In 1971, the NRA purchased the Custom House which at that time was filled with junk and submarine parts. The intent was to transform it into the centerpiece of the riverfront, not just with a museum building but to create an entire complex like a small Strawbery Banke which would also include a full-scale replica of the Massachusetts, the first ship built for the newly formed Coast Guard in 1791.
Unfortunately for so many years, it could barely keep the building intact and there were many financial setbacks along the way until the fateful Mother’s Day Storm that caused severe damage to the structure. The City began to forget about its prominent treasure mainly because any visitor approaching the building would only stare at bared doors and the lights out!
Thanks to the emergency volunteerism of Mark Guay, the Custom House has struggled back on its feet but far from its cherished goals. The Daily News noted in an op-piece, “Custom House needs to find its way” on April 4th, 2007 that the museum was still along way to becoming an integral part of our city. It noted,
“Beyond that, it needs to be the showpiece that it was meant to be – a place where visitors can learn about the region, learn about local history, and understand what makes Newburyport and its environs so special. It needs to attract local people, be a great spot to bring kids and earn the support of residents and local institutions.”
Right now, the City desperately needs the museum to round out its desire to be a ‘destination city’. The editor continues,
“it [Newburyport] needs more than shops, restaurants and a handsome waterfront to engage people. Cultural attractions…help to round out the downtown. A thriving Custom House fills an enormous need to tell the story of the city’s history and to orientate visitors to nearby attractions, such as historic house museums, parks and more.”
I am happy to relate that the Maritime Museum Board has done a spectacular job in getting us ever closer to its institution’s goals. Putting Michael Mroz as the full-time director of the Museum along with Kevin MacDonald as Curator; the Museum has literally become an exciting place that is beginning to attract attention regionally and I may say, nationally.
We are attracting local people and the recent move to include our children and schools in its programs and it’s prominence with the Coast Guard is literally putting some real power into our cultural and historical tourism. Combine it with our eco and marine attractions and we are truly ‘showing our stuff’. Consider the unbeatable combination of the Firehouse Performance Center; the Cushing House Museum with Perkins Mint; Maudsley Art, Gardens & music centers; the Newburyport Art Association with its outdoor exhibits; Joppa Flats Audubon Center; Parker River Wildlife Center and famous sites such as St. Paul’s Cemetery and Church, Old Hill Burying Grounds, the Old South Church & George Whitfield and our in-town and Plum Island lighthouses. We truly have grown into a more than one day destination!
The Museum is not there yet in reaching its goals – but I can see a bright future coming up fast!