When I first moved here, there was a consistent community statement sent out consciously and unconsciously. The Daily News proudly propagated the story line and I noticed that Mr. Hendrickson is continuing that same theme. And I suspect he has been thoroughly tutored to continue the message.
It basically goes like this:
Newburyport’s history is interesting as it stands and long in the telling. But the short of it, our history is much like a hundred other towns and city’s stories and there is no national or even statewide historic significance. Therefore, there is no history to celebrate or to inform the rest of America that we are important. There is no need to even get the Federal government involved in celebrating our history since we have no relevance in that direction. Since nothing of any real history occurred here, there is no purpose to preserve historic sites (since there aren’t any) or to make any attempt to preserve our historic architecture since there is no special significance to those who dwelt in them in years past. Nor should any money be spent to promote our national significance and to encourage heritage tourism.
Don’t get me wrong, even those who hold to this story line understand that a lot of history occurred but what makes it any more distinctive than Gloucester down the coast or Topsfield inland?
What is worse, we’ve left the story telling to be in the hands of historians. Historians are like scientists – rarely are they exciting as Carl Sagan, they more often than not are boring with an excruciating attention to detail. And most historians are not like Ken Burns, they’re about statistics and every detail of a certain period. I love Ghlee’s Clipper Heritage Trail but it does not promote a story – it only gives the long history of Newburyport like it or not!
We need more Ralph Ayers than we need Jean Doyle’s. We need tightly-held themes not reams of time.
The fact is that Newburyport has three distinct epochs – the Romantic Era, the Industrial Era and the Promotional Era. Dwelling on the middle is just plain boring. And the promotional era is so near and hasn’t hardly been written yet and besides, it’s main focus is to point to the story line to the Romantic Era.
This Epoch is where the story of Newburyport becomes fevered with excitement.
All I have to do is just list some words and men and the imagination soars! We’re talking explorers, Indians, pirates, privateers, soldiers, statesmen and smugglers. We’re describing significant events concerning clipper ships, shipbuilding and international trade. We have the Great Awakening, the invention of the Clipper Ship, the championing for constitutional government, the birth of the Bill of Rights, our version of the Tea Party, the birth of the Coast Guard, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War. We have significant people who visited here– John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Caleb Cushing, George Washington, George Whitefield, John Marquand, Robert Mills, Wheelwright and Adolphus Greeley. We have underground tunnels, tales of the underground railroad, the great abolitionist movement and the home of powerful inventors. Architects came from our city that impacted our Nation in places like Nantucket and Williamsburg, Virginia. Our ship captains sailed the world, and one of them was instrumental in founding the City of Portland, Oregon. Wheelwright transformed South America and Caleb opened up China and Japan. Nabisco had its start here and the Salem Witch Trials came from the seed of unrest in Market Square. Our Superior Court house became the model of court rooms across the country and Silversmithing was headquartered here as well as rum making as part of the infamous Golden Triangle.
If Newburyport has all these great tales, then our historicity is worth preserving and the buildings that housed that romantic era need to be preserved.
We need to understand that significant events occurred here and our visitors and the residents need to learn of them.
And it also means that we need to proclaim to the rest of the country the significance of Newburyport.
We need a tourism commission to promote our city!