Famous Boston Rivalries – Newburyport vs. Portsmouth

There are many famous rivalries which stir vigorous and heated public debate; the Red Sox vs. the Yankees, Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi, Hampton or Crane’s, cake vs. pie, Celtics vs. Lakers, the North Shore vs. the South Shore, and yes, Newburyport vs. Portsmouth.

Of course, I think Newburyport wins that rivalry hands down, but let share some information and you can decide for yourself.  (Think Newburyport… Newburyport…)

Let’s start at the beginning.  

Newburyport was settled in 1635 and incorporated in 1764.  Portsmouth was settled in 1623 and incorporated in 1653.  As any younger sibling knows, older isn’t necessarily better – just saying.

Newburyport has been attractive to accomplished Americans from the very beginning.  For example, President John Quincy Adams lived here between 1787 and 1788.  Adolphus Greeley, the world famous arctic explorer, lived here and so did manufacturing magnate Francis Cabot Lowell.  In more recent years, singer and Broadway actress Martha Wright lived here and acclaimed author Andre Dubus III still does.

Who lived in Portsmouth?  Daniel Webster, three-time Secretary of State and presidential nominee in the 1800’s, (but he was also a senator from Massachusetts)!  John Paul Jones, considered “father” of the U.S. Navy lived in Portsmouth, but President George Washington commissioned the U.S. Coast Guard in Newburyport.

When you look at current day activities, it becomes a much tighter race. Both Newburyport and Portsmouth have plenty to boast about year-round.  Let’s take a look:


There’s nothing like watching Mr. and Mrs. Santa arrive in Newburyport via Coast Guard Cutter and then climbing on shore for the Newburyport Christmas parade.  It’s an annual tradition that captures the hearts and minds of people of all ages.  Despite the weather, Mr. and Mrs. Claus arrive before things get crazy for them during the Christmas season.  Portsmouth has their very own First Night, and they know how to welcome in the New Year with events throughout the city, including fireworks, and a great outdoor ice rink.  It may be a small city, but Portsmouth knows how to party with the best of them.  Portsmouth by a nose.


In this area of New England it’s all about the gardens. The Museum of Old Newbury holds their Garden Tour every year.  It showcases the loveliest gardens in Newburyport and Newbury. Guests are on their own to peruse each private garden on the tour route.  Portsmouth might be one step ahead on this point, however.  It’s annual Pocket Garden Tour usually holds a few surprises, like musicians and wine tucked away in some of the gardens.  The gardens tend to be smaller still just as colorful.  Tie always goes to the Port.


Well, there is just too much to talk about when it comes to summer events so we’ll call it a draw.  With all the summer festivals in Newburyport and the events at Prescott Park in Portsmouth, who can choose a winner?  In Portsmouth you can catch a ferry to Star Island.  In the Port you catch a Harbor Tour down the might Merrimack.  Very, very close, although, Yankee Homecoming is pretty amazing.  Photo finish to the Port.


What some call the most beautiful season in New England is showcased by locations in both Newburyport and Portsmouth.  Newburyport has the Spencer Pierce Little Farm and Portsmouth has Strawberry Banke.  It’s an opportunity to see the very beginnings of New England villages and vibrant farming and fishing communities.  Both are windows looking back in time to the very foundation of this part of the Seacoast.  Too close to call.


When push comes to shove in the fun game of debating rivalries, you need evidence to support your choice, and now you have it.  Whether you prefer Newburyport or Portsmouth, you can boldly declare which you believe to be best.

Now you have the facts to support your argument and persuade your friends to join your side.

It doesn’t matter, really.  We can all be friends.

We can sail our boats along the shore and visit Portsmouth and Newburyport, and enjoy dining along the water.  You can brag about living where Presidents lived and dined, or where John Paul Jones launched the U.S. Navy.

You can boast that you live where Mr. and Mrs. Claus actually climb up a ladder onto a dock, or where one of the finest historic villages is preserved for all time.

When you think about it, there really are no losers in this debate.

Big sister Boston is right around the proverbial corner with Fenway, the Pops, Ballet, and the MFA.  We are all big, wonderful, lucky winners because we live in one of the most stimulating, beautiful, lush, historic areas of the United States.  LaBelle or Mill River?  Cheers to that.


About Deborah Chiaravalloti

Deborah is a wise cracking writer with a quick wit who loves Newburyport, raised five children here and served as a VP at Anna Jaques Hospital. Her bread and butter is working as an international healthcare consultant and writer. Her philosophy in life is when all else fails- laugh- nothing else will see us through.

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