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.