Tour Reminder – Little River Trail System

Cooper North PastureThis Saturday, at 8:30, at the entrance to the Cooper North Pasture Nature Trail (in view of the iconic Kestrel birdhouse and short jaunt through this magnificent pasture pictured above and easily visible from Hale Street), a tour will begin.

The former president (and active board member) of Parker River Clean Water Association, George Comiskey, has this to say about this trail network:

“I was really impressed with the new trails that have been created this year.  It shows what a diverse landscape that cannot be replicated by other trail systems in the Newburyport area.  Not in Mosley Woods or Maudsley State Forest and certainly not the inner city bike trails.”

And though PRCWA didn’t get funding from the Community Preservation Committee which was drowned by other applicants; they had this to say about the Little River Trail System: (We’ve been grateful to receive funding twice before.)

‘This is a worthwhile project and I believe that the Committee would like to encourage you to continue to develop and refine the project scope and budget so that it may be considered in the future.”       -Mike Dissette, Chair, CPC, July 29, 2016

And the refinement is on going!      Already paths have been re-routed, widened and marked with trail logos.

But most of the citizens who live in the Greater Newburyport Area are still clueless at this fabulous resource.       An open area of wetlands and forest and yet surrounded by urban development on three sides.      A visitor feels like he is in in a deep wild area and yet; if thirsty can hike up a trail to an inconvenience store in a few hundred yards!     This area is vital for preventing devastating floods and is also a potential water resource at the same time.     An area for bird watchers, dog walkers and nature lovers and easy to access at five convenient trail heads.

When I can finally get someone to come out, they return with their eyes wide with amazement.       Be sure to show up – and let your eyes absorb this environment and hear from your guide, Jerry Mullins, about the history, the ecology and the wildlife located here.

Only a 1 mile walk from Downtown Newburyport!

-P. Preservationist



Posted in Agriculture & Farms, Conservation, CPA, CPC, Eco-tourism, Ecology, Education, Environment, Flooding, History, Landscapes, Open Space, Parking, Parks, Preservation, Quality of Life, Recreation, trails, Watershed, Wildlife | 1 Comment

The Smuggling Tunnels – a Compendium

I have tried to show, with out exasperating the reader, as well-documented as possible, a treatise about  Newburyport and Smuggling and how the practice indeed opened the way for the building and financing and sustaining tunnels under the city.

Next Saturday, I will finally satisfy the cries of my readers by putting in one post, all the information on the tunnels that is known as of 2016.

There is a standard narrative based on legend that there are three major tunnels, and that at least one of them goes into the Oak Hill Cemetery.        The fact that many tunnel entrances are found in some of the houses in the city does not necessarily support the narrative.      Most of the streets were muddy, partially consisting of sewage, horse manure and when dry season, clouds of dust.       Many wealthy merchants may simply have wanted to get to the docks without the bother of mingling on such roads or wanted to get to the docks before the competition did since no one knew what would be listed in the ship’s hold.       Or, the smuggling was not coordinated and there may just be a little family of them scattered across the city coming from the richest merchants.         And of course, there is a great hamper in that the city and its residents wanted to distance themselves by walling them up or blocking them, or hiding them.        Now, here in 2016; we also have the long stretch of time and how it affects the elements to also contend with as these tunnels are examined.

But the point of these posts is that the argument that such an expensive and involved project could not be possible; has been dashed to pieces once and for all.      Money and Motive are soundly documented historically and that is the main point of this series:

There comes a moment though when the arm-chair researcher and the dusty books of the Library must be left behind for actual field work.          Theories must be tested, facts extracted and there is danger: bureaucratically, financially, legally and socially which must be grappled.

And that takes daring and time!

-P. Preservationist

Smuggling – Newburyport’s Pre-eminent Industry

Tunnels: Part One – Newburyport became rich from smuggling

Tunnels: Part Two – The Relevance of Smuggling Today

Tunnels: Part Three – Smuggling was the original cause of the American Revolution

Tunnels: Part IV – How did Newburyport become rich through smuggling?

Tunnels: Part V – Transporting the ‘Product’

Tunnels: Part VI – As vital components of trade – Some questions answered





Posted in Archeology, Businesses, Economics, Education, History, Waterfront | Leave a comment

Improving sidewalks is a cheap way to boost equity and property values!

The IRS has actually codified this jump in values.    They have found that improving the public sidewalk that runs adjacent to a homeowner’s property will boost the appraised value of the private property.       They also found that installing historic brick sidewalks within an historic district can boost the value from 10% to as much as 30%. (Assuming you take care of them, of course with proper maintenance.)

Considering the cost of doing so usually ranges from less than $5,000 to $10,000; and the average home value in Newburyport is $375,700; even a moderately priced home can see an inexpensive way to raise its value considerably.

So why would the mighty Internal Revenue Service even care about this phenomena?

Because giving donations to your local municipality is tax-deductible.      In particular, in a situation where the sidewalks are not taken care of properly as is the case in Newburyport, many responsible citizens especially local ones have taken it upon themselves to improve their street frontage.      As historic districts become common throughout the United States; many of these taxpayers have taken their contributions to the city property as a deduction.

But the IRS feels that if you are actually getting a huge benefit out of doing so; you have no right to request for it.

They have felt so strongly about it; they took some claimers to court and in two separate cases; won them both: , Myers vs US, 1980 and McConnell vs. US, 1988.         The net result has been that if you do put in brick sidewalks within the Newburyport Historic District; you will get that exhilarating boost in your equity and property values.       You will just have to settle with the fact that you are helping the City of Newburyport as a good citizen as well.

So, if you live in the Newburyport Historic District (check the street listing) and want to boost your property values in a cheap way and help the city in boosting heritage tourism; this is the procedure.           Hundreds who “get it” about Newburyport are doing it, and more and more wise owners are enjoying the benefits.       If you already have brick sidewalks in front of your home, historic or not (doesn’t make a difference as long as you’re in the district) and are enjoying the benefits; be sure to take care of them and repair them to a smooth surface (Its cheap to maintain them too!) to sustain that property boost.

So what about those who are outside of the historic district?     Fogettaboutit!      The IRS says you get a big boost out of improving the sidewalks, perhaps not as much as in an historic district but significant enough that you are not eligible for a tax deduction either.

Therefore, the whiny homeowners balking at improving the adjacent sidewalk and street trees are not only selfish, and irresponsible citizens*; they are clueless on the benefits of obeying our present ordinance!

-P. Preservationist

  1. For the Nitpickers; I spoke to Rick Taylor, IRS Agent, Special Research Division, Denver, Colorado in 2013, who confirmed this information. Pertaining to this subject, I recommend the following reading material:

IRS Publication 530 – Tax Information for Homeowners – very interesting section on tax deductions for National Register property!

IRS Publication 526 – Charitable Contributions

IRS Publication 561- Determining the Value of Donated Property

Form 8283-If non-cash donation is over $5,000 – if incorrectly calculated, 20-40% penalty

A Cheap Way to Raise Your Property Values, Brick& Tree Blog, July 8, 2013.

* I firmly believe the balkers against our current ordinance who are pushing for this odious ordinance are actual developers and the Mayor and a select group of city councilors are using this scenario as a cover.      Just my opinion, firmly held.

Posted in Developers, Economics, Education, Infrastructure, News & Politics, Restoration, sidewalks, Streetscape, Streetscapes, Zoning | Leave a comment

Libertarians – Say it ain’t so!

The excuse for last night’s shenanigans came right from the Mayor’s mouth 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.

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 the 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.

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 idea that you live only for yourselves was never considered or tolerated by our Founding Fathers.          But humans tend to over-react when faced with extremism.    We have many amongst us who firmly believe in Communism, Socialism which trashes personal property ownership and want the government to rule every aspect of our lives.         The over-reaction is to consider being Patriotic is to mind one’s own business and to put a wall around their property.

But long before these extremists ever existed, 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.

The biggest problem are students in our schools aren’t told their duty to the Republic.     They’re told increasingly that in America, you can do anything you want.           Consequently, over the years, these children have grown up worshipping self, living for pleasure and wondering what place they are in society.       Instead of serving their community, they see no purpose, only for the next pleasure, the next thrill. (Wonder why we have a drug problem?)     Others who have children feel that their only obligation to society is to raise their families.           But have they instilled the basic principle of service to our Republic?

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 some Socialism, it is the fundamental principle of America.

I’ll give you an example that occurs everyday.       Often when someone lives in a house, they will put up a mailbox.      It could be a $20 Home Depot special or it could be an expensively carved $200 edifice facing the post man every day.      Doesn’t matter what was spent on that mail container, once you, citizen, put it up to receive the mail, it magically becomes Federal property.      Only properly registered mail is to be contained within it and it is subject to postal regulations.           That’s because regardless of your personal investment, it is now there for the public good.

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

I will be posting tomorrow, how the sidewalks improved, blows back positively to those who keep them up.       Their ‘curb appeal’ and increased equity and worth increases for their home.   Their momentary sacrifice of improving the sidewalks is considered by the IRS even as no sacrifice.    Stay Tune!

Regardless, it is time we benefit the entire community rather than a few ‘special interests’ who refuse to embrace the duties of ‘citizenship’.

-P. Preservationist


Posted in Economics, Education, Heritage Tourism, News and politics, Preservation, Quality of Life, sidewalks, Streetscape, Streetscapes, Taxes, Zoning | 1 Comment


when politicians want to pass bad ordinances and laws; they often wait until it is the holiday season (November to January) or during a time when concerned citizens are largely out of town.

Well it’s happening.

Many in town choose just such a time to either go on vacation or leave town during the people-packed, traffic-packed Yankee Homecoming.

What a perfect time to introduce legislation that will benefit special interests instead of the citizens of Newburyport.        And by the time it is done and the public takes notice in September, there will be nothing that anyone can do about it.

The collusion is so bad and so classic a form of slimy politics, that only those who are looking closely can find it.        I’d heard rumors that just such an attempt was going to be made; but couldn’t exactly put my finger on what was being planned.

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)


So how did I know this was a massive collusion hatched in City Hall.

The Legislative Packet is not posted on the city website. (As of 11:00 AM)

 Most people are out of town due to vacations and avoiding Yankee Homecoming

 The Ordinance is quietly buried inside the packet (15.) amongst approving races and block parties. (Even my wife who is politically savvy, didn’t catch it initially.)



Tonight: 7:30, City Council Chambers,

To speak, arrive early to sign up on the, “board”

-P. Preservationist

If you ignore…….the conniving, Francis Underwood is an effective politician.

-Kevin Spacey (House of Cards)

House of Cards Conniving Politician

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

Newburyport was a Smuggler’s Den

According to Merriam-Webster, a ‘den’ was a hideout, and a center for secret activity.      If ever a community could be labelled as such, it would have been Newburyport.      There are still secrets hidden away in our ancient place and when it came to smuggling, well-hidden still today.

Smuggling has occurred almost continuously since the beginning of the Newbury’s; but it had peaks where it was at a heightened level either due to tough economic conditions or when the laws were so onerous that it was the only way to survive.

Most historians base their studies on official records and eye witness accounts well written down and recorded somewhere.       The problem with smuggling, the whole point is NOT to record anything down.     There are three types of commerce: Regular Markets which are well-documented and taxed; Gray Markets which are economic transactions done with no paper trail, and no traceable proof of occurring and often deal with bartering or ‘cash-only’ based on trust; and finally, Black Markets which are not-taxed, and often deal with illegal products.

According to Dr. Evan Jones (University of Bristol), the trouble with the latter two is that when coming to historical records,

‘they only detail the activities of those dumb enough to get caught’

In Newbury and Newburyport, smuggling was rampant but not mentioned in official histories or recorded in any sizeable way.     And yet, America and Newburyport for that matter, was built on some form of smuggling.

In Newburyport, four time periods existed where smuggling was prominent:

1740 to 1776 (End of the French & Indian War, Molasses Act of 1733, the Enforcement of the Navigation Acts)

1807 to 1835 (Embargo of 1807, Great Fire of 1811, War of 1812 (which continued to 1816), and financial and political setbacks from 1816 to 1825)

1851 to 1860 (Human smuggling of slaves from the south, either by land or by sea

1919 to 1931 (Prohibition Era)(Smuggling of liquor from Canada, by the Black Duck)

Most of the major smuggling of any real significance occurred in the first two periods.

Newburyport was fabulously wealthy from 1740 to 1807 and most of the huge Georgian and Federal mansions built in the city come from that time.       Huge reserves of wealth were present just before the setbacks started in 1807.

As Newburyport is very proud of being the Birthplace of the U.S. Coast Guard; the main reason it became that was the rampant acts of smuggling that were occurring out of Newburyport.     Therefore, it was imperative as the fifth most important port in the new United States; to have a revenue cutter up and active first thing in 1791 to put a stop to it or at least slow it down.

The Custom House was originally on Sommersby’s Landing (Bottom of Green Street).     There was a whole string of wharves in Newburyport between it and the mouth of the Merrimack.     In addition, there were also landing places in the shallower Joppa Flats which were accessible during high tide.  Much smuggling occurred at Great Neck behind Plum Island’s southern tip – which allowed a safe mooring without the watchful eyes of revenuers.      The new Custom House was installed in 1835 when most of the smuggling that was occurring in the city had largely ceased as the city focused more and more on the benefits of the Industrial Revolution.

Most smuggling occurred as ‘slight of hand’.     A ship’s cargo coming into port for the 19th century and earlier was largely unknown.  ( It wasn’t until the late 1858 that telegraph lines were laid under the ocean to connect at least Europe with America.)  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, often bribed 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.

Most smuggling amongst merchants was done on a gentleman’s unwritten agreement.   It was a regular practice to distance themselves from the actual ‘smuggler’ by using a third-party go between.     A strictly understood Code of Silence was maintained with no paper trail and no testimony.

According to court records at the Sham-Robbery Trial, the defendant (from Maine) picked Newburyport as his place of committing a crime (Dec, 1814) and then blaming it on the city’s residents; because it was well known that Newburyport was a major center for smuggling.

Later Victorian historians avoided any significant coverage of the rampant smuggling that so started our nation toward the American Revolution; and modern historians have an undue reliance on the scientific method of Anthropology/Archeology which depends on ‘hard, documented records as a foundation for interpreting history.

Smuggling could be said, is one practice that wiggles itself through the cracks of such methodology and is very elusive indeed to be codified and documented.

Next week, I will post the links to all my smuggler research as it relates to the proposed (and still not concretely established as fully existing) tunnels under Newburyport.

I invite any readers of this post to check out the list below via Amazon, Google Books and through the Internet generally:


Correspondence of William Pitt when Secretary of State [later became Prime Minister of England during the American Revolution] with Colonial Governors and Military and Naval Commissioners in America, edited under the Auspices of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, Gertrude Selwyn Kimball, Macmillan, New York, 1906.

Jones, Evan T., ‘Illicit business: accounting for smuggling in mid-sixteenth century Bristol’, Economic History Review, 54 (2001). Winner of the Economic History Society‘s “T.S. Ashton Prize” in 2001, freely available online.

Jones, Evan T, Inside the Illicit Economy: Reconstructing the Smugglers’ Trade of Sixteenth Century Bristol (Ashgate, June 2012)

“Inter-Imperial Smuggling in the Americas, 1600-1800”, by Wim Klooster, as posted in Soundings in Atlantic History: Latent Structures and Intellectual Currents, 1500-1830, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2009.

Smuggler Nation: How Illicit Trade Made America, by Peter Andreas, Oxford University Press, New York, 2013.

Smuggling: Contraband and Corruption in World History, by Alan L. Karras, Rowman & littlefield, Lanham, MD, 2010.

Smuggling in the American Colonies, by William Smith McClellan, Moffat, Yard, New York, 1912. (With special reference to the West Indies Trade)

“The Colonial Molasses Trade”, by Gilman M. Ostrander, Agricultural History 30, No. 2, April 1956.

Trade and Empire: The British Customs Service in Colonial America, 1660-1775, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1967.

Yankees and Creoles: The Trade Between North America and the West Indies Before the American Revolution, by Richard Pares, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1956.

-P. Preservationist





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Don’t forget locals – First Friday Friends Social: Custom House

It is unfortunately a very large habit for locals to skiddadle out of town during Yankee Homecoming, not that they would be missed as downtown is indeed packed during this week.        But the First Friday Friends Social is largely designed for locals in the Greater Newburyport Area and it would be a shame to miss out.

While the tourists will be milling about outside, there will be the Port food (each event highlights a distant port that Newburyport ship captains had visited) and fine wines from France (Courtesy of the Grand Trunk) and Spanish wines from when the El Galeon was here; and of course, the official beer of the museum, Newburyport Brewery.

The tourists can’t come in unless they can finagle a relative or friend from town.

It will be very nice to be mingling while the riff-raff are outside!

6:00 PM Sharp. Goes to 8:30.

The talk by the way is on the important role our ship builders played during the first world war – not WWI but the French & Indian War!

Port Food is Gotenburg, Sweden (Authentic and not the typical Swedish meatballs!)

Remember: Free to Members only and their invited friends. If you join the Museum, you too can invite your friends!

In fact, you can join this very night and just walk right on in!

Refuse to be a member? You can stand out on the sidewalk with the rest of the riff-raff!

My suggestion: Join and Invite!

Membership has awesome privileges!

-P. Preservationist


Posted in Art & Culture, Downtown, Entertainment, Health and wellness, History, News & Politics, Quality of Life, Recreation | Leave a comment