1. Historic District Signage
2. National Register Education & Protection
3. Sidewalk Installation & Maintenance Plan
4. Tree Commission Support
5. Utility Lines Undergrounding
6. Rubber sheeting
7. New Building Inspector & Building Department
8. National Landmark Status
9. Archeological Ordinance
10. Public Restriction Tract Index
11. Local Historic District Expansion
Like it or not, brick sidewalks are an integral part of our city’s history, its heritage tourism, its economy and its future well-being. PERIOD.
Just like our historic architecture, and our unified Federalist downtown and our colonial lampposts; our masonry-based public pathways scream out NEWBURYPORT.
It all began when the typical city in America consisted of dirt, often mud filled and mingled with horse manure and often sewage. Most citizens couldn’t afford to ride around in carriages and fewer still on horses – foot traffic was the most common mode of transportation. After gaining a huge fortune in Boston, John Bromfield, a wealthy merchant, a native son of Newburyport; bequeathed in his will a very large amount of money so that sidewalks interspersed with trees for shade would be provided all over the newly established City Of Newburyport in 1851.
Most sidewalks at that time consisted of brick. From my research down in the archives, brick sidewalks were found as far as Atkinson Common on the west and all the way east to the border with Newbury. Within a decade until the disruption of the Civil War, beautiful trees and sidewalks were laid down. They continued undisturbed until approximately 1914 when newer materials began to be used such as macadam and concrete. The spread of Elm Disease finished off the majestic trees replaced by poor choices for trees with shallower roots. And all this came as the city’s fortunes began to fall in the twentieth century and then sealed by the loss of local manufacturing jobs.
Newburyport’s renaissance came when, not doing what Haverhill did and demolish their downtown, instead restored it. But they did not just rejuvenate the architecture; they re-oriented the downtown to be a tourist destination with history and funky shops to be the draw. Aesthetics and architecture mixed with our beautiful harbor; began to not just bring tourists but began to bring in large influxes of new residents who wanted to enjoy a high quality of life provided by our new economy. Unfortunately, our Chamber and our City can’t get past considering us just as a tourist mecca and that money could only be made in the 3-4 months of the summer. Our downtown historic sidewalks were not extended to embrace a larger population that saw the city as a walkable lifestyle. As more and more of these newcomers came, most worked to diligently restore the ancient buildings back to their former glory but the City was still stuck enamored with cheap tourism and automobiles.
And yet, these newcomers are the true source of our affluence, yes, our wealth. Our tax rolls consist of 90% plus from our residents. Not our marinas, not our shops, not our factories, not even from our large medical facilities; it comes from our homes. And what do they get in return? Dilapidated sidewalks of blacktop, brick, concrete and cobblestone and with large tree roots sticking out of them making it absolutely treacherous. And this has spawned the infamous Newburyport Walk. (everyone walking down the center of the streets)
It was heritage tourism that brought about our renaissance. It was our love of history that brought our wealth – that attracted large amounts of newcomers to enjoy the loveliness of this city. They, in turn, have poured millions of dollars into their homes and into their grounds empowering a tiny city to have services typically seen in much larger urban centers.
Now in Portsmouth which was also on the rocks at the same time as Newburyport; the logical thing to do was to extend the heritage tourism theme throughout the historic parts of their city, commercial and residential. Even though they had no John Bromfield legacy, they decided to extend the historic feel throughout the historic district.
But this is Newburyport. Instead of extending these brick sidewalks throughout the Newburyport Historic District hugely jumping up our quality of life, making us extremely desirable for new residents and expanding our heritage tourism draw; we’ve decided to lay down concrete throughout our neighborhoods. In fact, we’re planning to put more down just for good measure for the next few years. How nice!
One of the goals for historic preservationists is to encourage heritage tourism, to celebrate our architecture, our historic infrastructure and our history. Therefore, it stands to reason that we push for brick all through the Newburyport Historic District.
Thankfully, we have courageous citizens who have fought against this debilitating tide and have, through their own treasury, paid to have brick sidewalks put in. And, many newcomers who ‘get’ what Newburyport is all about, are also joining the ranks. Unfortunately, because those in City Hall and the Chamber still think the money is in summer day trip visitors and that we’re some 4-month tourist mecca; can’t understand the importance of expanding the brick sidewalks.
Historic preservationists need to push for brick sidewalks inside the Newburyport Historic District and New England-resistant concrete for the rest of the city to promote heritage tourism and to make a clear delineation between it and the twelve non-historic neighborhoods.
For everyone’s safety, American Disability Act inspired standards need to be established and enforced by the city. The Tree Commission needs to be fully empowered and supported to make sure healthy, deep-rooted trees are installed along our sidewalks.
A final word on maintenance. We pride ourselves that we are an ecologically sensitive, sustainable community. Bricks ceased to be a common medium because it was so much cheaper to slather blacktop and concrete and walk away. But when these newer surfaces are replaced, they must be carted off to landfills and unsightly dumping grounds. Brick just needs to be re-stacked and the area underneath restored. Blacktop and concrete are impervious surfaces while brick allows water to percolate back into the soil. Brick is an environmentally sustainable preferred medium. But its Achilles’ heel is – labor cost. The only way to make sure brick sidewalks are maintained safe and smooth is to make their care a priority – whether from private homeowners abutting the sidewalk or from the city.
With historic brick in place, the value of our city will go up. Portland, Oregon and Portsmouth are living testimonies of its success.
If we do this, then we will finally regain the goal that John Bromfield envisioned when he bequeathed the money so long ago, put in words by James Parton, a fellow Newburyporter:
“…he gave for the promotion of pleasure, and the evidences of his forethought and benevolence are waving and rustling above my head as these lines are written. His memory is green in Newburyport. All the birds and all the lovers, all who walk and all who ride, the gay equestrian and the dusty wayfarer, the old and the invalid who can only look out of the window, all owe his name a blessing.”