Ellis Carriage Makers and Amesbury’s First Electrical Power Plant

Editor's note: This article was contributed by Mike Harrold, Amesbury resident and volunteer researcher on the Amesbury Carriage Museum's industrial survey team. Its publication here is part of our ongoing effort to share insights about Amesbury history through our website and email newsletter.

Mike's reasons for volunteering: "I am involved because I am very interested in industrial history, and especially in larger forces and drivers that shape behavior of industry. That interest has been amplified by the richness and fundamental importance of Amesbury textile, carriage, and auto body industries."

Amesbury Electric Light & Patent Flooring Company was an electrically powered manufacturing complex at the end of Oak Street, below the rail line, opened in 1889 by President and Treasurer, William G. Ellis (1832-1896). Ellis had left his native Scotland to join a gold rush in Australia, where he prospered. Arriving in Amesbury in 1863, he worked in James Hume’s carriage shop before joining in carriage making with Alexander Huntington from 1867 to 1875. He then became the main developer of the 99 Friend St. carriage complex. Ellis left carriage making to his sons in 1888, to manufacture electric trolley cars at Oak Street.

The Oak St. complex included the power generation plant down on the riverside, below main buildings up on Oak Street. The upper buildings had their own steam heat boilers, but the generating station provided lighting and mechanical power for manufacturing, and also electricity for Ellis’s Haverhill & Amesbury trolley railroad.

The Oak St. complex, in drawn aerial view from 1914, with the power plant down on the riverbank below the Oak St. buildings, and current aerial photo.

The Oak St. complex, in drawn aerial view from 1914, with the power plant down on the riverbank below the Oak St. buildings, and current aerial photo.

Amesbury Electric Light & Patent Flooring Co. also occupied part of the building directly uphill on Oak Street. Patent flooring was made there, but proved to be a struggling concern that soon closed, likely with the economic crash of 1892-3. Trolley cars were made in a second building across Oak Street, which burned in 1893. The power generating operation was then renamed Amesbury Electric Light, Heat, & Power Company.

William Ellis died in 1896, having also been President of Amesbury National Bank. The last remnants of his Friend St. carriage shops were torn down just a couple of years ago to build houses. His Friend St. residence burned in the early 20th century, and that site was also recently developed into new homes on Ellis Court.

His electric plant was in a joint stock company that continued. They sold the flooring building in 1903. In 1906, the electric business was renamed Amesbury Electric Light Company, and the generating facility was expanded and re-equipped. They had become a local domestic electricity provider.

Hamilton Woolen Mfg. Company, owning the brick textile mills along the Powow River, went out of business in 1914, and was purchased by Merrimac Valley Power & Building Company. It was noted in 1921 that the latter rented space to industrial tenants, using the facility’s hydroelectric and steam capability to provide steam heat, light, and power to tenants, and to sell electricity to Amesbury Electric Light Company, stated to be serving 14,000 people in Amesbury, Merrimac, and Salisbury. Two historic Amesbury manufacturers had evolved into the municipal electric utility.

The old Oak St. generation station was seemingly decommissioned around 1918, after which the vacant building remained unused until being razed sometime after 1930. Amesbury Electric Light Company was then supplying purchased electricity. When built, in 1889, the original generating facility had been a somewhat early free-standing electric power plant, many previous generating systems having provided only lighting inside of individual factories. About the only remaining remnants are cooling pipes sticking up out of the river.

The Oak St. industrial complex was interestingly conceived and executed as a completely electrically powered facility, and might have developed further if not hampered almost immediately by economic depression and fire. The original patent flooring factory remains today as an apartment building, accompanied by a larger apartment building parallel to the rail line. The latter was built in about 1918 by Walker Body Co., which manufactured the majority auto bodies for H. H. Franklin Car Co. of Syracuse, New York.

From the Director's Desk - May News

May 15
A Note from John Mayer, Executive Director

Hello Friends,

Thanks to some gentle feedback we realized our registration fees were too high, so we have lowered them.  Now whenever possible, museum members will be able to participate in events for free and non-members will pay a nominal fee.  

We hope this will allow as many as possible to participate in our events while at the same time encouraging membership with the museum.  Our goal is to develop an organization that is valued, builds support and membership, and inspires you and many others to explore Amesbury history.

Aperture on Amesbury – a Photographic Walking Tour

On Saturday May 20 starting at 9:00 am and ending at noon, local photographer Tim Gurczak will lead a walking tour of Carriage Hill.  With support from Industrial Survey member, Mike Harrold, the tour will visit locations once part of Amesbury’s carriage industry.  
The tour is free for members; for non-members registration is $10.  Space is limited – so be sure to register today! Register on line.

Behind the Scenes – Brief Notes and Progress

With a grant from Mass Humanities, we are completing the first-ever catalog of our carriages and sleighs.  At the same time, we are improving our storage area and the way the collection is organized.  It is a very interesting project and we are learning much about these objects.  
Our curriculum project funded by the Amesbury Education Foundation will begin at the end of June.   The project – A Museum Without Walls – is designed to connect students to Amesbury history.
A workgroup is exploring new features for our website.  Over the summer we plan to introduce a new design and more historical content to our users.
Program planning is ongoing and includes collaborations with several local organizations.  The Mayor’s Car Show on June 25 will feature a carriage display in the millyard and new walking tours.  Our September tour will explore engineering features on the Merrimack River. 
These different activities are building a foundation for the Carriage Museum and moving us toward our goal to develop a physical location. 

Supporting the Museum

We are nearing the end of our spring membership drive.  Thanks to the many of you who renewed your membership or joined as new members.  We are very much a community project and your membership is a reflection of the value we provide to Amesbury.   
Financial support also comes from donations to our annual fund.  At the end of 2016, one generous gift significantly reduced our deficit.  The gift was not expected!  Our donor simply said they believed in what we were doing and wanted to make a gift that would make a difference. 
With an eye to the future, the Board recently established a very modest endowment fund that is managed by the Essex County Community Foundation.  We see an opportunity for this fund to grow through bequests and planned gifts.  For many organizations an endowment provides operating support and ensures a core scope of services. Learn more about planned giving.
If you are not a member – why not join us?  More about membership.  If you are interested in supporting our programs in some other way, please contact me or reply to this email for more information. 
I am very encouraged by our progress.  And I am grateful to all of you for your interest and support.
John Mayer
Executive Director


Executive director on the air!

John Mayer, executive director of the Amesbury Carriage Museum, appeared on local radio station WNBP (106.1 FM/1450 AM) on April 12 to talk about future museum programs and events. Click the link below to listen. (Make sure your computer's sound is on.)

From the Director's Desk - March News

March 23
A Note from John Mayer, Executive Director

One Year Ago...

My first day working for the museum was March 2, 2016.  (You might find a picture of me on this website...I'm at my new desk with some miscellaneous items behind me, a little unsure what to do first.) It has been a very full year and interesting to look back - we have accomplished much.

My greatest satisfaction is in the way an organization is taking form.  This "news" does not make the headlines - but it is so important for our future.  Here are a few things to recognize -

The Board of Directors work well together and are dedicated to the museum.

There are ten volunteer members of the Board.  They meet monthly, are all part of at least one of our four committees (Program, Collections, Development, Finance).  Gradually our standards and routines are building more and more capacity.

The Strategic Plan is guiding our progress.

In September we approved a revised mission statement ("Champion the history of Amesbury's industry and people") and three goals - to find a location, to develop new programs, and to work to high professional standards.  I see steady progress towards each of these.  Most notably with our program plans.  There are many new and exciting projects in the works.

We are addressing fundamental museum issues.

Improving storage and cataloging our collection of carriages and sleighs will establish standards for acquiring more objects, and this will directly influence future exhibits and programs.  This small project - funded by MASS Humanities - will provide direction to our work with historic artifacts of all types.  Museums are places for objects, this is a critical initiative.

Gradually we are expanding our base of financial support.

In February, the Board created an agency fund with the Essex County Community Foundation - in effect, we established an endowment.  We did not have resources available to make more than a minimum investment in this fund.  But we did it, and we are hopeful this will become a solid foundation for our future.

We'll need to keep at this through membership (don't forget to renew yours!), grants, sponsorship and the like.  

The Community has been extremely supportive.

Over this past year, I have met so many wonderful people.  The interest and support from all of you says much about our opportunity to build a first-class organization for Amesbury.

Here is to another exciting year in 2018!

As always - do not hesitate to share your thoughts.  Thank you for your support and I hope to see you at our upcoming events - Monday, April 3 at Crave for "History on Tap", and on Thursday, April 13 at Amesbury City Hall for guest speaker Philip Winn speaking about placemaking in Amesbury.  Visit our Facebook page or our Calendar page for details. 

John Mayer, Executive Director

About the carriage at Amesbury City Hall...

Canopy Beach Wagon as it appears at Amesbury City Hall.

Canopy Beach Wagon as it appears at Amesbury City Hall.

A similar Canopy Beach Wagon featured in the Bird and Schofield catalog about 1909.

A similar Canopy Beach Wagon featured in the Bird and Schofield catalog about 1909.

Anyone who visits Amesbury City Hall or watches meetings from the auditorium broadcast on television has probably seen this part of the Amesbury Carriage Museum's collection. The Bird & Schofield beach wagon has been on view for several years.

This carriage serves as a symbol of the industrial heritage of Amesbury and a time when the city was known as the Carriage Making Capitol of the United States. At the peak of this era in the 1880's, Amesbury was home to many shops and factories making entire vehicles or parts for them, with a work force in the thousands. In 1889 the Amesbury workers made nearly 17,000 carriages.

The beach wagon at City Hall was made around 1908 by workers at the Bird & Schofield Company, then located in the lower millyard near the Boston & Maine terminal (now home of Crave restaurant). Also called a “surrey” with the fabric top open on all sides (and yes, there is a fringe!) this vehicle symbolizes the place of carriage making in the city.

The automobile began to replace carriage driving – and soon the industry would be gone. The T. W. Lane company made the last carriage in Amesbury in 1926.

Bird and Schofield manufactured a general line of light-weight carriages from 1895-1913. The company was typical of many of Amesbury’s small shops – with a small workforce and a general line of carriages.

The canopy beach wagon, or surrey, was a popular family vehicle, often used for excursions in the country. This model has two seats, and a fringed canopy-top, popularized in the Oscar Hammerstein song “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top.”

The surrey was owned and used by a family who originally lived on a farm in Hampton, NH. In 1986, the surrey, along with a buggy and a sleigh, was donated to the Amesbury Carriage Museum by the son of the original owner. In 1988, the surrey was restored to its present condition by Frederick Worrall, Jr., of Ipswich, MA.

From the Director's Desk - February News

February 23
A Note from John Mayer, Executive Director

In this e-newsletter you'll read about upcoming programs with dates for your calendar, our 2017 membership drive, grant funding from Mass Humanities, and a few museum happenings.

Program Plans 

Gradually our 2017 program calendar is taking form and shaping up nicely. There are still events to develop and details to confirm for others.  We will keep you informed as details are set.

Our first event of the season will be a "History on Tap" program at the restaurant Crave (located in Amesbury at 32 Elm St.) on Monday, April 3 beginning at 5:30 pm. The event will focus on the ongoing industrial survey of Amesbury and feature several of the project volunteers who will showcase different findings.  Be prepared to experience their enthusiasm and learn about carriage makers, engineering features, industrial power and more.  The event offers a chance to launch our season and reconnect with our community.

On April 13 at 7 pm in the Amesbury CIty Hall auditorium, Philip Winn, vice president of the Project for Public Spaces (a NYC planning group), will present an interactive program, "What if we built Amesbury around Places? - Discovering and Activating our Shared Spaces."  Philip will introduce the concept of "Placemaking" as a valuable tool for city development and an essential aspect of city life.  This will be the second Bailey Family Lecture and is free and open to the public.  Visit www.pps.org for more information about placemaking!  This will be a provocative and engaging program.  We hope to see you there.

Watch the newsletter for more information about these and other programs.

The 2017 Membership Drive

February is "membership month" and renewal letters were mailed on Wednesday, February 22.  In advance, thank you for renewing your membership!  (And just in case you were not a member - you can join by visiting our website - http://www.amesburycarriagemuseum.com/membership/)

You'll see our individual membership rates have increased to $25 and we've added a family membership for $35.  These decisions were not made lightly.  We greatly appreciate the support of our members and hope you are pleased with the steady development of the museum!  I hope you agree - the greatest benefit of membership is the confidence you are supporting our programs and satisfaction from involvement in our community.  

Collections Cataloging project 

As a museum, one of our most important responsibilities is the care for our collection of objects. And yet in our 30-plus years of operation there has never been a comprehensive catalog of our holdings.  To address this need we submitted a Research Inventory grant application to Mass Humanities.  We have just learned our project was fully funded!  Support from Mass Humanities will provide funds to cover the costs of museum assistant Berni Angelo to research and catalog our collection of 35 vehicles, and for the first time ever, we will bring our collection together in one central storage area.  The knowledge gained from this project will help us develop exhibits and refine our holdings.  It is a critical step towards improving our museum operations.  Our collections cataloging project will begin on April 1.

I am proud to say...this program is funded in part by Mass Humanities, which receives support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and is an affiliate of the National Endowment of the Humanities.

Other museum notes

The Carriage Museum will be well represented at the 30th Annual New England Conference on Industrial Archeology.  The conference is on Saturday, March 4 at Clark University in Worcester. Board member Susan Koso will speak about "The Rise and Fall of Turnpikes in New England," and I will provide an update about the Amesbury Industrial Survey.  The program is open to the public but registration is required. For more information visit http://nec-sia.org/

Thanks to volunteer Ron Klodenski and Board member Meghan Petersen, we are working to increase our web and social media outreach.  Additional e-news letters are in the works and we are adding content to our website and Facebook pages.  Please reach out with any questions or suggestions. 

Our website - www.amesburycarriagemuseum.com
Our facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/amesburycarriagemuseum/

John Mayer
Executive Director
(978) 834-5058

From the Director's Desk - January News

January 25, 2017
A Note from John Mayer, Executive Director

Welcome winter!

For many of us who work in nonprofits, this is the time of year for organizing such glamorous (but important!) things like budgets, business plans and a schedule of events for the coming year.  You will see below and in future newsletters that our program schedule for 2017 is coming together nicely.  We will build upon our successes of 2016 and offer even more events for the Amesbury community.

I am very pleased with the progress of the museum.  Little by little our organization is taking form, and there is much to look forward to in the coming years.

Calendar Plans for 2017

Over the next month or so, details will become set for the 2017 calendar of public programs and events. As our events are confirmed, we will be sending special announcements - so please keep an eye on your inbox. 

Here is a rough outline for the season:

  • At the end of March we will host a community open house "History on Tap",
  • In April we will present the second Bailey Family Lecture with a special guest speaker who will explore opportunities to build new community resources in Amesbury,
  • In May we will offer a second "Aperture on Amesbury" focused on historic buildings on Carriage Hill, and then a family-focused walking tour along the Powow River, 
  • June will bring Amesbury Days with a family workshop and a carriage display (and more!) at the car show, and
  • For the fall we will offer a second industrial tour of Amesbury and our Annual Meeting, with a guest speaker highlighting industrial history along the Merrimack.  

And of course, there will be more. The year is coming together.  Stay tuned.

A Highlight from the Collection of Historic Vehicles 

One of the most successful carriages made in Amesbury was the Bailey company's "Whalebone Road Wagon" made between 1897 and 1906.  Light weight, with "modern" rubber tires and metal spoked wheels the wagon sold for around $250.  This was one of the last carriages made by the Bailey Company.

The Carriage Museum purchased this vehicle in 1987, still in good original condition.

Look for more news about our collection during the year.  Thanks to the work of volunteer Museum Assistant, Berni Angelo, we plan to update our storage facility and complete a first-ever catalog of the entire collection. 

We Made It! - Thanks to you!

The 2016 Annual Appeal raised $5,590 dollars with gifts from 61 donors!  This was a great way to close our year and a successful end to our first-ever annual appeal. Thank you to everyone who contributed.

Coming in February

Our 2017 membership drive will begin next month. To all of you who are members, we'll be sending an invitation asking you to renew your membership.  And if you are not a member - why not join us?  Membership dues provide funds for our operations and build our base of support.  We are stronger with you!  For information about our membership program - visit http://www.amesburycarriagemuseum.com/membership/

And as always, please do not hesitate to share your thoughts, comments or concerns.  I welcome your interest and feedback.

To all of you, here is to an exciting year in 2017!

John Mayer
Executive Director
(978) 834-5058

From the Director's Desk - December News

December 20, 2016
A Note from John Mayer, Executive Director
Farewell 2016! Hello 2017!

I can be pretty hard on myself.  Maybe like you, I always want to see progress and accomplishment. Or at least to have something substantial to show for my work. Sometimes that isn't always possible and things happen in a more incremental way. I tell myself to remember, "it's not a sprint, it's a marathon."

This has been very true for my work this past year for the Carriage Museum. Our progress has been slow and steady.  My hopes for 2017 are to follow through on our plans, offer programs of interest, and build an organization that engages more people in our community.

Our program calendar is being developed.  Details are not confirmed, but here is a look ahead. We'll build on what we offered in 2016 and add more. In March we'll offer the "History on Tap" program, in April the Bailey Family Lecture, in May a walking tour, in June we'll be part of Amesbury Days & Car Show, and in September we'll offer an industrial archaeology program and our 32nd annual meeting. To this we'll add special programs with historians and authors, the launch of our school curriculum, and I hope - an exhibit opening.

I couldn't be more excited and hope to see you at our programs in 2017.

A Little Amesbury History from 1792 - the Banks of the Powow River were Bustling!

A small volunteer group meets monthly to collaborate on an industrial survey of Amesbury. We began meeting in April and regularly the team finds unique documents that we have saved into a reference file. We draw from this material for our building histories and various public programs.

Following is an excerpt from a recent discovery that provides an interesting picture of the early-industrial activity present along the Powow River at the close of the 18th century.  

From Topographical Sketches of the County of Essex (published January 1792);

"Another small village, there called Amesbury Mills...is formed around the lower falls of Powow River.  At this place water falls about one hundred feet within the distance of fifty perches (a perch is 5 1/2 yards), and in its decent carries one bloomery, five saw mills, seven grist mills, two linseed oil mills, one fulling mill, and one snuff mill, besides several wheels, auxiliary to different labours. The rapid fall of the water, the dams at very short distances crossing the river, the various mills arising almost immediately one after another, and the very irregular and grotesque situation of the houses and other buildings on the adjoining grounds, give this place a romantick appearance, and afford in the whole one of the most singular views to be found in this country." 

While these early industrial buildings have all been lost, the Powow River continues to be a focus for the downtown of Amesbury. It is quite a history.

2016 Annual Appeal - Help us Meet (Surpass?) our Goal!

In November, we launched our first ever annual appeal.  This is a common method for nonprofit organizations to raise operating funds from their supporters.  We had never done this before and boldly we set a goal of $5,000.  

Thanks to gifts from 53 people - we are almost there.  So far we've raised $4,750.  Your gift could be the one that helps us meet our goal - or just maybe - exceeds it!

Gifts to the annual appeal are in addition to membership donations, provide critical support for our operations, and are fully tax-deductible. If you have donated to the Annual Appeal - thank you so much! If you haven't - your support can make the difference. If you are interested, please send your donation to P.O. Box 252, Amesbury, MA 01913 - or you can donate through our website - here's the link: 

Again - thank you all for your generous support!

And in closing - Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

Please get in touch with me with any thoughts or questions about the Carriage Museum.  I appreciate your interest and look forward to a great year in 2017!

Best wishes to you all for the season.

John Mayer
Executive Director
(978) 834-5058