‘They are located all over the city – some are in pristine condition while others are worn to illegible lettering. In a proud nod to our seafaring days, a sailing ship’s front is displayed to the left. Most are of standard size though it is clear that a few due to the limited location on a few buildings, have been reduced to aesthetically match the frontage.
Thanks to a few in town who can still reproduce these plaques, there have actually been a few added over the years. Presently there are 45 that are visible. To aid in their location, I have created a list which will eventually include the house name and their address.
The Chamber knows nothing about them. The present Historical Commission plus the Planning Office can’t find anything to add as to their origin.
Thankfully, our archive room in the Newburyport Public Library has come to the rescue! Jessica Gill, chief archivist has located an obscure mention of them in a file under the National Register of Historic Places. Ghlee Woodworth had heard many years ago about it being connected to the bicentennial celebration back in 1964 but had no concrete documents to reinforce her memory. Sure enough, a brief mention in the archives is made of the Bicentennial Marker Project. Included is the following description:
“Suggested wording for your sign. If you want only the date it was built and the name of the builder, please indicate. If you wish to include more information than that, please limit yourself to 35 words. Though we will try to use your wording whenever possible, the Historical Commission reserves the right to make changes in wording. The cost of each sign will be $15.00, payable to ‘Bicentennial Marker Project.'[my highlight] (via the Historical Commission)”
Apparently at the time of the adoption of the 1984 certified Newburyport Historic District, some attempt was made to revive the earlier program. (Just extrapolating a guess of course.)
Considering you could buy a good size house for $5-10,000 at that time(1964), the $15.00 would probably be about $350.00 to $450.00 a piece today. And sure enough, Jen Wright Signs is now offering them for about that cost.
If anyone in the city has more information about their origin, please contact me immediately so it can be shared. (Please indicate if I have permission to relay your name for credit.)
I encourage many in the city when you find you are living in a significantly historic house that has some connection to the sea to obtain these plaques. Their presence is a strong reinforcement of our proud history and contribute greatly to our heritage tourism as so many visitors walk our streets to soak up the atmosphere and to learn of our nation’s heritage.
Signage is important! In fact, the Newburyport Preservation Trust is making signage the major theme of the upcoming Preservation Week and one of their major pushes will be to get signage to proclaim our rich history from street to street.
Without these indicators of history, the average passerby would just move on, not realizing what significant event occurred there so long ago!