My friend and I were on our way back to Boston after a trip to Maine and stopped in Newburyport, Massachusetts for a lunch break. I’d been there once before and had made a mental note that it was a charming town and worth another visit some day. After a restaurant scouting expedition , we settled down at an outdoor table at a hip Mexican restaurant on State Street. As I was munching on chips, my historian’s eye noticed a faded sign on a building across the street: “Grand Army Bldg.”
It was a commercial street and many of the building exteriors looked 19th century if not older. I immediately thought Grand Army of the Republic and the Civil War. Was this a recruitment sign? Could it be original to the period? A sign across the building read: Arthur Page Insurance Agency. I decided to do some research.
A friend who is knowledgeable about historic preservation said it was probably the headquarters of the local chapter of the Union Army veterans after the Civil War. I did some research online and learned that the building was built in 1853. A hardware store occupied several floors, and the top floor was headquarters for Newburyport’s Company A Cushing Guard, a unit that achieved some fame in the Battle of Antietam during the Civil War.
In 1877 the Grand Army of the Republic Civil War veteran’s association bought the building. As the veterans began to diminish in number in the early 20th century, it was transferred to the successor organization, the Sons of Union Veterans.
By the 1950s downtown Newburyport was apparently in very bad shape and in need of major revitalization. A man named Arthur S. Page was looking for a larger space for the business he had just taken over from his father. He decided to invest in downtown and spent about $20,000 to renovate the building, adding small touches like a flag pole and window boxes. Other renovation soon followed along the street and today the downtown is revitalized and oozes character. The food isn’t bad either! I recommend Agave Mexican Bistro.
According to an article in 2007, Page retired but his granddaughter now runs the family business. I’m glad they chose to keep the faded Grand Army sign, a remnant of Civil War history in this fascinating colonial seaport town.