Anyone familiar with Newburyport is aware that the city boasts a wealth of 17th, 18th, 19th and early 20th century architecture. Indeed, until recently the vitality of our older buildings was not a major concern in local decision-making. For instance, in the late 60’s, Newburyport’s first urban renewal plan came close to destroying the historic and architectural fabric of the city’s downtown. Citizen protest halted this original scheme. A new philosophy followed which gave credence to preservation guidelines. Newburyport was the first place in the nation where historic preservation was applied to urban renewal. The Downtown now reflects a successful integration of old and new for all to enjoy.
Because of the rejuvenation of the downtown, many visitors came, liked what they saw and returned to live here. Realizing the rich legacy of the older neighborhoods, they sought ways to rejuvenate them. Taking the cue from the historic renovations of the downtown, entire neighborhoods began to come to life.
We must now consider how these residential areas can be protected. Never again will houses be built with such high-quality materials and workmanship. As thousands of visitors flock to our city in search of this country’s roots, we as residents should take note of their interest. Old buildings and their neighborhoods can help us understand the importance of our past by providing a shared history and a strong sense of community.
What can be done?
Too frequently we have equated ‘new’ with progress and have neglected our architectural inheritance in the process. As a result, Newburyport, like other New England communities must still confront the effects a modern society imposes upon an environment of aging buildings. While change is inevitable in order for Newburyport to prosper, we should be assured that change will not undermine the unique character of our older residential areas.
You, the homeowner, will ultimately determine whether this character is retained. Only if you carefully consider how renovation and new construction will affect a building and its neighborhood will our older neighborhoods remain livable and attractive. Naturally, renovating an older house requires information that is not always readily available. In an effort to assist you, the John Bromfield Society has published this manual. We hope it will be an invaluable resource, guiding you in the improvement of your house, the Newburyport Historic District and our city.
Generally it is better to preserve than repair,
better to repair than restore,
better to restore than reconstruct.