By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — He began in the graveyard, but Bill Power is topping off his service to Peabody at the roof of this community’s crown jewel, City Hall.
The president of the Historical Society, a member of both the Historical Commission and the Community Preservation Committee, Power is resigning as work ends on a historically accurate restoration of the 1883 City Hall slate roof.
“We had to fight hard to get that done,” he said. “We were successful, and we’re proud of it. ... That City Hall roof epitomizes everything I and others have worked for all these years.”
Power is surrendering his official Peabody ties because he has moved to Topsfield. He said, however, that he leaves with reluctance and cites family concerns as his reason for leaving. Raised in Lynn, Power has lived mostly in Peabody since the 1970s. His involvement with the city’s history began in the mid-1990s, when he joined an effort to restore the cemetery plots that dot the community, many from the Colonial era.
In the years following, working as a volunteer, Power has had a remarkable impact. While he’s quick to mention his colleagues — “You can’t do it alone,” he said — he has pushed hard for historic preservation.
Sometimes, that’s meant irritating others, especially in the fight to save old buildings. It’s necessary because, “Money works 24 hours a day. Preservation? Maybe you get a half-hour,” he said.
Efforts by Power and others have saved a number of structures, such as the 162-year-old Sutton-Pierson House, which escaped the wrecking ball and was moved to Aborn Street in 2009.
Power was one of those urging passage of the Community Preservation Act, which adds a 1 percent surcharge to property taxes to be used for historic preservation, open space and affordable housing.
“It’s one of the great miracles it passed,” he said.
CPA money has since aided not only historic preservation but projects including upgrading Crystal Lake and laying an artificial turf field at the high school.
Power was involved in establishing the Leatherworkers Museum at the George Peabody House, preserving the past that gave the Leather City its nickname.
“That was something that needed to be done,” he said.
As president of the Historical Society, a private organization, he helped to oversee a small empire, including the Sutton-Pierson House, the Gideon Foster House and the Osborne-Salata House on Washington Street; and the Felton houses, the Fire Museum and the Smith Barn on Felton Street. Weddings at the barn help pay the bills. Power will remain a lifetime member.
Power praised Mayor Ted Bettencourt for making the City Hall repairs. Further back, he recalled, “I was so lucky to have Mayor Mike (Bonfanti) here. He has a passion for history. And he’s a good guy. Even (Mayor) Pete (Torigian) — he took a big chance on me.”
At the start of the century, Power asked for a spot on the Historical Commission. “I was all fired up.”
Torigian noted that some ask for city positions because they want something; what did Power want?
In fact, he said, he wanted to save history. He’d developed a keen admiration for Peabody’s public-spirited namesake, 19th century financier and philanthropist George Peabody. Torigian gave him the job.
“And I’d never worked for him in any campaign,” Power noted.
“Bill has been a driving force in many projects over the last several years,” Bettencourt said. “I thank him for his hard work.”
“Bill has been a wonderful player in Peabody,” City Councilor Tom Gould said. “We’re going to miss him.”
Power sees his legacy simply — “I tried to raise the consciousness of Peabody about the history of the city and what value that has.”
Alan Burke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.