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Port in Progress

May 18, 2007

In twilight of his life, famed architect gave Port hope

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NEWBURYPORT | William Graves Perry didn't need Newburyport to become famous, yet his fame as an architect showed the Clipper City how to hold true to its history while seeking its future prosperity.

It's true in the 1960s many were horrified at the thought of razing the city center in the search of economic rejuvenation, but many also believed it was the only viable way to revitalize the boarded-up blighted buildings along State Street that were such an ugly reminder of Newburyport's lost fortunes.

Although many preached preserving Newburyport's centuries-old buildings and distinctive architecture, as the bulldozers of urban renewal moved closer and closer, it was Perry's drawings and models, and his steady assurance that demonstrated exactly how to meld the city's past into its present to produce a flourishing future.

In his 80s at the time, the celebrated Boston architect had an illustrious career that included being the primary architect behind the restoration of Colonial Wiliamsburg, the first living history museum in the nation. At a time when most successful and wealthy men of his age would retire to enjoy their hobbies and their grandchildren, and to bask in the glory of their hard-earned fame, Perry answered the pleas from historically-minded Newburyport citizens. Initially donating his own time, Perry joined the crusade to save Newburyport from the wrecking ball.

The serendipity that led Perry back to Newburyport during its urban renewal era might be seen as just shy of predestination.

A few | like Dr. Robert Wilkins, local architect Edmund Burke and friend Dudley Currier | knew the city had an ace in the hole with Perry. Perry was the descendent of a Newburyport seafaring family and lived during his youth in its ancestral High Street Federalist mansion.

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