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"The Indians speak of a beautiful river, far to the south, which they call Merrimack."
John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)
Chain Bridge and Essex Merrimack Bridge
A Sketch of the Essex Merrimack Bridge by John Drayton in 1794. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center
In 1791, a group of interested investors organized a company, the Essex Merrimack Bridge Corporation, for the purpose of building the first bridge over the Merrimack River. Its charter read: "Whereas a bridge over the Merrimack River from the land of the Hon. Jonathan Greenleaf in Newbury to Deer Island, and from said Island to Salisbury, would be of very extensive utility by affording a safe Conveyance to Carriages, Teams, and Travelers at all Seasons of the year and at all Times of the Tide."
Today, the "Newbury" side is Newburyport, and the "Salisbury" side is Amesbury. Until 1851, when Newburyport became a city, Newburyport’s boundary was Oakland Street, and beyond and up Merrimac Street to the new bridge was still part of Newbury.
Plans were submitted by Timothy Palmer, a respected skillful "mechanic" of the time and later a highly regarded American bridge designer. William Coombs, who eventually would become known for his shipbuilding expertise, led the construction, and the bridge opened in late 1792. At this time, both bridges were referred to as the Essex Merrimack Bridge.
Looking from Salisbury Point, now Amesbury, towards Deer Island. Courtesy of the Historical Society of Old Newbury.
John Drayton of Charleston, South Carolina, published a book in 1794 about his travels through New England. He included his impressions of the bridge from Newbury to Deer Island: "Two or three miles beyond Newburyport is a beautiful wooden bridge of one arch, thrown across the Merrimac river, whose length is 160 feet, and whose height is 40 feet above the high water. For beauty and strength it has certainly no equal in America, and I doubt whether as a wooden bridge there be any to compare with it elsewhere."
The bridge section from Newbury to Deer Island was removed in 1810 and replaced with a chain suspension bridge. The Newburyport Herald of December 14, 1810, announced its completion. "Horses with carriages may pass upon a full trot with very little perceptible motion of the Bridge. The new bridge's building materials included 4,000 tons of stone and 22 tons of iron. Its construction was the first of its kind in New England at a cost of $25,000. The design was adapted to the characteristics of New England’s weather, and high and rapid tides."
A view of the Chain Bridge, Deer Island, and the Essex Merrimack Bridge, 1870s. Courtesy of the Historical Society of Old Newbury.
In 1827 the chains supporting the span on the Newbury side of the bridge collapsed, and a loaded team, with two men, four oxen, and one horse fell with the bridge into the Merrimack River. Only the men and horse survived. Five months later the bridge reopened with basically the same design and an increased number of chains for additional strength and support.
Years later, a portion of bridge from Deer Island to Salisbury was covered to help protect the wooden bridge from the New England weather. The entire bridge remained until 1882, when it was razed and replaced by an iron bridge.
By the late 1800s, the stage coach was replaced by the horse railroad and trolley. In a Newburyport Daily News article of April 21, 1934, old-timers reminisced about traveling on electric trolleys over the Chain Bridge: "They can remember when one rode over the bridge on the trolley the whole structure shook and sagged noticeably, although it guaranteed to be safe, the short trip did cause plenty of shudders among the passengers."
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Horse drawn trolley at the Chain Bridge. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center.
The first mention of Deer Island, roughly seven acres in area, can be found in 1655, in the Massachusetts Bay records on file at the Massachusetts State House in Boston. The island passed through various owners until 1792, when it was conveyed to the proprietors of the Essex Merrimac Bridge.
When the bridge opened to traffic in 1792, its being a toll bridge required someone to collect fees, and a house was built for the toll-gatherers. The bridge corporation owned the property from 1792 until 1868, when by an act of the legislature the bridge was made free to travelers. The toll-gatherers' residence was also run as a tavern for the accommodation of travelers. Over the years under the management of Ebenezer Pearson, it became a noted summer and winter resort, especially a popular rendezvous for sleighing parties.
Portrait of Harriet Prescott Spofford. Wikipedia source.
In 1870, the proprietors of the bridge sold the island to Greenleaf Dodge, whose widow sold it to Richard S. Spofford (1833-1888) and his wife Harriet Prescott Spofford (1835-1921). Mr. Spofford moved the house, which was close to the highway several yards back from the road and completely remodeled it.
Mr. Spofford, a native of Newburyport, practiced law with Newburyport’s first mayor, Caleb Cushing. He later became his private secretary when Mr. Cushing was appointed Attorney General of the United States under President Franklin Pierce in 1855. Mrs. Spofford, born in Calais, Maine, was one of the most prominent authors of her day, writing for leading magazines such as Harper's Bazaar and publishing poetry and novels. Later in life she turned to writing nonfiction pieces on a variety of topics. One of them, published in Harper's New Monthly Magazine in its July 1875 issue, was "Newburyport and Its Neighborhood." The scenic views and beautiful setting on the Merrimack River under the pine trees reminded Mrs. Spofford of her childhood in Maine, and she evoked them often in her writing. The Deer Island setting was an inspiration in her husband’s poetry as well.
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Toll-gatherers’ residence, Deer Island; later the home of Harriet Prescott Spofford. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center.
For at least four years after the establishment of the Newbury settlement in 1635, there was no public transportation across the Merrimack River. By 1639, a reference is made to "the highway leading to the ferry." George Carr was appointed to keep a ferry at Salisbury connecting to the island on which he made his home, later known as Carr’s Island, at the foot of Jefferson Street. A few years later, the town gave Tristam Coffin permission to keep a tavern, sell wine, and run a ferry on the Newbury side to Carr’s Island. George Carr continued to keep a ferry on the Salisbury side. Passengers, horses, cattle, hogs, and goats took the ferries for a small fee. By 1657, Mr. Coffin’s ferry privileges were rescinded, and the Carr family managed the ferry from the shores of Newbury to Salisbury. Tristam Coffin and his family emigrated from England and after settling in Newbury for a few years moved to Nantucket, Massachusetts.
A sketch of ferry routes accessed by the Old Country Road, now High Street, Way to the Ferry, now Jefferson Street, and Poor’s Lane, now Woodland Street. John J. Currier’s History of Newbury, Massachusetts, 1635-1902.
During King Philip’s War (1675-1676) the Native American leader in New England, Metacomet, named King Philip by the English settlers, and his followers battled against the colonists, and the importance of keeping up the only ferry along the Merrimack River was well understood, as it was essential for the transportation of troops and ammunition. Carr’s Ferry was then the only route north to New Hampshire and Maine.
Records show that there were small vessels built on the island in the late 1600s, which seems reasonable as Mr. Carr was an Ipswich, Massachusetts, shipwright. George Carr’s sons, Richard and James Carr, continued running the ferry until the late 1700s. By 1790, Carr’s ferry was no longer used for transportation between Newburyport and Salisbury. Travelers used March’s ferry at the foot of State Street, traveled by Hook’s ferry at the foot of Moulton’s Hill in the Belleville neighborhood opposite the mouth of Amesbury’s Powow River, or journeyed by Webster and Swasey’s ferry in the vicinity of Bartlett’s Cove upriver of Deer Island, in the area of Moseley Woods.
Descendants of George Carr lived on the island until the 1880s. Harvey N. Shepard of Boston bought the property in the fall of 1882 and transported materials to build two houses as well as barns for horses, sheep, and cattle. In the late 1920s, the island was sold to the New England Federation of Bird Clubs by Isaac Sprague, Jr. of Wellesley, Massachusetts. It was fittingly named the Isaac Sprague Memorial Wildlife Sanctuary. Since then the island has been allowed to revert back to natural vegetation to provide prime habitat for wildlife. The island, situated in Salisbury, is about 100 acres in scope, and is now a Massachusetts wildlife sanctuary along with the smaller Eagle Island and Ram Island.
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Currier and Townsend Shipyard
A rare photograph of the Currier and Townsend shipyard at the foot of Ashland Street. Maritime History of the Merrimac - Shipbuilding by Robert K. Cheney.
In 1843, William Currier and James L. Townsend formed a partnership and established a shipyard at the foot of Ashland Street. They repaired the wharf already there and put in three launching ways in order to build three vessels at a time. The partners built the largest workshop building of any of the other yard in the city. The workshop later became the home of the Bayley Hat Factory.
In the fifteen years they were together, the team of Currier and Townsend constructed fifty-one vessels. Only a handful of the vessels were built for local owners, the remaining going to New York and elsewhere. Several of the ships were built for New Yorker David Ogden for the Red Cross Packet Line, a passenger and cargo service between New York and Liverpool, England. One of these packet ships was the Dreadnought, built in 1853, commanded by Captain Samuel Samuels. In her first two years at sea the vessel made twenty-six voyages from New York to Liverpool. The average voyage took nineteen days, the fastest being ten days to Liverpool. She carried cargoes of corn, cotton, and other raw materials. Returning to New York took an average of twenty-six days. On his return trips immigrants and manufactured goods were transported by Captain Samuels, who promised to deliver the cargo on a specified date or lose his freight. The Dreadnought was recognized easily at sea by a red cross on her fore-topsail. Because of the way in which Captain Samuels commanded the ship, the Dreadnought was known as "the Wild Boat of the Atlantic."
Yankee sailors sang her praises when stormy winds were blowing and the ship was outward bound:
"There’s a saucy wild packet and a packet of fame,
She belongs to New York, and the Dreadnought’s her name,
She is bound to the eastward where stormy winds blow,
Bound away in the Dreadnought to the eastward we go."
Portrait of the ship Dreadnought built in 1853 by William Currier and James L. Townsend. Maritime History of the Merrimac - Shipbuilding by Robert K. Cheney.
Unfortunately Currier and Townsend underestimated the cost of building the Dreadnought, 1,414 tons and 210 feet in length. While their business continued to sink into debt because of the cost of building her, they continued to make the Dreadnought one of the greatest ships to have been built on the Merrimack River. Newburyport shipbuilders had the reputation of constructing some of the finest ships in the world and an honest reputation for never sacrificing quality for economic reasons. Currier and Townsend never fully recovered financially but continued to build ships until the 1860s.
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Bayley Hat Factory
Bayley Hat Factory, located near the foot of Ashland Street. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center.
In 1863, the Newburyport Hat Factory was incorporated and three years later renamed the Bayley Hat Factory. It was located in the area where Currier and Townsend built ships. Several buildings - a four-story structure, a boiler house, a dye house, a fur hat factory, and office and store houses comprised the manufactory. Wool and fur hats of every description and pattern, and imitations of the latest French designs, were fabricated. As their success increased, the factory was able to gain a foothold in Mexico by producing large quantities of sombreros to ship to a ready market south of the border. Cowboy hats were in demand for the U.S. western trade. The annual estimated value of the hat products were $300,000, made by 250 men and women. The hat factory was so successful it opened a New York office.
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Taken from the riverside, this mill building was part of the Currier and Townsend shipyard and later used by the Bayley Hat Factory and Chase-Shawmut Company. It was razed in 1959. Maritime History of the Merrimac - Shipbuilding by Robert K. Cheney.
Donald McKay, the Father of the Clipper Ship
"I never yet built a vessel that came up to my own ideal. I saw something in each ship which I desired to improve upon."
from Donald McKay and the Clipper Ships
by Mary Ellen Chase
Portrait of Donald McKay. Wikimedia source.
A young Donald McKay (1810-1880), who apprenticed under Isaac Webb of New York, known as the "father of the shipbuilders," came to Newburyport in 1839 and went to work for John Currier, Jr. Although he was a respected shipwright, many in the maritime industry were quite skeptical of the young McKay’s innovative designs, including John Currier. Mr. McKay was put in charge of the construction of the Delia Walker, and even as under sail this vessel proved to be the fastest in his fleet, John Currier continued to be resistant to Mr. McKay’s designs. Mr. McKay went into business for himself at the old Merrill yard at Moggridge Point and built the Hannah Sprague for Isaac H. Boardman, who was involved in the fishing industry and later became a Newburyport mayor. He went into partnership with William C. Townsend and built several ships including the Courier. With its new radical design by Mr. McKay, the Courier sped by every other vessel it met at sea. Maritime observers were incredulous that the ship had been built in Newburyport and not at one of the more prominent shipyards of New York or Baltimore.
Mr. McKay went on to forge a new partnership with William B. Pickering. They built the St. George and John R. Skiddy, much bigger ships than had ever been constructed in Newburyport shipyards. In 1844, Enoch Train, a well-known shipbuilder financier, heard about Mr. McKay and his progressive designs. He visited Newburyport and offered financial backing if Mr. McKay would move his business to Boston. The incentive was enough for Donald McKay to relocate to East Boston in 1845.
Old postcard of a shipyard. Courtesy of Duncan MacBurnie.
For the next twenty-five years Mr. McKay built over one hundred-twenty ships that met the demands of speed and world trade, the 1849 California Gold Rush, the desire for steam driven ships, and a market for the iron-hulled vessels whose design had been pioneered in England. The launching of the largest merchant ship of the time in 1850, the Stag Hound, securely established Donald McKay as a master of clipper ship design and the most famous clipper shipbuilder of all time.
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At the foot of Forrester Street, the Jackman family built ships for over eighty years. Records show that Elias Jackman began building vessels by 1790, probably in this same area until 1833. By the 1820s, another member of the family, Joseph, built several large vessels and schooners for John N. Cushing, who owned a rigger’s wharf at the foot of Fair Street in the South End. In 1829 Joseph built the schooner Conroy from timber cut at Bartlett Springs, now the present site of the Spring Lane Pumping Station of the Newburyport water supply works.
Portrait of George Jackman, shipbuilder and mayor. Courtesy of Michael Bulger.
The last two family members who joined the business were brothers Stephen and George, who built at least sixty vessels. Stephen was one of only two builders in Newburyport at the time who built steamers, due to the challenges involved in their construction. The steamer Glide, at 74 tons, was the second steamer to ply the river in 1833. Other steamers included the 140 ton Decatur, launched in 1845. Two side-wheelers, the Lawrence (142 tons) and the Ohio (224 tons) were launched in 1846, and made to run packets of cargo and passengers to Boston. Stephen built at least two more ships of more than 800 tons and retired in 1849.
By the early 1850s George Jackman had built at least seven vessels. In 1853 he launched his first clipper ship of 1,000 tons for the California trade, the Whistler. In the next three years, Mr. Jackman built six clippers, the highest rate of production in Newburyport, and his shipyard workers had a good reputation for quality work.
A model of the ship, Masconomo, 824 tons, built in 1848, by Stephen Jackman. Maritime History of the Merrimac - Shipbuilding by Robert K. Cheney.
Mr. Jackman was very involved in the community and served as mayor for six years during the Civil War. At the same time, Mr. Jackman secured a government contract to build the U. S. steamer gunboat Marblehead (529 tons). Construction began in April of 1861 and was completed six months later. The Marblehead patrolled the East coast in search of Confederate vessels. Another steamer gunboat, the Ascutney (1,040 tons), was completed in 1863. The Ascutney was used by the Union Navy to assist in the blockade of Confederate waterways. Both served honorably in the Civil War.
Robert Cheney, in his book Maritime History of the Merrimac, explained the differences between building war vessels and cargo vessels: "Many new problems entered into the building of a war vessel. Instead of speed and carrying capacity, the prime requisite was strength and ability to stand punishment by shell fire and ramming. She had to be framed heavier, and the frames, instead of being spaced a few inches apart, had to be fitted one against the other so as to form a solid body from stem to stern, fastened through and through, and caulked inside and out. The vessel would still be tight if the planking was shot off or torn off by ramming or collision."
Notably, George Jackman built the two largest wooden steamships in Massachusetts for $400,000, the Ontario in 1866, and the Erie in 1867 – each over 200 feet long and weighing 3,000 tons – for a company of Boston merchants. "There are as many men working on these two steamers as there are employed in all other yards put together," the Newburyport Herald reported. The day of launching the Ontario, passengers paid 25 cents to climb aboard the boats, and the railroads ran special trains that carried hundreds of passengers and shipbuilders from Boston and other ports for the gala occasion. All the shops in town closed in honor of the launching.
The ship, Ontario, a wooden steamship built in 1866 by George Jackman. Maritime History of the Merrimac - Shipbuilding by Robert K. Cheney.
The 3,000 ton vessel had to slide perfectly down the launching ways at the right angle to give it sufficient momentum to clear the ways and no more. The Jackman shipyard was directly across from Carr’s Island. If the downward slant was not steep enough, there was a danger that the vessel would become stuck part-way down. If the pitch was too great, there was no way to stop the vessel from crossing the narrow channel and hitting Carr’s Island. Fortunately, the launching of both steamships went perfectly, and the vessels were towed by tugboats to their new home port of Boston.
The shipyard closed in 1874. The Jackman family is noted for building a greater variety of vessels than any other yard. From a 100-ton schooner, government war vessels, clipper ships, barks, and brigs, to the largest steamships ever built here, the Jackmans were among the most prominent shipbuilders in Newburyport history.
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Moggridge and Merrill Shipyard
At the foot of Forrester and Butler Streets, Samuel Moggridge owned a shipyard as early as 1730. According to the Newburyport Herald of November 2, 1862, Mr. Moggridge and his sons built ships for nearly one hundred years. Mr. Moggridge owned several African Americans who worked in the shipyard before the Revolutionary War.
In John J. Currier’s Sketches of Shipbuilding, he discussed the monetary currency known as "Old Tenor," noting that it "was worth nothing." Instead of currency, often the shipyard workmen were paid in goods: ". . . it was customary in these days to pay for vessels, when built, in agricultural produce and supplies of various kinds . . ." For instance, a contract for payment in 1741 between Samuel Moggridge and builders Witter Cummings and Benjamin Harris, included "ten barrels of flour, fifty pounds’ weight of loaf sugar, one bag of cotton wool, one hundred bushels of corn in the spring, one hhd (hogshead) of rum, one hundred weight of cheese . . ."
In the late 1700s three brothers, Orlando B. Merrill, Jonathan Merrill, and Nathan Merrill, who formerly built vessels at Salisbury Point near the Essex Merrimack Bridge, purchased part of the Moggridge shipyard. In 1794 Orlando B. Merrill invented the water-line model that enabled the shipbuilders to more easily and accurately determine the lines and sections of the construction of a vessel. Prior to this time, a skeleton model was composed of pieces showing the ribs, keel, stem, and stern, but it was really little help in accurately showing the form and shape of the vessel. The original model designed by Orlando Merrill was presented to the New York Historical Society in 1853, when he was 94 years old.
A ship ready to launch from one of the shipyards on Merrimac Street. Courtesy of the Historical Society of Old Newbury.
The U. S. brig Pickering was built in this yard on commission for the federal government. Its completion was announced in the Newburyport Herald of Friday, July 27, 1798: "Brig Pickering, commanded by Jonathan Chapman, sailed for Boston to take in her guns and complement of men. She will carry 14 guns and 70 men, and was built by the Messrs. Merrill, who deserve credit for the punctual manner in which the work was executed." The contract was completed in 90 days as the Merrill brothers promised.
Orlando Merrill with William Cross also built the sloop of war Wasp in 1813. The Merrill family built over sixty vessels at the Moggridge shipyard. She was launched and taken to the "upper long wharf" at foot of Market Street to be rigged for sea. The Wasp captured thirteen merchant vessels along the English coast and several months later sailed to the area of Cape de Verde Islands. The ship was never heard from again, probably sinking with all on board, after a serious engagement with an English Frigate.
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John Currier, Jr. Shipyard
At the foot of Butler Street and east of Merrimac Court, John Currier, Jr. owned a large tract of land from where he launched almost one hundred ships between the years of 1831 and 1884, with a cumulative tonnage of over 80,000. Here Mr. Currier built two launching ways, a saw mill, large buildings including a two-storey workshop with a mold loft on the second storey where workers drew or made templates of new ships being constructed, and a blacksmith shop. A wharf long enough to tie up two vessels was located next to one of the launching ways. A large area of water enclosed by a pile fence served as a holding pen to store timber for the ships. The timber was rafted down river and brought in by an oxen team. In later years timber was transported by coasting schooners and railroad cars.
John J. Currier Jr. Shipyard. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center.
As years passed, the demand for larger and faster vessels, especially after the discovery of gold in California in 1849, did not alter Mr. Currier’s ways of thinking. Many of the well-established builders were doubtful of the latest designs, including those of Donald McKay, later known as the father of the clipper ship. Mr. Currier’s vessels continued to sell as quickly as they were built, increasing in speed but not sacrificing their seaworthiness or carrying capacity. In nearly thirty years, Mr. Currier built about seventy vessels, and his reputation as a builder of some of the finest sailing vessels in America and England grew. The Boston Traveler, on August 8, 1860, stated, "Among shipbuilders, John Currier, Jr., of Newburyport stands conspicuous. His reputation both at home and in Europe as a capable shipbuilder and as an honest man is without rival. In London and Liverpool the examining committee is perfectly satisfied as soon as they learn the name of the builder of any ship built by him." Many Newburyport ships were bought by the British. Two of Mr. Currier’s notable vessels included the John Currier (1,847 tons, built in 1882 and the largest sailing ship built on the Merrimack) and the Mary L. Cushing (1,575 tons, built in 1883, and the last square-rigged sailing vessel to be built in Massachusetts). The Cushing was named for John C. Cushing’s wife. His shipyard was located on Water Street at the foot of Fair Street, and Cushing's workers rigged dozens of John Currier, Jr.'s vessels.
In Robert Cheney’s book, Maritime History of the Merrimac," Edward McConnell, an old-timer from the late 1800s, recalled, "John Currier Jr.’s planking gang was led by Deacon S. C. Currier, who, as the name implies, was a deacon in the Belleville church. Once a plank was in place the gang would head for the back room of Moses Fowler’s store where a barrel of rum was always horsed up, with a large dipper which when full cost three cents. The deacon would deplore this action in no uncertain terms, but the gang was soon back ready for the next plank when it was steamed. Deacon Currier was still a 'boss planker' in 1882 and planked the 1,857 ton ship John Currier. After many years, Deacon Currier was still lamenting the drinking habits of his gang and never realized the important part Newburyport’s Caldwell rum played in shipbuilding." Mr. Fowler’s store was located on Merrimac Street between Ashland and Forester Streets on the riverside.
A shipyard gang. These men built the four-masted schooner Clarence H. Venner, 1890, at the George E. Currier shipyard, formerly the Currier and Townsend shipyard. Maritime History of the Merrimac - Shipbuilding by Robert K. Cheney.
According to Mr. Cheney there was no other man who had built a greater tonnage and a greater number of vessels than John Currier Jr. Mr. Currier also was the head of a shipbuilding firm for longer than anyone else in the country. He retired in 1884 and passed away in 1887. His son, author and historian John J. Currier, worked for many years in the counting room of the Currier shipyard. When the shipyard closed, John J. began the first of many years of research on local history in his old office. His work is compiled into four volumes that continue to be an invaluable resource for local history researchers in the community.
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At the foot of North Street, later renamed Oakland Street was the Manson shipyard. Eben Manson’s shipyard constructed vessels from 1852 to 1875 and built almost forty vessels. Mr. Manson built some of the fastest vessels for their size, especially schooners. When working on a larger vessel most of the larger shipyards simultaneously built smaller schooners. Timber that was too small for a larger vessel, had a bad spot, or for a number of other reasons caused it to be unfit for use in the larger ships was cut down and used in the construction of a schooner. Occasionally when working on a large vessel the ship carpenters made a mistake that resulted in boards too short or too narrow, the timbers could easily be reshaped for a smaller vessel.
Eben Manson shipyard where now the North End Boat Club is located. On the left, the launching of the schooner Eustice, 236 tons, in 1862. On the right is the partially completed ship Portlaw, 1280 tons. Maritime History of the Merrimac - Shipbuilding by Robert K. Cheney.
In early 1866, the Newburyport Herald carried an article about Mr. Manson’s reputation as a shipbuilder: "Mr. Eben Manson can now be considered a veteran builder as he now has his twenty-third vessel on the stocks. His vessels have been noted for speed. His bark JEHU in the fruit trade in the Mediterranean holds a record for a fast round trip from Boston through the Straits of Gibraltar."
The schooners were used in fishing in Canada and along the Eastern Seaboard, the West Indies, and South American trade. Mr. Manson was so highly respected and successful that the accomplished Gloucester fishermen, a community south of Newburyport, came to the reluctant conclusion that Manson’s fishing schooners were the fastest and ordered some for their own fleets.
After the Eben Manson's shipyard closed, in 1875, a silver factory made use of the remaining building, which had been a carpenter workshop. A few years later, the North End Boat Club took ownership of the land. The silver factory was torn down and a new road developed from Merrimac Street to the club. The street was known as Manson Road for many years.
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Merrimack Arms and Manufacturing Company
Moving to Newburyport in 1866, the managers of the Merrimack Arms and Manufacturing Company, Mr. Ballard, Mr. Merwin, and Mr. E. P. Bray built a one hundred foot-long and forty foot-wide factory at the foot of Broad Street, next to the brush factory. The brick first-and-second-storey building was complemented by a third wooden storey in a form of a mansard slate roof designed by local architect Rufus Sargent. A year later a tower was added to the front entrance.
Advertisement in the City Directory of 1858. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center.
Collecting a total of $200,000 of capital, local investors joined the effort to promote the company's principal product, the Ballard Rifle, along with other rifles, shotguns, and pistols. The Ballard Rifle was used by the U. S. military. A year later, ownership changed hands, and in 1867 the building was sold to Charles S. Brown. Mr. Brown held the patent for the "Van Colt," a newly improved firearm. Workers had made several patent examples at a considerable cost. The investors hoped to win large contracts from the federal government as well as foreign militaries, but the specimen guns failed the required tests and ultimately were not a success. In 1873, the factory closed.
Designed by Rufus Sargent, the Merrimack Arms and Manufacturing Company later home of Towle Manufacturing. Merrimack Arms and Manufacturing Company
For a few years, the factory was fitted for machinery to spin cotton and fabrics. The Hale, Danforth, and Company then later the Belleville Mills produced goods until 1873, when the Towle family of silversmiths and a group of investors purchased the building.
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Anthony Towle (1816-1897) began his silversmith career as an apprentice to William Moulton. Mr. Towle later worked with his son Joseph IV, who was fifth in descent from William Moulton II. William II lived in Newbury in the late 1600s and made shoe buckles hammered out of silver coins.
Advertisement in the City Directory of 1869. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center.
As time passed, those with less money were attracted to a new tableware, plated silver, and Mr. Moulton gradually showed less interest in the crafting of handmade silverware. Parting ways, Mr. Towle joined business with William P. Jones and they crafted hand-wrought silver pieces from 1857 to 1873, when they dissolved their partnership. Edward B., son of Anthony, joined his father and worked at 19 Pleasant Street in E. P. Dodge's’ shoe factory opposite Inn Street. Their business prospered, and they had a good clientele and regularly shipped silver to some of the largest New York dealers.
Advertisement in the City Directory of 1849. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center.
By 1880 a second son, William Towle, had joined his brother Edward and father Anthony. Their business was incorporated as Towle Manufacturing. The Towle family manufactured its silverware in a brick factory located on Merrimac Street near the foot of Carter Street. In 1883, they moved their business to the large brick building at the foot of Broad Street, once home to the Merrimack Arms and Manufacturing Company.
Towle Manufacturing Company grew, and its premises were soon crowded with workers who came from New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. However, within several years its investors could not agree on the direction the Towle enterprise should take, so the Towles themselves took their business into their own hands again. They reopened for business on Merrimac Street at the foot of Oakland and operated for many more years under the family name. A conflict arose with the original investors about who legally had the rights of the name "Towle." A court decision gave the Towle family the legal right to continue to use their name in business endeavors.
Advertisement in the City Directory of 1898-99. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center.
Towle Manufacturing Company or Towle Silversmiths as it was locally known provided employment for over one hundred years. Towle created numerous sterling, stainless, and silver plated flatware patterns in the United States, including one that became the official sterling silver design for United States embassies worldwide. In addition, workers designed sterling ornaments, accessories, silverware, and other products. By the 1970s, Towle was the nation’s second largest manufacturer of sterling silver with a sales volume of over thirty million dollars. Unfortunately the trend of mergers of large corporations found Towle Silversmiths, and the long association with Newburyport came to an end in 1994 when the plant closed. The building today is known as the Towle Office building.
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In 1863, a private group of investors with capital of $30,000 started a brush factory in a wooden building opposite the foot of Broad Street on the river side. H. W. Moulton, owner of the building, James Blood, and others purchased the required machinery and material to make a variety of brushes. By 1867, new owners Captain William Graves and John Pike manufactured goods for three years there and finally closed the brush factory, as it never prospered as investors planned.
Sometime around 1879, the toothbrush maker Tucum Manufacturing located on the corner of Fair and Water Streets, changed ownership, and was renamed the Howard Brush Company. The company moved here next to the Towle Silversmiths and manufactured toothbrushes during the mid-1880s. Henry B. Reed was an agent for the company.
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Curtis Hat Factory
By 1825, there were at least ten small factories in Newburyport dedicated to making various kinds of hats, employing at least sixty-five workers and annually producing to $18,000.
Curtis Hat Factory, 1864 - 1871. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center.
On the river side near the foot of Carter Street, one hat factory was established in 1864 by James Blood and his son, Edwin, with William Cushing as president. Capital of $100,000 provided a solid foundation to manufacture wool hats, but finding little profit ownership changed. Prospects of success for the new Curtis Hat Factory were short-lived. An unfortunate accident occurred in September of 1871 when a boiler exploded killing seven men, injuring many and causing considerable damage. Witnesses startled by what was thought an earthquake said the explosion could be seen at Bayley’s Wharf on the other side of downtown near Fair Street. The owner Philip Curtis and several others jumped out of the second-floor window to safety. Injured also were Richard Plumer, the dry goods merchant and abolitionist, and shipbuilder Eben Manson, when at the same time of the explosion their horse-drawn carriage passed by and lost control. The hat factory business came to an immediate end. The tragedy caused other factories using boilers to make extensive improvements, and update safety precautions.
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Alexander Caldwell (1747-1832) came to Newburyport from Litchfield, New Hampshire. His parents Alexander and Margaret emigrated from Ireland and traveled through Newburyport in the early 1700s before settling in Litchfield. Son Alexander Caldwell moved to Newburyport and worked for a distillery before establishing Caldwell’s distillery in 1772. His son John, joined the business, and later John’s sons Alexander and George and the next generations continued to own the famous New England rum distillery. The factories were located at the foot of Kent Street. Caldwell's Old Newburyport Rum was sold all over the world, and its trademark was the earliest registered after Old Medford.
Advertisement in the City Directory of 1894-95. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center.
In 1790, there were ten distillEries in the Newburyport area taking advantage of the close relations with the West Indies through the shipping trade. Molasses was a main import, distilled into dark, flavorful rum, a popular drink at the time. Over the years the number of distillEries decreased, but the production of rum prospered. In the 1820 census, four distillEries in town consumed 3,000 hogsheads of molasses. In 1826, 3,600 hogsheads were used for the distillation of rum. The molasses was inexpensive, and the rum sold for a high price, making distilling rum a profitable business. Large quantities were exported; many barrels went to Africa, especially during the height of the "triangle" slave trade. Rum was exchanged for slaves who were brought to the West Indies and exchanged for molasses and other products. The remainder of rum was sold locally and throughout the States. By the 1880s, Caldwell’s distillery was the only one remaining in Newburyport. It manufactured about 2,500 barrels a year, and the rum was popular throughout the United States and abroad. Caldwell rum maintained a successful business from 1790 to 1918, managed by three generations of Caldwell family members, when the manufacture closed due to the arrival of prohibition.
In 1933, the 21st Amendment to the U.S Constitution was ratified, repealing Prohibition. A new company, Caldwell Distilling Company opened in 1934 on the west side of the railroad tracks on Merrimack Street in the old A. E. Little Shoe factory on Pearson’s Wharf, now the location of the River Edge condominiums. Executors of George Caldwell’s estate sought an injunction against the use of the Caldwell name. The court’s decision supported the new company and the name was changed to A. & G. J. Caldwell, Inc.
Old Newburyport Rum bottle label. Google image.
The first few years were spent building the complicated apparatus that assists in the required fermentation and distillation to produce rum, and constructing space for the aging casks. By 1941, rum storage capacity was expanded to three quarter of a million gallon level. In the 1950s, the Caldwell business owners began producing gin and vodka, neither requiring a long aging process. The two spirits won acceptance and sales increased during the next few years. The distilling company continued the business on Pearson’s Wharf until 1961 when the business was consolidated in South Boston. Only a warehouse remained with fifteen employees. Several years later the business closed and the building was razed in 1983.
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Michael Cashman (1865-1945) began a contract business with his two brothers, Jere and Daniel, as a teenager in 1881. Being too young to legally enter business themselves, their widowed mother Mary signed their first contract to haul pipes for the city’s new water system. Cashman Brothers went on to become one of the most successful contracting businesses in the city.
In 1912, Mr. Cashman visited the upper floors of the Caldwell Distilling Company building, on Pearson’s Wharf, and viewed the scene up and down the river. Below the bridges towards the South End were old wharves, the Philadelphia & Reading coal yards, and various other pleasant sights. But above, going upriver the shoreline was filled with tumble-down buildings, bogs, marsh, rubbish, and other non-appealing scenery. What Mr. Cashman viewed was probably the same as people entering Newburyport by the bridge or railway.
Portrait of Mayor Michael Cashman; namesake of Cashman Park. Courtesy of Michael Bulger.
Mr. Cashman had a vision of what could be accomplished. In his mind’s eye he could see a park with athletic fields, spaces for the children to play, benches for the older folks to rest on, and long stretches of level land for long walks. Mr. Cashman hired an engineer and paid $150 out of his own pocket for a proposed park plan. In the Newburyport Daily News of August 12, 1944, Charles I. Somerby writes of his visit with Mr. Cashman at his home on Woodland Street. After a decade of little interest in his idea, Mr. Cashman was elected mayor in 1921 and urged the creation of the park in his inauguration speech at City Hall, Tuesday evening, Jan. 4, 1922. Mayor Cashman’s speech contained a "whole volley of punches, not the least of which was the one urging that a park be laid out along the waterfront in the section which had caught his eye many years ago when gazing out of that brick building top story window."
For Mr. Cashman said, in part, concerning this under the subtitle, "Parks and Playground", the following: "Together with the care of the youth and the question of education comes the subject of parks and playgrounds. We have a beautiful river flowing past our doors, yet as near as it is, it is impossible for any of our residents to go near enough to it to enjoy the beauties of the river without trespassing on private property. Newburyport has no playgrounds in which the young can enjoy themselves.
There is a tract of land along the waterfront from the A. E. Little (company) factory, to the Towle Manufacturing Company. In this tract of land there are 18 acres, room enough to have baseball fields, tennis courts, swimming pools and other necessary equipment for a modern playground. Today it is the most unsightly spot in our city and its location so near the railroad, naturally gives to the travelers passing through our city the impression that it is typical of the condition of our whole city, which is a great injustice. This most unsightly spot, by the expenditure of a very small amount of money, could be made most beautiful, and of real benefit of our youth and to the community."
Only a few months later, officials and citizens were committed, a bond secured, financial settlements made with landowners, other land taken by eminent domain, old buildings torn down, and land filled in and leveled.
Central Park, the original name, was soon home to baseball games, football contests between Amesbury and Newburyport, Boy Scout jamborees, and other recreational activities. While in office Mr. Cashman refused to be the namesake of the new park. Finally he accepted in 1944, a year before his passing. Cashman Park is one of the most popular parks in the city and is one of the northern gateways for the Clipper City Rail Trail.
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In 1835, at the foot of Strong Street "on the wharf above the Newburyport Bridge," the Newburyport Steam Cotton Company was incorporated "for the purpose of manufacturing cotton," one of the first in Newburyport. The Newburyport Herald of March 4, 1836, reported that a structure was completed measuring one hundred and thirteen feet long, forty feet wide and three stories high to house the machines and equipment. A steam engine was purchased of forty horse power to drive three thousand spindles. Stephen W. Marston was elected president and William Balch and Tristam Coffin, Jr. named as directors. The land was sold in 1835, and the company dissolved. The Essex Steam Mills Corporation purchased the factory and manufactured cotton cloth from 1844 until 1856, when the building was destroyed by fire.
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