Carriage Museum seeks your help with new millyard guidebook

Hello Friends,

The Amesbury Carriage Museum plans to produce a new historical guidebook of the millyard area and is seeking support to help fund the project. The new publication, A Guide to the Amesbury Millyard, is expected to be available in the fall.

Currently under development by museum volunteers and an experienced consultant, the guide will be available in print and on line via the museum’s website. The guide is designed to connect people of all ages with the industrial history of Amesbury and to showcase the stories of the various factories, mills, and worksites that fill our town.

Industrial activity became common in many parts of Amesbury, but it was the Powow River falls – dropping 70 feet between Pond Street and tide water at the bottom of Water Street -- that attracted entrepreneurs and industrialists to the area as early as 1641. Because so many water-powered mills sprang up along these falls, the area became known as Amesbury Mills and is now what we call the millyard.

The Guide will support several museum initiatives.  Working with local teachers, information in the guide will become part of the curriculum in local schools.  Also, the guide will be used for walking tours of the millyard and other downtown areas. And In the more distant future, the guide will the basis of a museum exhibit designed to tell the story of making nails, textiles, carriages, auto bodies, hats, peanut butter and other items produced right here in Amesbury.

Most importantly, I hope the Guide will promote interest in local history and inspire residents to come forth with more stories of local industry and work life from years gone by. 

Project consultant Gray Fitzsimons, an industrial historian from Lowell and an expert in museum methods, has already developed a project plan for the guide. He is now coordinating the work of several volunteers to produce a thematic historical narrative. To illustrate the story, the volunteers have gathered maps, newspaper articles, photographs and other materials from local and national sources.

The Carriage Museum is raising funds to help offset the consultant and production costs of the guide. The Society for Industrial Archeology, a national organization, has provided partial support with a modest grant, but more financing is needed.

You can support this project by visiting or mailing a donation of any amount to Amesbury Carriage Museum, P.O. Box 252, Amesbury, MA  01913. (Contributions are tax-deductible.)

Sincerely yours,

John Mayer
Executive Director

The Amesbury Carriage Museum receives sponsorship support from area businesses including Amesbury Chevrolet, Gould Insurance, Stone Ridge Properties, Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank, the Sylvan Street Grille and from individual sponsors.  Thank you! We are grateful to our 2017 Program Sponsors!

From the Director's Desk - June News

June 28
A Note from John Mayer, Executive Director

Hello Friends,

As we enter the summer months, we are working "behind the scenes" to prepare fall programs and events for 2018 - Amesbury's 350th celebration.  But first - here are some exciting events that are more current:
The Carriage Museum at Amesbury  Days

The week-long series of Amesbury Day events took place last week.  I saw many of you out and about during these various events.  It is a great way to celebrate the Amesbury community. 

The Carriage Museum offered activities during these events: 

Amesbury Block Party
Thursday, June 22
Our tent was near the public library. 

Make and Take - Hands-on Family Activity
Saturday, June 24
City Hall parking lot, 62 Friend Street. 
Amesbury teacher (and ACM Board member) Amy Mitchell organized a fun (and free!) vehicle-making event for all.

Carriagetown Carshow
Sunday, June 25
Downtown Amesbury / Millyard Amphitheater
The center of town was filled with vintage cars, and in the millyard the Museum hosted a display of historic vehicles.  Visitors had a chance to see some carriages from the collection and other Amesbury-bodied vehicles.  We conducted walking tours and many families and children climbed aboard a farm wagon for pictures.  Lots of supporters stopped by to say "hello!" and have some fun!

In other news -  The Millyard Guidebook

Just recently, we received notice that the Society for Industrial Archeology has awarded the museum a partial grant to fund the production of a new guide to the Amesbury Millyard.  The guidebook will be available on our website, in printed form, shared with teachers and students, and used in our exhibit program.

The project is not yet fully funded - we would welcome your contribution to see it completed:

 The "Museum without Walls" Curriculum Project Begins

This week brought six teachers together to integrate information about Amesbury history into the existing curriculum.  Our goal is simple - to connect students to Amesbury history and NOT overwhelm teachers with more assignments. 

Thanks again for your interest, membership and support.  I will keep you informed as our programs take form and I hope to see many of you at one of our upcoming events!

Sincerely yours,

John Mayer
Executive Director

The Amesbury Carriage Museum receives sponsorship support from area businesses including Amesbury Chevrolet, Gould Insurance, Stone Ridge Properties, Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank, the Sylvan Street Grille and from individual sponsors.  Thank you! We are grateful to our 2017 Program Sponsors!

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 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 -

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

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 -
Our facebook page -

John Mayer
Executive Director
(978) 834-5058