History is sometimes hard to relate to the present.

Just came off a tremendous Preservation Week which focused on the waterfront and wharves of Newburyport.       A comment was made last year by a prominent historic preservationist, who said rather sarcastically, “It is hard to get excited about ‘wharves’”.

Which is why I made the comment above.        To really understand a point in history, you must provide a ‘setting’ with all the factors that were present at that time.    If you don’t, you can completely miss the relevance.      

NRA_Land c_1920Wharves were points of extreme excitement at one point.      Passengers coming off the ships bore the news from all over the world – if you were going to be any good as a journalist, you had to plant yourself by the water’s edge every time a ship came into view.              

Often times, ships would unload their cargo at a distant port and then load up with the goods from that exotic location so if a ship came into view in Newburyport, the whole town was a buzz – a hold full of bricks and lumber or some rarity of silks and treasures!    It was anyone’s guess.

At that time, all the nation’s wealth was focused on the edge of the wharf.      The Federal government literally lived off the customs revenues – without steady imports – they would have gone broke.   Which is why they built such a splendid Custom House.

And of course, the wharves were always the point for large cargoes.      Before good roads and trains, it was the only access point for heavy materials.      The country couldn’t run or expand and grow without them!      And of course, commuting was out of the question!   The closer to work, the better.

I was bemused at the article this morning, “Interest is high for Port Homes” in which Karol Flannery, a Realtor with the William Raveis/Dolores Person Group, said,

“What I hear from prospective buyers is they believe that the community has a lot to offer — good schools, beaches, the Y, the library and other amenities. And it is close to Boston.”

At one time just 30 years ago, no respectable Bostonian would ever commute or even live above the Route 128 corridor.       Now with comfortable vehicles loaded with practically robotic features, Newburyport is easy – which is why most of our wharves have long been left to rot.

Abandoned, buried and mostly forgotten.      

It was exciting this last week to find out that much history was buried with them and that just recently, new knowledge is being gained by their renewed discovery.

-P. Preservationist

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