One of the sad facts about Newburyport during the 50’s and 60’s when dark siders reigned was the paving of two of our parks for the sake of helping ‘business’. Riverside Park (Where Waterfront Trust has its parking) was paved to accommodate Ruth Shoe Factory and Cushing Park was paved over so the CBS-Hytron facility off Kent Street could have additional parking. Both businesses closed their doors within a few years after these wrong-headed moves by the city.
It was very exciting to read about a recent action taken by two of our city councilors, Bob Cronin and Ed Cameron, to explore reversing our jaded past by restoring the Cushing Park back into its originally intended use. Bob Cronin on his blog gives an excellent outline of the process that will need to be done to see this happen.
I thought it would be helpful to give a detailed history so that, when our lingering few dark siders go on about it never being truly a park; the facts can be referenced in a handy format.
October 1, 1831, Robert Jenkins, executor of the will of John Greenleaf, conveyed to the town of Newburyport a lot of land bounded by Buck, Congress and Kent streets. Essex Deeds, book 262, leaf 149. Later, the area became known as Kent Street Common.
In December 30, 1861, Washington Street was laid across the common on the south side.
On January 3 1889, the Council heard a report of the committee on public property giving a value for the land then known as Kent Street Common of $6,006.00. On January 23, 1899 by joint action of the Board of Aldermen and the Common Council, an order was approved changing the name of Kent Street Common to Cushing Park. According to a contemporaneous newspaper report, note was made at the meeting of “improvements” having been made that in the coming year the park would be «beautified” and that it would be named for the first mayor of Newburyport, Caleb Cushing.
On June 16 1906, according to a contemporaneous newspaper report, a fountain (now gone) was formally dedicated at Cushing Park to the memory of the late William H. Bartlett. The fountain was a gift from Mr. Bartlett’s family to the City.
The park consisted of four and one-half acres of land that was conveyed by Mr. Greenleaf. The triangle of Kent to Washington Street had stately trees, green grass and a water fountain dedicating the park to Caleb Cushing. The fountain had a large base relief medallion of Cushing. A paved, diagonal path stretched along the park with benches shaded by trees.
The entire block of Washington, Kent, Congress and Buck Street was city land but only the north part consisted of the park. The south end had the Davenport School at the corner of Kent and Congress. A fire station was near it and on the other side near Buck Street were city barns where sand, gravel and road materials were kept.
When the school closed, the other buildings were removed and the land sold as house lots, so one-third of the city property was sold off. The area around the park was varied. Along the north side of Congress Street were many multiple-family homes. On the west side of Kent Street was the ABC store (Ayers [Pauline] Busy Cornor) with groceries, and along the street was the Whitfield Laundry.
Shortly before and after World War II, the fountain had been removed due to vandals. The medallion plaque was later found and given over to the Police who inadvertently threw it out. Many of the trees were gone by the late 30’s. When “Hytron” took over the Monroe/Warren Street Factory, the area became congested. When lunch break occurred at the factory, workers drove to town in a hurry, so to venture onto Washington Street was very dangerous. The neighborhood had to bring their children inside, for safety reasons. The aerial view as taken in the early sixties to the right shows the Hytron plant in all its commercial glory.
With a vote from city council in 1954 and the Hytron Plant next door employing a vast amount of workers, the city paved the park to allow parking for “out-of-town” workers. They saved a small area to be designated as a play area and it remains today as Ayers Playground. Unfortunately, their efforts were met by the plant shutdown in 1961 leaving a ‘paved’ park.
Most parks can not be changed in use to anything else unless by an act of the state General Assembly and confirmed by 2/3rd vote by the city council and full approval by the Mayor. Since “Cushing Park” was never established by an act of the General Assembly and was only part of land donated to the City, it is not protected by Article 97 of the state’s constitution which would prevent it from being used for any other use other than park. Therefore, Mayor Moak established in 2008 the legitimacy of establishing a Senior Center at the park which was then approved by City Council.
With the approval of the Senior Center/Community Center by the voters in June to be located near the Bresnahan School, this ‘unofficial’ park has been left in limbo status – will it remain the eye-sore it has been since 1954 only to be used for the occasional emergency parking during the wintry months? Or, will the recent initiative by Bob Cronin and Ed Cameron take root and we actually get Cushing to be turned back into being a true park?
*Photo courtesy of the Newburyport Library Archives
“Taking Cushing Park back to the way it was”,
editorial, Daily News, June 5, 2008.
O.B. Merrill, “North End Papers”, Newburyport Daily News, Sept. 1, 1906.
Assessor’s Records 1890-1980
J.J. Currier, History of Newburyport 1764-1905, vols, I and II, reprint, Newburyport 1977, p 322.