Gateway May Be Four ‘Classic’ Homes

Tuesday April 16, 2024

NEWBURYPORT – By next spring, one of five major entrances to this historic city will likely be transformed from a collection of largely non-descript homes and buildings to four “classic” new homes that will share a dock on the Merrimack River.
“Coming across the bridge, people will say, ‘That looks good’,” said Heather Rogers with One Group Nest, who represented the buyer Eric Primack.
The new homes at a Chain Bridge gateway to Newburyport “will be classic homes with modern materials and some interesting architectural elements in keeping with Newburyport architecture,” Rogers texted.
The property, at 5, 7 and 11 Spofford St.; 570 and 572 Merrimac St., on 5.5 acres is adjacent to multi-million homes that line the riverfront.
The city’s Historical Commission last week approved a year’s delay for the demolition of three existing homes at the rotary near the entrance to Moseley Park. The homes are considered historic by the commission because they were built at least 75 years ago.
Other buildings on the property that slopes down to the river are probably not 75 years old. They too would be demolished, allowing the developer to petition the city to redraw the property lines for four homes.
Primack, who has restored several historic homes in Newburyport and in other towns on the North Shore, is working with Rogers to draw the renderings for the new homes.
“We have only begun our research in the design features,” Rogers texted.
Rita Mihalek, a board member for the Newburyport Preservation Trust, opposed the demolition. “The loss of these historical buildings at the entrance to the city would be a shame,” she said.
The property is near the Chain Bridge, considered the nation’s oldest continually occupied, long-span bridge. Built in 1910, it replaced the nation’s first suspension bridge, constructed in 1810 to replace a series of bridges since 1793.
The 5.5 acres, which is selling for less than the $3.9 million asking price, will close in August, Rogers said. In addition to the Historical Commission, Primack and his team will face scrutiny by other regulatory boards, including the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Primack and Rogers said Modern Homes in Topsfield will build the four homes. According to its web site, “Modern Heritage builders excel at the art of fine home building in New England, where new and old, antique and contemporary, and high-tech and old school intersect across structures, projects and goals.”
Lisa Newman, who represented the owners, said, “No matter who decides to buy it, they will be creating a lasting legacy to be admired for years to come.”
The property has 250 feet of riverfront access for all four homeowners.
The three homes that are scheduled for demolition in a year are 5 and 11 Spofford St. and 570 Merrimack St., all of which face the rotary.
The home at 5 Spofford, built in 1869, is in “rough condition,” said attorney Douglas Deschenes with the law firm of Finneran and Nicholson. The home at 11 Spofford was built in 1879, and the home at 570 Merrimac St. was built in 1914.
Deschenes presented little information to the commission about the history of the homes, but promised to do more research.
Glenn Richards, commission chair, said it is believed that the property was once a lumber yard owned by the father of shipbuilder and mayor George Jackman Jr.
The last owner of what came to be known as the Barkley Estate was created by Lou Barkley, a quiet genius who with a third-grade education solved mechanical and engineering problems at Barkley Engineering that baffled engineers with master’s degrees.
Barkley, who died in 2011 at age 90, bought the property because the loam in the soil was good. One of 13 children in a Seabrook, NH family that grew up without running water and electricity, Barkley went to work for his uncle, a machinist in Amesbury and demonstrated a remarkable talent, working with a lathe and other equipment.
He fell in love with the property on the Merrimack River, according to his nephew, Winthrop (Win) Martin, who lived in the main house for several years. His uncle’s favorite pastimes were mowing the lawn and hitting golf balls into the river.
“I can’t imagine how many golf balls are at the bottom of the river,” Martin said.
Barkley worked for yacht owners, other local businesses and the city of Newburyport. He once solved an implacable challenge on one of the popular rides at Salisbury Beach, his nephew recalled.
He also raised bees and served as the city’s beekeeper.
The hard-working Barkley had an inventor’s mind and invented a patented machine to inject jelly into donuts that Dunkin Donuts used. He also created a way to insert paper between the layers of cheesecake.
Martin said of his uncle, “He thought outside the box,” a legacy that Eric Primack and team have now shouldered for this gateway property.

Subscribe To Receive Our Newspaper Every Wednesday Morning FREE

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and newspaper within your emails.

You have Successfully Subscribed!