, Newburyport, MA


December 14, 2012

History speaks to the present

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.

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