe; those relatives invite their other relatives and friends spawning a chain reaction.      Then, when you mix all the visitors who ‘accidentally’ stumbled upon our city; inviting their friends and relatives to come – and you have a juggernaut.

Can’t depend on the city to do it – they’re mired in The Curse.

Can’t depend on the Chamber to do it – they’re influenced by the same desire to shoo away visitors stimulated by the suicidal business nature of The Curse.

We can all beat this horrible tabboo – but it’s going to take all of us – resisting its siren song of isolationism.

So support the spirit of Yankee Homecoming – set your vacation time next year for another spot in the summer and invite those friends and relatives.

Let the world know about Newburyport!

-P. Preservationist

PS. That also means gritting your teeth and endure the crowding, the traffic and the peculiarities of our guests. (If they’re especially loud, check for a Texas license plate nearby.)

Posted in Eco-tourism, finances, Health and wellness, Heritage Tourism, History, Quality of Life, Real Estate, Recreation, Taxes, Tourism, Traffic, Travel | 1 Comment

The Power behind the Throne

Ever heard of Albenia Boole?     Probably not, but if it wasn’t for her, the glorious age of the clipper ships wouldn’t have been possible!        Typical of a long line of women who were “behind the scenes”:  such as James Madison would have been nothing without Dolly Madison.    Turns out Edith Wilson ran the country (through clever deception) when President Woodrow Wilson had a paralyzing stroke.    That Adolphus Greeley wouldn’t have ever come back from the Arctic if his army wife hadn’t terrorized the Washington D.C. crowd into sending a rescue ship.      The examples go on and on.

The fame of her husband, Donald McKay was largely due to her influence.

Albenia Martha Boole was born in Jordan Falls, Shelburne County, Nova Scotia, September 8, 1815, and had lived across the Jordan River from Donald McKay’s childhood home. She was five years younger than Donald and they had known each other as children.

Her father, John, like many other men in that community, had been a farmer and shipbuilder. Their house also functioned as an inn for travelers. John Boole sold his house and land in 1831 and brought his family with him to New York City, where he took up shipbuilding. Two of his sons followed him into the trade and a number of other family members made the move to New York and were actively engaged as master shipbuilders, shipwrights, and artisans.

Realizing his daughter’s gifted abilities, John Boole saw to it that Albenia received a good education, which was somewhat unusual for that day and age, and Albenia became a schoolteacher. She excelled in mathematics, and, being a shipbuilder’s daughter, was in love with the sea and sailing ships. She possessed a thorough knowledge of the shipbuilding trade and could draft and lay off plans for ships as well as any man.

The social life of the shipbuilding community rarely strayed beyond familiar maritime circles. It was only natural and perhaps fate that Donald McKay, then twenty-two, soon fell in love with Albenia Boole, a shipbuilder’s beautiful and talented daughter.

In Albenia Boole, Donald McKay had met his equal. They soon were married.

The couple bought a little house on East Broadway, then considered to be one of the most desirable residential neighborhoods on the East side of New York. The Boole family was well-to-do and the money Albenia brought to the marriage, combined with her husband’s steady work and good wages, gave a firm foundation to the large family that was to come.           Cornelius Whitworth, their first son, was born February 1, 1834.

Besides being his wife, Albenia would also become Donald McKay’s mentor and teacher. For McKay had become keenly aware of the gaps in his education, particularly in mathematics, that were detrimental to his plans and was resolved to overcome those shortcomings.     Together in the evenings, under the light of a whale oil lamp, Albenia tutored Donald and in time he absorbed the mathematical lessons that were so crucial to his shipbuilding career.     The lessons learned would be put to good use. Competition in the shipyards of New York for the packet trade was cutthroat. Each of the competing transatlantic lines desired to possess the finest and fastest ships. With the leaders went the bragging rights along with the most lucrative trade.

But Albenia was also her husband’s guide!      Both of them went over seas to England and other European countries several times to absorb the technologies of ship building that were turning wooden clipper ships into steel torpedoes that could hold up the new invention in steam locomotion.        They worked as a team to spawn design plans for extreme clippers that were the wonder of the world.

Regrettably, Albenia, after a short illness, died in December, 1848 and was buried in Newburyport, Massachusetts where Donald had purchased a family plot when he was working in the city by the Merrimack River. (She was the true power behind the throne and many of his revolutionary ideas sprang from her analytical and mathematical mind).

Though he later married Mary Cressy Litchfield (1831 to 1923) who gave him many children; the innovative edge that Donald had was slowly peetering out.    His last extreme clipper ship was built in 1855 and he had an much difficulty adapting to the new line of steamships.     During the Civil War, he devoted his yards to steamships but they were not distinctive nor innovative and by 1869, he sold his shipyard after diminishing profits.

He purchased a farm in Hamilton and tried his hand at agriculture with only moderate success and finally retired in 1877.

Though Albenia may not be remembered in the typical history book; her legacy is secured in inspiring her husband to achieve great things through her guidance and practical knowledge in mathematics.

To Albenia Martha McKay – We salute you!

Her gravestone may be visited at Oak Hill Cemetary in Newburyport near her husband’s memorial at their family plot.

-P. Preservationist




Posted in Businesses, Heritage Tourism, History | Leave a comment

Tips on whale watching

I figure since more and more non-locals are sneaking views on my blog and website who are making plans to come to Newburyport; it might be a good thing to give some tips on things to do and enjoy in our area.

So let’s first cover how to enjoy a whale watch!

Whale BreachingOkay, let’s just lay out the simple facts.        Whale watching tours are a for profit operation, charity for a whale watching tour is giving some monetary tips to the crew: your charity, their pocket.   Consequently, there are some things that they are not going to tell you.      But, often, it’s those things you need to know if you want to enjoy the maximum benefit out of the trip.

First of all, parking issues.     It used to be, that in the area that is near the Plum Island Coffee Roasters just beyond the Black Cow; there would be designated areas for whale boat parking.      As New England Development begins to make its move; those days are done.     Now you need to make a choice.     You can park out on the street for free (if you’re lucky) or park in the paid parking areas – making sure you have paid enough to cover your trip.    Of course, most locals have permit parking stickers; and if you know a local or are staying with someone; the best way is to car pool down together.     Free is always best.

Second, I don’t care that eggs are frying on the boardwalk, bring a winter coat.     Seasoned watchers of Wicked Tuna, may think their watching a fisherman’s tale based on the Bearing Sea in Alaska.      Sorry, those boys are fishing just off our coast!       I don’t care if you feel foolish or embarrassed; grit your teeth; endure the mockery and take the heavy things on the boat.      You’ll be glad you did!        The North Atlantic is what you are facing and it may be 93 degrees at the docks, it could be 60 degrees out there – and your summer clothes will make you feel like your naked in February.

Second, bring Dramamine.     The whale boat operators will try to avoid taking passengers out on rough seas but you never know the final conditions – plus you may not know, until too late that your stomach has an issue out at sea.       Remember, the whole point of the trip is to ENJOY.         Vomiting over the side is not achieving that goal.

Third, take the second tour for the day.      That is, if they are offering two trips in a day.      Whales are often busy fishing and doing the work of survival in the early part of the day.       In the latter part, they are know a bunch of belly filled happy campers.    They may get frisky and breach (the ultimate goal to see of all whale watchers*); or they may just lay about, opening and closing their mouths, playing with their calves and eyeing up the tourists.       There is nothing like looking into those lenses of seafaring knowledge.

Fourth and final, don’t ruin your trip out of singlemindedness.      I recently posted as an example about visitors to the Arkansas Diamond Mine and how diggers were throwing out semi-precious stones by the droves in their vain search for one diamond.       It is the same way with a whale tour.     There are odd birds, seals, sharks, turtles, dolphins, porpoises (some of them doing spectacular acrobatics without the benefit of a trainer) and sun fishes, etc.    You may encounter a giant fish factory out there, or trawlers.      But, you may be on one of those odd whale boat excursions where they can’t find a single whale.        So big deal; instead of demanding your money back – enjoy the entire show.        I tell you every trip will be memmorable.

And finally, the Newburyport Whale Watch has violated the rules of “The Curse” by aggressively advertising on Groupon.      You get a great discount by doing so and it gives them great Internet exposure.       In fact, the other whale boat companies have to give bigger discounts, because they are so jealous.         So sorry! (not really)

-P. Preservationist

PS. It’s taken a while but it is finally catching on that the Newburyport Whale Watch is the best choice in the region.      Jeffrey’s Ledge is just off the Merrimack River’s mouth.       A journey from our docks is the shortest journey for the biggest buck.          The Ledge is basically an island that has not breached the surface.        Deep nutrients are driven up by the current to the surface and the shrimp feast on this material in great numbers allowing the whales without having to dive deep or make extra effort, obtain great numbers with their straining mouths.       Other whale boats can either go far out to sea to other areas of similar conditions or they make their way to ‘our’ ledge.         Save money, save time and take ‘our’ boat.

* Unless you are in a tiny row boat in Mexico when one breaches next to you!   What a way to die!

Posted in Businesses, Eco-tourism, Ecology, Education, Entertainment, Environment, finances, Parking, Planning, Recreation, Science, Tourism, Tours, Travel, Waterfront, Wildlife | Leave a comment

Power Vacuum

Kick the dog around

Kickin’ the Dog Around

Just two words to explain why the NRA can not dissolve at this time.     When the Citizens are up in arms over the NRA; they go to the NRA.      When the Waterfront Trust is upset with the NRA; they go to the NRA.       When the City has a problem with the waterfront, more than likely; the NRA is somehow involved.

The land where the expanded park will be placed is a toxic waste site.     Before a park can be expanded; the area must be cleaned up.       It is rather obvious that the NRA has not lifted a finger to seek a cleanup of the site, nor applied for Brownfields funding; hoping upon hope a developer would end up doing it for them.

So, what if, all of a sudden, the NRA dissolves!?!

There is not only no dog to kick around – the bullseye of public attention moves to City Hall.

This is great on a practical level because as city property, CPA funds can be applied to gain new park property.      Grants and state funding can be accessed if only the land was city property! (Which it’s not!)

With the land back in the citizens’ hands; the mayor is stuck with the daunting task of cleaning up of the site, and all the liability on the land will land squarely on the city.

The Waterfront Trust, that arbitrary court-ordered organization now begins to reign supreme making the members of its board powerful in influence.

And all eyes would be turned to the Mayor.         No more posturing, no more excuses.

Just picture a big bullseye on our Chief Executive.Red bulls eye

With many challenges ahead with future garages and future NED plans, and many projects contemplated ahead for 2016;  adding this extra issue is definitely not welcome.

So I assure you – at least in this election year, it’s not going to happen.

But you know, it is an election year – the positions taken on this NRA dissolution request will be quite alive and lively until November 3rd.

Let’s see how each candidate weights in on this issue.

-P. Preservationist

Posted in News and politics, Open Space, Organizations, Planning, Waterfront | 4 Comments

It’s slow work!

Burglar at nightIt is so hard to combat those who do wrong.

A burgler will break in and steal leaving the house a mess.       A bank robber will terrorize the employees and take the money.      A murderer will commit the terrible act and begone.     A hit and run will leave a devastating path behind.

And what do the police do?

They can’t do the dramatic chase scene in most cases.     They have to methodically reconstruct what is happening, search for clues, interview witnesses (if any) and examine mountains of data that would make a librarian weep.

Meanwhile, the burglar is down at the local restaurant having a lovely meal and perhaps hang with friends and then sit in front of the television and relax.       The bank robber goes about his daily business and lives his life.      The murderer assumes the role of any other citizen blending in seamlessly.      The driver goes on – busy with his errands!

That is often the case in Newburyport when it comes to politics and trying to combat some of the wrongs in the city.       The aggressor has been plotting this for a long time, knows the ropes on how to get it done; and even has the means, financing, opportunity and resources to make a clean getaway.

We (I also include other fellow Newburyporters) who love our city and want the best to be done for our chosen home; have to first identify the problems; find out who are the aggressors; and do mountains of research trying to figure out how to stop their evil doings plus how to prevent them doing it again.

Take for example the Smart Growth planned for the train station and the traffic circle.      Seemed pretty straightforward – some re-zoning to help out a developer put in some residential units.

It took research and talking to other residents from other cities and towns to find out what it all really means.    Took some time to find out who were the participants and who stands to profit and why.      Now, we begin to see the whole picture coming together.

In the meantime, the proponents  are already counting their profits in their heads and gathering an aggressive promotional campaign – while we’re still trying to find out what the whole project is about.

That’s just one example.

There are multiple aggressors coming at the city from different directions.         Each one requires sleuthing to find out if what they’re selling is good or bad.       It takes time to track down the What, when, Where, Who and Why.

Sadly, I, and most of the rest of Newburyport; have lives to live.        We can’t afford to hole up inside an archive or glue our faces to the Internet for hours.            That’s why it is important for all of us with our snatches of time to get the information down and out to others who can use their respective dribbles of time to add to the case.

18,000 less people in Newburyport and the issues seem endless.     I’m aware of most all of them; but have only a trickle of time to cover them.

So what am I saying here?

We need more citizen participation for us to be effective in warding off threats to our high quality of life.

The work is slow UNLESS everyone chips in and contributes at once.

It happened before!     The result was a beautiful historic downtown.

It needs to happen again.

-P. Preservationist


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

Announcing a new website and a new direction

JBSI am officially unveiling a new organization: The John Bromfield Society.

The problem with Newburyport with a population of less than 18,000 is its host of organizations; most which simply won’t talk to each other or work with each other.          Fortunately, we do have some collaboration out there.    For example, the Custom House and the Cushing House working together; the Preservation Trust and the Custom House; and COW working with the NRA. (Just kidding)

The John Bromfield Society by its very nature is dedicated to putting in an infrastructure that promotes Heritage Tourism and improves the city’s already high level of quality of life.       This component is broken down into the following categories:

One, historic brick sidewalks installed throughout the Newburyport Historic District.    We don’t have brick sidewalks to generate an historic feeling, the sidewalks are beyond an emotional response – they are very much part of our history due to John Bromfield’s will.    Every effort available will be made to see historic brick inside the district and cement sidewalks installed in the remaining balance of our city’s streets.

Two, historic houses need to be preserved and protected.      This means working with the Newburyport Preservation Trust which is already hard at work ensuring this happens.     John Bromfield Society will assist whenever needed as an ally in this just cause.

Three, historic street trees need to be preserved, and increased in inventory.     This means working and promoting with the Tree Commission.       As a volunteer board, they may be limited financially, politically and socially from fulfilling their goal of covering the city’s Newburyport Historic District with healthy street trees.        John Bromfield Society will do everything possible to be the cheerleading squad for this important oversight commission.

Four, colonial lighting should be expanded and utility lines placed underground.       The fact that the city now owns the lights in the city should be a powerful incentive to expand the number of streets that are covered in colonial lighting.        Also, whenever possible; the undergrounding of the utility lines in the city.       This will require a large commitment of time and money.     John Bromfield Society has committed itself to seeing this happen.

Please check out the new website,

As always, the brick & Tree Blog will continue on many issues and subjects in the City of Newburyport but a lot of new posts will be dedicated toward the fulfillment of the Society’s goals.           Stay tuned as we provide membership information, meeting schedules and current updates.

-P. Preservationist




Posted in Architecture, Art & Culture, Downtown, Education, Health and wellness, Heritage Tourism, History, Infrastructure, Landscapes, News and politics, Organizations, Parks, Planning, Preservation, Quality of Life, Renovation, Restoration, sidewalks, Streetscapes, Tourism, Trees | Leave a comment

Tunnels – Solving A Major Mystery

“Smuggling has been one of the most common economic activities of all time, yet it is all but absent from the historical record.”

 -Freeman’s Perspective, (

Repeatedly, we have house after house in Newburyport with tunnel entrances.      They are not cisterns which tend to be in the backyards of the older homes and are accessed by a trap door.

These tunnel doorways are found mostly bricked in.

But one thing that is glaringly clear is the absence of any historical record of their existence until the late 19th century.   

Most were built during the Federalist (or Jeffersonian) period.       This is true because the Federal Bricksize of a brick is very much smaller if it came from this period.       Walk down Newburyport’s downtown and take a moment to look at the bricks on the side of the buildings.        Bricks made later during the early Victorian period are typical modern brick size.             This alone identifies their construction during a time when Newburyport was very much in distress. (1807-1825)     For example, we know that the tunnel that connects Bartlett Mall’s frog pond with the Merrimack River is constructed using typical brick size.    And indeed it was built in 1839.   Therefore, it was never used during the earlier time and is strictly a drainage system.

The time period between the supposed construction of the tunnels to the first mention of its romantic connection with the Underground Railroad is a span of 50 to 75 years of complete silence.

The answer can only come from one word: smuggling.

As an emminent scholar Dr Evan Jones, University of Bristol, on the subject noted, most of the historical records on smuggling are based on” the activities of those dumb enough to get caught’

And the merchants of Newburyport were hardened, Yankee-spirited businessmen.       According to Peter Andreas, in his book, Smuggler Nation: How Illicit Trade Made America; early America was built on it.       We can see it by noting famous smugglers such as John Hancock in Boston or John Brown in Rhode Island.      The Founding Fathers with the likes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin knew they were rubbing shoulders with other distinquished individuals who made their fortunes from smuggling.

Most smuggling occurred as ‘slight of hand’.      A ship’s cargo coming into port for the 19th century and earlier was largely unknown.     A ship would be partially unloaded off-port or would slip quietly into an obscure wharf for partial unloading.    The ship’s manifest altered accordingly and then the vessel would proceed to the customs house for reporting.     Most customs agents were short-staffed, and there were corrupt “pilots” who would be complicit in guiding the ship into an obscure wharf.     As much as a third of the cargo would then be smuggled duty free and transported to waiting eager markets.

Of course, there was also present full-blown smuggling when entire cargoes would be sailed into places like Great Neck in Ipswich.      Revenue Ships were built for the specific reason of interdicting such traffic.        The trouble with smuggled goods: it looks identical to the taxed goods once it gains ashore so intercepting was  of prime importance.

Most smuggling amongst merchants was done on a gentleman’s unwritten agreement.    Never mentioned with no paper trail and no testimony.

One of the reasons that Newburyport celebrates itself as the birthplace of the U.S. Coast Guard was the launch of the R.C.S. Massachusetts in 1790 to interdict the smugglers that were especially flagrant around Newburyport.

And that was in the ‘good times’.

After the Embargo of 1807 (Repealed in 1809), the Great Fire of 1811 and the War of 1812 (which actually lasted into 1816) the city fell into bad times.     It actually reduced in population.        Now considering that Newburyport was the fifith most imporant port in the new United States of America and its merchants were fabulously wealthy – the key was not how did they manage to build a tunnel system that spanned the huge distance from the water to the cemetery without anyone knowing about it; to how did they keep it so secret for so long?

It is interesting to note that underground entrances were present at the Garrison Inn (formerly Brown’s Mansion) and William Bartlett’s mansion.      Mr. Bartlett also owned the house where the Moose Lodge would be later held which also has a tunnel entrance.

This doesn’t mean there actually is an extensive tunnel system present in Newburyport.    Only that the Act of Smuggling is maybe one of the reasons that the tunnels have been mysteriously absent from historical records.

I will report more information as it comes available.

Stay tuned!

-P. Preservationist

PS. Yes, smugglers have even been glorified in fiction in 19th century writings.   Even in Science Fiction!  Hans Solo anyone?    Or “Starlord” in the Guardians of the Universe.

Posted in Archeology, Businesses, History, Taxes | 1 Comment