PHOTO BY NICOLE GOODHUE BOYD
Jon Simmons directs the high school chorus during mid-term Inaugural of City Government at City Hall.
By ADAM SWIFT
PEABODY — Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr.’s review on the state of the city, followed by its centennial celebration Monday night, was, even more this year than most, a chance to look forward while looking back.
“It was Jan. 1, 1917, that the first Peabody city government was sworn into office, in a ceremony that was much like this,” said Bettencourt at city hall for the mid-term inaugural and city council reorganization ceremony. Bettencourt’s talk was followed by a birthday party for the city in the Wiggin Auditorium.
Earlier in the evening, the city council elected Ward 5 Councilor Joel Saslaw as the body’s new president.
“Peabody is a city that is rich in history, but the one thing that stands out is that we are a city that feels like a town,” said Saslaw. “As we continue to grow, I hope Peabody never loses that hometown feeling.”
In the fall of November 1916, Peabody voters approved changing from a town to a city government by a narrow 55-vote margin, the mayor said. At that time, Peabody was one of the largest producers of leather in the world and a beacon for immigrants from across Europe and the world.
“They came to Peabody seeking a better life for themselves and their families,” Bettencourt said.
Even though the city has grown and changed tremendously over the past century, the mayor said many of the issues and challenges those first elected officials faced 100 years ago are very similar to the issues Peabody faces today.
Downtown infrastructure, education and quality of life issues were all of the utmost importance in 1917 as they are in 2017, Bettencourt said. In 1917, city officials debated the need for a new high school as the $95,000 high school built in 1904 was already being deemed too small.
“In 2017, we are focusing on education, public safety, the downtown and our quality of life,” Bettencourt said.
Thanks to many dedicated people in the city, the mayor said there has been much to celebrate over the past year in those areas. Chief among them, he said, was the opening of the new Higgins Middle School to students in September to rave reviews.
“I’m proud to say that we undertook the biggest construction project in the city’s history and delivered it on time and under budget,” said Bettencourt.
The past year also saw the completion of the Peabody Square reconfiguration project, continued work on downtown flood mitigation efforts and the beginning of the Crystal Lake restoration and beautification project (whose mention drew cheers from the audience).
“Our investments in education, public safety and quality of life are continuing to pay dividends and we’ve done it without compromising the affordability that has long been Peabody’s calling card,” Bettencourt said. “Peabody has come a long way in 100 years from our time as the leather capital of the world with dirt roads and cobblestone sidewalks to a thriving 21st century city focused on education, public safety, economic development and the quality of life for the residents we serve. Working together, all of us, Peabody’s future looks bright.”