Many of them didn’t know her, but yesterday afternoon almost 100 people gathered at the former home of Florence Evans Bushee on 21 Norman Way in Newbury to pay their respects 38 years after her death.
They came bearing flowers and signs of thanks for the hundreds of acres of land the feisty, good-humored Bushee donated to the Trustees of Reservations to make Old Town Hill a public park, for the countless times she stepped in to pay for something the town couldn’t afford and for the early financial contributions she made to the city of Newburyport that staved off the wrecking ball and funded key initiatives to get plans for the downtown moving.
And they also came to express a quiet note of apology that despite all she did to save historic spaces all around her for the benefit of generations to come, her own historic home and barn was bulldozed to the ground last week with no one to stand in the way.
“We really wanted to celebrate this woman,” said Adele Pollis. “Florence Bushee was an amazing woman.”
People from Newbury and Newburyport turned up at the memorial, organized by members of Save the Lower Green Committee, to express sadness over the hasty demolition of Bushee’s old home by Barry Coscia, trustee of Bushee Real Estate Trust, which purchased the property from Dr. Sadru Hemani and his wife on Dec. 21.
They stood in the frigid cold next to the only piece of Bushee’s estate left standing — the barn where she kept her beloved show horses, where yesterday her ribbons and trophies still adorned the walls even as the stalls where her prized horses Desert Rose and Flowing Gold once rested have long been empty.
The home, now reduced to a small pile of rubble at the rear of the property, was blocked off to the public yesterday with yellow police tape. Two uniformed officers from the town of Newbury issued a stern warning to those who made the trek to the Lower Green not to trespass on the new owner’s property.
“It’s pretty heavy-handed,” said neighbor Lon Hachmeister, whose grandchildren, Jessica, 6, and Angela, 5, attended the memorial alongside him. “He set instructions that if anyone put a foot on the property, they were to be arrested.”
Given the constraints, guests gathered in the driveway of the nearest neighbor, where Hachmeister and others talked about Bushee with the expressed intent not to look on the memorial as a sad event, but rather make the day a celebration of a woman who did most of her good deeds out of the public eye, as some of her neighbors still remember.
“She always gave us Christmas gifts and Christmas cards,” recalled Mary Chick. “She’d come back from Jamaica and we’d all get the grass slippers and dresses.”
As a child growing up in her family’s home just down the street from Bushee, Chick remembered Bushee’s splendid show horses — her pride and joy — and the old plow horse Hiram that grazed in the fields beside Bushee’s home.
She recalled the children of the neighborhood would climb atop the good-natured animal and slide down his backside. She also remembered that at a time when it was popular to groom show horses in a way Bushee saw as cruel, the Newbury resident gained a following for her position and saw to it that the practice was banned.
With the cold weather wearing on them, guests convened at the Pollis home to continue their stories, where they milled about as if someone they’d all known and loved had been lost with the razing of the house.
“Unbelievable, isn’t it?” they commiserated, shaking their heads.
“By their deeds you shall know them,” said neighbor Mike Laurano, speaking of Bushee. “It’s a loss — very definitely a loss.”
What Laurano and other neighbors voiced as their biggest concern in the way the Bushee house was razed is the mystery surrounding the owners and their apparent lack of regard for those already living on the street where they’ve received approval to build a new subdivision.
“What troubles people is the suddenness and the abruptness,” said Laurano.
According to the Essex South Registry of Deeds, Hemani sold the 6 acres at 19, 21 and 23 Newman Road to Coscia and his clients for $2,150,000 on Dec. 18, 2012. The transaction included the three-lot definitive subdivision on 4.3 acres at 23 Newman Road and a private cul-de-sac named Florence Bushee Lane, for which Hemani got Planning Board approval in 2008. Under the town’s zoning bylaws, the properties support a total of five single-family homes.
Speaking of the mystery surrounding the owners of the home, neighbors noted the same manager who oversaw the demolition of the home and barn, Mark DiPierro, is currently overseeing construction of two new homes going up at 13 Newman Road and 5 Newman Road, right next door.
But in the meantime, they are looking at what happened on Newman Way as a clarion call for the remaining homes that surround the 375-year-old Lower Green and the “Landing Place of the First Settlers” to come ashore here. They promise to make preservation from this point a priority, and part of that, they say, will be to make sure Florence Bushee’s is a name that’s recognized for more than a subdivision of million-dollar homes.
“It’s rather ironic that a street or lane in a subdivision that (Bushee) may not have been entirely happy with is named after her,” said Laurano. “Something else should be named after her.”