When Israel was conquered by the Assyrians; as a matter of policy, the Ninevites would take the native peoples and transplant them to another part of the empire. It was a very effective pacification solution and destroyed the urge to fight for ‘home turf’. Later, the Jews fled into Egypt to get away from the Babylonians and the Babylonians, in turn, practiced the same methods when they conquered as the Assyrians. This great scattering of the Jewish people became known as the First Diaspora. Later, when the Romans destroyed the Temple and quelled two rebellions; the Second Diaspora was born.
Newburyport ended up with two diaspora’s too.
The first one occurred after Jefferson’s Embargo of 1807 that left Newburyport’s harbor paralyzed and then finished off by the Great Fire of 1811 and right after that, the War of 1812 that lasted until 1815. Businessmen and their beleaguered employees scattered to the winds in order to survive.
The second occurred in recent history. In poverty-stricken Newburyport during the 1970’s; many citizens found after the restoration of the downtown and the influx of new residents – the dirt cheap mortgages and rents began to climb as the city rose upon its financial feet. Many hadn’t seen their incomes rising as fast as the property rates and so many fled into surrounding towns in order to survive and often into ‘tax-free’ New Hampshire. Others, sick of living in antique houses – left for the inviting lure of suburbia with its plenty of open space and worry-free housing. I am tempted to call this the ‘Dark Side Diaspora’.
One of the greatest of former businessmen was John Bromfield. This single man more than any other individual; after gaining a fortune; was the primary force behind how Newburyport looks today. The Daily News noted his birth on April 11. As a tribute to his contribution; the city changed Cottie’s Lane to today’s Bromfield Street.
He was the Howard Hughes of his day. He took a small amount of capital and turned it into a huge fortune by leveraging international shipments. He was so wealthy that when he died, he bequeathed a large amount to Mass General, the Boston Athenaeum and yes, to Newburyport as well as other large charities.
So what did he do for Newburyport?
To understand this, you have to vicariously live the life of an old Newburyporter. The City was mostly treeless because most everyone had horses and usually cattle. One or more former animals for transportation and the other for dairy products and a promise of meat. All these needed large areas of grazing grounds. In addition, the streets weren’t paved – and in such a lovely month like April, mud was everywhere and often the streets were deeply rutted. In summer, it became worse; as carriages kicked up dust thickly into the air. Worse, most people couldn’t afford a horse let alone a carriage and so they walked. Hence, the remnants of corner stores throughout the Newburyport Historic District. This meant going everywhere by trekking through mud-filled streets or dusty lanes interlaced with manure.
Mr. Bromfield gave a large sum of money to create two things: sidewalks so the average citizen could get to their destination quickly and in reasonable good health and he bequeathed that trees be interspersed on the sidewalks so there would be shade. The Will was served in 1851 and by 1861, sidewalks were in place from just east of Atkinson Park all the way to Newbury and throughout the center of town.
Instead of a barren brick town; it became a tree-shaded haven by which the entire city is known. Nationally-sponsored awards have been given to our city for its garden appearance and for its majestic trees and many visitors never realize that it is the juxtaposition of our trees with our historical homes that makes us such a beautiful place to visit.
All because of the kind generosity of a former Newburyporter who made it big!
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