NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

January 10, 2013

Looking back at changes from a few decades ago

As I See It
Joe Callahan

---- — At the start of every new year, people like to reflect back on the happenings of the just-ended year. The Daily News featured photos of 2012 events, and radio and television repeated all the top stories, very few of which were good. I thought for this month’s article I would reflect back a half century or more and mention a few things of that era that have greatly changed or no longer exist.

Many of the older residents will remember the tower at the Plum Island Airport with its revolving flashing light that on a clear night could be seen for a wide area. The tower was removed in June of 1957.

Back in those days there were numerous no school signals. Sometimes grades 1 through 4 would be canceled; other times grades 1 through 8 got the day off; and in a big storm, all schools would be closed. No two-hour delays in those days. Also, in those days the elementary schools had an hour break at noontime and most kids went home for lunch from their neighborhood school.

Out on the Turnpike near the Justin Brown farm was a “measured mile.” People went out there to check their mile meter for accuracy. Today all miles are measured right down to “tenths” on all the major highways.

All the gas stations had free air at the pump for your car and bike tires or your football or basketball. Last summer I paid a dollar for three minutes to put air in my wife’s bike tires.

Many people should remember the “Thursday Flower Man.” He came from out of town and set up shop on the sidewalk on either State or Pleasant Street sometime in the late 1960s. He was very popular with the shoppers but not so popular with many of the merchants. He was forced to move his location many times because of complaints. He was told by the City Council on March 1, 1979 to cease doing business on public sidewalks. Two weeks later he was back in business on private property in front of the Unitarian Church on Pleasant Street, where he did a flourishing business for a long period.

I don’t know if they have a truant officer in the schools today, but they did in my school days. Everett “Pinky” Hilton held the position for many years, and what he was best known for was his mode of transportation. Mr. Hilton rode a bicycle and he could be seen daily on just about any street in town. He served the city well until his retirement in December of 1963.

Newburyport High and Gloucester High were major rivals on the gridiron in those days. They alternated home games annually. When Gloucester came to Newburyport, usually a night game, a special train would arrive at the Winter Street depot loaded with fans and the school’s ROTC band. The band would assemble on Winter Street and march up High Street playing all the way to the stadium and drawing a large crowd of spectators along High Street. They performed at halftime and following the game march back to the depot. The Gloucester ROTC band has always been regarded as by far the finest VISITING band to perform at the stadium. Although now he is a local resident, popular South End “Meals on Wheels” driver Robert “Bob” Peters is a Gloucester native and still proudly remembers his days visiting Newburyport as a member of that band over 60 years ago.

Finally, one thing I am sure that many people remember and probably miss. The bells at all the local churches used to be rung for 15 minutes at 7 a.m., noon and 5 p.m. on Washington’s birthday and on the Fourth of July. This patriotic practice dates back to at least 1861, when it was ordered by the City Council. I am not sure when this stopped, but it has not been done for quite a few years. I do realize that this entailed a lot of hard work by several people, but it would be nice to see it resume again.

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Joe Callahan is a former fire chief of Salisbury who is interested in historical accounts of the area.