The last two nights at the Custom House Maritime Museum really underscores the predicament we have here in Newburyport. Here it is the present and we are only just now beginning to identify how important Newburyport was to our Nation’s birth and development!
If word gets out what important roles Newburyport played at the country’s founding, history books and I might add, college textbooks may have to be re-written.
I say, ‘predicament’ because in many way, we need a central theme for our heritage tourism. Visitors come and they drive up and down our streets and gape at our lovely Downtown; they can literally ‘feel’ the history pervading their senses.
Yet, what exactly is that history? It’s a mystery.
Other tourism towns have it easy. The first city to our south has a book, Captain’s Courageous and the ever-present Gloucester fishermen. Beyond that, Salem is renown for the China-trade Merchantmen and the Witch Trials – further still, we have Marblehead and Boston and Plymouth and Nantucket – all with easy themes.
Newburyport? Some obscure reference to Clipper Ships but no clipper ships are here? Boat-building, privateering, rum making, silversmithing, smuggling, trade, underground railroad, etc. Our neighborhoods are lined with beautiful houses but all those pretty facades hide the stories behind the buildings! The tunnels and wharves are buried and forgotten. Even our historians are confused – they focus on charts, lists, streets and minutiae and fail to isolate any single significant moments in Newburyport’s history.
The trouble with our city is that we have no brand name except the adjective, BEAUTIFUL.
It is the hard work of people like Jay Williamson, Curator at the Historical Society of Old Newbury, Ghlee Woodworth of Tiptoe Through the Tombstones, Kevin Macdonald, Curator at the Custom House Maritime Museum and Bill Harris, Tom Kolterjahn, Skip Motes, all of the Preservation Trust along with countless other volunteers like Rich Jones’ Catacomb Crawlers that will finally reveal the hidden history of Newburyport so that we can through historical displays and interpretive panels apply a theme to our City.
But isn’t it cool that all this new knowledge of the 18th and 19th century is coming about in the 21st century!?!