Return to Content

Historic Amesbury, Massachusetts | A Small-Town Community in the City

Historic Amesbury, Massachusetts, is a complex place, where bucolic country roads snake around historic landmarks bearing the time-worn stamp of the industrial age. Once labeled “The City known as the Town of Amesbury,” this municipality operates under a city-based governance but maintains the presence of a much smaller community. The Powow River carves through the city center, before rushing on to meet the Merrimack River, whose meandering banks mark Amesbury’s southern-most border— both important components of the maritime and mill trades that once powered the city.

downtown Amesbury, Massachusetts

Photo/Art by Brenda Darroch
Like many New England cities and towns, the heart of Amesbury, Massachusetts, sports a gazebo.

I made my way to Amesbury on a sunny Friday afternoon to meet up with local Justin Chase to learn more about this city. He and his lovely wife, Jamie, had the most interesting, if somewhat unconventional, itinerary planned for me: one that would really give me a taste of their hometown’s historic past as it pertained to the industrial revolution, arts and culture, and its residents.

Our first stop was at Camp Bauercrest, a Jewish boys’ summer camp located on a wedge of land rising up from the shore of Lake Attitash, where we met with Director Eric Rightor. Though most buildings were shuttered for the season, he gave us an overview of the camp’s past as we trekked down to the waterfront. So how does this recreational getaway figure into Amesbury’s history? Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of the United States, passed many a happy summer day here when it was a private residence, as the guest of then-owner and Mayor of Lynn, Massachusetts, Ralph S. Bauer.

Camp Bauercrest beneath a blanket of snow.

Photo/Art by Brenda Darroch
Camp Bauercrest beneath a blanket of snow.

Photographs of former campers line the walls at Camp Bauercrest.

Photo/Art by Brenda Darroch
Photographs of former campers line the walls at Camp Bauercrest.

Attitash Lake

Photo/Art by Brenda Darroch
Attitash Lake

From there, we sped along Pleasant Valley Road, trailing the path of the lower Merrimack toward Hatter’s Point. Once home to the Merrimac Hat Company, portions of the stately brick buildings that hug the river’s edge have since been renovated into condos. But that wasn’t our destination. We were headed across the street to R.E. Kimball—makers of small-batch jams, jellies & relishes.  All the items produced at the “Jelly Factory”—nicknamed the “Pickle Palace” in its early days due to the popularity of their watermelon pickle—are made completely by hand in one 75 gallon steam vat. But it’s not that single kettle, the hand-stirring, or even the historic building they occupy that makes this place so special. It’s the tradition of using pure, quality ingredients that the founding family infused into this business, now run by third-generation family members, Kim and Kate Gilbert.

This old-fashioned label stamper was once used for shoe boxes from the Haverhill shoe factories before being retrofitted for jelly jars.

Photo/Art by Brenda Darroch
This old-fashioned label stamper was once used for shoe boxes at the Haverhill shoe factories before being retrofitted for jelly jars.

Jars of jelly and chutney are boxed and shipped from the back of R.E. Kimballs.

Photo/Art by Brenda Darroch
Jars of jelly and chutney are boxed and shipped from the back of R.E. Kimballs.

All the products produces at R.E. Kimballs are hand-stirred in this single vat.

Photo/Art by Justin Chase
All the products produces at R.E. Kimballs are hand-stirred in this single vat.

How do you follow up a visit to the former pickle palace? With a stop at Lowell’s Boat Shop, which has been credited with producing the first fishing dory. Step through the doors, and before you even see the hulking frames of wooden boats taking shape (under the watchful eye of Graham McKay—part boat-building manager, part museum curator), you’re hit with the smell of freshly hewn wood. Now a working museum dedicated to preserving the craft of wooden boat building, Lowell’s was established in 1793, making it the oldest continually operating boat shop in the United States.

Lowell's Boat Shop.

Photo/Art by Brenda Darroch
Lowell’s Boat Shop.

According to my guides, boatshop manager Graham McKay always wears a tweed blazer to work.

Photo/Art by Brenda Darroch
According to my guides, boatshop manager Graham McKay always wears a tweed blazer to work.

Niki, the boat shop dog, may have the best gig in the place.

Photo/Art by Brenda Darroch
Niki, the boat shop dog, may have the best gig in the place and certainly the best “office” view.

With our stomachs rumbling, we left the river’s edge for the Millyard—a cluster of 19th century buildings that once supported Amesbury’s textile industry—to grab a bite to eat. Flatbread Pizza opened its doors in Amesbury, Massachusetts, in 1998, offering “real food, served by real people, in a real environment.” While tempted to gobble our pies up, Jamie managed to save some for the ducks who paddle along the placid surface of the Powow before it tumbles over the crest of the waterfall and into the chute that curves between the historic mill buildings.

Historic mill buildings curve along the Powow River.

Photo/Art by Brenda Darroch
Historic mill buildings curve along the Powow River.

Rows of neatly stacked firewood line the walk to Flabread Pizza.

Photo/Art by Brenda Darroch
Neatly stacked rows of firewood line the walk to Flabread Pizza.

Mallard ducks crowd the walkway alongside the Powow River.

Photo/Art by Brenda Darroch
Mallard ducks crowd the walkway alongside the Powow River.

Having fed as many ducks as possible while saving a few slices for later, we wended our way around to an 1800s era mill building on High Street that now houses Amesbury Industrial Supply, a massive hardware store. I have to admit that visiting a hardware store while exploring a town is a first for me, but it all made sense once I met 2nd-generation proprietor Greg Jardis. Sure, he’s a character and I suspect people pop in to his store just to chew the fat with him, but it’s his company philosophy that illustrates the connection Amesbury residents feel for their city’s heritage. While not everything in the store is, or can be, manufactured in the United States, they carry as many American-made products as possible. Our ancestors built this city with their labor to provide a better life for future generations, Greg tells me, so why would we turn away from that to save a few pennies at a big box store that fills its shelves with products made in other countries? Why, indeed?

Greg Jardis displays some of the goods available at Amesbury Industrial.

Photo/Art by Brenda Darroch
Greg Jardis displays some of the goods available at Amesbury Industrial.

What's so special about this brick? It's signed by Robert Patten, the Master Mason who built the building Amesbury Industrial now occupies. Masons traditionally scratched their names into a brick laid on the East side of a building.

Photo/Art by Brenda Darroch
What’s so special about this brick? It’s signed by Robert Patten, the Master Mason who constructed the building Amesbury Industrial now occupies. Masons traditionally scratched their names into a brick laid on the East side of a building.

A view of the mill buildings that surround Amesbury Industrial.

Photo/Art by Brenda Darroch
A view of the mill buildings that surround Amesbury Industrial.

We could have whiled away several hours volleying “do you have…” inventory questions at Greg, but Bob Schledwitz was waiting for us, ready to open up the John Greenleaf Whittier Home to give us a tour. Open to the public between May and October (check hours of operation before visiting), the museum gives visitors a chance to observe the house as it would have appeared between 1836 and 1892 when Whittier (along with his mother, aunt, and younger sister) was living there, penning several of his most famous works—some poetic in nature, others advocating against the evils of slavery.

John Greenleaf Whittier House

Photo/Art by Brenda Darroch
John Greenleaf Whittier House

Step inside this room, and you can almost imagine John Greenleaf Whittier working away at the desk.

Photo/Art by Brenda Darroch
Step inside this room, and you can almost imagine John Greenleaf Whittier working away at the desk.

You may have known Whittier as an author and an abolitionist, but he was also a Quaker, and so our next stop was to the Friends Meeting House, “Where Whittier Worshipped.” Justin’s mother, Paula Chase, was on hand to show us around the simple white building. You might think the structure plain were it not for the luxuriously over-sized windows that allow a flood of sunlight to sweep through its two main rooms, imbuing it with a sense of peace and well being. The Amesbury Quakers are an active group in the community, working to improve the lives of others through charity work and peaceful protests.

Friends Meeting House -- "Where Whittier Worshipped"

Photo/Art by Brenda Darroch
Friends Meeting House — “Where Whittier Worshipped”

Friends Meeting House

Photo/Art by Brenda Darroch
The partition to the right can be cranked upward to join the two main rooms a the Friends Meeting House.

We couldn’t wrap up our tour without visiting two places that operate at the heart of the community. The Amesbury Public Library, where John Greenleaf Whittier served as one of the first trustees and book curators, and Our Neighbor’s Table, a non-profit organization dedicated to feeding those in need. Justin and Jamie, along with their two boys Derek (7) and Bradley (6), are so committed to the mission of Our Neighbor’s Table that they volunteer there as a family, and last Christmas their oldest son Derek asked Santa to donate food for the organization rather than a gift for himself.  Santa delivered and managed to sneak a toy or two in as well.

The Amesbury Library is a community gathering spot.

Photo/Art by Brenda Darroch
The Amesbury Library is a community gathering spot.

With the sun just starting to fade behind the tree tops, our very unusual tour wrapped up. Have you figured out what all of these establishments had in common for Justin to choose them for our outing? All are anchored in traditions that celebrate Amesbury, Massachusetts’ sense of history, community, and even that old Yankee work ethic.

Please Note: This article was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Brenda Darroch

Author:

Brenda Darroch

Biography:

Digital Editor Brenda Darroch creates and manages content for YankeeMagazine.com, YankeeFoliage.com, e-newsletters, and Yankee's search and social media initiatives. Follow Brenda Darroch on !
Yankee Magazine Advertising

Bring New England Home
plus, get the Tablet Edition FREE!

In this issue: A Real New England Christmas

  • Vintage Decorating Tips
  • Mission to Maine's Islands
  • Norman Rockwell's Stockbridge
  • Bonus! Holiday Cookbook
Subscribe Today and Save 44%

29 Responses to Historic Amesbury, Massachusetts | A Small-Town Community in the City

  1. Kathy March 21, 2014 at 1:48 pm #

    Why wasn’t there photographs of the historical hat factory or the Carriage museum? Or Lebaron Bonney? There is a lot of history in Amesbury. So much more that should have been included.
    The man who created Lil Abner, AL CAPP, was from Amesbury. You did not include that either.

    • Brenda Darroch March 21, 2014 at 1:53 pm #

      Hi Kathy,
      Thanks for your comment. As much as we would like to visit and include everything a town has to offer, there just isn’t enough time to see and do it all in a day.

  2. Sharon L Walker Fox March 21, 2014 at 1:50 pm #

    What a lovely article on Amesbury Ma! Love Love Love this area of New England where I was born (Newburyport) and brought up. My mother was from Amesbury and being Newbuyports Next door neighbor we spent alot of time there when growing up. Amesbury and Newburyport are football rivals and have the game of the year on Thanksgiving Day. And yes, my mother from Amesbury married a boy, my dad from Newburyport! This happens frequently. In closing thank you for highlighting this area frequently in your wonderful Yankee magazine! I look forward to each issue, for it reminds me of home, I may live in Ohio but my heart and soul remain in Newburyport – forever HOME!

    • Brenda Darroch March 24, 2014 at 10:41 am #

      Thank you for taking the time to leave me such a lovely comment, Sharon!

  3. Christine Green March 21, 2014 at 1:51 pm #

    Great article about my beloved city! But curious to not see a carriage or mention of Amesbury as the Carriage Center of the World. We have a rich history as the center of carriage manufacturing as well as early “horseless carriages!” There is so much to learn and see about Amesbury, it obviously can’t all be included in one article! Come back again once Heritage Park and the Carriage Museum is complete! Thanks so much for telling New England about our gem of a city!

    • Brenda Darroch March 21, 2014 at 1:59 pm #

      Hi Christine,
      I focused on the the places we visited that day. I think I could probably spend a week there and not see or do it all.

      • Christine Green March 21, 2014 at 5:37 pm #

        That’s for sure. We hope you’ll come back next year! Thanks again!

  4. Marie March 21, 2014 at 3:47 pm #

    Brenda and Yankee Magazine,

    Thank you for the wonderful article about our little Northshore city. Amesbury is an fabulous place to reside, hosting multiple water-bodies, fields and forests, as well as an incredibly rich history. Thanks for showing the not-so-known aspects of this awesome place, rather than the same-old carriage stuff. It was fun to read about places I’ve never been, even though I live here. Pickle Palace?!

    • Brenda Darroch March 24, 2014 at 10:41 am #

      Thanks, Marie!

  5. Justin Chase March 21, 2014 at 4:04 pm #

    Beautifully written, Brenda. You did a wonderful job showcasing some of our town’s hidden gems. Thank you very much for writing this lovely article.

    • Brenda Darroch March 24, 2014 at 10:42 am #

      You were a wonderful tour guide, Justin!

  6. Edward Mair March 21, 2014 at 5:17 pm #

    Hi Brenda,

    I grew up in Northampton, MA often playing in the Smith botanical garden and I now live in Newburyport and am a member of the Amesbury Friends Meeting. I have visited Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord several times and have ancestors buried in the Charter Street burial ground in Salem. Yeah, I have been to Boston too! I have always enjoed Yankee Magazine and think this is a good protrait of Amesbury even though it doesn’t mention carriages, the huge Catholic work force for the factories, etc.

    • Brenda Darroch March 24, 2014 at 10:43 am #

      It sounds like you’re a true Yankee, Edward!

  7. Emily D. March 22, 2014 at 7:16 am #

    We moved to Amesbury almost 6 years ago and haven’t looked back. We are so happy to call this wonderful town/city home. You did a beautiful job of capturing some of the wonderful places in Amesbury. Thanks for featuring my “new” hometown!

    • Brenda Darroch March 24, 2014 at 10:44 am #

      It seems like a wonderful community, Emily. Where did you live before Amesbury?

  8. Ellen Sullivan March 22, 2014 at 9:17 am #

    We also have a TWO fabulous farms open to the public for walking (dogs welcome) and and another swimming lake. right behind downtown.

    the millyard has the most beautiful waterfall. so please come back.!!!!!!

  9. Colleen schmidt March 22, 2014 at 10:47 am #

    How about the park where Washington trained troops during the revolutionary war, powder house where they hid gun powder from the British, the statue of Josiah Bartlett signer of the Declaration of Independence and future governor of NH? Or the witch sent to the Salem witch trials?

    • Brenda Darroch March 24, 2014 at 10:46 am #

      I wish there were time to see and do everything, Colleen.

  10. Christine Cohen March 22, 2014 at 11:11 am #

    Wow, I really enjoyed this piece, because as a 14 year resident from Rockport, Mass I had NO idea about some of which you featured.

    Your article really informed me about my amazing town in a new way – so thank you. I moved to Amesbury from Marblehead and grew up in Rockport. I have seen towns that inherited a picturesque town as a bonus for residence….Amesbury does that and MORE. Amesbury exudes HARD WORK.

    Amesbury has historical nuggets at every corner. Robert Frost and Amelia Earnhardt have walked our streets. The historic homes in our registry also are truly gifts to all of us, and their preservation is so important.

    I’m not disappointed that some facts were missing, because honestly, our town is filled with so many treasures most towns do not have. As Amesbury struggles financially, and as our shops close – I’m always so fascinated and proud that they are not shuddered long. We WANT our town to thrive and I give big kudos to the folks of my town…Amesbury has so much to offer. Thank you, Yankee Magazine for coming for a tour. It really made my day reading this article!

    • Brenda Darroch March 24, 2014 at 10:48 am #

      Thanks, Christine. There’s a lot of heart in Amesbury. It’s a very impressive place.

  11. Ari Herzog March 25, 2014 at 6:16 pm #

    Thanks for writing in first person. I’m accustomed to reading travel essays that are third person and it’s not as personal for me. I live across the river in Newburyport (which Yankee has also profiled in the past) and the two communities share a treasure chest of history, culture, and tourism. Hope you come back!

    • Brenda Darroch March 26, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

      Thanks, Ari. I’m beginning to realize just how intertwined the communities of Newburyport and Amesbury, Massachusetts, are!

  12. Karl Shook March 26, 2014 at 9:23 am #

    Great article Brenda. I was born and brought up in Amesbury and actually worked for a summer at the Merrimac Hat Shop the year I graduated high school. After a hitch in the Air Force and a few years living in Salisbury, I married a Newburyport girl and lived there for 46 years in the house we built. Last year we sold out and moved back to Amesbury where we will, no doubt stay for the rest of our lives. Who says you can’t go home again?
    Thanks,
    Karl Shook

    • Brenda Darroch March 26, 2014 at 3:06 pm #

      How wonderful to be able to return home, Karl!

  13. Royal Feltner March 29, 2014 at 9:43 am #

    I really enjoyed your article. Amesbury is a great little city that has been the center of the American industries from its beginning in 1654 to 1960. In most cases, it was the first, the most, and the best. Thanks for visiting us and come back again

  14. Rita Walker April 26, 2014 at 7:35 pm #

    I was born and lived in Beverly for 79 years before I moved to “Brooksby Village” some 12 years ago. I loved Beverly so much…I thought I could never leave. My daughter married a man from Amesbury, and it naturally followed that Amesbury would become their hometown. I hated to see them leave our area. To me Amesbury was soooo far away. Little did I know what a charming place it turned out to be. My daughter e-mailed your story to me today, and I must say you have such a lovely way of portraying that quaint city. I’m wheelchair-bound now but the photos of places I’ve never visited, made it all seem so real. Many thanks. I hope you will continue to spread the word about all the historic cities and towns that still await your visit, Perhaps Beverly, (my hometown) could be placed on your list. I would love that.

    • Brenda Darroch April 28, 2014 at 11:05 am #

      Thank you for your wonderful comments, Rita. You never know where we’ll turn up next!

  15. Muriel Francoeur Giard April 27, 2014 at 5:10 pm #

    My Dad’s family came to Amesbury in the early 1900′s and our family moved to NH in 1964. I love Amesbury and it has many interesting places. You should give it another look. The carriage industry I am sure would provide a good place to start. While I like Flatbreads it is certainly not part of the town’s history.

Leave a Reply

We reserve the right to remove or edit comments that are offensive or disrespectful to our readers and/or writers, cannot be verified, lack clarity, or contain profanity. Your comments may be republished by Yankee Magazine across multiple platforms.

Register Sign In

©2013, Yankee Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Yankee Publishing Inc., | P.O. Box 520, Dublin, NH 03444 | (603) 563-8111

reader-survey-2014-600x350