Newburyport Powder House Restoration Project

Exciting News! --- The Newburyport Preservation Trust’s efforts to preserve the city’s formerly crumbling 1822 Powder House have been recognized with an Award of Merit from the American Association for State & Local History (AASLH). The award for the Powder House preservation is one of 88 Leadership in History Awards conferred this year by AASLH, honoring people, projects, exhibits, books, and organizations throughout the U.S. that represent the best work in their respective fields. Project co-chair Karen Holt of Newburyport, who has worked with co-chair Tom Kolterjahn on the project, will accept the award at a ceremony at the AASLH Annual Meeting on Sept. 20, 2013 in Birmingham, Alabama.

More Exciting News! --- In fall 2013 Newburyport's 1822 Powder House will be the subject of a Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), with the resulting documentation taking its place among surveys of America's architectural heritage at the U.S. Library of Congress. Students from Boston Architectural College will document the Powder House through measured drawings, photo studies, and historic research reports. Johanna Rowley of the BAC faculty will direct the student team and manage the project. The survey will also be entered into competition for the Charles E. Peterson Prize, which recognizes student excellence in measured drawings created to HABS standards. Charles E. Peterson (1906-2004), conceived the HABS program in 1933, and is regarded as the founding father of the preservation architecture profession.

Powder House Park & Learning Center, located on Godfrey's Hill off Low Street, Newburyport, opened in fall 2012 with a formal dedication ceremony that celebrated nine years of planning, research, and restoration --- all supported by grants and generous donations. Since then, the site has welcomed hundreds of visitors at Trails & Sails events coordinated by Essex Heritage, at a Yankee Homecoming Open House, and as host to numerous school groups.

Although restoration of the building is complete, work remains to be done on thye grounds, including a detailed survey of the original cobblestone wagon path, and park landscaping. Ultimately the Powder House will serve Newburyport as a park and learning center for the edification of all.


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 the path, and the survey will serve as a baseline documentation.

Interior restoration has included structural repairs to brickwork. Broken and missing bricks have been replaced, floor beam pockets re-opened, and damaging Portland cement has been removed. Circular wooden nailing pads were added to walls to support the bricks in damaged areas.

Looking ahead: A historic park and learning center. As the finishing touches continue, look for landscaping around the entrance to what is now officially the Powder House Park and Learning Center. New in fall 2012 were 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 --- and now "award-winning" --- 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, or Karen Holt (978-465-6212,

© 2007-2013 Newburyport Preservation Trust / Site design, text, & graphics by NPT /  Site implementation by TYKATECH
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