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Port in Progress

June 29, 2007

The day the 'federal bulldozer' came to town

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Under the pavement, the traffic islands and the multitude of cars in the Green Street parking lot lingers a forgotten chapter in the city's fight against the federal bulldozers of urban renewal.

This marks a place where the bulldozers won.

Newburyport's urban renewal has been rightfully heralded as an example of how old cities can be preserved and renewed. But Newburyport wasn't spared completely from the mass demolition that leveled large tracts of cities across the nation.

Some 50 to 60 downtown buildings | shops, warehouses, abandoned buildings and an entire residential neighborhood | crumpled under bulldozer blades and the maws of big cranes.

In the scope of a few weeks in 1968, demolition flattened neighborhoods where shipbuilders practiced their trade, shopkeepers sold their wares and Irish and Greek immigrants made their homes, leaving behind piles of debris and vistas of vacant dirt.

When the dust settled and the debris was carted away, the downtown neighborhood on Unicorn Street and Bartlet Street ceased to exist. The warehouses and tenements that lined the old ways to the waterfront were gone. So were the stores and a hotel along Merrimac Street, from Inn Street to Green Street.

It dramatically changed Newburyport. Suddenly, the once-invisible waterfront could be seen from the downtown. More than 17 acres had been opened to new development.

Some saw it as an exciting new opportunity for the dilapidated seaport. Others regretted that so much of their old and cherished city was gone.

Today, much of that land is parking lots and waterfront parkland. But in some places, the same dusty, flat dirt lots created 39 years ago remain, still awaiting new life.



Old neighborhoods

If you were to stand on the corner of Unicorn and Merrimac streets a half century ago, you wouldn't know you were in the same Newburyport.

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