I was aghast to see a notice put into the DPW page of the City’s website asking if the citizens would rather forego brick sidewalks on Green Street for concrete lined with brick.
The reason: to save a few dollars in the process.
John Bromfield, a merchant from Newburyport, fled the city after the Great Fire of 1811 and went on to make a vast fortune in Boston. He co-founded the prestigious Boston Athenaeum and was a great benefactor to charitable organizations such as Mass General Hospital. But he never forgot his native city. He knew that back in 1849, most people travelled by foot and most of the streets were dirt. He gave a large sum in which half of the money would go to sidewalks and the other half to street trees so the people would be shaded who walked beneath them.
From 1851 to 1860, the city laid these brick sidewalks from three roads all the way to the corner of Marlboro and High. A once barren city (Check out old photo’s prior to 1850) became leafy neighborhoods. They remained intact until approximately 1914 when the automobile and concrete began to usurp them. Back then, nobody cared because no one thought of Newburyport as a heritage destination city.
But then came the historic restoration in 1974. It not only brought our city back from the brink that other cities even today suffer but has made us one of the most desirable places to live. Tourists from all over the world travel down Green Street and are herald by Mr. Bromfield’s achievement. Former Governor Deval Patrick cited the brick sidewalks as the most signature symbol of Newburyport. Portsmouth, which has no such rich history, has placed brick sidewalks up and down their historic neighborhoods with spectacular results.
Our affluence, our desirability as a place to live; all centers on the celebration of the Federal and Greek Revival Periods of our city. Our Federal architecture is framed by the sidewalks that came during the Greek Revival days.
We have a huge host of new arrivals here in Newburyport who know little or nothing of our rich heritage or where our source of wealth derives. It is shameful for the City to exploit that ignorance so they can save a few pennies. Rather, we should be making it easier to put in brick sidewalks rather than putting up hurdles just because the State won’t give money for brick. And we all know what the State has tried to do in the past to trash our downtown or destroy our precious High Street.
The simple irony is that brick sidewalks, unlike concrete; are the very symbols of sustainability. You pick them up, fix what’s beneath and you lay them down. They also last longer. 1850 sidewalks are going strong while concrete laid during the Great Depression are a crumbled mess. Citizens, get on the Department of Public Safety Website and inform them that 150 years of tradition is worth every penny.
PS. This was posted in the Daily News Opinion page this last week – for those who have no access to the paper of record; here is the body of the piece.