Five Artist’s Views – The Amesbury and Salisbury Millyard from 1792 to Today

by John Mayer
Executive Director, Amesbury Carriage Museum

The shape of our city has been influenced by many factors including changes in industrial operations, development of systems that generate and distribute power, growth of transportation networks, and much more. These elements make the study of Amesbury and any other community so interesting.

To understand and visualize these changes, a study of historical maps will illustrate the story of growth and change. Maps document a particular period and show the location of property boundaries, landscape features, buildings and other man-made elements.

But variations in mapping types and styles don’t allow for comparisons between different periods. Mapping styles change over the years. For teaching purposes, it is difficult to use maps from different periods to clearly illustrate changes to the landscape.

The industrial survey team came up with a clever solution to this issue. Thanks to a talented (and very dedicated) volunteer we now have a series of five views that illustrate the shape of the millyard at different times. Our volunteer Michael Prendergast of Newburyport worked over a year on a series to produce these five renderings. We selected historical maps from different periods and Mike made the renderings with much review, research and discussion.

The selected renderings below illustrate the development of Amesbury from 1792 to today. They are based on historical maps, and a variety of written and visual sources.

A View of the Millyard in 1792

This view shows the millyard in an early, industrial state. Local owners operated mills of different types including 5 sawmills, 7 gristmills, 2 oil mills, a snuff mill and an iron works. The range and density is unique to the region and distinguished Amesbury from other communities. Ownership of a mill privilege allowed the use of the water flow in the river. The types and locations of the mills were determined by deed research and through published descriptions.

This view shows the millyard in an early, industrial state. Local owners operated mills of different types including 5 sawmills, 7 gristmills, 2 oil mills, a snuff mill and an iron works. The range and density is unique to the region and distinguished Amesbury from other communities. Ownership of a mill privilege allowed the use of the water flow in the river. The types and locations of the mills were determined by deed research and through published descriptions.

A View of the Millyard in 1825

This view was drawn from a map found in the collections of the Peabody Essex Museum. Additional study of drawings and photographs, helped render the size of buildings along the river. This view illustrates a time when textile making activities were developing and owners from Boston and other areas began to invest in larger mill operations.  Of note is the nail factory established by Jacob Perkins in 1796.

This view was drawn from a map found in the collections of the Peabody Essex Museum. Additional study of drawings and photographs, helped render the size of buildings along the river. This view illustrates a time when textile making activities were developing and owners from Boston and other areas began to invest in larger mill operations.

Of note is the nail factory established by Jacob Perkins in 1796.

A View of the Millyard in 1849

In this view, investments have allowed for the construction of even larger mills and the area along the river is devoted to the making of textiles. The millyard is slowly developing although there remains a village quality to the area. Mill 2 – now Amesbury Industrial Supply – is the largest building in the millyard.

In this view, investments have allowed for the construction of even larger mills and the area along the river is devoted to the making of textiles. The millyard is slowly developing although there remains a village quality to the area. Mill 2 – now Amesbury Industrial Supply – is the largest building in the millyard.

A View of the Millyard in 1910

This view shows the millyard at the peak of its development. At this time, the Hamilton Woolen Company operated the mills. The buildings create an unbroken wall along the river. Around 1,000 workers were employed in the textile industry at its peak. Two years after this view was made, the Hamilton Company closed their doors bringing an end to textile making in Amesbury.

This view shows the millyard at the peak of its development. At this time, the Hamilton Woolen Company operated the mills. The buildings create an unbroken wall along the river. Around 1,000 workers were employed in the textile industry at its peak. Two years after this view was made, the Hamilton Company closed their doors bringing an end to textile making in Amesbury.

A View of the Millyard in 2019

This view was made using google maps and subtracting buildings that had been in place in 1910. While the change is dramatic, Amesbury has retained a large percentage of the mill buildings. Local owners have filled the buildings with new businesses and operations. Preservation of these structures provides the evidence for the stories that tell our history.

This view was made using google maps and subtracting buildings that had been in place in 1910. While the change is dramatic, Amesbury has retained a large percentage of the mill buildings. Local owners have filled the buildings with new businesses and operations. Preservation of these structures provides the evidence for the stories that tell our history.

We are indebted to Michael Prendergast for the time and effort he devoted to making these maps. As a series, these views help tell the story of industry in Amesbury. We are just beginning to weave the story together. The beauty of history is that there is always more to learn.

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