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James Steam MillGerrish ShipyardJanvrin’s Landing
Hale Flake YardsPeople’s United Methodist ChurchEmma L. Andrews Library
Rope WalksW. H. Noyes and Company Comb Factory
Woodwell ShipyardGoodwin’s LandingClam Shacks and Flatiron Point


Joppa, a small neighborhood in the Newburyport South End, is presumed to be named after the fishing village of Joppa, a small coastal town northwest of Jerusalem, Israel. Joppie, as natives sometimes call the area, has long been associated with fishermen and clammers.

In Reminiscences of a nonagenarian (1879), the Emery family wrote about Joppa: "Below, in Newbury, skirting the river and round 'Flat-iron point,' was an irregular collection of small low houses, forming the fishing hamlet of Joppa. Here in the season the river bank would often be lined with wherries which had just been brought in loaded with fish, which the sun-burned, bare-footed women, in brown homespun short gown and petticoat tucked to the knee, with the older children, aided the toil-worn fishermen to carry to the great fish-flakes on the uplands below the long rope-walks. Round the open doors toddled wee, white-haired urchins, while others sailed ships and mimic boats in the pools and eddies of the flats."

James Steam Mill

Charles Tillinghast James, a well-known consulting mechanical engineer and advocate of the steam mill. Wikipedia source.

Charles Tillinghast James (1805-1862) was born in Rhode Island and became a well-known consulting mechanical engineer and proponent of the steam mill. Mr. James came to Newburyport in the late 1830s advising the early mill owners on which equipment to purchase and how to design their new mill businesses to effectively manufacture cotton. He became a leading proponent of steam mills and an advocate for small seaports like Newburyport that had seen a great reduction in business due to the centralization of trade in bigger ports such as Boston. The opening of the Middlesex Canal between 1795 and 1803 diverted all trade from the Merrimack Valley in New Hampshire to Boston via Lowell, avoiding the navigational difficulties often met from Lowell to the mouth of the Merrimack River. The canal was one of the main thoroughfares in New England until the introduction of the railroad. No longer economically viable, the canal corporation went bankrupt in 1851.

Advertisement in the City Directory of 1874. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center.

The introduction of steam power in cotton mills enabled towns like Newburyport to compete with water-powered factories such as those in Lawrence and Lowell. Mr. James was an invaluable resource to Newburyport mills, and he stayed to open the James Steam Mill in 1842. A four storey building was completed between Charles and Salem Streets bordering Water Street. The mill's capital stock increased to $250,000 by 1844, and it was very successful in manufacturing cotton for twenty-five years. The company reorganized and renamed itself several times, known successively as the Masconoment Mills, the Victoria Mills, the Peabody Manufacturing Company, and later Warner Bay State Cotton Mills, manufacturers of cotton yarn. Rosters of the mill workers gradually increased over time with immigrants who began arriving in Newburyport in the mid 1800s in large numbers. In 1983, renovations completed, the James Steam Mill opened as a senior community housing complex.

Bay State Cotton Corporation employees, 1920. Courtesy of Michael Taranda

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Gerrish Shipyard

Looking down Water Street at the foot of Bromfield Street. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center.

William Gerrish (1730-1801), a descendent of the Newbury first settler William Gerrish, was one of many who carried on the business of shipbuilding below Salem Street in the south end. George J. L. Colby writes in History of Essex County, 1878: "William Gerrish was the most wealthy of these and had his yard where the railroad now crosses Water Street. He owned the whole square bounded by Bromfield, Water, and Purchase Streets, and Somerby's Lane; and from Somerby's Lane around to Purchase Street all the houses, forty years ago were occupied by his descendants." Mr. Gerrish married Mary Brown (1732-1803) in 1751 and they had twelve children.

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Looking down Water Street. On the left now Joppa Park. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center.

Janvrin's Landing

View from the water of
Janvrin's Landing, c. 1887.
Courtesy of the Historical Society
of Old Newbury.

Janvrin’s Landing or the Upper Slip was a busy area for the coming and going of fishermen. Here fishermen would unload their catches for wholesale and retail markets. Located on the landing was a large wooden reel used by herring fishermen to dry their nets. Once the drying process was finished, the reel made it easy to pile the nets onto the boat sterns and afterward to prevent tangling when the netting was dropped into the water to surround a school of fish.

During the late 1700s and 1800s, the fishing industry was an important way of life in Joppa. Near Marlboro Street the Woodwell family built schooners that were part of the local fleets and used by fishermen along the Eastern Seaboard. At times, the schooners used trawls and hand lines. Herring and clams caught by local fishermen were used as bait. Many vessels often would come from Gloucester, Boston, and Provincetown for this sought-after bait. Herring, porgies, and shad were caught by the seiners in nets rigged with weights and floats, and much of this bait was shipped to Gloucester and Boston.

Janvrin’s Landing or Joppa slip, c. 1885. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center.

Before the harm wrought by water pollution, mackerel, bluefish, striped bass, horse mackerel (tuna), sharks, and sturgeon were in abundance in the Merrimack River. A popular place to fish was Long Wharf below the American Yacht Club. The tuna were usually harpooned for sport, but as time passed the fishermen learned of the value of the horse mackerel and shipped loads to New York.

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Hale Flake Yards

Fishing vessels unloaded their catches on wharfs in large open boxes called pounds. Once the fish were washed they were loaded into smaller boats called "gundalows" and taken to Janvrin’s Landing. From here they would carry the fish in large carts wheeled across the street to the Hale Flake Yard which spread from Water Street to Purchase Street. Another flake yard was located from the end of Union Street to 284 Water Street and was owned by Samuel Pettingell of Bromfield Street. The fishermen probably unloaded their fish at Goodwin’s Landing.

A fish flake yard located in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Google and <sanctuaries.noaa.gov> image.

The workmen piled the fish "face down" in order to drain their moisture into a long narrow mound called a "waterhouse." As weather permitted, the fish were taken by wheelbarrow to the flakes or drying tables and spread across the top. The flakes allowed the flow of air currents to pass over and under the fish so they could dry evenly. Once dried, the fish were taken to the packing house and pressed into large wooden drums for their owners. The large drums of fish were shipped to other parts of the United States and overseas.

At the Hale yard there was also a smokehouse usually burning birch logs. Smoked fish included herring from Labrador, Canada, and halibut from Gloucester, south of Newburyport on the coast. The Hale family owned the land for several generations and managed the flake yard under the name of Hale, Plumer, and Stevens.

A fisherman, 1890. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center.

After the passing of Joseph W. L. Hale in 1960, the old flake yards and area across Water Street became Hale Memorial Park. Mr. Hale requested that his land be maintained as a garden and park for the benefit of all people to enjoy. During his career he was a professor at Pennsylvania State College and a vice president of the Newburyport Institution for Savings Bank, as well as a secretary for the old Worcester Memorial Hospital that merged with the Anna Jaques Hospital. Mr. Hale was a descendant of Thomas Hale, a first settler of Newbury in the mid-1600s.

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People’s United Methodist Church

Located at 64 Purchase Street, the Methodist Church parishioners describe their history: "The first Methodist services in Joppa were conducted in 1819 by the Reverend John (Reformation) Adams. Reverend Adams was a 'fiery' circuit rider from Salisbury who crossed the Merrimack River and landed at the 'slip,' Janvrin’s Landing. His first sermons were preached from a boat and then from makeshift tents. Eventually Reverend Adams was invited to preach in a few of the neighborhood houses on Marlboro Street. After six years of preaching in homes, the parishioners joined efforts and built a one-room structure located on Adelphia Street, now Purchase Street. This location was still part of Newbury in 1825. In 1846, the sanctuary was raised to the second floor, and a vestry built underneath. In 1888 the steeple was erected, and in 1897 workmen attached the Angel Gabriel weather vane."

The Angel Gabriel weathervane originally located on the Universalist Church on the corner Fair and Middle Streets. The weathervane adorned the Methodist Church steeple for many years. Courtesy of the People’s United Methodist Church.

The parishioners describe the Angel Gabriel weather vane:

"The Angel Gabriel weather vane is nationally famous. Although there are several known weather vane examples of the archangel blowing his horn, this version is unique. Made in 1840 by the Gould and Hazlett Company of Boston, the angel has a flat body cut from sheet iron that was then gilded; the tubular horn was made of copper. Iron rivets fastened the pieces together. The work shows grace in the flowing contours of the angel’s wings and robe. In 1937, the weather vane became the subject of a watercolor painting by Lucille Chabot, which now hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D. C. In 1965, Chabot's watercolor depiction of the weather vane was used as the design for the United States Post Office's Christmas stamp. The weather vane was sold to a private collector in 2001. It was part of an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D. C. in 2002. The original weather vane is now located in the Smithsonian Institute."

Angel Gabriel postage stamp, 1965.
Carolina Smith photography.

In the Newburyport Daily News edition of July 15, 1965, the original location of the Angel Gabriel weather vane was discussed. The well-known bakery owner, William Hicks, at the time eighty-nine years old and a long time pillar of the Methodist Church recalled the story of the history of the weathervane. "It used to be on the Universalist Church on the corner of Fair and Middle Streets, he said. Two houses are there now. Eventually the weathervane was taken down and so it wasn’t on the building when it burned long after it was given up for church use."

"Old Moses Jackman owned a rope walk, the last one in Newburyport. He was a leading man of Ward 1, and of the People’s Church. Max de Rochemont, my brother-in-law, discovered the weather vane in Moses Jackman’s barn on Purchase Street, and collected money to have the weather vane put on the People’s Church, as Moses Jackman said he’d give it to the church. This was around 1895, I guess."

"Hicks recalled that Angel Gabriel came down in one hurricane. He also recalls that the WPA (Works Progress Administration) took Angel Gabriel down to refinish it. 'They did a nice job and put it back up. While it was down after the hurricane I had it in the bake shop window for a while.'"

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Emma L. Andrews Library

Mrs. Emma Lander Andrews (1852-1928) was a native of Newburyport and taught at the Johnson Grammar School on Hancock Street for most of her life. Mrs. Andrews was the co-founder of the South End Reading Room and longtime secretary and principal manager of this well-loved and vibrant library branch in the Joppa neighborhood.

Old postcard of the South End Reading Room, now known as the Emma L. Andrews Library, corner of Purchase and Marlboro Streets. Courtesy of Duncan MacBurnie.

In 1886, teacher Emma M. Lander and Principal Anna L. Coffin of the Johnson Grammar School started a library in their school. Many of the children’s parents worked as clam diggers, fishermen, and laborers. Three years later, wanting the library to be available to more children, the two educators found the new quarters that had recently belonged to the Gun Club at 17 Union Street. During the first year of operation the library circulated 5,023 books to 303 registered borrowers. A few years later the South End Reading Association was formed, and in 1905, the association purchased the William T. Humphrey house on the corner of Marlboro and Purchase Streets. The inside renovated, the Association held a dedication on July 20, 1905, and Miss Lander remarked: "If the reading room and library proves to be . . . an educational centre of this part of the city, an incentive for ambitious boys and girls to employ their time wisely and make the most of their opportunities; if to the sick or weary it alleviates the dreary hours; if to many it becomes either an inspiration or a help, the wishes of its founders will be realized."

In 2010, the Emma L. Andrews South End Library closed for extensive restoration efforts and reopened a year later. Today, the library remains an institution that still serves the local neighborhood of Joppa, a dream of two teachers in a little grammar school on Hancock Street.

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The Jackman Ropewalk located on Marlboro Street. Maritime History of the Merrimac. Robert K. Cheney

Prior to the 1830s, much of the best rope was made from domestic hemp until manila fiber was imported from the Philippines. The shipbuilding industry was dependent on rope for rigging, fishing, anchor and towing lines. The length of the rope was dependent on the length of "the walk" or actual building; some measured 175 to 300 yards long. Piles of fibers were spun into threads or yarns. Next the yarns were twisted together to form rope. While walking the length of the building, the workers doing the twisting had to make sure they were keeping it to straight lines. Strands were fully extended together with a steady tension applied to the whole length to complete the final rope product. Local ropewalks employed twenty-five to forty men and businesses annually, producing 200 to 300 tons of rope for the shipping and fishing industries totaling as much as $40,000 to $100,000 in revenues.

Inside the Jackman Ropewalk. Maritime History of the Merrimac. Robert K. Cheney.

In the Newburyport Herald of February 2, 1865, an article discussed the skilled men who worked in the local ropewalks: "We miss the old ropewalks that used to run from Bromfield Street to Marlboro, with one, Smith’s below. The one hundred men and boys who served an apprenticeship in these ropewalks are plying their trade in all parts of the country and the rope makers were sent as far as India and to superintend the Imperial ropewalks in Russia."

In the City Directory of 1860, several ropewalks and cordage and line makers were listed: S. Davis and Co., 45 Marlboro Street; Paul G. Lunt, 17 Bromfield Street; Ariel Pearson, 40 Bromfield Street; S. Smith and Moses Jackman, 41 Marlboro Street. Michael Wormstead’s ropewalk was on Chestnut Street. In 1876, the Newburyport Herald reported: "Line factories at the south end of our city are very busy. M. B. Jackman and Paul G. Lunt are now very busy, they make fish line for the world and do an annual business of $100,000 and employ 40 hands." Mr. Jackman was the last line maker in Newburyport, closing his factory in 1894.

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Map of the Jackman Ropewalk located between Oak and South Pond Streets, now the area of Reilly Avenue. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center.
Map of the Lunt Ropewalk between Purchase and Bromfield Streets. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center.

W. H. Noyes and Company Comb Factory

The birthplace of the comb industry in America was at the home of Enoch Noyes in West Newbury. In 1759 Mr. Noyes was manufacturing horn buttons and combs, and by the 1830s there were twenty comb businesses in West Newbury and three shops in Newburyport. Cow horns, tortoise shells, and sometimes antlers were shaped into decorative hair pieces and combs for barbers. In 1832 Enoch Noyes's grandson David arrived in Newburyport, supported by Charles H. Coffin, an ambitious merchant. Mr. Coffin rented several buildings at the foot of Fair Street, in the area of the future shipyards of the Cushing and Bayley families. Here Mr. Noyes fitted up a machine shop, erected a steam engine of about fifteen horsepower, and employed several skilled mechanics and a pattern-maker. In a short time, Mr. Noyes had invented a machine for cutting instead of sawing the teeth of dressing-combs. The device could cut both coarse- and fine-tooth combs. This invention revolutionized the local comb-making industry as this type of comb, the "English dressing-comb," had previously mostly been imported from England. Despite success, fourteen years later Mr. Noyes and his family moved to New Jersey to begin another business.

W. H. Noyes and Company Comb Factory, 28 Chestnut Street. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center.

In 1871 David’s brother, William Noyes, along with his son William Herbert Noyes, moved the family comb business from State Street to Water Street and leased a shop on Ferry Wharf. Soon after the family moved their comb business to the foot of Pike Street. In 1879 William H. and his brother, Davis F., under the firm name of William H. Noyes & Co., built a large building on Chestnut Street in Joppa, the South End of Newburyport, and continued to produce comb products until the 1930s. The building was razed a few years later. According to Bernard W. Doyle, author of Comb-Making in America, the elder William "invented many and mastered the most complicated problems of mechanics. His career and accomplishments in the comb industry have never been equaled by any man since his time."

Of William H. Noyes, Doyle observed in 1925, "To William H. Noyes, who showed most strongly the genius inherited from his father, belongs the credit for practically all the comb machinery invented in the past fifty years. A man of vision and tenacity of purpose, William H. Noyes was one of those who made the comb industry one of the most important, and compelled manufacturers from all over the country to look to the little town of Newburyport in Massachusetts for the latest developments in comb-making machinery and methods."

Comb-Makers Davis F., William, and William H. Noyes. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center.

The large Noyes comb factory on Chestnut Street employed fifty hands with a weekly payroll of $350. The firm produced 400 dozen combs a day with an annual worth of goods from $50,000 to $60,000. Another comb factory located at the corner of Fair and Water Streets, Carr, Brown, & Co., employed forty-five hands producing up to $50,000 worth of combs annually. The firm worked in the comb industry for more than twenty years. The successful firm of G. W. Richardson produced combs on Dalton Street; the factory was destroyed by fire in 1919.

In Caleb Cushing’s The History and Present State of the Town of Newburyport of 1826, Mr. Cushing reported there were over 125 persons employed in the comb factories. Records showed that 56,000 dozen of various sizes of shell combs were manufactured at a value of $140,000. The factories produced over 40,000 horn combs at a value of $43,000.

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Woodwell Shipyard

According to Robert K. Cheney in Maritime History of the Merrimac, the Woodwell shipyard built small vessels for nearly a century in the same location in Joppa. Young Gideon Woodwell came to Newbury after the death of his parents. He was cared for by the shipbuilding Johnson family, relatives of his mother. Young Gideon learned the trade at an early age and worked at the Johnson shipyard at the foot of Federal Street. By 1756, the war between Great Britain and France in North America was underway. Mr. Woodwell was commissioned and placed in charge of the shipwrights who were building "Battoes & c. for Transporting the Forces Destined for the Intended Expedition against Crown Point."

Of 56 gross tons, Schooner Pinkie Wellfleet built in 1829 by the Woodwell shipyard on Water Street. The Woodwells specialized in the smaller craft compared to the 100 ton plus ships built on Merrimac Street. Maritime History of the Merrimac. Robert K. Cheney.

Returning to Newburyport by 1758, Gideon Woodwell bought land between Water Street and the river, extending from near the foot of Marlboro Street to Goodwin’s Landing. Nearly a century later, 160 small vessels, mostly schooners, had been constructed by several generations of the Woodwell family. Launching of vessels took place during high tide in a creek that crossed Water Street near Woodwell’s Avenue.

During the American Revolution, little shipbuilding took place. Gideon Woodwell was a captain in the militia and joined other locals marching to Boston in 1775. After his return, Mr. Woodwell became a ship carpenter for Stephen and Ralph Cross and Jonathan Greenleaf. By the late 1780s, Gideon’s sons John and Gideon, Jr., and son in law Enoch Hale joined under the firm name of Woodwell and Hale. Mr. Woodwell died in 1790, and his family continued shipbuilding until 1852 when the shipyard finally closed. In 1876, John G. Plummer walled and filled the land that once was the Woodwell shipyard.

The Woodwell family was also involved in other construction projects. In 1827, at a cost of $1,380, they rebuilt the Parker River Bridge in Newbury and repaired it in 1839. The bridge had been built by another shipbuilder, Ralph Cross. They repaired the Plum Island Bridge in 1850.

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Goodwin’s Landing

Goodwin’s Landing, also known as Simmons Beach, Water Street, c. 1925. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center.

Another area where fishermen launched their boats was the lower slip at Goodwin’s Landing. In the early 1900s, when City Councilor Simmons was in office, he gave several parties for children and named the stretch of shoreline Simmons Beach. Trucks loaded with Plum Island sand dumped near the water created a beach for the children, a popular place to swim and play. In March of 1945, several of the older Joppie residents requested the City Council to officially rename the area Goodwin’s Landing as it had been known since the 1800s or possibly longer. The councilors agreed and a sign was erected bearing the name Goodwin’s Landing, although still today the area is commonly known as Simmons Beach.

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The Clam Shacks and Flatiron Point

Clam diggers near the Plum Island Point with lighthouse in background. Postcard by Leighton Company prior to 1890s. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center.

Only one clam shack remains of the once dozen or so shanties that lined lower Water Street in the area known as Flatiron Point near the end of Union Street. After hours of digging on the clam flats with a small rake, the diggers toted their clams in round wooden and wire baskets that allowed the seawater to drain off the clams. At night, torches made up of balls of rags soaked in kerosene lit up the flats like a city. There were over forty Joppa men listed as clam diggers in the City Directory of 1911.

Clam shacks and trolley tracks on Water Street looking towards Flatiron Point. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center.

The clam workers sat outside their shacks and shucked the shellfish that provided extra income for men and women. A longtime resident of Joppie, Libby Russell, who lived at 218 Water Street, shucked clams until she was 80 years old. The discarded clamshells were often used for paths to neighborhood back doors.

Around 1900, there were as many as one-half to five tons of shucked clams shipped every day to Boston and other cities from Newburyport. By 1920, the clam flats were threatened by pollution that forced their eventual closure. This closure was economically devastating to the local community.

Flatiron Point was first mentioned in the Newbury town records of 1695. Thomas Johnson from Charlestown, near Boston, built several small vessels there. Erza Cottle set up there working on boats soon after. He later moved his boat-building operation up Water Street nearer to Federal Street. The name of Flatiron Point refers to the shape of the streets where Water and Union Streets merge to form the point of an iron. There is some difference of opinion about which street actually crosses the two streets to form the other end of the iron - Goodwin’s Avenue, Woodwell’s Avenue, or Marlboro Street.

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The Clam Shuckers, c. 1905 Postcard published by the G. W. Armstrong D.R. & N. Company, Boston. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center.
Flatiron Point is the area where Water and Union Streets meet. Clam shacks on the right. Courtesy of the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center.
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