Read the words of Newburyport men and women who lived during the 1700s, 1800s and early 1900s.
Mr. George Lunt, a Newburyporter who began his career working for N. and T. Foster, silversmiths and clock-makers, wrote a series of letters from 1914 to 1958 to Mr. William A. Kinsman, president of the Towle Silversmiths. At the time, Mr. Lunt was a partner in the firm of Rogers, Lunt, and Bowles, Silversmiths, of Greenfield, Massachusetts. Published in Captains, Clams, and Cobblestones in 1977, Mr. Lunt describes some of the businessmen in town in a letter written in the 1930s:
"These businessmen were all prominent in town and what we called ‘gentlemen’ in those days. You don’t see any gentlemen nowadays, we’re all near alike, but these fellows walked down the street with head erect, tall hat, bosom shirt with a diamond stud in it, a three-button cutaway or a frock coat and acted as a gentleman should, both to other men and to ladies. Among them were Edward S. Moseley, straight, dignified, tall hat, frock coat, side whiskers, bank president (the Institution For Savings) and warden of St. Paul’s Church; Dr. Hixon, head of a boys’ school at Chain bridge, very dignified, but deaf, always a lap behind in the responses of the Episcopal service; John James Currier, son of John Currier, builder of a hundred ships. ‘John Jimmie’ was straight, small, sleek, in a three-button cutaway, eye-glasses attached to a black ribbon; Lawyer Nat Pierce, profound, with a high collar and a black bow tie; Lawyer Joe Gerrish, who never failed to offer his snuff-box across the counter, a courtesy of an older day – and several sea-captains, Brown, Lunt, Avery, Woods, and Colby.
"Church affairs, politics, commerce, Boston to Frisco, New York to Manila, Melbourne, Shanghai, Yokohama, were daily topics. As I look back, I guess I almost worshipped those men."
Major General Adolphus Greely
In Reminiscences of Adventure and Service (1927), Major General Adolphus W. Greely (1844-1935), a native of Newburyport, includes memories of his school days. Mr. Greely grew up on Prospect Street at the foot of Parsons Street.
"My schooling, as was the general rule in New England in ante-bellum days, was entirely in public institutions. It began at age five in the primary department, and ended at sixteen when I graduated from the high school, with honors as the salutatorian orator – in Latin. I recall little of my life in the lower grades, except the not-infrequent rod which curbed at times my pranks and mischief.
Major General Adolphus W. Greely and family. John Winter Winder Collection. Courtesy of The Governor’s Academy, Byfield, Massachusetts.
"Such treatment had its effect, and when, just before my twelfth year, I entered the high school I had learned self-control, respect for elders, obedience to authority, love of country and faith in God. Much of this education came along with book knowledge, in which I chanced to be an apt pupil.
"Exercises began with the reading of the bible, followed by a short prayer. The hours were from 9 to 12 and from 2 to 5. Vacations were few and short. Education was a serious matter in that age. Opportunities for education were privileges of high value and not a tedious labor to be shirked. Attendance was so regular that I do not recall that there was such an official as a truant officer. Discipline was good; misconduct and open disobedience were almost unknown.
"Our playground was sufficient for usual games, and adjacent open fields and ponds took care of any overflow. Rival teams and school champions were not in vogue, but the boys played games with vigor and benefit not equaled to-day – practically everyone sharing some way in our amusements. We were fair in games, and I do not recall that there was ever an umpire in any contest."
Sarah Smith Emery
Sarah Smith Emery (1787-1879) in Reminiscences of a Nonagenarian, published in 1879, writes about her experience of going to the dentist as a child:
". . . the grass and apples were cold and wet, and by the time I had finished picking them, a tooth that had been troublesome was aching excruciatingly. . . . I bandaged my face and essayed to sleep. It was useless. I tried cold water and hot, cloves, ginger, poultices, and everything that could be suggested, to relieve the pain, but in vain! Two decayed teeth ached with an intolerable persistency that no remedy could relieve, and I came to the conclusion that cold steel would be the only panacea.
". . . I felt that they must come out, and the doctor, (Dr. Poore) finding that the sight of him did not scare away the pain, concurred in this opinion. I was seated in an arm chair in the centre of the room, and Mrs. Poore was directed to hold my head. A young lady school teacher, who was a boarder in the family, took a stool, and, placing it at my side, sat down to watch the doctor and the gum. . . . At sight of the cruel-looking, old-fashioned instruments, my little brother turned pale, and I could not repress a shudder. Mrs. Poore gave me a sympathetic hug, and the doctor applied the cold steel. The instrument was found to be too large, and he proceeded to wind it with his bandana. The instrument was again on; a jam, a screw, a twist, a pull, and my molar flew across the room. The good doctor was triumphant and - ‘Such a splendid pull; I never had better success!’
"My brother heaved a sigh of relief, the school mistress settled herself for another good look, kind Mrs. Poore handed a glass of water, then again pityingly took my head between her hands. More trouble with the instrument slipping, another jam, screw, and a crash that I thought lifted my scalp, and sent sparks flying from my eyes; this second tooth was broken even with the gum. After giving a few moments’ rest, the doctor proceeded to pry out the root. He jammed and punched to no purpose, until nature could bear no more, and I sank back almost unconscious. My brother started up, nearly upsetting the school teacher in his eagerness, and vehemently protested against any further operation. Mrs. Poore thought he was right, and the doctor, somewhat reluctantly, desisted from his efforts to extract the root. It would ‘loosen and come out,’ he thought, but he feared I would suffer some time. I was too much exhausted to think; all I could do was to endure."
Charles I. Pettingell
Charles I. Pettingill talks about his childhood memories from the 1860s and the 1870s of his neighbor, William “Candy” Brown (1832-1908). Mr. Pettingill’s lecture in 1905 was included in Captains, Clams and Cobblestones, published by the Historical Society of Old Newbury in 1977.
"Despite the warfare which raged between the boys and Candy, business relations between them were frequent and popular. His candy was unusually good, all homemade, and he had a retail trade which brought children from miles around. He bought his materials wholesale, and nothing went into his candy but the best. Molasses came by the hogshead, and every spring he had a shipment of sugar cane. I have wondered since how he used it, but my chief interest then was to acquire a piece of it, and I was one of the few that ever did. His kitchen had great kettles, so they seemed then, that bubbled and bubbled with delicious odors steaming out. Across one end of the room was a marble-topped bench, and there the manufactured candy was laid out in long ropes or strings to cool. When it was hard enough, one of the Brown sons would walk along the bench, cutting the candy into required lengths for wrapping or to fit in the boxes in which it was sold at wholesale. All of the odd and broken pieces were put in special boxes which ultimately found their way to a rack in the front entry.
"All day long children would come to the front door. It had one of the old-fashioned bells which worked with a lever having a knob at the end. One grasped it by the knob, swept it around in a semi-circle, and the bell within struck once. It was always a temptation to ring it several times, but one remembered always Mrs. Brown and those eyes.
"Most of the time it was Mrs. Brown who answered the bell. The door would open about a foot and she would peer out. Seldom was any word spoken. The purchaser handed in his money, usually one cent; Mrs. Brown disappeared from sight behind the door to reappear with a handful of candy deposited in a square of newspaper. Such customers never had any choice of goods, for they took what was available in the boxes of odds and ends. There was never any complaint, for the candy was all good and the quantity was double what could be purchased elsewhere. There must have been eight or ten pieces in each lot, and some of them were of good size. From comparisons made with present-day purchases by my own children, I believe that that much candy of Brown’s quality cannot be purchase for ten cents."
E. Vale Smith
The author Mrs. E. Vale Smith (1817-1904) in her book, History of Newburyport, published in 1854, quotes a Newburyport Herald newspaper article that describes High Street:
Corner of State and High Streets looking east towards the south end. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center.
"The avenue known as High Street, in this city, is remarkable for its location, extent, and beauty. Many portions of it not only afford an extensive view of the scenery for ten miles in the surrounding country, the full extent of the handsomest portion of the city, and the numerous private residences, gardens, lawns, and landscapes, but it commands a most beautiful marine panoramic view of our coast from the Isles of Shoals to Cape Ann, including Plum Island and the harbor. The location of this street is the admiration of strangers from all parts of the country. The many tasty (tasteful) dwellings located along its entire length, extending a distance of over six miles, from Parker river to Chain bridge, its winding way through Belleville and Newbury, together with the beautiful foliage intermingled with the waving elms, the sturdy oak, and the majestic forest trees of a country’s growth, arching their spreading branches in luxuriant grandeur, united with songs of the forest birds, and enlivened by fragrant aromatic breezes constantly sweeping their course from hundreds of highly cultivated exotic plants and gardens on either side, cooled by refreshing air from the ocean, contribute to make this avenue of our city a delightful promenade and fashionable retreat during the summer season. The number of shade trees on High street, embracing that portion within the limits of Newburyport, (from the ‘Three Roads’ on the north, to Marlborough street on the south,) is eleven hundred and forty-seven."
Elisha P. Dodge
The Honorable Elisha P. Dodge (1847-1902), a successful shoe factory owner and a mayor of Newburyport, reflects upon the change of Newburyport industries at the 250th celebration of the settlement of Newbury in 1885:
"It is true that by the revolution which steam power and machinery have wrought, Newburyport has lost some of its old-time importance as a commercial place. The revolution has changed but has not destroyed our business enterprise. The ships of our merchants may be less in number, and perhaps they do not, as formerly, carry merchandise on every sea. Yet at this moment, on a hundred freight trains, the products of our factories are being carried to their destinations through the length and breadth of this great land. From Maine to Oregon, from the lakes to the gulf, the manufactures of Newburyport may be found in almost every city or town of importance. It is no disparagement of our sister cities to say the reputation of our work is second to none. The pre-eminent skill of our ship builders has long been recognized. Our artisans in a variety of other industries are winning an equally good name. Who has not observed development in other branches of trade, until we have today business men in every department of whom we may well be proud."
In Plum Island, published in 1951, Sarah E. Mulliken (1874-1955) recounts her childhood memories visiting the island by boat:
"Perhaps the most joyous remembrance of my childhood brings back those summer mornings when the family packed the picnic basket full of corned beef sandwiches, apple turnovers and maybe, O joy! a molasses taffy apiece, ginger snaps, and a long Vienna sausage – Vienna sausages seem to have passed out of existence, chased away apparently by hot-dogs. Father, mother, big brother, big sister and I awoke early – by six at the latest. Father shook the barometer and smiled, he looked at Captain Rayne’s weather vane which pointed Nor’west! All was well. We marched in a procession down Bromfield Street and climbed from the wharf on to an old ladder slippery with green slime to the row-boat which rocked to and fro as the little waves thrown up by the high tide about to change, caressed it. A delicious sacredness crept over you as you took the dangerous leap to an uncertain seat. You mustn’t cry out. Anyway, Father was there ready to grab you if you fell into the Merrimac, and under no consideration would you allow Big Brother to call you a cry baby.
Sarah Mulliken reads to children at the Newburyport Public Library Children’s Room. Life Magazine, 1943. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center.
"Anyone with a mite of common sense knows the only proper way to approach Plum Island is by row-boat. You are right in the River’s arms, you can dip your fingers in the water and it caresses you, the sky is higher up than ever before, the gulls screech with joy of living. You’d like to be a gull! How big a man Ben Butler must have been to have such an enormous toothpick that it can mark the channel! The cool wind smells delicious – maybe of salt, maybe clam-shells, and the warm sun makes you delightfully sleepy like a pussy-cat! The steamer E. P. Shaw comes chugging down the River, and her side-wheel makes great waves toss your little craft up and down, up and down. You don’t care. You love it. Your family is with you - you’re never a scare-cat.
"You reach the Island and the Beach. If it’s June the poverty grass belies its name and covers the back of the sand dunes with gold. Of course, maybe that is, there were pirates here once upon a time – who knows but one lurks behind a sand dune, cutlass in hand, and surrounded by those fierce spears of beach grass? You take off your dress – think of that! But there’s no one on the Beach – no houses. The Graves Cottage, the Simpson Cottage and the Castelhun Cottage are way off. You wade in the Basin, and sometimes, if you have been a very good girl, you may take hold of your Big Brother’s hand and wade in the very ocean itself. That is dangerous for there is an undertow ready to grab you and take you off into the mouths of sharks. Mother has spread the small red checkered tablecloth out on the sand, and there is the wonderful lunch. After you have eaten you lie in the cool sand, the hot sun shines on your tummy, the Atlantic Ocean stretches out before you. On one side is the blueness of Cape Ann, before you there is nothing but water. It breaks in lazy foam like the foam on father’s face when he shaves. The waves are green and blue, and inside amber. Far off they are blue and purple. There is water and water and water. It never stops until it reaches a make-believe place called Europe. The waves are never silent; they murmur, they growl, they sing."
John L. Lord
John L. Lord (1812-1878) kept diaries from 1827 to 1878. Mr. Lord lived in the Belleville section of Newburyport, the north end neighborhood, and was a farmer. His entries ranged from topics such as daily survival, weather, visitors, work, and world affairs to state and national politics; from local happenings to personal comments about various topics. Mr. Lord often wrote about the local steamboats which he loved to ride. He sadly died in a steamboat explosion along the coast of Connecticut.
In 1839, the Spanish schooner Amistad departed Havana, Cuba with over fifty slaves who had been earlier kidnapped from Sierra Leone, Africa. A rebellion broke out, and the slaves took over the schooner and eventually were captured in New York by authorities who imprisoned the slaves in Connecticut. The ensuing court cases attracted national attention and Abolitionists’ support. With assistance from one-time Newburyport law student, the former President John Quincy Adams and then current U. S. Representative from Massachusetts, the Supreme Court ruled that the imprisoned slaves be freed.
On January 15, 1840, John Lord writes that the U.S. District Court of Connecticut rules that the Africans could return to their homeland.
John Lord’s diary entry, January 15, 1840.
"The African’s of the Amistad...these Africans have had their trial in New Haven (Conn) on the 7th and have all been set at liberty. The defence set up was that they were not Africans but recently from Spain, but it was proved to the contrary. They are to be delivered up to the President who is to send them home to Africa. There is one named Antonis who was a slave of the Captain of the Amistad. He is to be delivered up to the Spanish Consul to be returned to Spain. Thus has this important case been settled, and their right to liberty acknowledged. This decision will make the southern slave holder’s gnash their teeth with rage, for it virtually acknowledges the right of every slave in southern states to obtain their liberty in the same way."
John Lord writes on March 30, 1840 of the Amistad case:
"The Africans of the Amistad. - An appeal was entered by the Spanish minister at Washington after they had their trial in January. This appeal came on a few days ago for trial and the case was put off for some foolish reason. Thus these poor fellows will have to lay in jail till next January..so slow is justice in this country. Strange that men professing such a love of liberty should be so tardy in granting it to others."
John Lord’s diary entry, March 30, 1840.
In Newburyport in the World War, published in 1938 by Minnie Atkinson (1868-1958), Ms. Atkinson writes of Newburyporters who served during World War I:
"Dr. Abby Noyes Little (1872-1952) was the only woman physician of Newburyport to go abroad for war service. Before sailing for France she took a special course of study in New York to acquire greater proficiency in her chosen branch of work. Dr. Little describes her experience in a letter: ‘I sailed from New York on July 14th, 1918, for laboratory work in Paris under the Red Cross. But aside from a month or so in a little civilian T. B. clinic in Paris, I did no laboratory work. I was soon assigned to a hospital in Evreux, Normandy, under Dr. Ralph R. Fitch of Rochester, New York. He had started this hospital early in the war to help the French. After we entered our Red Cross took it over, but it was still, indeed always was, filled with French poilus (infantrymen) and not with our own boys.
"Here I did whatever came to hand, dressings, anaesthetizing . . . and soon had two pavilions for French colonials assigned especially to my care. The colonials were largely Senegalese and Algerians, and a sturdy, wild, primitive lot they were!
"I was here through the Armistice and until January 8th, 1919, when the French army took the hospital over, and we all returned to Paris."
Dr. Abby Noyes Little went on to serve in the Red Cross in the Near East for the next six years.
Another Newburyport doctor, Dr. Abram F. Thomas, served for a few months in France and wrote in a letter:
"My first experience in front line action came a few nights later [after his arrival] when in company with Lt. Nichols, now Dr. Nichols of Danvers, Mass., we were ordered to establish an ambulance dressing station at Quadrangle Farm, a mile back of the position of the 9th Infantry, then in action.
"This being my first action impressions are still vivid and although I was in every action of the Second Division from then on, memories are not so clear as it, of course, became a matter of routine after the first action. This dressing station was on the ground floor of a farmer’s house. On the other side of the division wall was the ammunition dump of the machine gun outfits. During the night, while dressing the wounded by candle light, the German artillery made another direct hit on the house and the nose of the shell came through the ceiling before it exploded, putting out our lights and shoving us around the room. We were just arresting hemorrhage in the stump of the right leg of a captain of the 9th Infantry when the lights went out and on every attempt to light the candle another shell would strike the house. So we retreated to the wine cellar to continue our work with the wounded.
"In this cellar we had about twenty German prisoners waiting for the detail to take them to the rear and whose gas masks had become exhausted. The most trying experience I had in the war was watching these men suffer when their own artillery threw over a heavy amount of gas into our dressing station. We finally allayed their distress by using dressings saturated with ammonia to cover the nose and mouth and they did not die from the gas. . . "
Dr. Thomas served more combat service than any other physician of Newburyport and received a citation for bravery.
Richard L. Hale
In The Log of a Forty-Niner: Journal of a Voyage from Newburyport to San Francisco in the Brig General Worth published in 1923, Richard L. Hale (1828-1913) writes of his four-and-a-half-year adventure on the West Coast during the days of the California Gold Rush. Mr. Hale’s daughter, Carolyn Hale Russ, who published the journal, reminiscences about her dad’s storytelling:
"In my childhood I had listened to these stories of adventure as many another child has listened to fairy tales. The magical isle of Juan Fernandes became to my young mind a commingling of fact and fancy – a dream island whereon my father and Robinson Crusoe had been exiled together. The boy who had left home and gone so far, far away in search of the golden fleece, which he was never to find, was the subject for many a bed-time story, and the giant trees of Oregon, reaching up into the clouds, became a fairyland forest a wood of enchantment."
Young Hale began his journey when he was twenty-one and began keeping his journal as well, with entries such as these:
Portrait of Richard Lunt Hale. The Log of the Forty-Niner.
"Newburyport, Wednesday, November 28, 1849. Today all hands mustered on board the little brig General Worth of Newburyport, Capt. Samuel Walton commanding. After bidding our friends a hearty good-by, which was responded to with ringing cheers, and moistened eyes by those left behind, the brig spread its wings, and flew down the harbor before a strong northwest breeze. At eleven-thirty A. M. being outside the bar – discharged our pilot, and laid our course southeast."
"Friday, February 13th, 1850. During the past five days have had what is called ‘Cape Horn’ weather. The dangerous turning point is now one hundred and eighty miles distant bearing north, northeast. We are experiencing every kind of weather, but calm and warm sudden squalls, gales, hail, sleet, rain, and disappearing in the same mysterious way. Changing winds and changing waves are our constant companions, keeping the officers on the constant lookout, and the crew on the constant jump."
"Friday, March 1st, 1850. Still here fighting Cape weather! It is rougher than we thought it could be. Sleet, snow and hail, the brig awash with raging brine much of the time! Impossible to keep dry, or at all comfortable, with winds varying and unsteady. Nothing certain, but the strong current setting eastward. The crew are on the constant jump up rigging and down; shortening and making sail the watch relieved hardly get below, before they are called again for ‘all hands’ duty. We sometimes hear strong language – too strong to repeat. Vessels of various grades and rigs have passed us near and far without speaking. Among them we saw a small schooner coming from the entrance of Magellan Strait, all undoubtedly California bound."
"Monday, May 6th, 1850. All hands on the lookout! Sand Francisco lies before us! We crowd the rail to view the ‘promised land.’ There it lies! But with all the glamour our wildest enthusiasm can paint it, it is yet only an uninviting stretch of waste land, and sand-banks. On we go, dodging our way into a harbor of which we can see but little, it is so thickly covered with sails, and hulks of all descriptions every cut of sail, and every shape of spar surrounds us. There must be close to a thousand vessels at anchor in the bay. We pass Clark’s Point, a rocky headland on the north, while lying to the south is a long, high sand-drift, called Rincon Point. Our brig is surrounded by a fleet composed of every grade, and every rig of vessel, representing every nation that has deep water craft. Many strange tongues call from stranger-garbed crews a Tower of Babel, with the key to the spirit of all the chaos in the one word ‘Gold!’
A sketch of the Brig General Worth by Richard Lunt Hale.
"At 10 A.M. dropped the Idler (small boat) that last broke ground in the harbor of Juan Fernandez, and our voyage of one hundred and fifty-nine days from Newburyport comes to an end.
"This afternoon all went ashore, looking over the city and its surroundings. It was the general opinion that the place had a few attractions - a mass of wooden hovels and cloth tents, pitched without order on sand-banks, and what few rocks were not sand covered, on its northern and middle slopes. People from all parts of the world are here, and every language seems to be spoken, but the babel resolves itself into one great motive ‘Gold, Gold!’ and still ‘Gold!’ whatever may be the cost to get it."
Over the next four years young Richard’s journal follows his journey in San Francisco and to Oregon. He begins his long voyage home to Newburyport beginning on September 9th, 1853, stopping in New York meeting his brother Enoch.
"He greeted me first of the family, and as I feared, he did not know me until I had spoken to him. He had changed very little, for older than I, he had always seemed from childhood much my senior. Together we started on the last lap of the journey to Newburyport. There, though I found the family circle unbroken, my fears were well grounded. Time had touched each member, but in most cases with light fingers. With me he had worked more heavily - bronzing and bearding and broadening the smooth-faced lad, until it was hard to pick out any likeness to the boy who had left for the gold-fields. Thus the journey of over four-and-a-half years ended on May 9, 1854, with ‘all well.’
"Only one passing through a similar experience can appreciate what the meeting with my parents meant to me, and so I shall not attempt to describe it. As word was noised abroad that the wanderer had returned, old time friends crowded in to welcome me. And while the subject of the illusive gold was always touched upon, yet the real interest centered in the vast and untraveled countries in which my years of absence had been passed - the lay of the land - the types of soil - the wonders of the giant trees - the likelihood of the primitive hamlets of the Pacific Coast every growing to be important cities - the call of commerce to their ports - the minerals – the process of development in which as a pioneer I had taken a part, and countless other questions to which I could give intelligent replies, until at last I realized that my experiences had been as valuable to me as the bag of gold I had come home without. The gold might easily vanish, but that which I had gained in pursuing the ‘pot of gold at the end of the rainbow’ could never be taken away."
Charles Foley and Tom Horth
Newburyport South End Neighborhood
Compiled by Charles V. Foley III and friends for Joppa History Day in July 2003, Barbara and Duncan MacBurnie published a list of "Joppie" nicknames, referring to the neighborhood of Joppa in the south end section of Newburyport. Here are a few notables:
"Tinker, Popeye, Snooky, Hunka, Tugger, Gump, Chappy, Tiffy, Tinker, Marbles, Bink, Minnow, Bubba, Jiggsy, Pookie, Mousey, Babe, Buttsy, Ducky, Chappy, Bunny, Shaggy, Rocco, Knucka, Hillie, Tugger, Butter, Sweets, Buzzy, and Cacky."
In Newburyport’s South End in the Twentieth Century, published in 2011 by Tom Horth, the author talks about Bummer’s Rock. A boulder located on the corner of Water Street and Ocean Boulevard, next to the house of John Winter Winder, a well-known local photographer of the late 1800s:
"Bumming a ride out to Plum Island on a summer day was a South End children’s institution. You went down to the corner of Ocean Avenue and the Plum Island Turnpike, stood by the large boulder called Bummer’s Rock, which is still there, and stuck out your thumb. At least the boys did it. Girls weren’t suppose to."
"Bummer’s Rock" on the corner of Water Street and Ocean Boulevard, 1892. John White Winder Collection. Courtesy of The Governor’s Academy, Byfield, Massachusetts.
In Jean Doyle’s Memories of the Past, Volume 2, Judy Kennedy recalls: "My brother took me down there one day because he didn’t want to spend his money – remember it used to cost seven cents to ride the bus to the island. So he took my seven cents and his seven cents and put me out in front of Bummer’s Rock and I stuck my thumb out, because I was probably this tall. And he hid behind the rock. And when the guy stopped and gave us a ride, he knew who we were. Everyone knew who you were, you had the face of your family. My father gave him a strapping for making me bum to Plum Island."
Tom Horth also describes the bonfires, another highlight of Joppa’s history:
"For many years, starting before 1900, there were great bonfires held on the Fourth of July near Flatiron Point, where Water and Union Streets meet. They were lit at a minute past midnight, July 3rd, to welcome Independence Day. The fire was built on the river side of Water Street beyond the last clam shack. There were few houses between Flatiron Point and Ocean Avenue in those days, so it was relatively safe. Still, the fire department wet down nearby houses to be on the safe side, and stood by during the bonfires. The horse-drawn steam fire engines, no doubt with steam up, must have added to the excitement.
"Boys went around, starting in the middle of May, gathering old boxes and other burnable material. Perkins Lumber on Water Street donated the use of a horse and wagon to make the collections. Businesses contributed old packing materials. The Newburyport Gas Co., whose coal-gas plant was nearby, ‘contributed 100 tar barrels annually, along with a couple of barrels of oil for fuel."
The Bonfire at Perkins Park. Courtesy of Duncan MacBurnie.
Charles L. Somersby writes in the Newburyport Daily News of July 1, 1944, "Hogsheads and barrels were always used at the base to give a good foundation with the lighter material, like boxes and loose wood stacked on top. The highest pile was just under 75 feet. The bonfires were an annual event for a good many years with the last held not long before the start of World War I, if memory is correct."
Mr. Horth continues: "A band, located in the yard of the house on Flatiron Point, played martial music. Thousands of people came. A dozen or more extra electric trolleys brought people from as far away as Haverhill, and the trolleys waited to take them home again about 1:00 AM. (The electric power for the cars must have been kept on later than usual that night.) High Street people were welcome; even North Enders!
"The last bonfire before the first World War was in 1916. Then the War and the flu epidemic intervened. After the War, there was one more great bonfire at Flatiron Point in 1919, at midnight on July 3rd, as was the tradition. Then no more."
Georgiana Bassett (1850-1939), author of A Child’s Recollections of Newburyport 1850-1865, written in 1930, reminiscences about the circus at the back of the pond (Bartlett Mall):
"Another important event was the yearly coming to town of the circus. My sister, with other children, liked to go very early up to the pond to see the elephants come there to bathe. She usually faithfully attended the afternoon performances. I seldom cared much about going then, and when I did go, I always shut my eyes tight during the trapeze performance or any other hazardous feat. That was fortunate for me too, for in my earlier days, performances in the tent were looked upon with some disfavor as being immoral.
"I remember my father grasping me tightly by the hand and taking me up to the circus grounds which were then on Pond Street, back of the Mall. The animals were housed in tents outside the large tent, the large tent being devoted wholly to feats of skill, horseback riding, and trapeze flying and performances of the clown. I think the animals were seen free of charge."
Charles I. Pettingell
Charles I. Pettingill talks about his childhood memories of his neighbor, William "Candy" Brown, during the 1860s and 1870s. Mr. Pettingill’s lecture in 1905 was included in Captains, Clams and Cobblestones, published by the Historical Society of Old Newbury in 1977.
"Three or four days each week Mr. Brown would drive forth in his candy wagon, a unique vehicle. It had a covered front or cab where the driver sat snugly between built-in boxes as in an easy chair. All the rest of the wagon was a combination of cupboards and drawers, opening on the sides or at the rear, and every one of these was full of candy in boxes. With this equipment he visited every part of Essex County and a large part of Rockingham County, New Hampshire. He had regular routes which took him to every city, town, and hamlet, and to every cross-roads store. Wherever one traveled in that range of territory he could find Candy Brown’s merchandise displayed. I have often wondered why, with such a market and such a reputation, he did not become rich. His failure to do so must have been due to the high cost of making his candy due to the quality of material and workmanship, as well as to the low price for which he sold it.
"Mr. Brown was a man who lived by himself. I never knew him to have any personal friends. Even with his wife there could not have been much community of thought. She was more or less a drudge, a good housekeeper, the mother of his children, just another household necessity. He read more or less, for his toleration of me was due to the fact that we used to discuss natural philosophy. I used to ask him questions which other people could not answer; from him I could always count on a definite and final answer. A great deal of what he told me I have since found out was entirely incorrect, but the exchange has convinced me that he was a more profound thinker than anyone else in the neighborhood and that he must have done some reading, however misdirected it was. Some of his theories were wild and fantastic, but I have found literature which supported them.
"What might have happened had things gone along smoothly no one can tell, but domestic troubles wrecked the kingdom which he ruled. Business fell off. Where had been a smoothly running machine now was a disjointed and inefficient organization. The routes were too long for him to cover successfully and at the same time watch the candy-making. Competition grew stronger as his deliveries became more and more uncertain. And so the whole fabric of his life and business glided downward until it was lost in the rush of the rest of the world."