Parker River National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1942 primarily to provide feeding, nesting and resting habitat for migratory birds. Located along the Atlantic Flyway, the refuge is of vital significance to waterfowl, shorebirds and songbirds during pre- and post- breeding migratory periods. The refuge consists of 4,662 acres of diverse upland and wetland habitats including sandy beach and dune, shrub/thicket, bog, swamp, freshwater marsh, salt marsh and associated creek, river, mud flat and salt panne. These and other refuge habitats support varied and abundant populations of resident and migratory wildlife including more than 300 species of birds and additional species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects and plants.
The refuge offers wildlife dependent recreational and educational opportunities including wildlife observation and photography, hunting, fishing, shellfishing, environmental education and interpretation with roads, trails and other facilities providing easy access. Each year the entire 6.3 miles of refuge beach is closed beginning April 1 to provide nesting and feeding habitat for the piping plover, a shorebird species threatened with extinction. Portions of the beach not being used by the birds may be reopened beginning July 1. Typically all sections are reopened by mid-late August.
Nearby Area Sites
- Cushing House Museum & Garden/Historical Society of Old Newbury
Elegant Federal period mansion offering tours and special events.
- Custom House Maritime Museum
This museum displays and maintains original artifacts from the prosperous trade era, maritime art, maps, journals and other objects. The Museum also hosts an ENHA Visitor Center.
- Joppa Flats Education Center and Wildlife Sanctuary
The Joppa Flats Education Center is located at the gateway to one of the country’s most productive, year-round, wildlife viewing areas—the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and the Plum Island estuary. Highlights for visitors are the many species of birds that utilize the area’s extensive salt marshes, mudflats, rivers, bays, and coastal waters.
- Maudslay State Park
Gardens, trails, fishing, bird watching, cycling, picnicking, skiing, snowshoeing, outdoor concerts and performances.
- Essex National Heritage Area Visitor Center
An ENHA Newburyport Visitors Center is also located in the Chamber of Commerce; the visitor booth is open to the public every day.
Newburyport FarmsENHA Farm Guide
- Woodman Farm, 251 Low Street Newburyport, MA 01950, (978) 462-1551
- Arrowhead Farm, 131 Ferry Road Newburyport, MA 01950, (978) 465-8104
Newburyport's distinctive landscape features — rivers, hills, meadows and tidal flats — were instrumental in shaping the history of the community from the earliest Native American use of the land to the present day.
The Merrimack River was an important Native American transportation route and fishing ground. During the Contact period (1500-1620) the Newburyport area was inhabited by members of the Pawtucket group (also called Penacook) who were found in coastal areas from Massachusetts Bay north to York, Maine. In the 1630s English settlers established the town of Newbury on the Parker River, with an agricultural economy based on the rich meadows and marshes of the Merrimack estuary. Soon, however, entrepreneurs were drawn to the Merrimack River to build a waterside settlement that became a fishing and trading center. By the 1640s, the first of several ferries connected this waterside section of Newbury on the south side of the Merrimack to Salisbury on the north, an important link on the main route from Boston to Portsmouth and Maine. Captain Paul White built the first wharf in 1655. By 1660, shipbuilding was an established industry and, by the end of the century, the town enjoyed a brisk trade with the West Indies and Europe. As wharves and shipyards proliferated, the town set aside “Wayes to the Water” to ensure public access forever. In 1764, the port section of the community broke off from Newbury to become Newburyport. The town continued to grow in the years leading up to the American Revolution with trade, shipbuilding and related industries providing the economic base. Privateering during the Revolution and renewed maritime trade after it fueled the city’s economy, sparking unprecedented building activity, including many of the large Federal style houses still found along High Street and elsewhere throughout the city. In 1811, a catastrophic fire leveled the downtown. That event, together with trade embargoes leading up to the War of 1812, the silting of the harbor, and the diversion of New Hampshire goods to Boston by the Middlesex Canal, resulted in the city’s economic decline. Ironically, the 1811 fire led to stringent fire safety codes, which have helped to preserve the downtown.
Improved transportation systems played a significant role in the 19th century. Ferry boats crossed the Merrimack until the end of the 18th century when the first Essex Merrimac Bridge (to Amesbury) and the Newburyport Bridge (to Salisbury) replaced ferries across the Merrimack. The Newburyport Turnpike, Newburyport’s answer to the Middlesex Canal, was laid out in 1804, connecting State Street directly with Boston. The Eastern Railroad arrived in Newburyport in 1840. In 1851, the town became a city and annexed the fishing community of Joppa downriver and the shipbuilding area of Belleville upriver. Pride in this status led to the construction of new civic buildings, monuments and parks. At the same time, new steam-powered mills provided a financial boost to the city. Many of the large brick mill buildings that exist today were built in this period. While the West Indies trade and shipbuilding declined, the city remained the commercial center for the surrounding towns.
By the early 20th century, Newburyport had gone into another decline that lasted past mid-century. In the 1950s, construction of Route 95 provided faster access to and from Newburyport, while rail service declined. In the 1960s, the city launched an urban renewal project, which, after portions of the waterfront and downtown were leveled, was turned by popular protest into a restoration project in the 1970s, restoring the decaying downtown and waterfront to a lively commercial center again. Today, Newburyport is a community of 17,500 that places high value on its natural and historic resources and is concerned about the impact of growth on community character.
- Dole-Little House
c. 1715 house that has been restored to reflect the original period of construction.
- Newbury Historic District
High Rd., Green and Hanover Sts. Contains some of New England's most important examples of First Period architecture clustered newar a pre-Revolution common.
- Old Town Hill
Thousands of years ago, a large and beautiful salt marsh crossed by tidal creeks was created in the lowlands and valleys surrounding the glacial drumlin known as Old Town Hill.
- Parker River National Wildlife Refuge
The 4600-plus acre refuge offers recreational and educational adventures such as wildlife observation, hunting, fishing and shellfishing.
- Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm
Built at the end of the 17th Century to impress visitors, today the house reveals three centuries of construction technologies and building stabilization.
- Swett-Ilsley House
Original portion built in 1670 and expanded in the 18th and 19th Centuries.
- Tristram Coffin House
Built in 1654, this is the oldest structure in the Newbury Historic District.
Newbury FarmsENHA Farm Guide
Newbury’s distinctive rural inland, riverine and coastal landscape features were instrumental in shaping the history of the community from the earliest Native American use of the land to the present day. Although there are no confirmed Native American sites in Newbury, there were presumed settlements on the Artichoke River near its confluence with the Merrimack River and on the Parker River where it flows into the Ipswich River. European settlement of the area occurred in 1634. By the early 1700s the town was dispersed into five parishes of which only the First Parish and Byfield Parish remain as part of Newbury. The first meetinghouse was constructed in 1635, and was replaced a number of times over the next two centuries, until one built in 1806 burned in 1868. The meetinghouse built after that date on High Road remains the First Parish Church today.
Agriculture was the mainstay of the early economic base with thousands of acres cleared for the raising of hay for grazing animals. Water sources also sustained grist and saw mills, fulling mills, and tanneries, which continued to be an important part of the economy through the early 20th century. In the late 18th century, Byfield Village emerged as a mill village with a factory producing machine made nails, a snuff factory, a chaise maker and some small ship building on the Parker River. By the mid 1800s the Byfield Woolen Company was well established and the Byfield Snuff Company was growing with three mill sites. Minor shoe industry up to the mid 19th century also contributed to the local economy. In the 1870s silver and gold were discovered and mined for a short period.
The major north-south routes were High Road (Rt. 1A) and the Bay Road, the latter was laid out in 1639 in the general area of the present-day Middle Road and Boston Street. In the 18th century, Scotland Road became an important east-west route, however it was not well maintained until the mid to late 20th century. The Newburyport Turnpike (Rt. 1) was laid out in 1804 connecting these northern communities to Boston. Two railroad lines, one built in 1840 and the other in 1851, passed through Newbury and Byfield. In 1853 the toll for animals passing over Thurlow’s Bridge over the Parker River was removed. The street railway connected villages with nearby towns for a brief time beginning in 1891. The most significant transportation change in the 20th century was the opening of Rt. 95 in the 1950s providing faster access to and from Newbury.
The population in the 1700s rose to over 3,000 persons; however this number included those living in part of the town that was annexed to Newburyport in 1851. Thus population figures of Newbury are not relevant until after that annexation at which time the population dropped to 1,485 in 1855 and 1,430 in 1870. From the last quarter of the 19th century through the mid-20th century, growth was steady. In the last part of the 20th century the population nearly tripled from about 2,500 residents in 1960 to about 6,500 in 2000. Today the town is divided into three villages each with its own distinct character: Byfield, Plum Island and Old Town.