, Newburyport, MA

Port in Progress

July 10, 2007

Sidewalk superintendents watched and worried as the buildings came down

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There's a phrase that was once common in Newburyport, but over the years it's all but disappeared.

It's "sidewalk superintendents," the name given to the gawkers who came to watch and critique the dramatic changes happening in the old Yankee city as urban renewal transformed the downtown.

And 1968 was their banner year.

That was the year that dozens of downtown Newburyport buildings came crashing down. News accounts from the day estimated that 71 buildings -- from historic brick warehouses to dilapidated garages and sheds -- were demolished to make way for the new Newburyport.

The Newburyport Redevelopment Authority hoped that if it cleared enough land, it would entice a major developer to restore the city's historic Market Square core, create ample parking nearby, and give the long-neglected waterfront a new and exciting face.

Things didn't work out that way.

It would take a few years before the city would start restoring its old buildings, and it happened on a smaller, more methodical scale than was originally envisioned. Today, some 39 years later, the waterfront plan has yet to be realized.

The demolitions of 1968 drastically changed the physical appearance of the city. Some say it created new vistas and opportunities that renewed and refreshed people's perception of the struggling downtown. Others say it changed the city for the worse, some saying they are saddened by its legacy.

"Old town is dying"

In mid-April of 1968, bulldozers and "clamshell shovels" arrived at the corner of Merrimac and Unicorn streets, where they began the demolition. Some 44 buildings were targeted, including almost every building on Unicorn and Bartlet streets. Also targeted were buildings on Inn, Green and Merrimac streets, and Elbow Lane -- the latter a now-defunct alley that ran between Liberty and Water streets, through the parking lot of The Daily News.

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