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

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)


  1. Hello Pru, I am so sorry to hear about your medical troubles. I hope that you are substantially recovered by now.

    It certainly is shocking that even in the most historic enclaves preservation still means little in the face of "progress". How can people build these monstrosities on such hallowed ground and not be ostracized from the community?

    Although not as old as Newburyport, Hudson, Ohio has a similar tradition of embodying much of the area's history. Now there is intense development there, and the builders want to raze the historic properties to put up high-density McMansions. The latest is the beautiful Greek Revival Buss-Baldwin house right on Hudson's green:


    (The site seems to take a couple of minutes to load, but it has nice photos and paintings of the house as well as explaining the effort to save it.)

    Here's hoping that clearer heads or better laws will improve the situation.

    Despite all this, I wish you a happy Holiday Season, and a healthy and prosperous 2020.

  2. Hello again, I just looked at the sales flier for that house. Although it is a pity that the collection had to be broken up, I'll admit that the estate sales in Ohio sure don't look like that! --Jim

  3. So nice to hear from you, Jim. During my long break from the blog I have been pursuing other preservation projects. One project is the restoration of the 1764 Saunders house attached to the Sawyer Free Library in Gloucester. In spite of changes it retains a spectacular parlor and stairhall. As part of the renovation of the entire library the old house will be restored. I have been rounding up someone to do paint analysis, a restoration mason and a timber framer to go over the building.
    Also have been involved in the restoration of the estate of Paul Manship, 20th century sculptor, who created Prometheus at Rockefeller Plaza, gates to the Bronx Zoo and the Celestial Sphere at the League of Nations/United Nations in Geneva. The estate is now available with rooms and studio space for visiting artists.
    For Gloucester's 400th anniversary in 2023 I am working on a book documenting the gambrel roofed cottages of the 18th century that were the homes of the Gloucester fisherman. I have a partner for that project, a preservation architect.
    I haven't been idle but it took the Newbury disaster to fire me up enough to return to the blog to spread the word.
    The Baldwin-Buss house is a spectacular example of Greek Revival. It is so dignified . NY state and the Western Reserve in Ohio have the best examples. Many more and better than what we have here. What is not to love about such a stately house?
    Wishing you a wonderful holiday season and happy 2020. And thank you for your response after my long absence online. I will try to keep up my newfound momentum!

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