NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Port in Progress

July 30, 2007

Homecoming, city's revival share roots

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NEWBURYPORT -- In the midst of change, some things remained the same.

Torn-up streets, missing sidewalks and buildings in mid-construction were a common sight a generation ago, as Newburyport's downtown underwent a massive transformation brought on by urban renewal.

But one thing remained steady. The city still paused each summer for the weeklong Yankee Homecoming celebration.

Yankee Homecoming and the downtown's rebirth share parallels that are not coincidental.

The city's first Homecoming was held in 1958. It was the brainchild of New England artist Jack Frost, who advocated "Yankee Homecoming" festivals that would serve as a "national pilgrimage back east where it all began." Frost hoped to restore pride and interest in old cities like Newburyport that were reeling from a new phenomenon -- the explosive growth of the suburbs. New homes in subdivisions and new shopping centers were springing up across the landscape. Old downtowns were losing people and commerce at a fast pace.

Newburyport was one of 30 cities that held a Yankee Homecoming in 1958; today it's the only one that is still doing it.

Yankee Homecoming was but two years old when then-mayor Al Zabriskie took on the next logical step in Frost's concept. He established the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority and charged it with coming up with a plan that would revive downtown Newburyport.

Former Yankee Homecoming chairman George Lawler, who oversaw the celebration in 1960 and 1965, agreed that Yankee Homecoming and the city's ongoing urban renewal came to share a joint purpose. The two shared a theme -- to bring people back to the city and to promote and celebrate Newburyport, he said.

In short, the two events helped each other.

"(First chairman) George Cashman always said, and we all agreed when we heard it, that urban renewal and Yankee Homecoming kind of went hand-in-hand to make each other," he recalled.

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