It has been unseasonably warm, the last few days over fifty. Despite a lingering vicious head cold, I got on the touring bike for the first time since picking up the one-speed in November. The Brooks sadle felt like butter compared to what I’ve been on.
The first train leaving North Station took me to Lawrence. An entirely planned mill community, it was started in 1847 with great speed by Boston industrialists watching the factory owners of Lowell get rich. I stopped first at the Lawrence Heritage State Park and then went to look at the Great Stone Dam. Finished in 1848, it was the longest dam in the world for several decades.
Lawrence should be most famous for the Bread and Roses strike that started in January of 1912. Led primarily by women affliated with the IWW, it was one of the largest strikes to that time. It was successful in maintaining wages for the 54 hour work week and developing an overtime system, which mill owners in the valley’s other towns then implemented. Perhaps more importantly, it accelerated Congressional action into the deplorable working conditions in the mills and, in particular, ending child labor.
Staying on the north side of the river, I headed through Haverhill. The factories in Haverhill weren’t as immense as the one in Lawrence and look like they’ve been easier to refurbish. Haverhill seemed livelier and more prosperous than Lawrence. It was a shoe town like Lynn. At one point over a million shoes a year were being made there. Notables include Louis Mayer of MGM, who had his first cinema house here, and Rowland Macy, who opened his first department store in Haverhill.
Continuing down river, I wound through Rock’s Village, a charming early nineteenth century village, through Salisbury point and across the river into Newburyport. While the area is slowly filing up with McMansions and other suburban blight, it was interesting how far the lowest reaches of the river feel from the industrial cities. Newburyport is just over 30 miles from Lawrence, but by the 1900’s the entire output of the mills must have been taken by rail to Boston and shipped from there.
Newburyport lacks any of the large warehouses that would have been necessary. Its glory days were in shipbuilding and when that ended in the early 1800’s, there must have been just a bit of fishing to keep the town going. At least that is my guess. It’s now a tourist stop or somewhere to go when you pick up your kids from Phillips Andover and boutiques have taken over the mariner storehouses.
By the time I got off the train in Boston, it was dark and a fog was slowly covering the streets. While my cold is worse than ever today, it was swell to get out of the city on my bike.
The Lower Merrimack Valley