History Wars–Episode Three–Rebel Alliance is Victorious


The bulldozer had to be stopped!     The political fallout from all of the destruction was like an earthquake.    The citizens gathered together under the League of Women Voters and posted a petition in the Daily News,

“We, the undersigned, propose the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority take the action necessary now to insure the rehabilitation of the historic buildings of the Newburyport Business District.    We are unalterably opposed to demolition.”   

Then, over two hundred couples and individuals most who were prominent members of the community laid their signatures upon the petition.

Champions of Historic Preservation

Moods began to change on the city council and even the mayor at that time, realizing the public pressure changed his tune.      The Historical Society of Old Newbury took the leadership with Dr. Robert W. Wilkins, a member, began to promote the idea of the restoration of the Downtown.     Through his guidance, William Graves Perry, who’s home is on High Street, and was behind the Williamsburg, Virginia restoration was brought in to add to the fight.    Men like Edmund Burke, Historical Commission and Dudley Currier and women like Ruth Burke.     They gathered together to do a suggestion from Perry to create The Historical Society Committee on Renewal and Restoration of the Newburyport Commercial District with Dr. Wilkins as Chair.       Through much negotiation and with strong support by Mayor George Lawler, Dr. Wilkins was added to the NRA as its Chair.    

But with the federal HUD, things work slowly.    Eventually HUD pressured by the Newburyport NRA, adopted for the first time in the nation, a policy of restoration concerning urban renewal in 1971.    After many design plans, the Sasaki Group of Watertown began to create the restored downtown that we have today.     

But what of the area that was already demolished?        The Committee of the Open Waterfront leveled injunctions and lawsuits against the NRA – eventually winning the preservation of the open ways to the water and creating the Waterfront Trust, that takes care of the boardwalk, the park and the paved area of the former Riverside Park.      As for the Downtown, HUD imposed a LHD-like restriction on the exterior of the restored buildings.      

But the Dark Side were not finished yet.     They were determined to build their contemporary-style building on Lot 8 (across from the Firehouse) and it took several lawsuits until that looming possibility was put down.

In 1973-1974, the Downtown was redone with HUD funding and a new idea was established, promoting heritage tourism and re-imaging the city as a heritage destination.

Thus began a new future for the city, one in which the goal would be to establish the city as an eventual National Landmark and securing our city’s bright future with our beautiful Newburyport Historic District and the nation’s only Federalist architecture-styled, commercial district.

Temporarily defeated, the Dark Side though had other plans.

-P. Preservationist

This entry was posted in Downtown, Heritage Tourism, History, Local Historic Districts (LHD), News and politics. Bookmark the permalink.

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