What’s in Amesbury’s 1875 City Directory?

Editor's note: This article was contributed by Courtney MacLachlan, 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.

Courtney's reasons for volunteering: "I have always been interested in local history. I majored in history in college, taught social studies and history, and worked in Portsmouth, NH, at Strawbery Banke Museum and the Portsmouth Athenaeum. Amesbury is a great community to study because its rich industrial history leads to such a wealth of discoveries."


What’s in Amesbury’s 1875 City Directory?

When one wants to learn specifics about Amesbury residents and where they lived and worked, the Amesbury City Directory will often give the answers. City directories have been published annually since the 1820s. They were used for local reference in much the same way that telephone books came to be used. As phone books became more and more common, they superseded the city directories in many households, but until the rise of the telephone, the city directory was the go-to book for all the basic information about the town and its residents.

 Advertisements in Amesbury's 1875 city directory. Undertakers, dentists, tailors and horse shoers of the day used the directory to reach potential customers.

Advertisements in Amesbury's 1875 city directory. Undertakers, dentists, tailors and horse shoers of the day used the directory to reach potential customers.

First, the directory alphabetically listed all the heads of households, their street addresses and professions or places of employment. After that list came the business directory, an alphabetical list of every business in town. That was followed by a list of religious, social and civic organizations along with location and times of their regular meetings. Last came the list of town departments, with names of all the town officials and town employees. Advertisements offered even more information about local businesses.

I looked at the Amesbury City Directory for 1874/75 to see what I could learn. It was quickly apparent that the geography of the town was quite different from the Amesbury we know today. In 1875 Amesbury actually started at the Powow River and extended west from the river to include West Amesbury (now Merrimac) and South Amesbury (now Merrimacport). Everything on the east side of the Powow, including Elm Street, Monroe Street and all of Point Shore, was Salisbury. 

It was also interesting to note how many heads-of-household were connected with the carriage industry in varying capacities. A carriage had many parts, and specialists were needed to create and sell all the types of carriages. Among the trades listed were: carriage trimmer, carriage painter, carriage plater or silver plater, wheelmaker or wheelwright, finisher, spoke polisher, carriage manufacturer (business owner), carriage dealer, body maker, carriage boxer, harness maker and trimmer, carriage blacksmith, and carriage springs and axle manufacturer. 

The textile mills were the other primary employers in town. Work in the mills was specialized to some degree. Although many heads of household just stated their employment was “at Salisbury mills” or “at Amesbury Woolen Company”, others were more specific, listing jobs such as overseer, wool sorter, operative, spinner, loom fixer, weaver, mule spinner, watchman, carder, and dyer.

The two other primary manufacturing jobs in Amesbury were hat-making and shoe-making. Most of the remaining jobs in town were in support businesses such as grocers, teamsters, carpenters, clerks, apothecaries, ice dealers, farmers, blacksmiths, dentists, doctors, grocers and shop-owners. 

Women were also listed as heads of households, although their number was far smaller than that of men. Some women were teachers, as exemplified by this entry: “Adams, Abbie C. teacher, Birchmeadow District School, bds [boards] Horace Cushman’s, Birchmeadow Road.” Almost all the others were widows, and the bulk of them kept boardinghouses. In the Amesbury Mills district of town (today’s downtown), anyone who lived within walking distance of the mills and had extra space could earn a consistent income by renting out rooms to workers. It was a natural job for women who had probably cared for husbands and children for much of their adult lives. I was surprised by the large number of widows, until I realized that many of these women’s husbands had probably died in the Civil War.

What other surprises would I find? I decided to look at the 1885 Amesbury City Directory to find clues on how the town had changed in ten years, so I made a second visit to the public library. I will write my discoveries in another installation.

Note: The 1874-75 Newburyport Amesbury City Directory is located at the Newburyport Public Library Archival Center, open Monday-Saturday from 9:00-noon and 1:00-4:00.  Newburyport and Amesbury were included in the same book. Another copy is in the vault at the Amesbury Public Library, so a staff member will need to retrieve it. It is also available online at Ancestry.com. 
                            

 John Lang promoted his Pond Street horse and ox shoeing business in this 1875 directory advertisement. Note the detail in the artwork. Even then, advertisers knew that pictures attract attention.

John Lang promoted his Pond Street horse and ox shoeing business in this 1875 directory advertisement. Note the detail in the artwork. Even then, advertisers knew that pictures attract attention.