We need to focus on the highlights of Newburyport’s history to make the city’s heritage tourism have a mighty affect on tourism and on our economy.
I tip my hat to the two distinguished historical organizations in Newburyport. There is the venerable Historical Society of Old Newbury and the newer Custom House Maritime Museum (Newburyport Maritime Society). The former has dedicated itself to the accumulating of anything “Newburyport” whether literature, photographic or in art and artifacts down to the minutest degree. Both groups have an insatiable task to chronicle everything that history has touched that relates to Newburyport.
I tip my hat to those historians who have dedicated themselves to writing about Newburyport. If something happened in a month or a year or a season regardless of the century, leave it to the many historians to write about it.
And I must admit, Newburyport is soaked in history, every corner and just about every section of park or building has some story behind it.
But when it comes to Heritage Tourism, the fact that we are soaked in history can leave to a strangulation of purpose. In Heritage Tourism, those events that have had ramifications to our time are the notable ones. Or events that speak of the very character of America and the people within her, these ring true. No one goes primarily to Yorktown to see the first capitol of America. They come to see the battle that shaped the American Revolution. Or they come to Boston to see where the Tea Party occurred and to learn about the Battle of Bunker Hill. It’s these significant points that draw them and in Newburyport, it’s our significant points that we need to focus on.
We need to focus on those things that make Newburyport unique that can’t be necessarily found in another site.
Combine these two facts together and much of Newburyport’s history fades away as supporting background.
- Newburyport Privateers – Like it or not we had a reputation of sending out ships to fight some of the unsung battles during the American Revolution and the War of 1812.
- The China Trade – Newburyport ships traveled to the other side of the world where Chinamen could rattle off Newburyport men and ships by name. We know this because all the great buildings in Newburyport that make our city famous were built by merchants who compared to the rest of the nation were fabulously wealthy.
- The Great Awakening – Old South Church was started and pastored by George Whitfield, one of the principles of the Great Awakening. It was this movement that prepared the American Colonists to strike out and become a New Nation.
- The Birthplace of the Coast Guard. It was here that the first coast guard cutter was launched, the USCG Massachusetts was launched. Couple that with our lifesaving building on Plum Island and our lighthouses, Newburyport is a fine example of the Modern Coast Guard of Today.
- The Clipper Ships – Baltimore claims to be the founder of the name “clipper” but anyone who sees a Baltimore Clipper knows that is not what people know of Clipper ships. It was here that Donald McKay invented the clipper ship of legends. The Newburyport Dreadnaught was one of the most famous of the clipper ships and Donald McKay had his start here and went on to the East Boston shipyards to create dozens of famous ships. Donald McKay never forgot – he insisted on being buried here.
- The Abolitionist Movement – Newburyport was a great center for the Underground Railroad – Garrison was born here and went on to be the great abolitionist that sparked a movement that resulted in the great battle to free the slaves.
The results of focusing on the high points of Newburyport are simple. We need to bring attention to outsiders of the fame of our city. There are some simple and there are some expensive means to do this.
- By touring and highlighting the buildings in Newburyport during the Privateering, China Trade, Great Awakening, Clipper Ship and Abolitionist eras, we end up educating visitors to the importance of Newburyport in all five areas.
- We need a Coast Guard Museum that highlights why Newburyport is the birthplace of the Coast Guard and we need a replica of the first ship in our harbor.
- We need tall ships back in Newburyport – either built and displayed here or as commercial ventures that take out passengers on short and long cruises, we need to highlight Newburyport’s tall ship heritage. Restoring ship building near the old ship yards would help and having a Clipper Ship Museum would also assist.
- Research and exhibits need to herald how important was the abolitionist movement and to show how the Underground Railroad operated. Exhibits at the Cushing House would help toward this purpose.
- The smuggler Tunnels need to be highlighted to find out how they were used and to have exhibits toward that purpose.
In this way, Newburyport can use these five great events to make our city the true reason for people spending their hard-earned money not to just visit Newburyport for a day but to have more and more do Staycations. If we couple dynamic heritage tourism with our eco-tourism and our local unique businesses, we will be the envy of all of New England and perhaps even further. But it’s going to take vision and a lot of hard work.
This isn’t going to happen overnight. It means incredible planning, educating, fundraising, grant seeking and a host of volunteers who have caught the vision. This isn’t something that’s going to happen in one year or two but it would happen! People forget when they see how beautiful Newburyport is that it took a long time. Just twenty years ago, the firehouse was a boarded up structure, the library a rickety nightmare and oil tanks sat in a trash-filled lot in front of the Coast Guard Station. The range light at Threadneedle Alley was empty and the east end of the boardwalk was weed infested. It took three decades to have it look like it is today in 2009.
Determined hard work will make the visions as listed in this article come to fruition all the faster for the benefit of the entire city.