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May 15, 2014

Surprising look at valuables tossed out in Newburyport

Exhibit features historic items retrieved from Newburyport trash bins

NEWBURYPORT — One homeowner’s trash could be a preservationist’s treasure.

Or so it would seem from part of an exhibition currently running at the Custom House Maritime Museum.

On display through Sunday is an exhibit called “Vanishing Treasures: Preservation Challenges.”

It offers examples of period hardware, windows. shutters and more as it focuses on five architectural styles traced through Newburyport’s history.

But part of the organizers’ effort is to urge people to think twice before they throw away historic items.

The museum, in collaboration with the Newburyport Preservation Trust, is intent on telling homeowners of older residences not to throw away items like doors, cornices, mantles, and window frames without checking on their historical merit.

The exhibit includes examples of items that have been discarded as refuse.

“We have pulled valuable pieces out of Dumpsters,” said Tom Kolterjahn, co-president of the Preservation Trust. “Many unique items can be re-used, and we’d like to let people know that our organization is attempting to preserve old pieces.”

Some long-time residents remember the dismemberment of the old Wolfe Tavern on State Street in the ‘50s, and wish that the furniture and/or interior items could have been preserved.

Many other structures have been demolished since then.

Recently, a two-century-old home on Ship Street was dismantled. Selected parts of the house were saved, preservation officials say with some satisfaction, including beams and a staircase.

“Our first choice is that a homeowner preserve the whole structure,” said Kolterjahn. “If that can’t be done, we’d like them to consider ways to save the artifacts inside.”

Michael Mroz, executive director of the Custom House Maritime Museum, said, “Education is an important part of saving remaining artifacts.

“Once they’re gone, they’re gone, and this is an effort to inform homeowners that parts of old houses can be saved.”

Officials say homeowners with an interest in saving artifacts can learn more on the Trust’s website at

On a related note, admission to the Custom House Maritime Museum is free of charge through Sunday during Preservation Week, managers say. The hours are Tuesday — Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday from noon to noon to 4 p.m.

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