Exciting News! --- The formal dedication ceremony for Newburyport's restored 1822 Powder House was held at the Godfrey's Hill site off Low Street site on Sept. 20, 2012. The ceremony, marking nine years of planning and restoration, guided in recent years by the Newburyport Preservation Trust and funded by donations and grants, included remarks by supportive dignitaries, recognition of generous donors, and tours showcasing the restoration work.
A few days later on Sept. 23, the Powder House hosted nearly 200 visitors as part of this year's county-wide Trails & Sails activities coordinated by Essex Heritage. The full day of activities included tours of the Powder House, musket firing demonstrations at the living history Civil War encampment, and powder-keg making demonstrations by master cooper Ron Raiselis. Since the public opening, the site has already been a destination for several school groups.
In the ensuing weeks and months, the finishing touches --- landscaping, parking, and interpretive panels, to name a few --- will be applied. Ultimately the Powder House will serve Newburyport as a park and learning center for the edification of all.
The Newburyport Preservation Trust continues its work on the finishing touches of Newburyport’s historic Powder House on Godfrey’s Hill off Low Street.
Why the need for a Powder House? The c. 1822 Powder House --- located a safe distance from homes of the era --- stored gunpowder, flints, musket balls, and camp kettles used by the local militia to defend the community. The Powder House was built in the turbulent aftermath of the War of 1812, which saw Washington’s public buildings burned to the ground by the British. Every able-bodied male was required to join a militia. Newburyport’s Powder House was well-used during the Civil War.
A brief recap of restoration efforts. In 2003, a group of citizens formed a restoration committee to preserve this important part of Newburyport’s history and open it to the public as a park and learning center. After years of researching original maps, historical documents, news articles, and images of other existing local powder houses, the committee began restoration work in 2009.
Almost the entire front outer course of the Powder House was rebuilt, with as many original bricks as possible, using lime mortar. Other areas were re-pointed. Hundreds of wood shingles were hand planed to conform to the shape of the curved roof, and a new copper final for the roof top was replaced.
After careful study of late 19th-century photos of the Powder House, an accurate entrance was constructed. The new white oak door frame and hand-chiseled curved granite threshold are now securely in place, thanks to a gallant effort by Joe Napolitano of NAPCO. The batten door replica "clinched" together with wrought-iron nails was made from Spanish cedar for durability. It also has early strap hinges with an old iron hasp to attach a lock.
Another highlight of the 2010 season was the discovery of the original cobblestone path. The path was used by heavy wagons carrying barrels of gunpowder, lead shot, musket balls, and musket flints. A survey by Everett Chandler of Design Consultants, Inc., and Sam Paplin, field crew, mapped the position of each cobblestone. As a result, permission has been granted from the Massachusetts Historical Commission to uncover more of the path, and the survey will serve as a baseline documentation as more of the path is revealed.
A phased approach to interior restoration. The Restoration Committee has begun interior work, including structural repairs to brickwork. Broken and missing bricks are being replaced and floor beam pockets re-opened as damaging Portland cement is removed. Circular wooden nailing pads will be added to walls to support the bricks in damaged areas.
Looking ahead: A historic park and learning center. As the finishing touches of restoration continue, look for landscaping around the entrance to what is now officially the Powder House Park and Learning Center. New this fall are state-of-the-art durable interpretive panels along the pathway up to the Powder House. Take a stroll, learn about the Powder House, and spread the word about a successful preservation effort
You can help by donating either either money or some of your time and skill. Send a check to NPT Powder House Fund, P. O. Box 184, Newburyport, MA 01950, or contact co-chairs Tom Kolterjahn (978-462-8081, email@example.com) or Karen Holt (978-465-6212, firstname.lastname@example.org).