It would appear that the much-contested effort to create another historic district in Newburyport has failed.
The question is why.
There are almost as many answers for that as there were properties involved in the original, comprehensive thrust that would have included most of High Street.
The problem with that approach was its all-embracing effort that aroused opposition and, ultimately, insufficient support for even a much reduced parcel.
The sky, however, has not fallen.
Newburyport’s older homes throughout the city speak across four centuries to significant care through good times, and as much care as possible in bad by its homeowners. It still does.
That does not make Newburyporters unique, but it does afford the opportunity to understand what is essential to the common good, and preservation is a major asset. The great majority of homeowners have done that to protect investment and pride of ownership throughout good times and bad.
Granted that is not universally the case, but neither is it rare.
Late in the current effort, I was reminded of the last trip my late wife, Susan, and I took in 1991 for an Elder Hostel visit to Milledgeville, Ga.
Our purpose wasn’t my interest in history so much as it was in the lifetime of its celebrated author, the late Flannery O’Connor.
The week-long program was mostly about her, but a reasonable amount of time dealt with the culture and history of the townsfolk and buildings, and I came away with a better appreciation for both — what O’Connor had written and why, and the local pride in the city’s history and its related structures.
During the antebellum, Milledgeville was the capital of Georgia. It was largely spared, and I was struck by the need for painting of many of its private houses, and disquieted a guide by noting it. Apparently, times were hurting and owners were making do as best they could.
I had no idea then, nor do I now, as to whether the houses were historically protected. The point is that while needing paint, they were surviving.
Newburyport has seen such times — most recently in the post-war quarter of a century during which it launched its historic effort and brought to fruition what is so enjoyed today.
Milledgeville, a community not much larger than Newburyport, markets its history well.
It has significant buildings. So do we. It played a significant role during the Revolution. So did the Town of Newbury at Bunker Hill before much of the Old Town became Newburyport.
The Elder Hostel program led us through the culture and times of the people and significant buildings that spoke to the importance of the past to the present and future.
I was surprised to see so many of its homes in need of paint, and even more so when my questions embarrassed our guide. My conclusion was the city was suffering a lack of resources, because pride remained.
Newburyport has, over its long life, had grinding periods of all of that, but it has survived and thrived not because of enforcement, but because of pride and respect.
We need to tell its story better. In doing so, there will be an improvement in our appreciation for what is important for preservation.
Through all of that, however, and for whoever the occupants of homes may be, it will be helpful to appreciate that ownership may be temporary no matter its length, but where historic significance is involved, that includes liability to both the past and the future.
Better to proceed, perhaps, is on a more limited and selective basis.
As my father used to say when I grew impatient about something, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
Neither was the Newburyport that has risen from the depths time and again over four centuries.
Resistance to change can be an asset if it widens appreciation for what’s in play and why.
The question was whether the effort was a solution in search of a problem.
Bill Plante is a Newbury resident and staff columnist. His email address is email@example.com.