About Me

Growing up in a small New England town with a mother who was an antiquarian it was inevitable that I would be exposed to old things. After graduating from UMass/Amherst I lived in Connecticut, taught school, married, and raised three children in suburbia. A move to Newburyport MA renewed my interest in all things old. This background has now evolved into research, writing, consulting and all the things I love to do.

Prudence Fish

Saturday, May 22, 2021




 This is a short but fun post!

  For most of my life I have been a doll collector.  From the day as a ten or so year old when I found a valuable French doll in a shaky antique shop with a leaky roof I have been interested.  With years of being active in the pursuit of dolls interspersed with periods of moving onto other things such as raising a family, home ownership and other activities there have been times when I was less than active..

By the 1980s I had settled down in the Lanesville section of Gloucester, MA, America's oldest fishing port, which is now approaching its 400th birthday in 2023.  Preparations for a grand celebration are well under way and going full tilt.

In the mid 1980s I met a friend who would remain a good friend until the present.  She had a custom, like many others, of walking on Pavilion Beach in central Gloucester.  Edie, my friend,  told me of picking up beach glass as she walked the beach. 

What was unusual was that along with finding glass she kept finding doll parts: tiny limbs and other parts made of bisque, an unglazed china.  I knew of these tiny dolls as dollhouse dolls and that they came from Germany, were very cute and not expensive.   They date to the late 19th century, probably after 1880 and were made in great numbers at least up until 1900.  Certainly they do not date to later than the World War I period.

I found this odd but mildly interesting.

Edie moved to upstate New York and although I kept in touch we had no more conversations about the tiny dolls on the beach.

Then a few years ago, circa 2015, thirty years after hearing about the doll parts, another friend, Shelley, mentioned that she, too, liked to walk Pavilion Beach and had found doll parts.  After all that time it seemed odd.

More recently, on  Facebook, someone posted a photo of sea glass  collected and there in the middle of the glass photo was a doll's arm!     

After I commented on the arm more people came forward to say they knew others who had found doll parts until I heard of maybe a half dozen people.  One gentleman said his mother had lived near the beach and had picked up and collected jars full of tiny doll parts. 

I have no answers to this mystery.  One would conclude that a long ago vessel was bringing these dolls to America from Germany must have gone down in the vicinity but who knows where the currents in the ocean would take them.  Should we assume this unknown ship went down perhaps 125 years ago?  If so, how many dolls were loaded on that vessel?

The doll parts are still washing ashore and it remains a mystery from the deep.  Has everyone of the many who have walked that beach for years found doll parts?

I suspect many have and think it will remain a mystery.  However if you can add to the story I'll be listening.

As one Facebook contributor wisely said, "Sometimes the rhymes and rhythms of the sea are hard to explain".  

  Some of these dolls are not jointed and their limbs don't move.  They are called Frozen Charlottes.  The group above are unjointed. Here is their melancholy story from about 1840.

"Frozen Charlotte dolls get their name from an American folk ballad “Fair Charlotte,” which is a cautionary tale about a girl who, after refusing to wear warm clothing in the cold because she didn’t wish to cover her beautiful dress, freezes to death (again, creepy.) The poem and song were about a real girl named Charlotte, who went riding with her suitor, Charlie, to a winter ball in 1840. When she arrived at the ball, she had frozen to death. The story says Charlie died of a broken heart soon afterward, and they were buried together in a single tomb."

Wednesday, January 13, 2021



            OUR CAPITOL

                                                  THE WAY IT WAS                                 

                                                        MAY 5, 1851

                               The Capitol before being enlarged after 1850

Early in the day, January 6, 2021 we innocently went about our business with no hint of the terrible events that would unfold in front of our eyes before the day was over.  In tears  millions watched the desecration of our Capitol in utter disbelief.

As the days passed the news did not get any better but while trying to digest what had happened I remembered a cherished letter written by a relative long ago.  After reading it again I knew I wanted to share it.

We are so filled with despair and disappointment.  Every day brings another blow to democracy.  Integrity, happiness and a sense of well-being are at an all-time low.  It wasn't always this way!

The writer of the letter was George Bryant born in Paris, Maine in 1830.  His great grandparents had settled in Maine, still part of Massachusetts, soon after the Revolution when several families made the trek to the District of Maine from Plymouth County, Massachusetts.  They cleared the fields and built their houses.  When the hardest days were over twenty one year old George was in the state of Virginia having traveled to Washington by train from Boston.  George Bryant had wonderful penmanship.  Today we would call him a caligrapher but he called himself a teacher of chirography which meant penmanship. It was said that he hoped to write calling cards for the senators. 

                                                    George Bryant's Caligraphy
The year was 1851 and he wrote a letter to his grandfather, Arodus Bryant, back home on a hillside in Paris, Maine.  What follows in the letter is his account of the trip.  The excitement and the feelings of patriotism he felt as he saw the nation's capitol for the first time are almost palpable.  The letter was saved and a copy miraculously came to me from another descendant in New Jersey now an internet acquaintance.

This young man was a farm boy from Maine living on a two hundred acre farm, and yet, he wrote with eloquence and clearly was well informed.  These rural New Englanders were educated and lived their lives with dignity.

                                       Caligrapher George Bryant with his quill pen

Dear Grandfather,

   Thinking that a letter from "Old Virginia: might interest you while sunning yourself by those front windows, I have resolved to write you one and give you a short account of my travels thus far and to describe to some extent the manner and customs of these people here.  Yet I hope to give you a more detailed and interesting account when I return home as this must necessarily be very limited and superficial.

   I intend to make you a long visit of one week when I get back in order to make up for what I have lost.  I as much intended to make you a visit while at home, as one could but the day appointed was stormy and the only day I could before starting if I went at the time agreed upon.

   I will give you a line about my journey.

   We started from Boston at 1:00 o'clock in the morning with an excursion party bound for Washington. The tickets were for the whole trip to Washington and back so I had to buy a ticket for the trip at risk of not being able to sell the back half, which it was my good luck to do before I got to New York.

   We arrived at New York about 1:00 o'clock in the afternoon and could have gone to Philadelphia that night if our tickets had been on this route so we were obliged to stop until the next day at noon. We then started for Philadelphia and arrived there at 5:00 PM and after waiting three or four hours, we took the cars for Baltimore and after riding all night we arrived there about 5:00 in the morning.  We then took the cars for Washington and in less than 2 hours were in the City of Washington.

   And according to the nature of all Americans, the first thing to look for was the magnificent building known the world over as the CAPITOL OF THE UNITED STATES.   As we got out of the depot behold, there it stood, a most magnificent edifice upon a rise of ground not more than 40 rods from the depot.

   Without further ceremony and with hurried step we all rushed up the avenue which led to its entrance and after ascending many stone steps, more noble than I ever before imagined, we came to the long anticipated spot.  And here we beheld architecture approximating as near to perfection, seemingly, as art or science ever can produce.  But with this we were not satisfied.  We longed to see the great men and renowned patriots of the ages, but this session hour being at the late hour of 12:00, we spent our time exploring the building and examining the (illegible word) connected with it.

These alone are enough to interest one for days.  At length the session drew nigh and we all
repaired to the House and Senate galleries.  You can scarcely imagine our feeling of sublimity as we mused upon the scene.

   We were in the far-famed apartment that for many years has thundered with a nation's eloquence and poured forth a nation's sentiments. Here, too, the courts transpire which fill the public print throughout the land stimulating every mind from the school-boy to the gray-haired veteran, and here is where men have gained a distinction that shall render their names immortal and mingle them with a nation's glory in all coming time. Here too is concentrated the pathetic strife of more than 20 million of the human race.  Here Clay and Webster are wont to raise their voices resounding from Maine to Mexico/

   As we were thus wrapped in sublime meditation, Thomas Benton came in with a lion's authority stamped upon his countenance.  He took his seat and began looking over some books and papers.  He had come in a little before the rest and we soon learned that he was about to make a speech.  In a short time they all came in and took their seats, many of which we recognized by their likeness in books and frames.

   If you have a picture of Henry Clay you know just how he looks.  I think he has the best shrewd, self-possessing and eloquent expression ever beheld.  Cass wears an expression very intelligent and noble in appearance but I suppose you would have one speak about a Whig rather than old Lewis Cass, if he is a much smaller man. I would gladly go on giving a description of things connected with the Capitol but it is getting near bedtime and the sheet is nearly full.

   I will just say that we heard Benton make a speech followed by one from Clay.  As I had but little time to spend in Washington I made it in my way to visit most of the public buildings but was most interested in the Patent Office where I saw the old original Constitution, the military coat and equipment worn by the immortal Washington, Franklin's old printing press and a thousand other things of interest which have not room here to insert.

   I am in Virginia and enjoying myself pretty well.  It is cold here for the time of year and very changeable.  There is not so much difference between seed time here and in Maine as I supposed.  Many are not half through planting yet.  It was warm here the last of February as it is now.

   I should be happy to have a letter.  I have written this in great haste and you must not take it to be a fair specimen of my writing but excuse it.

Yours ever, 

George Bryant 

Sadly, this young man, born May 9, 1830, well educated and with such promise and enthusiasm for life died on June 17, 1852 a year after he wrote the letter.  He was only twenty two years old but had experienced more than most his age, who were brought up in the District of Maine.  He was buried in the neighborhood cemetery just over the stone wall from the house he called home.

The Bryant Homestead in East Oxford, Maine
                                                                 Built 1798

George Bryant celebrated America and rejoiced in being an American  He was in awe of the leaders in the Senate and thrilled to see them, hear them and witness them in action.  There was no hint of division, disorder or protest on the streets of Washington: and no thugs storming the capitol.  Respect for their conscientious leaders was the order of the day.

How ignorant and pathetic are those murderous hoodlums that took over the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Where is the dignity and respect that flourished in years gone by?  

Today, one hundred and sixty nine years since George Bryant expressed himself with such joy, passion and patriotism, Washington has become a different place.

RIP George Bryant

                             Shepards Field Cemetery, burial place of George Bryant

Monday, December 23, 2019



Estate sale photo

    It has been a long time since I have posted and probably most of my loyal followers have fallen by the wayside.  An unscheduled fall and broken hip (replaced), a hospital stay and then rehab just about broke my spirit and definitely broke my momentum.  It has taken a preservation crisis to get me going again.  

    In previous posts I have stated that two of my favorite places in New England are Newburyport (including Newbury) where I used to live and Cape Ann (Gloucester, specifically Lanesville) where I now live.  I went from my beloved 14 room Federal mansion. in Newburyport, to my sweet little Gothic cottage in the old fishing village around Lane's Cove.

    The Town of Newbury has two greens; the Lower Green is where the early settlers first set foot on Newbury soil in 1635 from the vessel, “ Mary and John”,  
Monument on the Green commemorating those who
came to Newbury on the vessel Mary and John in 1635
on the banks of the Parker River. The Upper Green is closer to Newburyport. Between the two greens is High Road, a scenic road lined with old farms in pastoral settings.   
Old Schoolhouse on the Lower Green, Newbury, MA
    As I became better acquainted with the area I fell more and more in love with Newbury and Newburyport.  My High St. house was wonderful.  I loved every inch.  But as I drove down High Road through Newbury I noticed a house, a three story Federal, that looked much like mine but in the country, back off the busy road on Little’s Lane and with a large barn.  I used to joke with friends that I wanted that to be my next house.  I never crossed the threshold and maybe I wouldn’t have like the interior but I thought I would! It was located on a country road that led through an allee of trees to the Spencer Pierce Little House surrounded by vast acres, owned by Historic New England and one of the best 17th century houses in New England.
    That would never come to pass.  I had become a single mother of three, began a real estate career in historic properties and moved to our little Gothic second home on Cape Ann. 
    The house I fantasized would be my country house one day had been extensively renovated and came on the market for sale.  I no longer aspired to own another mansion so paid little attention until I became aware that it was being sold to an abutter and would be demolished.  I believe the buyer intended to keep the barn but wanted the house site for his new backyard swimming pool.  And so the house was destroyed.

The machinery stands ready to demolish the house.
    I was outraged.  This 200 year old beauty known as the Tappan House had been built by Offin Boardman, Revolutionary privateer.  The price tag for this property was 1.6 million and it was reduced to rubble.  I found this beyond unconscionable.  How could this possibly have happen?

    After arriving there, myself, in 1971 and trying to soak up the history of a new community as quickly as possible I soon heard about Florence Bushee who passed away  leaving her mark on the preservation of Newbury.  Her farm which consisted of a large antique house two barns and other outbuildings on a large parcel of land was just off the Lower Green on Newman Road.

    Abutting her land and facing the Green was the old (1728) Seddon Tavern. It had been virtually destroyed by fire but Florence Bushee jumped in to save whatever was left and bring it back until the ancient saltbox became a much loved landmark facing the green.  It ultimately became the property of Historic New England but was deaccessioned by them in the early 1980s for want of a sufficient endowment as I understood it.  Since then it has been in good hands and now is a private home, a perfect setting for the antiques of the serious collectors who now own it.

     It was impossible to live there with an interest in antiques and old houses and not known or heard about Mrs. Bushee.

    Her house was sold and remained intact for many years with tenants coming and going.  I knew one couple who took up residence there and, at least once, the house was open for a house tour.  So you can imagine the distress of hearing that her estate had been sold to a developer. 

   It got worse.  His plan included knocking down the large Federal period house and other buildings on the property leaving one barn.  There was no protection for the buildings and not much anyone could do.  In fact there was nothing that could be done.  It all went.  This newspaper link from 2013 tells the story.


All that remains is one of the barns on Newman Road.

    An enormous contemporary house now looms over the Seddon Tavern, dwarfing it and drastically spoiling the image of the old Tavern in the early village on the Green.  The owners of the Tavern have suffered a desecration of their immediate neighborhood and their real estate is badly impacted.  Other large new houses line Newman Road.

    The distress caused by these losses deeply affected the town.  Word spread far and wide of the mindless, insensitive assault on the Lower Green and a memorial service was organized.  On a cold January day in 2013 a large group banded together to eulogize Florence Bushee and her legacy as a preservationist as well as the memory of her farm.  Throngs of people braved the cold on a Sunday afternoon to pay their respects to this woman and her home, now destroyed. 

    I attended with a car full of friends from Gloucester.  As we drove up Newman Rd. a Newbury cop approached the car rather apologetically letting me know that anyone stepping foot on the property or even two wheels of the car touching the property were subject to arrest.  So we stood in the road and listened to the speakers before adjourning to the home of Bob Menicucci and Adele Pollis on the Green for warmth and refreshments.
    Before this happened, in 2010 the Lower Green area had been named by Preservation MASSachusetts as one of the most endangered areas in the state. An historic district should have been formed by now and the Community Preservation Act embraced but the damage was done, people licked their wounds and life went on.  The Bushee property was gone, the Tappan now house just a memory.

Standing in the cold on Newman Rd. to pay respects to Florence Bushee and her farm.
    Some years later the owner of a very old property on the opposite side of the Green at 277 High Road passed away.  His name was Robert Barton and he was the eleventh generation descending from the first settler, Plumer, to occupy what was left of this farm amounting to seven or so acres, the ancient house, large barn and other outbuildings.

     It was well known that under the roof of this building was perhaps one of the finest collections of a family that had been in occupation of this property for over 300 years.  From treasures to simple items for everyday use, all from the long ago, resided together in this house.  It was considered so rare that maybe there was no other collection in New England that had survived intact for so long.

    In the spring of 2018 the contents of the house went up for sale under a large tent on the Lower Green.  The most serious collectors of Americana were there.  The first item offered was an early chest made in the area, in poor condition but rare.  It went for $55,000 as I recall.  That set the stage for two days of a most exciting sale.

    If you like to look at antiques you will love this flyer from the auction.

    Not living near there I didn’t think too much more about it until a few days ago when a Gloucester reporter asked me if I was following the story of the Newbury house, the Plumer house.  She sent me a link to the front page story in the Newburyport newspaper.

    Was it possible that it was happening all over again?  In the same place?  It was true!
Estate sale photo
The old Plummer House, 277 High Road, Newbury Green
The same developer had made an offer on the Plumer property with the same intent:  build big houses, restore the old house, move the barn and turn it into a house.  Yes, it is another assault on the unprotected Green.  The greedy builder is after this property.  Could anyone be this callous?  The answer is “yes”.  This developer and many others are this callous.  How does he dare show his face again in that neighborhood?  Money takes precedence over all else.  We see this over and over again.

    Knowing that this was the homestead of the family of a friend, I emailed her right away.  Her reaction was immediate as she passed the word in her family.  By the next day she called to say that there might be some help from her family.  With whom should they be in touch?  I tried to help by searching the Internet and perhaps making some calls. 

    I began with the town hall.  It was closed.  I tried some names with no luck.  I searched for the Newbury Historical Commission and found a form to fill out if you had a question for them.  Something else caught my eye.  The selectmen of the town were meeting at 5:00 PM that day.  It was now well into the afternoon.  I found the agenda for the meeting and, worst nightmare, a public hearing on the property was on the agenda.

     I was in a panic!  I hastily filled out the form for the Historical Commission and clicked “send”.  It worked!  The person that saw my email forwarded it to the Board of Selectmen. 

    In spite of a snow storm a large number of people turned out, my hastily written letter was apparently read at the meeting. No vote was taken on the property.  A final decision will be made by Jan. 9th

    In the meantime my Plumer friends and a group in Newbury frantically trying to save the property are now in communication with each other and, although Xmas and New Year’s Day are inconvenient, a solution MUST be found or history will repeat itself in another major assault on the Lower Green.

     This happened so fast my head is spinning.  It was a bolt out of the blue and now I am in the loop. The details are complicated and can best be conveyed through a update from the group that is actively scrambling to save this property which has survived four hundred years of occupancy by the same family, all eleven generations.  With their permission I will attach it to this post.

 What comes to mind are the words of Charles Olson, Gloucester's poet who wrote a letter to the Gloucester Daily Times upon the demolition of an historic Gloucester house in the 1960s.  It was called "A scream to the Editor".

Bemoan the loss, another house is gone
Bemoan the present which assumes its taste.
Bemoan the easiness of smashing anything.

     Here is the news update sent to me as of  Dec. 20, 2019.  It is long but thorough and very well organized.  Please read and forward you thoughts, ideas to the person listed at the bottom of the notice.  I should be getting ready for Xmas but after almost two years of silence from me, I must jump back in and go to bat for the preservation of the Plummer house and the Lower Green. That is my priority today.
Please join me!


Note:  I have hastily  copied photos from many sources mostly found on the Internet.  I would like to give proper credit but most are unknown or from the Newburyport Daily News.  I will endeavor to get more photos of my own after Christmas but no time today, Dec. 23rd.  
Also, the Plummer name seems to be spelled interchangeably with either one or two "M's".

Hi there intrepid neighbors and friends:

You are receiving this email because you care about what happens to the High Road property of Robert Barton, otherwise known as the Plummer/Dole/Humphreys homestead. This is an update of where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going.

In order to prevent the subdivision and development of this land, the Town of Newbury or a non-profit organization must come up with $1.65 million dollars by January 9, 2020.

Most of you know this already and can skip ahead (although some details have been corrected slightly from my previous letter). For those just joining us and/or any who want this information to pass on to others:

In March 2018 Robert Barton died leaving his entire estate including the Plummer homestead at 277 High Road to the Parker River Valley Trust, of which James Connolly, Esq. is the sole Trustee. The property consists of 6.498 acres, including the house, the big barn, several outbuildings and 5.594 acres of farmland that was in the agricultural/conservation tax exemption called Chapter 61A.

Sometime between then and this fall Mr. Connolly decided to subdivide the parcel into 6 lots: Lot 1 contains the house and all other buildings. Lots 2-6 are the trees and field behind the house along Cottage Road: this is the land under Chapter 61A.

When a property under Ch.61A is sold for development (meaning taken out of Ch.61A protection), the seller is required to notify the Town of the impending sale and submit a purchase & sale agreement (P&S). The Town then has 120 days to exercise one of four options: it can buy the property under the exact same price/terms as the P&S; it can turn the purchase option over to a conservation nonprofit such as a land trust (under the exact same price/terms as the P&S); it can notify the seller that the Town waives its right to buy the land; it can do nothing and let the 120 days run out - at which point the land is sold.

On 9/12/19 Mr. Connolly notified the Town that the property would be sold in two separate P&S agreements (one in Ch.61A, one not) to developer Mark DePiero and John Morris. This set the 120 day clock ticking (deadline 1/9/20). One P&S states that the Trust will sell Lot 1 containing the house, barn and outbuildings for $500,000. The other P&S states the Trust will sell the remaining land (consisting of 5 one acre buildable residential lots) for $1.65 million.

Mark DePiero is the builder who purchased the Bushee estate on Newman Road, demolished most of the original structures, built three large luxury homes and converted one of the old barns to a residence. He also purchased the former Harbor School property off Rolfe’s Lane and built the Wilshire Road subdivision there. While there are no definite plans we know of, it is presumable that he intends to build 5 large houses on the Cottage Road land.

Some neighbors went to the first public hearing at the Board of Selectmen (BOS) meeting on 12/10/19. We learned that because the proposed house lots have all have frontage on Cottage Road, they do not constitute a subdivision and are so-called “no-restriction lots”, meaning the Town has basically no control what type or size of houses are constructed as long as they meet Title V requirements.

I suggested that the land could be purchased and converted to a conservation green burial ground. This idea was met with general enthusiasm by the Selectmen and the meeting was continued until 12/17/19. During the next week I and others of you contacted Chris LaPointe, the Director of Land Conservation at Essex County Greenbelt Association (ECGA), our neighbors, and others in the community and beyond to donate to the purchase. I sent out emails and a letter suggesting people could pledge donations of $1500/per plot in the conservation burial ground which will ultimately be implemented. We struggled to come up with a plan to find someone or some entity to stop the deadline clock by paying for the land, and then letting the non-profit we would create raise funds at a more feasible pace to re-purchase the land for the conservation burial ground. Here is the result of those efforts:

1. At this time ECGA does not want to take on buying the land with no serious funds raised. They do not usually buy land outright- they convey the purchase for people like us who have already raised most of the funds to purchase.
It may be that if we were to come up with half ($800,000) or more of the money, ECGA would be more comfortable buying the land and risking a long repayment. Even with half the money, this would be an unusually big risk for ECGA and there is NO guarantee they would agree.

2.     Even if we could form a new non-profit instantaneously, a bank will not loan us the purchase money because under Ch.61A regulations, as soon as we purchase the land it is in permanent conservation – and no longer worth $1.65 million for buildable lots. It is too great a risk for the bank if we default. (This would also be a risk for ECGA to purchase for us).
1. Many people - neighbors and others - endorse the plan to buy the land and create a conservation burial ground and are prepared to pledge to buy plots.

2. Mr. DePiero and Mr. Morris need part of the Ch.61A land added to Lot 1 to give them enough acreage to divide the lot into two house lots. A rider in the P&S states that if the Town purchases the Ch.61A land they (“The Buyer”) can back out of the P&S to buy the house. This might mean an opportunity for someone else to purchase and conserve the historic buildings on Lot 1.

A whole lot of the neighborhood showed up for the hearing on 12/17/19 (and most of us had bad colds).Many people who did not attend sent letters to the BOS stating their support for the conservation burial ground and their pledge to purchase plots. Lots of people spoke about the importance of protecting the parcel and the impact of 5 new houses on runoff, erosion, water table and traffic.  Jessica Brown spoke eloquently about the impact on the unique community we have on Cottage Road and the overall character of the historic Lower Green.

I completely went for broke and suggested the BOS vote to buy the land, ask the Town for $1.65 million at the town meeting that would require, and give our group 12 months to find the money to buy it back from the Town. If we failed to come up with the funds to buy all or some of the land, the Town could then sell it for house lots. John Protopapas pointed out that in that scenario at least the Town could have some control of what got built.

The BOS (who clearly want us to find a way to buy this land and keep it in conservation) decided that it would not be fiscally responsible for the Town to try and get a $1.65 million loan to buy the land. They pointed out that if our fundraising was to fail and the town was unable to sell the lots for the full $1.65 million, the town would have to make up the shortfall.

Ultimately, the Selectmen decided to send a letter to “Seller” James Connolly and “Buyer” DePiero and Morris asking them for an extension of the 120 days to give us more time to come up with funds. THE SELLER AND BUYER ARE UNDER NO OBLIGATION WHATSOEVER TO AGREE TO GIVE US MORE TIME.

The Selectmen also decided to NOT formally waive the Town’s right to purchase, instead continuing the hearing again until January ( I CANNOT REMEMBER WHEN THE NEXT HEARING IS: CAN SOMEONE LET ME KNOW?), letting the clock run down to the deadline of January 9,2020. This is to give us until the last days to find the funding. If by some miracle we manage to find the funds, the Town will then have 90 days to create a P&S to purchase the land.


It turns out it’s very hard to collect money for a cause if you want to return that money to the donors if the project falls apart.  John Protopapas and I tried the local banks – who can’t set up an account unless we are an existing 501(c)3 nonprofit. Jessica Brown contacted the Essex Community Foundation – but if we set up a fund, those donations will stay with the charity if we fail, plus it costs a bit of money to set up. The same is true of GoFundMe online.
Since we are still facing such a long shot of success, I think that rather than trying to get an actual fund set up now to take deposits we should take pledges for donations (names contact info, how much they want to donate). I can set up a spreadsheet and we can go after the actual checks if we get close to having enough money.

More and more people are hearing about this and offering to buy green burial plots, even if so far no big donors have committed money.

Prudence Fish, a former Newburyport resident, sent a letter read at the second BOS hearing saying that a Gloucester Eastern Point resident with ties to the Plummer family wants to help preserve the property. I spoke with Prudence and she has passed on all my contact information to this person. I have not yet heard any news but I am delusional/ hopeful.

Lee Webster of the Green Burial Council has connected me with a group from Concord, MA called Second Nature which apparently wants to start a conservation burial ground and has funds but no land. I spoke with someone from Second Nature who wants to come to Cottage Road next Monday and see the property for a possible collaboration with us. He seems to think the parcel sounds perfect for a conservation burial ground, as does Lee Webster. They are aware of the price tag and our crazy deadline and say they will try to help us find a solution. It sounds terrific, I have no idea how likely a solution it will be.


Tell EVERYONE you know (email, FB, text, door to door) that we are looking for funds to preserve this land and start a conservation burial ground. Give anyone who wants to donate my phone # (978-270-5939) and email ( papercarver@comcast.net ). I’ll record their pledge and info.

Could someone post info about this at the following places: Newbury Library, Newburyport Library, Newbury Council on Aging, PITA Hall… any other suggestions?

Write letters (email) the Daily News. You can tell interested persons to contact you (if you’re comfortable with that) or me by email.

Contact anyone who’s moved away from the area (snowbirds?) who has an interest in the preservation of Old Town.

Are there other organizations in the area who might give us a donation? Does anyone have connections at The Trustees of Reservation, Historic New England or MA Audubon?

Does anyone have contacts at NPR, Boston Globe, WBUR, other places we could get this story out to a wider audience? We have an original story here: preserving threatened historic land by creating the first conservation burial ground in Massachusetts. There are thousands of people out there interested in this topic!


Thanks for getting this far. Thanks for taking any kind of action. Thanks for caring about this piece of land and our neighborhood. I hope I’ve answered everyone’s questions - please feel free to ask or correct of suggest ANYTHING.

30 Cottage Road
978-255-1859 (home) 978-270-5939 (mobile) 978-352-5728 (work)

Wednesday, April 11, 2018




As a new Realtor I decided to specialize in selling antique or historically significant houses and that is what I did for more than 25 years.  From the beginning I felt compelled to come to the rescue of the worst, endangered houses that came on the market causing one broker to announce that "Pru doesn't work for the buyer or the seller.  She works for the old house."  Selling old wrecks did not make me rich.  In fact, I probably earned the lowest commissions in the business because I sold the cheapest houses, all of them worthy of restoration.

One of the first was an old center chimney house, the Conant house, dating to 1775 in Ipswich, the town where I worked.  The salvage rights to the old center chimney house had been sold.  After the house was removed the land would be sold as a house lot. 

What could look worse than this?  There was moss on the
floors! Notice on the left the roof of an ancient
 rusted out school bus in the bushes!

The salvage man removed paneling and was seen carrying the panels out to his truck.  The historical commission stepped in and persuaded the salvage man to stop while I listed the property.  The house would be sold by the salvage man as personal property and the land sold by the owner as real estate.  A buyer was found and the house was saved.

Here is the house today.  Many years have passed since the owner toiled there in all kinds of weather saving the house which has housed his family ever since.  The primitive fence and the vegetation protect the house from the road.  The yard is not manicured but more in tune with its 18th century roots.  The solar panels are a nod toward the 21st century on the south facing roof.


Shortly thereafter, I became a part owner of another central chimney house, the Moses Jewett house, dating to 1759.  

Tired old house with date on the chimney and Greek Revival door surround.

As naive buyers we thought we could just fix it up, sell it and make a nice profit.  We soon realized we were dealing with a serious antique house and knew that we had to do a good job and respect it as the landmark that it was.  And that is what we did, learning a tremendous amount along the way as we did our homework and proceeded carefully.

We didn't make any money on this restoration.  Antique houses do not make good projects for speculation.  However, we researched and learned more than we ever could have without this hands on experience.  Restoration is doubly hard when the house will be sold and you have no idea who the buyer will be so you try to get it right but also try to incorporate features that will appeal to a broad range of buyers.  Our understanding and appreciation of old houses was greatly advanced by this experience.

Here is the house.  Restorers did not paint the trim, only the sash.
All of the houses illustrated here have been brought back from ruins.  We tend to think of them as a permanent restoration but without care they can start to slide down hill again.  These houses are definitely a success story...hopefully for the ages.


Another house that I sold was an 18th century half house needing everything.  It was dismal.  There was a dead rat in the toilet.

This was a pretty dismal house before experienced
restorers turned the situation around.
It was purchased by a young couple trying to find a good antique in Ipswich.  They had the energy and the smarts to know what to do with it.

At the closing the representative of the estate said they had a few things still to take out of the house.

Shortly after the closing I had a call from a very irate buyer.  Not one thing had been removed from this stuffed, miserable house.  After a day the buyers started hauling it out and leaving it at the curb.  The piles extended way beyond their own frontage and was quite a sight to behold.

Finally the sellers came to grips with the problem and sent teenagers with a truck to remove the stuff to a barn somewhere.  It was just tossed into the truck as it had been tossed to the curb.  I have often wondered if anyone ever went through it or found anything to save.

Maybe the contents weren't worth saving but the house was.  It was beautifully saved and attractively painted.  It is very much a credit to the neighborhood but most importantly, it was saved.

What could be more charming that this sweet old house.  It has come a very long way.


Today, as I write this, it is April first which many people around here remember for the April Fools Day Blizzard.  At the height of this late in the season blizzard an enormous, ancient tree fell on a shabby old house.  The oak summer beam under which the owner was sitting on the second floor saved her as the tree crashed through the house.  She was carried out without even shoes never to return as the inhabitant of the old house.

Part of the house was early first period, perhaps just before 1700.  As the old house broker in town I got the job of selling the wrecked house which was in bad shape before the tree fell.  It was purchased by a contractor and became a lovely home.

The front of the house with the Greek Revival doorway dating from the
Ephraim Harris period of ownership.  The house was originally on
Market St. and moved to this location before Central Street was
laid out.
The house is looking great but no one has replaced the Victorian  door!
This house has had a happy ending and is once again a nice antique first period house.  It may date to the 1690's making it one of the rare surviving houses from the 17th century.


As a new Realtor I decided to specialize in selling antique or historically significant houses and that is what I did for more than 25 years.  From the beginning I felt compelled to come to the rescue of the worst, most endangered houses that came on the market.  Selling old wrecks did not make me rich.  In fact, I probably earned the lowest commissions in the business because I sold the cheapest houses, all of them worthy of restoration.  Some of the houses I sold were beautiful and in top condition but I didn't discriminate.  If it was a wreck I tried to find a buyer who would save it disregarding the fact that the sale might be harder to put together and the commission much smaller than the norm.

On one of my first days as a new realtor I drove around with my manager trying to become acquainted with a town with which I was not very familiar.  Eventually my manager went back to the office and I struck out by myself to explore my new trade area.

Driving down a country road as I was approaching a dead end I suddenly saw the most impressive old house.  With its lean-to roof almost touching the ground it was a dramatic sight made more dramatic by a run down neighborhood, remains of an old slaughter house across the street and other unsavory buildings.  Returning to the office my manager offered to go back down there to see this great house in this bizarre neighborhood.

This dramatic lean-to caught my eye.

After being surrounded by several large dogs and finding no one at home we beat a hasty retrest.  Eventually I did get into the house and realized it was first period house.  Estimating that it was built at the end of the 17th century would not be an exaggeration.

There was a strange twist in the story of this house.  In the early to mid part of the 20th century it was owned by two brothers who did not get along.  The center entrance house was cut in half and one brother moved his half into the nearby forest where he took up residence and lived there until the house burned down.

This is what the Day farmhouse looked like after being severed into two pieces.

The owner was interested in selling the acreage that went with the house and it was sold to a builder.  I had envisioned new houses that would compliment the antique house with the old house being the centerpiece of the small subdivision.  The prospective buyer had other ideas.  He intended to bulldoze the old house.

A preservationist friend got the salvage rights to the old house and began to carefully dismantle it for reconstruction elsewhere.

Dramatic lean-to 

The buyer of the salvage rights to the house already owned a Royal Barry Wills cape style house and envisioned the old Day farmhouse becoming the main block of a new re-erected  Day house with the 20th century cape as an ell.  The project came together very nicely creating  a blend of old and new and assuring a long life for the old Day family homestead.

The Day house reassembled.




One of my earliest exposures to restoration, preservation and saving an old house was in the 1940's when my parents took rides into the country to watch the progress of a house being restored.  I don't remember any particular details other than my parents being very interested in the progress.

Probably fifteen years later I found myself as a teenager spending time in that rural neighborhood as baby sitter for a neighbor.  At this time the restored house was occupied by a well to do doctor and his family.  I still remembered its restoration.
Time moved on and I had no occasion to see the old house for many years.  I lived at least a two hour drive from there.

By the 1980's I was selling real estate and meeting people and making new friends who had an interest in old houses.   From time to time with these new friends we would head out for the back roads of New England, exploring the countryside looking for interesting antique houses.  On one such trip we were in the vicinity of the "restored" house.  I wanted my friends to see this lovely house.

In 1987 the house was beginning its downhill spiral but still attractive.
When we pulled up in front of the house my heart sank.  The house looked terrible.  There were blankets nailed up over the windows in lieu of curtains.  The barn had burned and there were derelict vehicles littering the yard.  I was dismayed to say the least.

Several times since then I have returned and the scene only worsened.  By the 1990's the house was unoccupied and uninhabitable.  By 2010 or so the house was wide open.  We walked inside but felt it was not safe.  Animals had been living in there.  Even I, the die hard preservationist, deemed that it was beyond repair.
This photo is from the town assessors' records taken in the last
few years.  Is it still standing?  I'm not sure but I wouldn't be
surprised to find it gone.  The chimney still looks good!
I haven't been back for several years and not sure if the house is still standing.  What a shocker.  It had been "saved" once.  How could this have happened?  Obviously, nicely restored houses, once saved from the wrecking ball, are not always saved forever.

I found a listing for the land surrounding this poor house.  It offered an update and on this property.  Did the brokers even know that this had been a stately Federal period house, now reduced to being a dilapidated farmhouse?  In just a matter of time until these acres will probably be dotted with new houses.  Here is an undated real estate advertisement for the property. 
Property Overview - Drastically reduced, Vacant land with Dilapidated Farmhouse. Ample frontage on both sides of street may allow for multiple home sites. Buyer to verify all dimensions and perform due diligence

Post Script

On a beautiful sunny morning this week with two friends I took a road trip to see for myself what was happening to the house before reporting the final chapter.  Was I prepared for what I would find?  The answer is no!  Not surprised or prepared.  This photo says it all.  There are no words.

It is hard to believe that this is a house that this house was restored during my lifetime and now this.
There was no sign of the chimneys or bricks anywhere.  We wondered if the chimney or chimneys were removed to salvage the bricks leading to this total collapse.  That this could happen is a very sobering sight to witness.

That's all that's left.



Sorry this old Polaroid photo is blurred but the best I could do.
In my home town from which I had been separated for maybe forty years was a wonderful old house known as Elm Farm or the Fisher Farm.  It was never in good condition even when I was very young. On return visits, maybe once a year I lamented the condition of this house.

Relatives in my home town knew of my interest in what had been a great old house dating to 1790.  Each time I visited I inquired about the house.  I'm sure they thought I was a little strange if not downright crazy to be interested in this two hundred year old derelict house.

Here is what happened on one of my visits.

It was about a week before the 4th of July and the town fathers insisted that the old, unoccupied house be removed before the 4th of July, about a week away, fearing that if someone set fire to the house a transformer outside the house could plunge a large area into darkness.  The only reason the house was still standing was because the town had been unable to find a landfill that was willing take the house.   What an ignominious end for a grand old house!

I quickly grabbed a phone and called an old house salvage company with which I was familiar and told them the story.  It had to be removed on the double or would be bulldozed. The salvage shop owner got right on it and called another company in Connecticut for extra help.  This all took place on a Sunday afternoon.

I also called one of the selectmen for the town to plead for an extension but they wouldn't hear of it.  There had already been extensions and there would be no more.

I then called the chair of the Historical Commission who was most sympathetic but whose hands were tied and could not do any more than had already been done in an attempt to save the house.  The end was in sight.

True to their word the salvage people were there the next morning taking the house apart just as fast as they could.  There was no time to photograph and label the parts for complete reconstruction on a new site.  By Friday it was all down except for a very few pieces.  The wreckers wouldn't or couldn't wait any longer.  The engines were revving and moving forward.  The salvage men had done all they could and almost all of the pieces and parts were saved and available to others for incorporation into restorations jobs elsewhere.  The wreckers were impatient.

My son, Bob, and I made the two hour trip to see for ourselves what was going on.
It was a sad ending but better to have only the left over debris go to the landfill and not the major elements of the house especially the frame and the beautiful front door and surround.

Son, Bob, looking at the devastated house.
For those interested I wrote a more detailed history of this house four years ago.  It can be found on this blog. It was called "Could This House Have Been Saved".


The house had a very fine fanlight doorway.  I don't know where it went but it must be gracing someone's restoration somewhere.  Maybe in my travel some day I will recognize it on another lovely old house that someone did save.

The bottom line is that it is best to rescue these houses but sometimes it is just too late.