From our new Executive Director - A warm welcome from Amesbury!

I’m three weeks in to my work in Amesbury and excited to be working out of a donated space from the Chamber of Commerce.  In my years of work for museums, working so closely with and amongst the business community will be a new experience.  The support from the Amesbury community was a major reason the opportunity to lead the Carriage Museum project had such appeal.  This sort of relationship is hard to build.  And here, that relationship is already in place and people are eager to get started. 

In addition, the Carriage Alliance has put together a very thoughtful plan with a goal to build a heritage center.  Of course, there will be many steps from where things stand now to opening day.  Thinking too closely about those details is a bit intimidating; and it does make my head spin.  But this is also a great opportunity.  I will be building an organization and drawing from the many different experiences I have had working in museums.  This is quite exciting for me.

I was a high school student when I first worked in the education department of a modern art museum.  I remember the energy, focus, and commitment to engaging our students.  For a young person - those welcoming and dynamic qualities were formative and inspiring.

Later, I worked in a history museum building exhibits and restoring machine tools.  The depth of support for this work was incredible – scholarship, teamwork, beautiful artifacts, and rich stories that connected people to the past and our historic site.  Here I learned about doing things well and managing the trust of our audience.

And more recently, as the director for a local history museum in Manchester, NH I learned about building community through our programs.  More than anything I have done, the relationships that emerged from this work has been the most meaningful part of my work.

Many of those opportunities are present here in Amesbury.  Even with the blank slate and many challenges before me, as I chart a course forward I hope to see a slow and steady development for our programs.

The appeal of this position is the opportunity to bring all those experiences together and make something very special.  A center – built around the history of the town – where everyone can find something that connects them to Amesbury.  It can be fun and active – and even speak to the future as much to the past.

There is much to do.  I’ve met a small part of the group I will be working with.  I look forward to meeting more and to learning more about the town, organizing programs, and developing our center that will be welcoming, inspiring, and dynamic for all.  It will be great to meet all of you too.  You can reach me at or give me a call at our new office 978-834-5058. 


Welcome Executive Director John Mayer!

We are thrilled to announce that John Mayer, formerly curator of the Maine Historical Society and Executive  Director of Manchester Historic Association, has accepted the position of Executive Director of the Amesbury Carriage Museum.  He will begin work on March 2. 

Mr. Mayer comes to Amesbury from the Maine Historical Society, where he served for 13 years as the curator of museum collections producing exhibits, managing collections and interpreting content for the public. Prior to working in Maine, he was curator for the Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, N.H.  Mayer earned his master’s degree in history and has a graduate certificate in museum studies from the University of Delaware. 

The Board of Directors was impressed by Mayer's experience in collection development, fundraising, community relations, exhibition design, public programs, his scholarly achievements and publications and his esteemed reputation in the field.

Mark your calendars for a meet and greet with John on Thursday, March 31 from 5 - 7 at the Noshery in Amesbury. More details on this event to follow. 

Until our building is complete Mr. Mayer's office will be in the Amesbury Chamber of Commerce. We hope you'll stop by and say hello! You can reach John via email at 

Welcome John! 

In the Dead of Winter - Part 2

On a recent hike with my children’s 4-H club we stopped atop a hill to look out over the semi-frozen river below.  An animal track slithered its way across the ice, the markings of perhaps a beaver travailing back and forth from the lodge to some unknown location we couldn’t see around the slushy bend in the river.  Our crew all stopped for a sip of water and I chatted with the troop leader (my sister and also an avid backpacker in all seasons) about the increased risk to hikers of dehydration in the winter months.  While trekking along in the cold one is less inclined to sip on cool water – a mug of warm water appeals far more but is less readily available on the trails.  The conversation turned my mind to the availability of ice to chill a drink at any time of year and so I’m picking up on part two of our ice harvest exploration. 

A recent walk along Lake Gardner beach with my son.  The ice had not yet solidified. 

A recent walk along Lake Gardner beach with my son.  The ice had not yet solidified. 

The first post explored the geography and history of Lake Gardner as power generator for the mills and a source of ice for local harvesters.  The Sara Locke Redford Papers at the Amesbury Public Library also include images which document the operations of extracting the ice including some of the machinery implicated in the process. 

Once the ice reached the required thickness (approximately two feet) the work of cutting and storing began in earnest.  Ice harvest and distribution required manpower, horsepower in some instances, and the technology of a few important tools.   Each day of harvest the workers would score off the portion of ice to be cut for the day.  Cutters like the one pictured below, were then used to cut through the score lines creating the blocks of ice which would eventually find their way into ice boxes in local homes. 

Employees of R.H. Locke's ice company cut the day's harvest. 

Ice blocks, once scored and cut, are floated down a track to the ice house for storage. 

Various mechanized systems assisted workers in transporting the ice blocks into the ice houses. Ice was stacked and packed with hay or sawdust then sealed in the houses to summer over until the supply was needed. 

Transport within the local community required a horse drawn wagon but shipments to Boston distribution centers required collaboration with the railroads.  Ice would have traveled by rail in a car much like this one. 

This model represents an ice car (or refrigerator car) which would have traveled on the Boston & Maine line, the railroad line which serviced Amesbury. 

Some of the more rudimentary hand tools used for chipping and guiding the ice blocks are still available for sale today just down the road from Lake Gardner at Amesbury Industrial Supply.  That is where a member of the carriage museum found the modern ice pick pictured here in the upper left corner of the image.  The second pick pictured is an original tool from the ice harvesting companies of Amesbury which that same carriage museum member found around the lake’s perimeter.

Hand tools salvaged from the banks of Lake Gardner. 

As the days slowly lengthen and we eke out a minute or two of extra daylight we anticipate the freezing and flurries of winter in New England and skaters eagerly await Lake Gardner’s first solid freeze.  Maybe this year we’ll pick up a few of the tools from the hardware store and try harvesting some ice with the 4-H club.  

Carriage worker turned landscape painter - Charles Harold Davis

Amesbury's history includes many success stories, from entrepreneurs, labor activists, film stars, and poets. Margie Walker, local history librarian has chronicled many of them in her most recent book, Legendary Locals of Amesbury.  One of those individuals was a local businessman in the carriage industry, Jacob Huntington, whose generosity facilitated the rise of Amesbury’s most successful artist, Charles Harold Davis.  An accomplished landscape painter, Davis got his start with the brush in the carriage factories of Amesbury.  He was employed there for five years and spent much of his time applying finish painting to vehicles; his work included graphic designs as well as pictorial scenes.  Huntington sponsored Davis with $1000 to allow the young painter to continue the education he had begun at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, abroad in France.  Today his paintings are in the collections of the MFA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among dozens of others.

The Amesbury Public Library local history collection includes nearly 20 works by this prominent artist.    As archivist I oversee the collection which includes preservation efforts.  Today we took a significant step toward improving the health of a portion of the Charles H. Davis collection.  This included updating the hardware and hanging systems and relocating several objects to improve their environmental conditions and provide better access for viewing these lovely paintings.

The project required assistance beyond what we have available on staff at the library.   An art and antique specialist, Jay Williamson (a member of the city’s historical commission and also the speaker at our annual meeting in 2015) made critical recommendations about placement and developed a site and object specific approach to the hardware.  To execute this plan we enlisted the careful help of Geoff Cyr from the city’s facilities department.  Cyr carefully hung five paintings today with incredible attention to detail.  We are thrilled with the result and thought we’d share some images for those of you who aren’t able to come in and see the paintings in person.  This is phase one of this project. 

In a few weeks we will be retrieving the remainder of the collection from its current home in off-site storage. We hope to have several more paintings up for view in the library in the next couple months.

At the carriage museum we know that carriages are only the beginning. This tale of a carriage worker turned landscape painter connects industry to the arts. What a great story! 

Jacob Huntington and Family

In a recent visit to the Amesbury Public Library our Board member Tim found this article written by local historian Sara Locke Redford and transcribed it for us to share.  Redford wrote a history of Amesbury and is well regarded as one of the City's most committed historians. 

The library also houses a small collection of family photographs of the Huntingtons. You can see a few miniatures of three members of the Huntington family in this image. 

Huntington streamlined carriage industry

by Sara L. Redford

Jacob R. Huntington is remembered in Amesbury and throughout the entire industrial world for laying the foundation of the town’s great carriage industry.

    One day in 1853 the man who later would be responsible for shaping Amesbury’s business destiny in the nineteenth century, stopped in at the office of a friend for a chat.

    During the conversation, Huntington said emphatically, “Bill, within ten years I will make a fortune equal to the biggest in town.”

    “Well, Jake,” his friend replied, “you can get it, but there is only one way to get there. If you say, ‘money, money, money’ from early in the morning until late at night and repeat it to yourself while you eat, while you work and while you ought to sleep, you can do it.”

    Shortly after that, Jake made a contract with C. H. Palmer of West Amesbury, now Merrimac, to do a paint job for $100. He went to work immediately, but was unable to find a boarding place in the vicinity. So, he walked back and forth to West Amesbury each day, a matter of 10 miles round trip.

    After six weeks he succeeded in finishing his job and with $100 in his pocket, he felt it was time for him to strike out on his own. During his daily walks to Merrimac and return, he had had plenty of time to think and his mind was constantly on the future of vehicular transportation.

    He had the conviction that all who wanted a carriage should be able to buy it, be he rich or poor. This meant that he would have to build one that would be within the price range of the average worker.

    Huntington faced many difficulties as he set out to create his first carriage in a new locality. He had to travel many hundreds of miles before he had accumulated the necessary parts in Amesbury.

    There was no one who could do the work for him, but at the end of eight weeks, the first carriage built by Huntington rolled out of the shop, complete in every way. It was similar to the later Concord carriage and was sold to a Mr. Bartlett of Salisbury for $30.

    Twenty years later, Huntington said that he saw this vehicle, still running and in fine condition. However, shortly after this, Amesbury’s first carriage was sold and Jake lost track of it.

    Up to the time of this Huntington carriage, no one had dared attempt duplication in building them. However, Huntington was firm in his belief that each customer did not necessarily require or even want a style distinct from any other. He felt, too, that more than one carriage built on the same pattern could be disposed of regardless of whether or not it had been ordered in advance. He became more determined than ever to establish just such a “duplicity” business.

    When Jake first started out with a thin purse, he had to be the boss, salesman, painter, blacksmith, paymaster, bookkeeper, as well as treasurer, training his men in each of these positions as he went along. He seemed to have an endless supply of energy and never tired although he spent many long hours of the day and night with his project.

    In 1858, feeling that it was easier to establish a large business in the west, he moved his family to Cincinnati, Ohio. He found a few factories already established in the “Queen City of the West”, but he saw the opportunity of setting up the duplicating system of which he had long dreamed.

    Today he is recognized as the father of the business which was carried on so successfully in Cincinnati. The west had no particular call for high-priced, high-grade carriages, unlike Amesbury where the wealth of the east was looking for a vehicle that was a luxury.

    At the end of a year in Ohio, his doctor told him that to save the life of his oldest daughter who was critically ill, he must return to the Atlantic seacoast immediately.

    So, he sold out all his holdings in Cincinnati and went back to Amesbury. Here he found James Hume to whom he has sold out here, doing a rushing business. Huntington quickly set himself up once more, this time in the machine shop belonging to Enoch Osgood on Elm Street.

    Twice during his career Huntington was burned out, once with an $18,000 loss covered by only $2800. The day following the fire, he finished a carriage in a room of the Hamilton Woolen Mill. Later he built a large factory on Carriage Hill where he continued until he sold out to Hume in 1875.

    Huntington was able to retire on profits accumulated between the years 1869 and 1875, but under conditions far outstripping those of today. During this same period, many of his men had saved up enough money from their earnings to leave his employ and establish themselves as carriage makers on a small scale. As fast as he discovered that a man had the ability to conduct business independently, he actually forced him out of his shop. [...]

    Among those who worked for him and who later were identified with the carriage industry as independent makers were James Hume, A.P. Boardman, E.S. Fletch, A.M. Huntington (his brother), W.G. Ellis, George J. Hunt, Charles Burlingame, T.W. Lane, Osgood Morrill, John Francis, all well known carriage men.

    To many, it might seem strange that Huntington would encourage some of his men to become his competitors. However, he knew that the industry must spread out in order to prosper. Soon, competition began to liven up the town and brought new carriage buyers to the community daily.

    Simple courtesy among the business rivals did a great deal to create a good feeling and much to lessen the jealousy and ill will. All this helped to build up peacefully the carriage business which made Amesbury almost synonymous with the word “carriage”.

    The conception and the system of building a thousand carriages or more, exactly alike and all costing the same, stand to the credit of Huntington. His western friends soon caught on to the organizing and systemizing of duplication in producing carriages, and many of them became wealthy.

    Huntington, born in Amesbury in 1830, took an active part in civic affairs and for many years was town moderator. In 1868 he was Representative from this district to the Massachusetts Legislature and was sent as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1890.    

    In 1888, he made a gift to the state of Massachusetts of the large bronze statue of Josiah Bartlett, Amesbury-born signer of the Declaration of Independence. This likeness of Bartlett still stands in Huntington Square near the Public Library.

    It has been said that Huntington gave this memorial as a salve to his conscience for having taken a certain stand on the question of temperance, much to the annoyance of many of his fellow-townsmen. We like to think he was urged by the spirit of patriotism and civic pride in helping to perpetuate the memory of an American Revolutionary patriot.

    The home of Huntington built in true Victorian splendor at the crest of Patten’s Hill, Main Street, was torn down last October, the victim of unwarranted vandalism and the inability of any local organization to raise funds to restore the home to its original beauty.

[Amesbury News Souvenir, Wednesday, August 14, 1968]

Major acquisition expands scope of collection

We are excited to announce the major acquisition of the entire collection of the Salisbury Point Railroad Historical Society (SPRRHS). This non-profit sister organization found itself in an all too common circumstance with participation and donations dwindling and a critically important collection of historic artifacts to care for. The SPRRHS  approached the ACM earlier in 2015 to determine our interest in stewarding the collection after their dissolution. 

The ACM Board considered carefully this major acquisition which includes many cool artifacts such as train lanterns, passenger schedules, original blueprints of track layouts, photographs of the station’s early years and most notably the railroad station itself which is located in Amesbury’s new Heritage Park right next to the future home of the carriage museum.  These objects will expand the scope of our collection and will facilitate a broader range of interpretive projects.  As we continue to develop our mission and vision for the 21st century we recognize the importance of expanding our scope to better understand and interpret the life, customs and community of Amesbury throughout its rich history.  As we process this new donation we will share updates and we look forward to your feedback. 

We would like to thank all the SPRRHS members, especially Peter Bryant, for all they did to make this transition so smooth and welcome you as members of the Amesbury Carriage Museum!

There are hundreds of objects and documents in the SPRRHS collection. Here is just a sampling. 

A temporary home for the Amesbury Carriage Museum!

As many of our supporters know, the Amesbury Carriage Museum co-owns the building at 29 Water Street in Amesbury (to learn more about our partnership visit the Amesbury Carriage Alliance website). This space, the Amesbury Heritage Center, will house our permanent collection and office space as well as function rooms and spaces for student visits.  Unfortunately, it will be a few years before we are fully settled into a renovated building. 

We are excited to announce that we have found a temporary home in a collaborative and innovative setting. This new space within the Chestnut Innovation Center will provide us with storage space for a selection of our carriages as well as a meeting space for our Board meetings and public events. Additionally, we will have the opportunity to display one of our carriages in the shared public meeting space in the CIC.  The arrangement affords us the opportunity to connect with new audiences. The CIC feels a natural home for us with their commitment to engineering and manufacturing innovation and entrepreneurship.  The Carriage and related industries thrived because of this same innovative spirit. 

We are still in the midst of reviewing our collection and will be moving carriages to our new space soon. Stay tuned for updates! 

Heritage Center Master Plan Presentation Recording Now Available

We know some of you weren't able to make it to our presentation on June 11, 2015. Guy Hermann of Museum Insights and Tony Hsiao of Finegold Alexander Architects joined Rick Bartley, Chair of the Amesbury Carriage Alliance to present our master plan for the Heritage Center. Here is the presentation in full. Let us know what you think! 

Watch the video here: