Remember how fascinating it was to read about modern-day explorers who encountered primitive natives who were still living in a stone age existence. The last group encountered on our planet, by the way, was in the late 80’s. Can you imagine the terror as they saw ‘firing sticks’ and modern man speaking into ‘speaking stones’ or saw human beings descending from roaring flying birds. Without any way of comprehending, they reacted in fear and imagined the worst.
It is tempting to react harshly to Ms. Vasselman’s editorial today because it was just foolishness since there are no such thing as LHD Commissioners concerned with the interiors of people’s homes nor have we even had a commission setup yet.
But the gist of her editorial was the fear, palpable, over the unknown – the basic ‘best practices’ of historic preservation.
She represents exactly why the local historic district ordinance is so badly needed. She redid her house by what she was familiar with doing. I’ve lived in Pennsylvania – there is nothing architecturally similar to what is in Newburyport. And when someone tried to point out how it should have been done – she reacted with hurt and outrage.
So who do I blame?
I blame the Newburyport Preservation Trust. Long before the LHD study committee was gathering steam, the citizens should have been given a clear message on the subject of an LHD or even on the general idea of historic preservation. But for some reason, highly knowledgeable proponents in the city have had an inability to clearly communicate their importance. (Thankfully, other historic preservationists in many other towns and cities across America have done a great job.)
First, they should have shown with supporting documentation, the economic benefit. Over 1700 in the country has provided us a solid blueprint for prosperity. (And I might add, plenty of examples of how not to do it which I might add the LHDSC have been working on avoiding.)
Second, they should have shown more documentation (plenty out there) how historic preservation standards guaranty a high quality of life – one which the last 50 years can be clearly demonstrated right here in Newburyport’s history.
Third, they should have been aggressive in providing knowledgeable assistance in taking care of these homes to maximize equity, property value, easing of maintenance and any financial or material assistance possible. (I just left a house in the North End this morning where a homeowner can’t find a simple door latch – and she’s been looking! The NPT should have been a knowledge resource already present.)
The new website is a big step forward but the ‘Trust has got to catch up and take hold of the challenge.
We may get our expanded LHD but it might end up being filled with clueless homeowners!