The geography of Newburyport in relation to potential growth
Ronan, John Henry
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The City of Newburyport is located 37 miles north of Boston in the extreme northeastern corner of Massachusetts. It has a population of 14,000 and is one of the oldest cities in the United States. Newburyport was originally a part of the old town of Newbury, but was set off as a separate town in 1764. From the time Newburyport was settled until 1870 its economy remained predominately maritime. Fishing, shipbuilding, and trading all played important parts in the early days of Newburyport's history. Local fishing for sturgeon, salmon, mackerel, bass, shad, and bluefish was carried on extensively until 1850, when the growth of up-river manufacturing cities forced the fishing industry to move into Canadian waters. As early as 1806, 60 Newburyport vessels were regularly employed at the Labrador and Newfoundland fisheries. In 1851 Newburyport's fishing industry received a blow from which it never recovered, as 18 locally-owned vessels went down in a gale at Prince Edward Island. Shipbuilding flourished to the extent that in 1793 the lower Merrimac River was proclaimed the greatest shipbuilding center of New England. At that time it was not unusual to see 72 vessels all in the process of construction. Shipbuilding reached its apex in the clipper ship era of the eighteen thirties to fifties, after which the shifting bar at the mouth of the river prohibited the building of larger ships which were then in demand. The commercial advantages afforded by the Merrimac River were quickly recognized, so that in 1645 a regular trade with the west Indies had been established. Barrel staves were being cut and sent to the West Indies in exchange for rum, molasses, and sugar, these being valuable commodities for securing European goods. Maritime commerce was affected by the American Revolution, but privateering continued to bring large sums of money to Newburyport. The end of the war marked the beginning of the golden years of old Newburyport which lasted until the Embargo of 1807. The difficulties between France and England following the French Revolution enabled Newburyport ships to take over much of the European carrying trade, as local ships sailed the Atlantic from Baltic ports on the north to the Gold coast on the south. The Jeffersonian Embargo, followed by a disastrous waterfront fire in 1811 were hard blows to local commercialism, which surrended itself in the following years to the large port of Boston. Although commerce, shipbuilding, and fishing were the chief occupational pursuits of Newburyport until 1870, manufacturing and independent crafts were also prevalent before that time. The making of the first horn combs in America was begun in West Newbury in 1759. In the beginning the horns were obtained from local slaughter houses. Later on they were brought from foreign sources and still later from the Chicago stock yards. In 1845 West Newbury and Newburyport combined had 25 comb shops employing 86 people; in 1900 there was one shop employing 200 people. The horn comb industry went out of business in the depression of 1929-33 when competition from comb companies using cheaper materials had become too keen. The first cotton mill in Newburyport began in 1834 and by 1845 there were five mills employing 1,270 hands. The local mills were not as successful as those at Lowell because steam rather than water power had to be used. Two of the mills burned down prior to 1890 and one succumbed to outside competition. The two remaining employed about 400 workers and operated until 1928 when one moved south to take advantage of cheaper labor; the other closed down in the 1930 depression. Although shoes were made in Newburyport as early as 1764, the economy of the city was not dominated by the shoe industry until 1890. The shoe industry became well established in Newburyport because many of the local fisherman were also shoemakers in the off season. This industry gained momentum rapidly after 1890. By occupying two of the vacant cotton mills, and erecting four wooden structures 1,800 people were employed within the city's numerous shops in 1891. This number of people employed in the shoe industry has been fairly constant over the years, but not one of the shoe factories operating at the turn of the century was in existence in 1947. The high mortality rate is caused by several conditions, two of the most outstanding being: (1) changes in consumer demand for women's shoes; (2) the practice of leasing machines which enables the small entrepreneur to start business at low cost, but without sufficient capital to insure success. Today, September 1954, Newburyport has four shoe factories employing a total of 1,600 people. CBS Hytron, maker of electronic equipment, is the largest single employer in Newburyport. Hytron came to Newburyport in 1941, taking over a vacant shoe factory, and gave employment to 50 workers. This number increased rapidly through the war years to a peak of 2,650 in 1953. Electronics is a promising field for the New England area in general, but future possibilities for expansion of Hytron in Newburyport are not good, the chief reason being the lack of a female labor pool. The difficulty in securing women is due to the fact that of the six largest factories in the city, five employ more women than men. Hence many men cannot find jobs in town and are forced to search for employment out of town. The availability of industrial sites, superior road transportation, and the potential labor pool for men make Newburyport a distinct area for industrial location. The industrial district on the present zoning map of Newburyport is so small that there is scarcely anywhere for a new business to go or for present business to expand, except in an "outback" section (which is zoned Agricultural), or possibly along the Expressway. The entire area in the "outback" with a few minor exceptions, is characterized by being low, flat, treeless, and having wet, clayey soils. The composition of the soil is so clayey that some provision for disposal of waste must be made, other than by septic tank. The "outback" problem is further aggravated by the absence of industrial zoning, a fact which also tends to discourage industry. Until sewerage has been provided, to at least the eastern section, and the area rezoned to Industrial, Newburyport will not be able to compete for industries with more progressive cities. The author's suggestion would be to go so far as to build factory buildings to motivate industry, as has successfully been done in other New England cities. Newburyport also has site possibilities along the relocated US Route 1, but being on the fringe of the residential section, this land will probably be taken over by homes. If industry does not come, there is still the chance that the excellent highway system and proximity to good beaches, will make Newburyport a future "bedroom for Boston". Newburyport should not be content to depend on this kind of a future, but rather, should make an aggressive move to bring industry within its boundaries. The future of Newburyport lies in what the people elect to do with the "outback" area.
Thesis (M.A.)--Boston University