NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

PortWatch

May 27, 2010

Shoring up Port's role as birthplace of Coast Guard

The organization that operates Newburyport's Custom House Maritime Museum is working to expand awareness of the city's maritime heritage and at the same time strengthen its ties with the U.S. Coast Guard.

Newburyport is the official birthplace of the Coast Guard, which dates its origin to the Aug. 4, 1790, launch of the revenue cutter Massachusetts here. The Newburyport Maritime Society, which operates the museum, is planning to throw a 220th birthday party for the guard this summer.

The museum, based in the 1835-vintage granite structure designed by Robert Mills, the architect of the Washington Monument, officially opened for the season in mid-May, with a number of special exhibits and events planned for the months ahead.

This year, the museum will make a special effort to highlight the city's seagoing past to students in the Newburyport school system.

The society has received a grant from the Edmund and Ruth Burke Education Foundation and the Kennard L. Bowlen Charitable Trust to fund a series of lectures displays and field trips to expand the awareness of the Clipper City's role in American history.

Among the programs being developed by the grant is a Maritime Adventure Walking Tour for third- and fourth-graders, focusing on key sites, such as old shipyards, sea captains' homes and the Coast Guard station on Water Street.

In addition to the walking tour, programs will include exploring the role of African-Americans in Newburyport's maritime history and looking at the architectural significance of Mills' work. The grant will also help underwrite the establishment of a "learning kiosk" in the museum that will allow visitors, students and teachers to access materials digitally from the society's archive and collections.

"Fighting Sail: Conflict at Sea in the Age of Canvas" — the museum's featured exhibit of the season — opens June 22. It will feature intricately crafted models of warships from ancient times to the era just before the start of the Civil War. The exhibit runs through Sept. 26.

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