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Newburyport, Massachusetts | It’s a Wonderful Life

Later, in search of the ultimate dessert, we stumble on The Tannery, a tangle of restored brick mill buildings along the waterfront. The place is stuffed with tantalizers such as Jabber­wocky Bookshop (a city of books, with towering shelves) and Newburyport Olive Oil Company (scent of eau de popcorn and buttered olive oil). But oh, the delights of Chococoa Baking Company—bite-size gourmet whoopie pies, in chocolate ganache, espresso cream, and pumpkin, with organic buttercream fillings. Be grateful that Alan Mons and Julie Ganong turned their backs on the financial world to make whoopies.

To shift gears (and walk off a little ganache), we head up to High Street, where ship captains once were kings. Cheek by jowl, their boxy and beautiful Federal mansions line up like yachts, trumpeting the assets of these early one-percenters: Cushing, Marquand, Bartlet. “The best address was High Street,” Al Clifford says. “You never lived on the water. It was dangerous, dirty, all about business, and not a very clean business.”

Indeed, the fortunes of Newburyport have risen and fallen like a stormy sea, but its talent for renewal is phoenix-like. The last time this beauty rose from the ashes—literally, after a fire destroyed the waterfront in 1811—it rebuilt in the warm, mellow brick that gives the entire triangle radiating out from Market Square a rosy glow. Hard times hit town again in the early 20th century, but in the ’70s, a handful of visionary citizens bucked the urban-renewal trend of tearing down decrepit buildings and fought instead to restore the town’s ruins.

We all reap the benefits today. New­buryport’s past and present, sea and land, are as skillfully entwined as one of those marine-rope bracelets sold in a few of the local stores. On a wintry day, what could be finer than exploring these cobbled streets, ducking into Piel Craftsmen, a tiny storefront that’s been selling handcrafted wooden-ship models for more than 60 years? Or heading down to the waterfront to Oldies, a massive warehouse, to sift through its trove of funky collectibles?

Or coming in from the cold to a steaming bowl of Enzo’s house-made pappardelle pasta, sauced with locally grown mushrooms, a concoction so exquisitely light that it melts in your mouth? When chef/owner Mary Reilly—self-taught—comes to the table, she makes her credo clear: “It’s all about palate and passion.”

But all that comes later in the day. Right now, we’ve got Santa in our sights. He’s drawing us along behind him, like some red-suited Pied Piper. We’ll troop after him, until he climbs into his “sleigh,” a wagon drawn by a team of six hearty Rotarians who pull Mr. and Mrs. Claus in a parade through the downtown. They’ll toss candy canes, sparking mad scrambles, and, finally, as darkness falls, we’ll watch them dance with Frosty and the Gingerbread Man in the center of Market Square. We’ll sing “Deck the Halls” together, as the streetlamps are illuminated and the Christmas-tree lights turn on.

Then, slowly, like tiny boats going out into the night, the crowd will drift away. A hush will descend. And we’ll give thanks for remembering.

Santa arrives in Newburyport this year on December 1. Additional visitor information at:

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Annie Graves


Annie Graves


Annie Graves is a regular contributor to Yankee. A New Hampshire native, she has been a writer and editor for over 25 years, while composing music and writing young adult novels. Find out more about Annie at
Updated Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

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