Every Sunday morning, Newburyport residents can hear history ringing throughout downtown. That’s because the city is home to three churches with bells cast by the foundry of Paul Revere. Old South Church, one of the oldest wooden frame churches still in continuous use in New England, even has the original receipt for purchasing its bell, dated 1803, in its archives.
The history of a community can often be traced through its churches—and Newburyport Preservation Trust, an all-volunteer organization devoted to conserving and celebrating the area’s rich history, is celebrating that connection during this spring’s Newburyport Preservation Week, “Preserving the Architecture of Faith,” May 10 to 15, 2016.
“The churches in the area are instrumental architecturally and culturally,” says Caroline Hometh, who serves as secretary for the Newburyport Preservation Trust. Not only are churches important community centers and places of worship, she notes, the spires were once used to navigate the very treacherous entry into the port of Newburyport.
Maintaining those steeples, which soar over downtown and add immensely to its charm, is no small expense, Hometh says, noting that Old South, which was built in 1756, spent $500,000 on restoring its steeple, and the First Religious Society, home to another Paul Revere bell (the third is at St. Paul’s church), spent more than a million dollars repairing the steeple, windows and doors of its 1801 Federal meetinghouse over the past two years.
“[The First Religious Society] has worked so hard to do things right,” Hometh says. “We want to celebrate that.”
Indeed, the story of that restoration, which billowed from an original budget of $560,000 after significant structural damage was discovered, is a centerpiece of the Preservation Week program. William Heenahan, the First Religious Society business administrator and project manager, will speak about the triumphs and tribulations of that massive project during “A Preservation Commitment Journey: The First Religious Society Steeple Project,” on Friday, May 13. The talk will feature ?pictures and artifacts, as well as a history of the church and its members.
The opening lecture and reception on Tuesday, May 10, will feature a lively overview of Newburyport’s architecture of faith, presented by R.W. Bacon and packed with photos of churches—old, new, past, present, defunct, restored, and re-purposed. And on Saturday, local historian and author Ghlee Woodworth will offer a walking tour of historic churches.
Many area houses of worship will be hosting special presentations. Rev. Christopher P. Ney of Central Congregational Church will offer a tour of the sanctuary, sharing how the symbolism of the stained glass and church artifacts tell the story of the congregation and how it relates to the history of Newburyport. Pastor Pete Balentine of Hope Community Church will speak about many aspects of the church’s history, from fires and challenges to unity to William Lloyd Garrison, and its Tiffany window. And Rabbi Avi Poupko and Bonnie Sontag of the Congregation Ahavas Achim will offer a tour of the synagogue, with a discussion of the history of the building, the congregation, and how the Jewish sabbath is celebrated each week.
Music will be on offer at many sacred spaces throughout town, and local buildings like the Cushing House and the Powder House Park and Learning Center will offer special events. Most all events are free or request a small donation. For more information, visit http://www.nbptpreservationtrust.org/preservationweek