Caleb Cushing House
On what was becoming one of the most stately streets in New England, Captain William Hunt built this brick Federal home next to a fruit orchard on High Street, Newburyport in 1808. Unfortunately, Captain Hunt was lost at sea before the house was completed. His widow and five children, however, lived there for ten years before selling half of the house to Captain John Newmarch Cushing in 1818. In 1823, Cushing purchased the other half of the house from the widow Hunt. Three generations of Cushings continued to call 98 High Street home for the next 132 years.
Three sons of John Newmarch Cushing – Caleb, William, and John – lived in the home with their parents at varying intervals during the 19th century. Brothers William and John followed in their father’s footsteps as ship owners and merchants. Caleb, however, pursued other interests, becoming a lifelong lawyer, judge, diplomat and politician. It was Caleb, in fact, who was the first American diplomat to secure equal trading status between the US and China in 1844. Because of Caleb’s career in law and politics, the Cushing House was visited by diplomats from all over the world throughout much of the 19th century.
Margaret Cushing, daughter of John N. Cushing, Jr. and niece of Caleb Cushing, was the last of the Cushing family to live here and passed away at the age of one hundred in the same house in which she was born. A woman of remarkable grace, charm, and intellect, she began hosting many of her Uncle Caleb’s diplomatic colleagues at the house when she was still in her teens. Later in her life, Margaret became somewhat of an unintentional preservationist. Having grown up in a time without the modern amenities we are accustomed to today – indoor plumbing, modern kitchens and baths, etc. – Margaret saw no need to “upgrade” the Cushing House to include these things we depend on today – she could live perfectly well without them. She was content not to replace the 1870’s Wilton wall-to-wall carpeting, gas light fixtures or the 19th century wallpaper, let alone the faux-marbled floor, faux-grained doors or other hardware or interior features. It is because of this that we are so fortunate to have such an intact and well-preserved building to display the history of the Newburys to the public.
In a gesture of great generosity, after Margaret’s death in 1955, the Cushing heirs conveyed the house and grounds at 98 High Street to the Historical Society of Old Newbury. In 1974, the property was designated a National Historic Landmark, the only such designation in Newburyport.