The Illegal Taking of Public Land

“The 40 Merrimac Street Ale House Applicant seeks to expand a prior unpermitted encroachment, to rebuild that encroachment with a new building, and to vertically expand that encroachment on both Somerby landing and a (westerly) portion of Riverside Park that was never lawfully discontinued.”

 – Bill Harris 

Thanks to Mayor Donna “Bulldozer” Holaday who has pushed for this aggressively, the city is now in a position of giving away public land to a private land owner.       At first, it may seem she and her allies have gotten away with it – but alas, when political deals run awry with the law of the land; this misdeed had to eventually be exposed for all to see.

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m all for the basic idea of making a vacant building re-purposed into a dynamic and income producing (and tax-producing) restaurant.      The owner has the drive and the resources to make this endeavor become a real success.     The benefits to the abutting Waterfront Trust land will be a wonderful thing to see.

But the design is faulty.        It builds a glass frontage on public land.    In addition, the appearance of the restaurant does not blend into the look and feel of the downtown.     It violates many principles of historic preservation.     And the parking pressure alone will be a nightmare. (Assuming the owner can ‘fill’ those seats.)

All this for a vain P.T. Barnum hype of having the largest restaurant seating in the city.


They were caught because of the illegal act done by Davis Electric in 1947 when they built a concrete extension onto the “Ways to the Water”.        The culvert, tunnel, or whatever you want to call it runs under the concrete extension because it was on public property.

There is no title for 40 Merrimac to claim that section of land.

Now, to cover their tracks, the city will have to due extensive and expensive re-routing of the culvert to avoid the embarrassment and the fact that this is the community’s land.

Worse, based on the landmark Federal ruling that these “Ways to the Water” are to be maintained in perpetuity; it seems that some interference could be initiated by a Federal judge.      That is if someone with the resources could bring this to their attention.

But before this happens, it is time for the citizens of Newburyport, who naturally are all up in arms over the Central Waterfront which is framed by the Ways to the Water; to put a stop to this outrage.

They should demand a major redesign of the Ale House, and follow it up with a lawsuit if it is not done.

In my next blog, I will give pictorially along with documents; why this is indeed the Ways to the Water.

-P. Preservationist

  1. Mayor “Bulldozer” Holaday is all about moving right along, no matter how much damage is committed along the way.       When will the City Councilors begin to stand up against her onslaught on the city in her drive to build, build, build?

“In 1889 the Newburyport City Council converted all of Somerby Landing into a dedicated Riverside Park. See City Council records, June 1889, in Office of the City Clerk, City of Newburyport. A deed of July 13, 1892 from the Estate of Richard W. Drown conveys “a certain lot of land with a brick building thereon” to Andrew J. Haynes, a real estate broker and lender. Essex Deeds Book 1347 Page 416. The frontage on Merrimac Street was just under 32 feet, so there was no land conveyed to the east [site of the 38 Merrimac Street lot] nor more to the West.   To the west, what is now known as Brown’s Wharf Way, lands formerly described as Somerby Landing are now described, “More Westerly four feet and six inches Westerly by City land known as Riverside Park and formerly a public landing twelve feet: northerly by said City land thirty four feet….” Later Deeds, following the dedication of Riverside Park in 1889, convey just under 32 feet, a brick building, on Merrimac Street, and extend 34 feet to the north, more or less. On filled commonwealth tidelands, taking of title by adverse possession is not allowed. So a significant issue of land ownership remains to be determined.   See Deeds found at Essex South Deeds Book 1355 Page 336; Book 1443 Page 519; Book 1522, Page 225; Book 1537, Page 113; and Book 2020 Page 117.


This entry was posted in Archeology, Businesses, Developers, Downtown, Economics, History, News and politics, Open Space, Parking, Planning, Real Estate, Streetscapes, Taxes, Tourism, Waterfront, Zoning. Bookmark the permalink.

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