Merrimack River Current

Uncertainties a constant throughout Firehouse history

By Rob Marino
Friday, May 30, 2003

Long before the old firehouse in Market Square became entangled in a legal battle in the 1980s, the city's ancestors faced problems of their own finishing the historic building, which was originally the home of Newburyport's Market House.

"The History of Newburyport Massachusetts 1764-1905," by John J. Currier, notes the trials and tribulations of finishing the waterfront landmark. City town records during that time, Currier wrote that the selectmen of Newburyport were authorized Aug. 5, 1822, "to build a market house of brick, one story height, on the spot where the shambles lately stood."

On March 18, 1823, the selectmen were granted permission to add another story to the building, providing it could be rented to the town's advantage, Currier wrote. However, as a result of some misunderstanding regarding the estimated cost of the proposed alterations, the contract wasn't signed, prompting the passage of a resolution at a Town Meeting Feb. 9, 1825.

"The Newburyport Chair Company occupied the unfinished room over the market house and made all kinds of fancy cane-bottom chairs there for several years," Currier wrote. "January 28, 1830, the town voted to vacate the lease, finish the hall at an expense not exceeding eight hundred dollars and rent it to the Newburyport Lyceum Association for the sum of fifty dollars to be paid annually."

A few months later, however, the vote was reconsidered, and several unsuccessful attempts were made to authorize the selectmen to finish the Market House hall, Currier wrote. On April 8, 1834, the town voted to appropriate money needed to complete the work, and on March 23, 1835, the annual Town Meeting was held "in the new hall over the market house."

In was then voted to use the hall for public meetings only, and this vote remained in effect for four years, Currier noted. A motion to allow the Lyceum Association to occupy the Market House hall "for the ordinary purposes of the institution during the coming season" was defeated on July 31, 1837. However, on March 25, 1839, the town granted the association liberty to use the hall for weekly lectures during the winter season for $50.

"The Lyceum held its meeting there until 1851," Currier wrote. "At that date, the landing place in the rear and at the southeasterly end of the market house was used as a dock for boats and barges ... In 1864, the butchers' stalls on the lower floor were taken down and space used for the accommodation of the new steam fire-engine, "Eon." In 1884, extensive repairs and alterations were made to the building," thus beginning its use as a fire station until the late 1970s.


(This article replicated online with permission of the Merrimack River CurrentCurrent.)
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