House Stories – The Nathaniel Foster House – 24 Prospect Street – Protecting Uniqueness


clip_image002I suppose an architectural purist would go into a spastic fit over this house – but its special fusion of Georgian and Federal is a quality not a detriment.      In fact, it’s a vanguard for hundreds of homes in Newburyport that are a mixture of styles.     Most of them enhance not detract from the look.*     We enjoy and almost expect the added Greek Revival vestibules on many Federal mansions in town.


The two-story form with its symmetry seems to indicate a Georgian but its rather angled roof and front doorway with Roman Doric pilasters reflect Federal features.   Pilasters by the way would be called columns if they were not flush against the house.   One striking feature is also found on the Lowell-Tracy-Johnson House at 203 High Street.     These are dormers with curved heads and are quite attention grabbing.       This house would be called Transitional and someone (whom we do not know) built this house around 1791.   Thus, this house represents in so many ways our great nation which was also making a transition from a colonial possession of Great Britain to an independent Great Republic.


It is called the Nathaniel Foster House because this man put his mark on the building and not just here but also on the entire  ‘town’ of Newburyport.       He was a jeweler by trade and had a shop at 26 State Street.       He decided to specialize in selling fine clocks and opened a store in 1818 right on Market Square.


But that was his day job.     He was one of those individuals (and praise God we have lots of them today here in the city) who dedicate themselves to be involved in the local community.    He joined as a member of the Brutus Fire Society in 1824.    He served as a tithingman (local constable) in 1837.     He threw himself into planning ceremonies that memorialized William Henry Harrison after that President’s sudden death.      He followed that by organizing the celebration of the bicentennial of the settlement of Newbury in 1835.    In 1843, he was elected as a state representative.     


The house stayed in the Foster family until 1919 when Nathaniel’s daughter sold it to George T. Morrill, a painter.     After changing hands during the turbulent ears of the twentieth century, it came into the possession of Dorothy H. Birrell, who in 2002, sold it to Peter and Lynne O’Toole-Henderson.


Now one of the mistakes for a new owner of an historic home is to over-renovate to the point of creating a new house that historically never was.      Nowadays, a purchaser may be tempted to ‘fix’ the house so it was some new thing – ‘imagining’ historical features for the home.        But how do you do it when you have a one-of-a kind?      

Fortunately for all of us, the Hendersons lovingly restored it in a tasteful manner.


But after all that hard work, how do you protect it from the architectural purist or our new 21st-century dumpster-filling owners?      Though next to the Fruit Street Historic District, it lies outside and is not protected.  


You place a preservation easement on it!     

Now, at least externally; it is protected.         The new owners approached the National Architectural Trust to be the ‘enforcer’ so that future owners will leave the house ‘as is’ externally.


Now, don’t feel sorry for the Hendersons.      They have made out all right!      Preservation Easements are subject to the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentive Program which allows a 10% to 15% tax credit on the appraised value of the house based on the property’s fair market value.     This can then be deducted like any other charitable donation and can actually be amortized over several years.


This credit was originally issued based on the assumption of potential loss of control or having difficulty in trying to sell it in the future.    But it turns out there is a highly-motivated market of  buyers interested in getting their hands on restored and maintained historical homes.   And as the dumpsters make their rounds about our City, these entities are becoming very rare indeed.    As for knowing how to reach these potential buyers, all you need is an experienced real estate agent who deals in this special market.     Dolores Persons is one for example. (There are fortunately many others in town too.)       


The National Architectural Trust (Now called the Trust for Architectural Easements: Preserving Historic Neighborhoods) is actively protecting several buildings in Newburyport and is ready to add more.    


Thanks to their foresight, this one of a kind home will be with us to drive by and enjoy for many years, secure in the thought it will not be destroyed by a future purchaser.


-P. Preservationist


* Of course, there are additions thoughtlessly devoid of any style stuck on buildings which are not flattering and speak of the aesthetically challenged!




1851 Plan of Newburyport, Mass H. McIntire

1851-1871 City Directories

1872 Map of the City of Newburyport, Mass. D.G. Beers and Co.

Assessor’s Records 1890-1980

“Homeowners have faith in Trust”, by William Henderson, Merrimack River Current, August 1st, 2003.

J. J. Currier, History of Newburyport 1764-1905, Vol. I and II, reprint, Newburyport, 1977.

Newburyport, 2011, City of Newburyport Vision Appraisal Online Records.

Newburyport Historic District,, Historic Survey of the National Register of Historic Places, 1984.


This entry was posted in Developers, Easements, Economics, History, Planning, Preservation, Real Estate, Taxes. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to House Stories – The Nathaniel Foster House – 24 Prospect Street – Protecting Uniqueness

  1. draytonhall says:

    P. Preservationist, there are also interior easements that protect the interior of historic homes. They aren’t as prevalent as exterior easements because of course they are more restrictive but are a great tool as well. We see them in Charleston- what about in Newburyport?

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