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Brick Installation Procedure



Newburyport has a rich history when it comes to its sidewalks.    In fact, other than Boston, brick sidewalks are often considered synonymous with the City of Newburyport and are often featured in heritage tourism travel notices.      This all began over a fire and a man.    The fire was the Great Fire of 1811 in which much of the downtown was destroyed.     At the time, Newburyport was considered the fifth most important city in the new republic and the conflagration was a severe blow.   To prevent such a recurrence, the state legislature decreed in the Acts of 1811, 1812 that only brick buildings would be built between High Street and the River and from Market Street to Federal Street.    As recorded in the local archives, brick sidewalks were constructed at the same time.   And who is the man? A wealthy Newburyport-native Boston merchant named John Bromfield who willed a large sum of money in 1851 to install sidewalks not just in the center of town but throughout the community and to have trees lined along their lengths.    Hence, the tree-shaded Newburyport of today is due to the great benevolence of this one person.  


Heritage Tourism is the economic engine of Newburyport.    By enhancing the history of our city by preservation and restoration, we not only enrich our city but increase the potential for economic health.     Even though the sidewalks are the city’s property, the municipality has for years been unable to financially maintain them.     It has taken the majority of citizens wishing to improve safety, property values and the historic theme of this great Federalist city to expend the cost to restore the sidewalks in front of their businesses and homes.


It is interesting to note that Boston/City Hall pavers are the recommended historic bricks of Newburyport and are still made right here in Massachusetts in Bridgewater.     The Stiles and Hart bricks can be found all over the City of Newburyport outside of the HUD/NRA downtown and can be detected by the distinctive S+H found on the bottom.     These bricks are very dense and can withstand extreme cold and weight.


Because the sidewalks are city property and are labeled “right of way”, no homeowner is allowed to directly work on them.   Only a city-approved, bond-holding contractor is allowed to do the work.     Fortunately, there are many licensed contractors who are not only capable but familiar with the unique character of Newburyport.      Attached is a list of contractors.      This is by no means comprehensive and the fact that someone is not listed does not mean they may not be qualified. In addition, because it is not possible to fully verify the experience and credentials of the individuals and organizations included here, it is strongly recommended that you ask for and check references before consulting anyone or hiring them.


It is interesting to note that contractors permitted to function in the city are required to have three references from other municipalities, a $5,000 bond supplied to the city, proof of liability insurance and they must pay a $500.00 permit fee.   Even then, the contractor must receive approval to work on the sidewalk.     They must fill out a Sidewalk Permit and this must be signed off by the Building Inspector.     


In the past, the DPW has tried to encourage the improvement of the sidewalks by providing a free clearing of existing materials, preparing the base surface and to even repair any curbing that may be damaged or out of alignment.       Recent budgetary cuts has forced a backlog of requests and many contractors who simply can not afford to wait are simply proceeding and doing the clearing themselves.


The only concern for the individual abutter is the project cost level.      State law requires that at a certain dollar amount, proof must be shown of three bids.    Most homeowners do not have to be concerned if the amount is $5,000 or less.  If for some reason, it goes above that (up to $25,000); all that is needed is proof that three contractors provided quotes for the project.


The only complication that may arise occurs when the project exceeds $25,000.     Then the state requires a whole host of requirements from public notices in the paper to consultation with the planning office and competitive bidding notices.


The only likely time approaching those monetary figures occurs is when neighbors on a street decide to do a joint project.     Fortunately, the DPS treats this as if each sidewalk section is being dealt with individually by an abutter and thus only requires the proof of three quotes.


The homeowner does have one very important decision to make and that is what will be the base material below the bricks.    Traditionally, packed sand has been the medium of choice but as ADA compliance has been a major concern, many are opting to have either a macadam surface with sand just below the brick for even distribution or to have a concrete base.     Both these choices are more expensive.


In the end, choosing brick is a win-win choice for the homeowner and the city as smooth, professionally-installed and historic bricks improve the look of a streetscape, add richness to a neighborhood, add safety, and positively reflect back in improved property values.    In fact, the IRS recognizes officially that brick sidewalks in an historic district have often improved property values to as much as 15%.  (Regrettably, because of this, you can not take the expenses of doing a brick sidewalk as a tax-deductible gift to the city.   They feel you have received too much benefit from the deed.   Ah, c’est la vie!)


Mr. Bromfield would have been proud of any property-owner who took on the task of installing or restoring brick sidewalks!


 List of Contractors


Sidewalk Form



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