A View of Amesbury in 1839
By John Mayer
Executive Director, ACM
Member, ACM Industrial Survey Group
As our carriage museum survey group explores the story of worklife and industry in Amesbury, we continually seek materials to illustrate this history. Maps are tremendous documents and have provided great insights into the change and development in the area. Visual sources such as photographs, prints or drawings can bring those materials to life.
Perhaps the earliest known rendering of Amesbury was included in a history of Massachusetts written and published in 1839 by John Warner Barber (1798 – 1885). The book contains 200 engravings made by Barber based on pencil and ink sketches he made of each location.
Barber’s view “South-east view of Mills Village, in Salisbury and Amesbury” provides a visual sense of the town at a time when textile mills lined the Powow River and the surrounding landscape was filled with other work places, residences, churches, farmland and rolling hills. Prominently featured in the view is Mill 2 (now Amesbury Industrial Supply on High Street), which had been completed about 12 years earlier.
These were the early days of industrial development in the town. The Mills Village (which included part of Salisbury and Amesbury) was home to about 2.500 residents. At the time, two separate companies operated mills along the river – the Amesbury Flannel Company in the lower millyard and the Salisbury Manufacturing Company in the upper millyard. Together – these two companies employed around 550 men and women workers.
The mills were powered by water wheels driven by the flowing water of the Powow River. Inside, workers made textiles using wool and cotton. Each floor of the mills contained the specialized machines needed to convert the raw fibers into a woven textile. The workers used these machines to make cloth - flannels, satinets (featuring cotton and wool threads), and specially dyed wool twills.
The railroad had not yet come to Amesbury. Raw materials and finished goods mostly were shipped by water. The lower Powow was navigable and bolts of fabric were shipped down river to Newburyport and Boston where agents sold the finished cloth to different clothing manufacturers.
In 1839, owners of the Amesbury Flannel Company won a gold medal for a sample of flannel they exhibited at the Second Exhibition organized by the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics Association held in Quincy. The judges noted they “could not imagine a more perfect article of the kind,” a recognition that no doubt made owners and workers proud.
Barber’s description of Amesbury includes information about other trades active at the time - 135 workers made 65,000 pairs of shoes and the carriage trade was just taking form: about 125 workers working for carriage shops of different sizes.
The full title of Barber’s book is Historical Collections, Being a General Collection of Interesting Facts, Traditions, Biographical Sketches, Anecdotes, &c., Relating to the History and Antiquities of Every Town in Massachusetts with Geographical Descriptions. It can be sourced on line on the Hathi Trust website.
Finding views of Amesbury is a thrill for those interested in history.