, Newburyport, MA

February 7, 2014

It's well to heed lessons history teaches

Bill Plante's North Shore
Newburyport Daily News

---- — I hope Daily News readers are as pleased as I am with the ongoing series by Dyke Hendrickson that touches upon the significant history of what would eventually become Newburyport because history is always in the making.

What was once known early on as Newbury reached from Plum Island to the highlands at the west end of West Newbury.

The first designation of Newbury by the state to become the town of Newburyport was on Feb. 4, 1764.

(A personal note here. I would be born Feb. 4, 1921, on Dove Street 157 years later.)

Often spoken as two words, Newbury PORT, with forceful accent on the “PORT,” related to ongoing divisions between business and farming interests.

It was not uncommon an emphasis by some Newburyporters throughout most of the first half of the last century.

There were many families of first settlers heritage whose roots were imbedded in farming right up to our Second World War.

There were also those, as the community expanded, whose business interests had broadened over the 144 years following the Parker River landing of the first settlers in 1620.

The two groups were continually fractious, and the state would later settle the matter by taking more Newbury land at the western end of Newburyport and calling it West Newbury.

Newburyport would become a city in 1851 with the election of Caleb Cushing as its first mayor.

There are other connections with earlier Newburyport.

The Daily News is in its 130th year of marking what Newburyport has been about — the accommodation of change without destroying what has been so remarkably preserved.

Up until 1952, its complete masthead read The Newburyport Daily News and Newburyport Herald, the Herald having been among the earliest of the city’s newspapers.

Preservation has its role, but there are times when change is necessary.

I have held for some time that while preservation of High Street homes speaks broadly of caring and sharing, so as well do those homes of the city’s many streets. It’s remarkable to find so few needful of care.

It is not remarkable to find those of architectural importance, but it’s the care given to all properties, modest as well as prominent, that speaks of pride and perseverance throughout good times and more trying ones.

Newburyporters have done very well by them.

The years of long struggle to convince Washington that preservation of Newburyport’s central business district buildings was essential to both the economic and historic interest of the city, remains a lesson in perseverance.

Washington finally agreed, but the challenge of supportable commerce isn’t Washington’s. It’s our own and perseverance is essential.

That began a half century ago, and so far so good, unless you are the owner of a business dependent on enough street traffic to cover costs during long winter months when waterside visits can be less than an attraction.

Downtown properties have been well cared for despite what appears to be accelerated turnover of street level businesses.

Once upon a considerable time ago, outside of small corner groceries and barber shops, downtown Newburyport was the city’s only shopping center. Whatever can be done to enhance that will add considerably to the preservation of what was so dearly won.

I am reminded of an old song that in order to get ahead, it would be productive to eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive.

That’s what the state did for Newburyport in 1764, and what Newburyport did with Washington two centuries later to regenerate the downtown.

Lessons learned should not be forgotten.


Bill Plante is a Newbury resident and staff columnist. His e-mail address is