John J. Allen: Preserving Amesbury’s Industrial Past

by Ron Klodenski, ACM Industrial Survey Team
Based on research by Mike Harrold and Joyann Reynolds

Poor quality portrait of John J. Allen from a microfilm copy of his 1947 retirement announcement in  The Amesbury Daily News .

Poor quality portrait of John J. Allen from a microfilm copy of his 1947 retirement announcement in The Amesbury Daily News.

When Amesbury’s John J. Allen (1868-1960) died, he left a wonderful legacy for future generations. It was his book, History of Carriage Making and Automobile Body Building, which describes hundreds of companies and individuals in Amesbury’s carriage and auto businesses between 1850 and 1955. For today’s industrial researchers at the Amesbury Carriage Museum, Allen’s “encyclopedia” of Amesbury’s carriage and auto body businesses is never far out of reach.

The Allen History is an invaluable volume, available to be mined for details of all kinds. Alphabetically arranged by company name, the 200 pages include products, years of operation, business locations, officers, directors and managers. Companies are also indexed by location and business specialty. It starts with The Amesbury Carriage Co. (“acknowledged to have one of the finest and largest plants for turning out carriages in the United States”) and ends with Wilman & Ellis, Carriage Salesmen (“They had no factory, but sold carriages built by Wm. G. Ellis & Sons, and other manufacturers”).

Allen must have meant the book to be a gift to future generations, and it shows his admiration for his fellow townspeople. The book’s preface calls attention their “industrial habits” and “decided taste for all kinds of manufacturing business” beyond just carriages:

As will be observed, on further perusal of this sketch, the worthy citizens of Amesbury have always displayed industrial habits, they were never idlers, and while many of their neighbors took to agriculture or sea faring pursuits, the towns people showed a decided taste for all kinds of manufacturing business, represented by the woolen and cotton mills, hat factories, together with many items connected with the manufacture of carriages, such as axles, springs, lamps, leather, and many other articles necessary for the work.

Amesbury's Market Square in the 1930s. The sign for J. J. Allen's newspaper distribution business is near the center of the photo.

Amesbury's Market Square in the 1930s. The sign for J. J. Allen's newspaper distribution business is near the center of the photo.

Allen compiled his History in his later years, but his whole life had been preparation for writing it. He participated in the carriage and auto body businesses and town affairs throughout his life, giving him the knowledge and contacts that made this extensive history possible. His wife was Isabel Drummond, whose family was prominent in the Amesbury carriage manufacturing. In his early career, Allen served as a bookkeeper and salesman at Folger and Drummond, a successful carriage manufacturing company. Here he saw the business first-hand.

Later, he went on to gain even more local knowledge during his service as town auditor, treasurer and finance committee member. He was president of the Provident Institution for Savings at one point in his career. For many years, his bookstore in Market Square was the distribution center for morning and afternoon newspapers. Announcing Allen’s retirement as he approached age 80 in 1947, The Amesbury Daily News said, “It is probable that there are none in the town who is known to more people than he.”

It seems that Allen’s fondness for the people of Amesbury was returned. His death notice in The Amesbury Daily News, March 16, 1960, included this tribute:

For with his death this town has lost another link with its past. Something solid has been removed from the everyday scene.... He was a man with the interests of Amesbury closest to his heart.

We and future generations can be grateful for Allen’s work and foresight.

Mike Harrold of the ACM Industrial Survey Team, with help from fellow team member Joyann Reynolds, has compiled a more detailed biography of J. J. Allen, accessible via the Researching Place page of amesburycarriagemuseum.com. Allen’s History of Carriage Making and Automobile Body Building is also available on line or it can viewed at the Amesbury Public Library.

Ron KlodenskiComment