Just a few years ago, a fantastic discovery was made in Guatemala. A tall hill rises out of the jungle floor in the middle of a valley in the north part of this small country. It was often a convenient spot by which locals could climb and get a lovely and majestic view of the deep jungle. Then one day, someone spied limestone blocks sticking out of the side of the hill and a small excavation was made – turns out they were part of a pyramid larger than the Pyramid of Giza! This hill was a vast man-made structure not made during the height of the Mayan Civilization in 800 AD but much earlier before the time of Christ!
This Latin American country is poor and it will take tens of millions of dollars to expose this ruin. But if I was a Guatemalan, I would be bursting with pride at this previously unknown discovery and the fame and significance of this find.
Newburyport is in many ways in the same position as Guatemala. Surrounded by obscure signs of an earlier time – we know we can see it and locals and visitors alike can feel it – but what exactly is that history? It is hard to put our fingers on the exact significance of it all. And worse, like a jungle mud floor, we have much buried and hidden.
How many Guatemalans and even the local Mayans walked on top of that pyramid and never realized the exciting find lying a foot below the dirt?
Here in Newburyport, we are just now digging around in the archives, in backyards, in the museum libraries and in people’s private records –and we’re finding incredible discoveries.
And there is much more to be found!
This last Preservation Week highlighted the hidden world of the wharves which still mostly lie buried below our waterfront. Our tunnels below our city still lie mostly unknown. Our historic homes are filled with untold stories. Thanks to the Catacomb Crawlers, the old records at the City Hall basement (and attic) are already revealing previously unknown documents and re-writing history in the process!
It amazes me that we have people who live in our city who are immune to the call of our past. They do not value it and only seek the ‘new’. You begin to wonder why they came to Newburyport when they could happily live in another community in which the past had long been ripped out and forgotten*. Their first instinct is to get rid of ‘all that old stuff’ and seek the newest.
Would they not be happier in another community made of glass, plastic and aluminum?*
We know the answer. They want the cake and they want to eat it too!
They love the historic charm of our Downtown without dealing with the historic architecture.
They want the wonderfully mixed historic neighborhoods but hate dealing with the old materials required to sustain their feel.
They love the uniqueness of our City but do everything they can to replace it with sameness.
Even our open spaces are historic. Whether it is Atkinson Common, Common Pasture, Curzon Mills or the Maudsley Estate or the Great Marsh; they have great significance. And yet some would love to cover them over with new housing or pave over our parks!
We need citizens to understand that historic preservation is the duty of every taxpayer in Newburyport. And the more we plumb the depths of history; the more significant and valuable Newburyport will be. And that value translates into real dollars.
We can ride the crest of the affluence wave or we could let it pass us. Without the effort to jump on it, we are sunk.
Newburyport needs its history. It IS our wealth. Whether it is our architecture or our past; without it we become just another boring bedroom community outside of Boston.
Anyone who loves this city knows that it is their duty to protect and preserve it –
-Ramona Preston, Online Petition, 26 August, 2010
* There are a great number of former inhabitants of Newburyport who have moved to surrounding communities so they don’t have to live in ‘history’. Good for them, they are at least honest with themselves. I just ask they don’t turn around and try to remake our City in the image of suburbia as some out-of-town commenters in the Daily News have tried to do!