, Newburyport, MA

February 1, 2013

Change is what we make of it

Bill Plante's
North Shore

---- — I was reminded by the celebration on Sunday past of the late Florence Bushee’s life at the site of what had been her home on Newbury’s Newman Road that it sometimes takes jarring loss of the familiar for us to revisit the gifts of those who graced their time.

Florence Bushee died 35 years ago after a long and generous life, and we gathered to pay homage more in celebration of her foresight and generosity than we did with grief over the loss of what had been her home, barn and acreage.

Each of us had brought what we knew or didn’t know about her. What I had brought was a revitalized appreciation for those who made the history of this particular northeast corner of America.

My transport had been a Christmas gift of “Reminiscences of A Newburyport Nonagenarian” (Sarah Smith Emery), as edited and produced by her daughter, Sarah Anna Emery, and I kept drifting into it as I shared the moment.

The Emery reminiscences are about people involved in the origin and growth of Newbury-Newburyport. They are about the realities of change.

There had been that about Florence Bushee’s contributions that would have graced Sarah Emery’s work had they met in time.

It reaches from the early 17th century to 1879, and in a brief preface, she references her sources as related to her purpose.

“My desire,” the daughter explains in the all-too-brief preface, “ ... has been to give a graphic history of ‘Ye Olden Time,’ to faithfully portray the domestic, religious, political, literary and social life of a past age, with a description of ‘Ould Newberry,’ and of the business and aspect prior to the great fire of 1811. The ancient town has been rich in matters of world-wide interest and historic value.”

Indeed it was, and she was able to draw on existing histories of her lifetime. So are we.

My earlier favorite has been that of Newburyport’s Mrs. E. Vale Smith — the only female newspaper editor of her time — not that the histories of others are of less value.

She, as did Sarah Smith Emery, however, puts flesh and blood together with details that transport us to the life and times in which they lived, with those of means moving upward in both class and residence to the high ground and ever westward as it was with the creation of new parishes.

It was ever thus with settling in across this nation, but sometimes things don’t seem to change that much.

I was born on Dove Street in Newburyport in 1921, and it remains unchanged, as do most of those in the old neighborhoods of old Newburyport. They suffer in bad times as they did in the recession. They certainly haven’t in most or the city during the last quarter-century.

But much has changed in the North End of the city, and in parts of Newbury as well.

We built our home on Hay Street, Newbury, in 1952 when there were only 11 houses from High Road to the Turnpike. There are several times that number today.

High Road was mostly farmland back then and yet to be “developed” as we know it today.

Change has been with us since the first settlers landed. Preservation isn’t what they were about.

The purpose of Sunday’s gathering was to broaden preservation interests for what remains of the first settling in the area of those come to Newbury from Ipswich in 1635. Those of generous heart have already done that with significant generosity of both spirit and purse on much of Hay Street, even as Florence Bushee did on Newman Road.

It wasn’t until I had finished with Sarah Emery’s remarkable grasp of the warp and woof of history that I came to better appreciate that while change may be stagnant or barely noticeable, long term it is inevitable.

As gripping as history can be, we live in our time. Passing on the best of what is broadly held to be dear is a continuing challenge. That’s what Sunday’s gathering was about.


Bill Plante is a Newbury resident and staff columnist. His email address is