PRCWA – Hard to Explain but Vital to the Area

If you hold a cat by the tail, you learn things you cannot learn any other way.

-Mark Twain

This Sunday, the Parker River Clean Water Association ( is having its 2017 Annual Meeting.        The Turtle Rescue League will come and present their program of preserving the turtle populations of New England.      It will be held from 1:00 to 3:00 pm at the Newbury Public Library in Byfield just off exit 55 on Route 95.       If you are a resident of this area, you shouldn’t miss this meeting.      It really is the only way to understand this group.

Parker River Clean Water Association is just one of those organizations that is hard to explain and yet, they have been wildly successful in each of their endeavors to the point that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and many local communities carefully monitor what this group does and covets many of their reports.

It’s not just an environmental group, it’s not just a group that wants to make sure the water in the Parker River is clean.     It’s not just a group that keeps an eye on the Parker River’s health.      In fact, if  you see all that this organization does – it would frankly make you want to scratch your head in puzzlement.

I mean take a look:

Well, okay – they do monitor the water quality of the Parker River and that is one of their primary duties; but look at all the other things they do!

Raising rare Blanding Turtles

Removing invasive plants from the waterways

Advocating for watershed protection

Managing a trail network at the headwaters of the Little River

Working to protect farms, open space and wildlife

Monitoring fish counts

Building bird nests for endangered species vital to the ecology

Advocating and assisting in Stormwater Management

Protecting Open Space

Protecting the historic Common Pasture

Protecting the Great Marsh

Advocating for fishing regulations that preserve and protect fish populations

Advising and assisting Conservation Commissions and Water/Sewer Departments in the Parker River Watershed. (Even if they don’t want to hear it)

But listen, the only way you can grasp the important role of this unique group is to show up on Sunday.       It will be fun, instructive and it will also help you appreciate that somehow you got the privilege to live inside a wonderful corner of this state.

-P. Preservationist

Posted in Agriculture & Farms, Conservation, Ecology, Education, Environment, Flooding, Health and wellness, Landscapes, Open Space, Organizations, Preservation, Quality of Life, Sewage, trails, Watershed, Wildlife | Leave a comment

Tunnels – We’re Not Alone

After much research, I have well-documented the fact that smuggler tunnels do truly exist under Newburyport.       While the Looney-Tune* Historians who heavily rely on documents can’t figure out why there are no anecdotal mention of them; the evidence is over-whelming from just after the French and Indian Wars to the War of 1812 that smuggling most certainly did exist and that the tunnels played an important role in our city and the nation’s history.

The problem always ends up, when it comes to archeological evidence, of the absence of the actual tunnels in photography and in just plain physical measurements.

This problem continues to this day for one simple fact:  these tunnels entrances are often in the basement of private residences.

Private homeowners do not enjoy the fact that a highly glamorous and highly public display of our romantic past is down there next to some old Beatles’ LP’s and boxes of personal items.      No one relishes having their houses gawked at, and the most adventurous rifling through to examine these ‘tunnel entrances’.        So, the entrances just sit in the dark.

On my part, the best bet in the meantime would be to locate the exit that runs out near the Oak Hill Cemetery.       But where is the exit?     And looming just nearby or perhaps is even there in their midst; are the memorial stones.           Law-enforcement, and even our society take a pretty dim view of anyone even ‘thinking’ of disturbing the ground.

And of course, we have the detractors who mock and ridicule those who claim that such passageways even exist; or at the very least mis-identified.

It can drive you mad with frustration.

But happily, the recent events in our neighbor to the south, Salem, has come to rescue my sanity!

Roughly three-miles of tunnels have been uncovered.

Not only do they exist, they answer a lot of questions that have been made by skeptics over the years.       How did they finance such a massive project?        How did they hide the fact of all that digging going on right under the noses of the town’s citizens?      What did they do with all that dirt displaced?       And finally, who authorized their construction?

Though uncovered in different parts of the city, Our old neighbor is having the same problems with documentation.     The local residents refuse to have tourists tromping through their basements and have clammed up tight as a Cherry Clam!

Fortunately, from what has been learned from research and on-site discoveries; the evidence has been put into a very entertaining historic tour that is now run every summer.

Salem Tunnel Tours ( is a combination of highlighting the Smugglers and exposing the Tunnels they spawned.          And more importantly, the tour guide, Christopher Jon Luc Dowgin, has produced two books that reveal what has been found out already: Salem Secret Underground: The History of the Tunnels in the City, and the followup as more information has been uncovered, Sub Rosa.

I plan on taking the tours and will read the books as I hope it provides more clues where our tunnels enter and exit.    I encourage anyone else, especially those skeptics at the Hist, and those who are tunnel enthusiast to take the tour.        It will inspire those who do; and it may, with much persuasion, fill those who have entrances in the basements of their homes much guilt which will motivate them, perhaps to let me see and photograph these gateways.

After these many years, the tunnels will hardly be in good condition; and their primary purpose was certainly not to highlight architecture; but we need to know where they are!

-P. Preservationist

* Looney-Tunes had flashing neon-signs indicating “Hide-out” where the gangsters were holed up.      Looney-Tunes would have “Smuggler’s Tunnel Entrance” flashing with animated stars on the borders, near the cemetery.    Then it would be easy to find!

Posted in Archeology, Architecture, Businesses, Education, Heritage Tourism, History, Infrastructure, Tours | 4 Comments

What a view!

I firmly believe that like Seward’s Folly (the purchase of Alaska) that Mayor Al Lavender’s ill-fated host agreement with DEP’s favorite trash mafia; will in the end be a boon for Newburyport.

Everyone has heard about the landfill but very few have climbed it.      Perhaps they are reluctant due to the fact it is private property and technically trespassing to hike it.

Eventually when after all the wrangling, and the landfill becomes officially ‘finished’; it is supposed to be transferred over to the city and Newburyport assumes the liability of this monster.

And monster it is.    According to, Turkey Hill, once the highest point inside the city’s borders, is 121 feet above sea level.     Mount Lavender is 9 feet higher at an impressive 130 feet and now the greatest in height.

And I wouldn’t know of course (wink, wink) but the views are absolutely spectacular looking down on the Heights, a high plateau where Storey Avenue is located.  To the southwest is the lovely view of the historic Common Pasture and to the North the busy lights of Anna Jacques.   The close proximity of the hospital  in one’s view explains how the odors managed to shut down the intensive care area a while back.

There is a lovely trail but rather steep that climbs from the Crow Lane Nature Trail Head to the summit.     If you take it, aside from taking in the stunning views, you will see that the top of the landfill is flat for a wide area.

If when, and that is a big WHEN; it comes into the hands of the city; this is a perfect place to put a solar farm.

And why not!?!    the water can’t be absorbed because of the impervious membrane that covers the mound.     All that uninterrupted sun exposure will turn a giant white elephant into a tremendous asset for the city and its taxpayers.

In the meantime, enjoy the view!

-P. Preservationist

Posted in Conservation, Economics, Entertainment, Infrastructure, Landfill, Landscapes, News & Politics, Recreation, Solar Panels, Taxes, trails | 2 Comments

It needs to happen!

I was very encouraged when I found out that the effort to name the southbound bridge after William Lloyd Garrison is still ongoing.      I know our elected officials are doing their best to put pressure on MassDOT which has a long history of not being sympathetic to local concerns. (i.e. the sound barriers!)

I was glad to read that the work of naming the bridge is still being pursued.

The most encouraging word I can offer is,  “DON’T QUIT”.

There is one thing I have learned over the years when dealing with government that persistence is often the long, painful route to success.       The naysayers are legion, and what I think is worse; are the host of the visionless who just don’t see why a particular project is necessary.      These are often your closes allies which turn out to be your toughest to overcome.      It is sad that the memory of these two giants have been forgotten by so many in that monumental task of the 19th century.

It is encouraging that as Parker River Clean Water Association has now oversight of the Little River Trail System south of Storey Avenue; we look forward to the William Lloyd Garrison Bike/Pedestrian Trail connecting to the Gloria Braunhardt Bike/Pedestrian Trail.         We were very encouraged to see a crosswalk with traffic walk signals installed over the busy thoroughfare that lies between these two paths.

Starting (hopefully) in the Fall of 2017; this crosswalk will turn out to be one busy place!

It would be tremendous that this new path on the bridge worked on so hard by the Mayor and others; could be accompanied by the two great structures reflecting the powerful impact that the twin cities in the Northeast of Massachusetts had on the national Abolitionist Movement.

Now to get a bunch of visionless engineers to see it.         That’s the tough part.

-P. Preservationist


Posted in Economics, Education, finances, Heritage Tourism, History, News & Politics, Organizations, Planning, Quality of Life, Recreation, Traffic, trails | Leave a comment

“Citizens” Arise!

You’ve seen these homeowners all over the city.      These are the one’s with beautiful lawns, the very nicest building materials and the sharpest looks….

………But the sidewalk in front of their house is a tangled mess of weeds and dirt.

It all boils down to a total lack of understanding of what citizenship means!

The sidewalks, they say, are ‘city’ property and they feel no responsibility to lift a finger to maintain them.

The idea that you live only for yourselves was never considered or tolerated by our Founding Fathers.

Our country was founded on the ideals of a Republic in which each participant has a duty as citizens to contribute to the greater good.        Think taxes (Which these selfish people may claim excuses them), think jury duty, think military service for those eligible if a draft were ever held to defend our nation.        The citizen is duty bound to vote, to participate for the greater benefit of the community.      A good citizen obeys the laws, and is aware who is the Mayor, who are their ward councilors; what are the issues in the community.

The Nation was founded on the responsibility of the individual to be a citizen.

That’s why the sidewalks are not city property but public property.     It is owned by “us” the citizens of Newburyport.       It is a fact that in most of the country and in many municipalities in Massachusetts, the homeowner is responsible for the public sidewalk adjacent to their property.      My wife’s brother was cited in New Jersey because he had not kept up the sidewalks to the city’s standards.        Out of his own pocket, he had to upgrade them.

This ordinance – which I might add is in effect – continues the citizen obligation.

Citizenship requires sacrifice for the greater good.      We pay taxes so the greater good is translated into public schools, good roads and safe neighborhoods.

This is not Socialism.    It is the fundamental principle of America.

The greater good for Newburyport is to see our public (citizens’) sidewalks improved for the entire benefit of the community.

Can you imagine someone saying, “I pay taxes, therefore I am excused from jury duty!” or, “I don’t need to obey the law, I pay enough in taxes.”    The reasoning is ridiculous.     Our current ordinance doesn’t kick in until $100,000 in renovations.     And the general cost of sidewalks and trees to the adjacent property is from $5,000 to $10,000).       As I have previously posted, (with documentation) the IRS has demonstrated that good sidewalks in front of a private home can only benefit the owner.

What we are dealing with are those who feel they have no obligations as citizens because they pay “taxes”.    The developers (the bad developers since wise developers improve the sidewalks in front of their projects) hope a few selfish squawkers will allow them to get a pass on this expense.

These amendments considered tonight were, as the Mayor has stated that a ‘few’ homeowners have been caught under this ordinance and they just ‘can’t’ swing improving the city’s sidewalks as they do ‘moderate improvements’.

Supposedly, a $100,000 is a moderate improvement.

It is time we benefit the entire community rather than a few ‘special interests’ who refuse to embrace the duties of ‘citizenship’.       Be sure to show up and speak against these amendments tonight at the joint meeting of the Planning Board and the Council of the Whole. (City Hall, 7:00)

-P. Preservationist

Posted in Developers, Economics, Infrastructure, Preservation, sidewalks, Trees, Zoning | Leave a comment


Tomorrow Night will be another chance to stop an ill-conceived attempt to cater to special interests instead of taking care of the citizens as a whole.

We dodged a bullet when it came to 100 State Street as outrage was felt at the total disregard of the community as a whole for some get-rich-quick (and city’s pockets nicely lined) developer who wanted to create a monstrosity next to our beloved library.

Now politicians, developers and self-serving homeowners want to pass a bad ordinance.

This bad proposal was sent to sub-committee when everyone was on vacation or distracted by the summer’s pursuits.     Sneaking it on the books, now they hope the inertia of its presence will make it possible for it to pass.


While the rest of us were enjoying the summer, exploiting, greedy developers have been working with city councilors who care more about these special interests than the community at large.

Hoping that no one notices, an ordinance has been introduced to cater to special interest developers who want to exploit the City without giving any thing back in benefits to the community! (We certainly don’t want to inconvenience them!)

Back in June, a new ordinance dictated that developers and homeowners doing major work would improve the adjacent city sidewalk and install city trees.      Finally, instead of the usual raping of our community by demolishing homes, gutting homes and putting in enlarged, oversized housing; the citizens would at least see a nagging problem resolved that has been like a painful hang nail for decades: the terrible condition of our sidewalks would start to see a steady improvement as responsible developers and homeowners contribute to the city for short money, the sidewalks in front of their renovations and major work.

Now a city councilor (with his allies) want to introduce amendments through this ordinance that dump the requirements, and give the discretion to volunteer boards which are buffeted already by consultants, lawyers, and politicians.         They “may” require the sidewalk being improved.     They “may” want to see street trees installed.

Just to horrify and jog your memory.      Remember the Zoning Board of Appeals were presented with 43 abutters who were against a developer, and the developer won. (Tremont Street) or a developer who disregarded the building inspector and the Planning Board directives and the Historical Commission directives and got away with it with a small fine? (77 Lime Street)




Tomorrow night, Wednesday 7:00, City Hall.

-P. Preservationist


Posted in Affordable Housing, Businesses, Developers, Health and wellness, News & Politics, Preservation, Quality of Life, sidewalks, Streetscapes, Trees, Zoning | Leave a comment

A lightning bolt struck my front door!

There I was at my kitchen table reading the Mayor’s Daily Notice when I spied the top heading on the front page, “Port Resident Richard Lodge named managing editor of the Daily News”

My wife and I had already decided that we would cancel the MDNrichard-k-lodge starting this coming month as we were increasingly getting nothing or just about nothing of what was happening in Newburyport.      It is sad when the comics and Tim’s Tips were the highlight of the day, and most of the time spent was trying to read between the lines and figuring out what didn’t make it into the paper of record.

The MDN has been a disappointment even before I moved here nearly 30 years ago.       We subscribed in the hope that it would prepare us for living in the city, but it failed miserably.    Only later, did we discover that you had to go to the Obituary page where insightful articles would be inserted that revealed what was really going on in town.     To be fair, there were big headlines on major issues but the content was often sketchy.      The only thing I have figured over the years is that the editors didn’t want to offend any tourists coming into town.      Only later, did I discover there was a darker purpose.

But that’s another subject entirely!

The saddest part of the recent legacy of our paper was its latent and often aggressive hostility toward historic preservation.        As anyone with at least one functioning eye can clearly see, the restoration of the downtown started a chain reaction of ever increasing affluence.        It has had its ups and downs, but on average, the road to prosperity has been a good and steady thing.          And yet, the paper, edited at the time by Bill Plante, was hostile to such a movement.      The commonly held belief at that time was to demolish and replace with strip malls and modern buildings that would usher in ‘good times’.        As I have seen around the country, it often produced the exact opposite.       It gutted the culture and the community and left them as cold edifices of isolation.      Worse, the vacuum was filled with the lower baser sorts of our society and a spiral of crime.

I will never forget going to Haverhill when I first moved here to explore and enjoy their dining establishments in a town where that destructive mindset had been allowed to have free reign.       The local police thought we were crazy for showing up and gave us a police escort out of town!

But Bill Plante echoed the sentiment of that day, “If we don’t tear it down, it will fall down”.     It took a large block of concerned citizens to write up a petition posted in his very own paper to finally convince City Hall that the newspaper did not reflect the community’s view.          But this hostility has continued over the years.

Then John Macone came in 14 years ago and everyone in town was excited.      Finally, we would get news, yes, real news!     Plus, the attitude of the paper would reflect more of the views of the community!        Things did get better for a while though the strange fascination with some editorial topics made us scratch our heads.        The new Newburyport has a very tiny demographic of fishermen – it is sad reality but their fate rarely affects our city as a whole.      This is just one example.

But the ever constant hostility toward historic preservation, though more latent now; was still there.         And an ever increasingly shrinking tiny core of dark siders still had undue influence in the paper pushing for an economy that had little to do with heritage tourism or historic buildings or our beautiful environment.         Notice the glee recently as the paper put the silly Wolfe Tavern idea on the front page.        All that has happened is that now the real Wolfe family won’t be able to name their new restaurant Wolfe Tavern putting a damper on their long-term success.

But there I was reading rather glumly at the portfolio of the new editor when I came to nearly the last paragraph.       Sometimes great things are missed if you are not paying attention!

He is a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

It flashed across my eyes as a thunderbolt and struck my front door!       This was almost unbelievable.

Could this be a rebirth of what was once called the Newburyport Daily News?

How will Mr. Lodge deal with a Mayor who wants to demolish and gut and put in all new buildings?       How will he deal with developers who are gleefully joining in the exploiting and gutting of historic buildings in town?      How will he deal with dark siders who mock our high quality of life and yearn for the old ugly town of old?

How will he treat those who are pushing for a better quality of life for our city?     Will he join, or dare to join the Newburyport Preservation Trust?       How will he treat COW or the NRA?       And increasingly, as he will discover; the hot displeasure of City Hall if he practices what he believes as our building inspector oversees the destruction of the Newburyport Historic District.lightning-bolts

Lightning is hard to control – and it spreads this way and that – but it also follows the path of least resistance too.

Only time will tell!      But the clock is ticking on the Mayor’s Daily Notice – even if it is based on just economics; either the paper starts to represent the majority of the citizens who want a high quality of life or Mr. Lodge’s tenure may be a very short one.

-P. Preservationist

Posted in Economics, Education, History, Organizations, Preservation, Preservation History, Quality of Life | Leave a comment