Long before our local cable studio went independent, it was controlled by the small regional cable company, Continental. They used to air videos of life in Newburyport as it was in the fifties that had been extracted from old 8 mm home movies. I noticed that PortMedia did not inherit these films and so if anyone knows their whereabouts, please contact our local studio or let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One thing that really struck me was how happy everyone was! These films didn’t just show festivals and parties. There were people working the assembly lines at Ruth’s shoe factory, and at the Towle Silversmiths. There were happy faces on the streets coming from firemen, police and local citizens. There were shop owners and store managers and ministers. There were churches and schools and moms and dads. The celluloid had caught a community that was close and had its own commonly-shared values. There was work available and steady pay. CBS-Hytron employed at one time, 3,000 workers!
It was a happy time and most did not care about the history of the city or its long ago glory days – things remained the same because they always had been and thus became only solid backdrops that reinforced the close families and friends.
The city itself knew where its tax revenues came from and did everything to keep these factories here. They paved over Cushing Park to provide parking for CBS-Hytron and paved over Riverside Park for Ruth’s Shoe Factory.
But the end was near for Newburyport. Like an earthquake, the closing of the Warren Street facility was a shocking stab into the heart of the city only to be followed shortly thereafter by Ruth’s Shoe.
And things just kept getting worse. Later, the Tannery closed, and then Towle Silversmiths began to downsize and then it closed.
Most people who lived in Newburyport were working class – most of the mansions along High Street and in the center of town had been subdivided into apartments and many homes didn’t even have paint on them. The working class didn’t have the money to embellish the historic homes and many did not have the extra resources to restore them and were thankful to just be able to maintain them minimally.
But now, the workers who would have financially kept the downtown going were gone or unemployed. It wasn’t long before many storefronts were boarded up. Poverty was present everywhere and most readily seen in the horrific condition of the waterfront.
The sixties were a very difficult time in Newburyport.
History was understood but not important – getting a job was everything and the city was old, drab, in disrepair – the prevailing mood was to do whatever it took to draw visitors back into the commercial center of the city.
The vast majority of Newburyporters wanted to see again the happy faces of workmen going off to the factories and families staying close. The city had no future in its present condition and something had to done to bring back industry and jobs into the city.