Newburyport is a walking town – in this day of the Automobile as Lord & Master; it is a pure joy to experience a wide range of senses as you make your way on two feet (or on two wheels) up and down our narrow streets. One of the features that reinforces the feeling of ancient history without being cooped up in a museum; is our historic house plaques.
Whether resident or visitor; each plaque declares that something or someone was significant and part of the National Story of America.
The trouble is that many an historically significant house has been naked; its powerful message lost unless you accidentally discovered it mentioned in some archival source. Adolphus Greeley’s house is to this day barren of any plaque; Captain Couch, founder of Portland, Oregon; his house remains without notice of his great significance even as a statue proclaims it in his founded city. What about James Parton, founder of the modern biography; his house has been restored but no plaque announces his achievements.
The Preservation Trust is just now beginning baby steps to resolve this issue. They offer the rather previously-expensive proposition to research the architecture and history of a house and then the privilege of having a plaque to proclaim that precious history to the world. (What a bargain!) The details and process are available here.
But what about those beautiful maritime-related markers strung around the city? They were begun in 1964 at the Bicentennial Celebration as a benefit for the entire city sponsored by the Newburyport Historical Commission. The history of them is noted here. Since then, the entire program has been abandoned. Various businesses and homeowners have done what they could to get wooden sign makers to either restore their worn plaques or to create new ones.
Well, the John Bromfield Society has decided to adopt them. It has been slow in coming; but all the necessary links are setup. Each one in the city will be monitored and if one is found in terrible condition; a notice will be sent to the building owner informing them resources are available for them to be repaired and/or replaced.
Jen Wright Signs, who has adorned our community with historically appropriate signage for years has offered this program. She has already posted some signs in her store front to make sure everyone knows she stands ready to continue the fine tradition that the NHC initiated so long ago. More information is available at this link.
As a service to all those who would like to find where the plaques are located; a handy electronic brochure is available easily readable on their cellphone. As time permits, a house story will be attached for easy reading.
This is history in the making. House Plaques are a key feature in heritage tourism and a necessary part of our Newburyport Historic District. Now, we can re-affirm and support this vital part of our city so important to residents and visitors alike!
PS. Personally, I think the Custom House Maritime Society should take on maritime plaque program; but until they catch a vision or are simply willing to do so; John Bromfield Society will take on the task. (Considering they can’t get an addition built, a restored RCS Massachusetts on the docks; nor even temperature controlled features for their building; I suppose this may appear low on their priorities!!!!!)