, Newburyport, MA

January 17, 2014

Air browsing at 1,000 feet

Bill Plante's North Shore
Newburyport Daily News

---- — I was browsing on my computer via Google Earth midweek from an altitude of an estimated thousand feet, and found some startling changes in the ocean bed between the southernmost groin at Dartmouth Way and the one south of the bend in Fordham Way.

It appeared to have been taken at a half tide that covered bulbous mounds of sand jammed between the two stone beach groins.

It could not have been seen from shore level, and I wondered about its significance relative to beach property damage in that area.

We have come a very long way in inventing and adapting means of aerial discovery and responses thereto.

I have used Google Earth over and again to view the greater Newburyport area towns and cities as they are and how they may well be a century hence.

But how to look into their future?

Perhaps by looking at the changes from their not-so-distant past.

I think of that when I pretend to soar over them at low altitudes courtesy of Google Earth.

I begin at the southern most tip of Plum Island, south of Newbury, and travel counter-clock-wise at various altitudes through Newbury, Newburyport and Salisbury before turning westerly to Amesbury and West Newbury and back to Rowley.

It’s a cluster of old communities with shared roots and family offsprings over nearly four centuries.

The towns and cities are larger than they were at the time of my birth in 1921.

Except for recent construction of comparatively large houses along the beaches at Plum Island and Salisbury, the towns are not so much changed as they might have been, but change there is.

High Road, in Newbury, was essentially farmland prior to our Second World War.

In 1952 there were only 11 homes on the 2 miles of Hay Street when we moved into the small house we would enlarge as the family grew.

Tendercrop Farm’s total holdings go beyond those up the street to the intersection with Route 1A, but there has been a considerable loss of active farmland to housing in both Newbury Old Town and Byfield, but not so much change along Route 1A from Newbury to Ipswich.

What were once shoe factories in Newburyport are now residences, and I am reminded that Amesbury is rich with similar opportunities for further development of the downtown.

As for open space, there is considerable remaining in Amesbury, Salisbury and Newburyport that share the splendor of the Merrimack River that empties the uplands and lowlands of southern New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts in its graceful reach to the ocean.

While we may be generally aware of it, the open space we share is best regarded from above.

There is a lot of it, and summer flights out of Plum Island Airport can be remarkably rewarding for a modest investment.

But take an hour to tour comfortably at home via Google Earth this winter, and a day or two of driving along our back roads this spring at, say, not more than 30 mph to marvel at what’s still available despite 400 years of rooting in.


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