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Newburyport - A Destination for History

Newburyport thrives today thanks to an inspiring history of ship builders, merchants, and industrialists. But it took a village and an historic movement to save our amazing backdrop.
Visitors who travel to Greater Newburyport with a curiosity for its history and culture are greeted with much to discover and enjoy. If you relish in studying historic documents, visiting historic sites, and seeing historic architecture, there are plenty of things to do in the Newburyport area.
City of Newburyport History – a Timeline

Located on the south bank of the Merrimack River before it empties into the Atlantic Ocean, Greater Newburyport MA was originally inhabited by the Pawtucket Tribe. Later, in the 1630’s, European immigrants settled here, founding the city of Newbury MA. The small port of Newbury quickly became a popular fishing and trading center, with the rest of Newbury turning to agricultural pursuits. By 1764, the port was so prosperous and densely settled that it broke off from Newbury to become the city of Newburyport.. Maritime trade fueled the city’s economy, sparking extraordinary building activity in the decades following.

Good Times Roll into Hard Times

In 1811, a catastrophic fire leveled the downtown. That event, coupled with restrictive federal trading policies and embargoes implemented in response to the War of 1812 and the national financial panic of 1816, resulted in the city’s economic downfall. Ironically the 1811 fire led to stringent fire safety building codes, which helped in the preservation of the handsome brick facades you can still see in downtown Newburyport today.

Newburyport Separates from Newbury and Becomes a City

In 1851, the city annexed portions of Newbury and incorporated into a city. At the same time, technological innovations led to steam powered mills and provided a financial boost to the city. Many of the large red brick mill buildings scattered throughout Newburyport were built in this time period. By the early twentieth century, Newburyport had gone into another decline and many remember the slumbering town of the 1950’s. In the 1970’s the city launched an extraordinary urban renewal project that transformed Greater Newburyport’s decaying downtown and waterfront buildings into a picturesque brick and cobblestone retail center with an attractive waterfront park and boardwalk.

Past & Present Newbury, West Newbury, and Newburyport

Many traces of Greater Newburyport’s past can still be found. Churches and cemeteries evoke remembrances of local personalities. The Tannery district is an extension of old steam mills and tanneries of the past, located just outside downtown Newburyport. There were also ropewalks, clamming shacks, and many shipyards. Hundreds of original Victorian houses, colonial houses, and federal Newburyport mansions are still cherished by today’s homeowners, helping to draw visitors from around the world who want a peak into the past.

Historic Places to Visit

Dole-Little House

289 High Road, Newbury MA 01950 978-462-2634 Built around 1715 with materials salvaged from an earlier structure. Its first owner was Richard Dole, a cattleman, who built a two-room, central-chimney house with a small kitchen shed at the rear.

Newburyport Harbor Light

Plum Island Point, Newburyport, Newburyport MA 01950 978-462-9802 Newburyport was an important port in the late 1700s, but the entrance to Newburyport’s harbor was dangerous due to the shifting currents at the mouth of the Merrimack River. To aid ships entering the river, two wooden lighthouses (one of which is now known as Newburyport Harbor…

Old South Church, First Presbyterian

29 Federal Street, Newburyport MA 01950 978-465-9666 Old South Church was built in 1756 and is one of the oldest wood frame churches in continuing use in New England. Its bell was made by Paul Revere, and its steeple guided ships to safe harbor in Newburyport. Built for the Rev. George Whitefield, a prime mover…

Custom House Maritime Museum

25 Water Street, Newburyport MA 01950 978-462-8681 Your Gateway to Maritime History in the Merrimack Valley. Discover the abundant and interesting maritime heritage of Newburyport, MA and the Merrimack River Valley. A unique collection of maritime art, model clipper ships, displays of famous shipwrecks, the history of the Coast Guard, and more.

John Greenleaf Whittier Home and Museum

85 Friend Street, Amesbury MA 01913 978-388-8888 Located at the home where John Greenleaf Whittier lived from 1836 until his death in 1892. As a committed abolitionist, faithful Quaker, creative thinker, environmentalist and freedom lover, he published poetry most of his life and is famed for his poem “Snowbound”.

The Cushing House

98 High Street, Newburyport MA 01950 978-462-2681 The Cushing House, a brick, Federal mansion houses the Museum of Old Newbury’s headquarters and was built in 1808 for Captain William Hunt.

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