The Merrimack Valley is a bi-state region along the Merrimack River in the states of New Hampshire and Massachusetts, United States. The Merrimack is one of the larger waterways in the New England region and has helped define the livelihood and culture of those living along it since native times.
Major cities in the Merrimack Valley include Concord, Manchester and Nashua in New Hampshire, as well as Lowell, Lawrence, Haverhill and Newburyport in Massachusetts. The Merrimack Valley was a major center of the textile industry in America during the 19th century — Lowell in particular.
In New Hampshire, the Merrimack Valley Region is an area of south-central portion of the state, approximately 35 miles (56 km) wide, centered on the Merrimack River and running from Canterbury south to the Massachusetts border. Henniker marks the western extent, and Nottingham the east. It includes portions of Hillsborough, Rockingham and Merrimack counties.
The state capital of Concord, and the state’s two largest cities, Manchester and Nashua are located within the valley. Manchester boasts a large regional airport, with scheduled commercial services. Other notable towns and cities in the region include Merrimack, Salem and Derry.
To the east is the Seacoast Region, to the west is the Monadnock Region, and the Lakes Region is to the north.
Interstate 93 bisects the region which is also served by Interstate 293, U.S. Route 3 and many New Hampshire state highways.
The original settlers of the Merrimack Valley were various tribes of the Pennacook Indians. The river provided an easy means of transportation, an exceptional source of salmon as well as other fish, and the land along the river banks was suitable for hunting and sometimes farming. However, much of the soil is full of granite, and the pine forests provide poor soil.
Colonization and the Early Federal Period
The earliest European records of the river date to a French expedition under Pierre du Guast, Sieur de Monts, in 1605. By 1629, the British were moving into the area, and a land grant delineated by the river was made to a Jonathan Wheelwright in 1629.
The city of Newburyport, first settled in 1635, at the river’s mouth, became an important shipbuilding center during the colonial era, using lumber floated downriver from the White Mountains. Its prominence was diminished when the Middlesex Canal was completed in the first quarter of the 19th century, allowing lumber to be shipped directly downriver from the White Mountains to Charlestown, Massachusetts, and improving connections between Boston and the Merrimack Valley. Prior to this time, other small canals had been built around falls and rapids to make the Merrimack navigable, such as the Pawtucket Canal at East Chelmsford, which became Lowell.
The Industrial Revolution
While the Merrimack had been used for small manufacturing concerns for decades, in the early 1820s, a group of investors from Boston founded the city of Lowell, to take advantage of the 32-foot (9.8 m) drop of the Merrimack over the Pawtucket Falls. Lowell, the first large-scale planned textile center in America, remained the nation’s largest into the 1850s. Textile production spread up and down the Merrimack Valley in both states for the next century, but eventually was eclipsed after the Second World War.
Manchester’s Amoskeag Mills was once the largest cotton textile plant in the world. Other major textile companies based in the Merrimack Valley included the Merrimack Manufacturing Company in Lowell, the American Woolen Company in Lawrence (headquarters moved to Andover in 1919), Pemberton Mill in Lawrence, and the Nashua Manufacturing Company in its namesake city. Lawrence was the site of the Bread and Roses strike, a landmark event in the history of labor relations in the United States.
Merrimack River watershed
After World War II, the textile industry collapsed rapidly. After a few decades of stagnation, the “Massachusetts Miracle” came to the valley, bringing the headquarters of Wang Laboratories to Tewksbury, then Lowell. Apollo Computer located in Chelmsford and Nashua Corporation in Nashua moved beyond printing to computer products. The defense industry, for example, Raytheon in various sites and Sanders Associates in Nashua, became a major local employer. Increased development pressure from Greater Boston and the proliferation of the automobile pushed development outside of Massachusetts Route 128 to Interstate 495 and up Routes 3 and 93 into southern New Hampshire, greatly increasing the populations of these communities over the postwar years.
The Merrimack River Valley is considered the Valley of the Poets by some local artists and poets.
Anne Dudley Bradstreet was a founding mother of three towns in the Massachusetts Bay Colony: Boston, Cambridge (then Newtowne), and the original Andover Parish, known now as North Andover, where she lived and wrote for the last half of her life. The first published poet of the New World, she died in North Andover in 1672.
In Haverhill and Amesbury, the family of John Greenleaf Whittier settled. Mr. Whittier was so well thought of during his lifetime, his birthday was celebrated as a national holiday.
Lawrence is the birthplace of actress Thelma Todd, composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein and actor/singer Robert Goulet. Robert Frost spent his teenage years there, as did his future wife, Elinor Miriam White. They were co-valedictorians (1892) at Lawrence High School. Actress Bette Davis and the writer Jack Kerouac were born in Lowell.
The Merrimack Valley is one of the few places in the United States where the card game Forty-fives is popular.
- Bear Brook State Park
- Canobie Lake Park, an amusement park
- McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center, a planetarium/air and space museum
- New Hampshire Historical Society Museum
- New Hampshire State House
- Pawtuckaway State Park
- Robert Frost Farm, a state historic park
- Silver Lake State Park
Institutions of higher education include:
- Daniel Webster College, Nashua
- New Hampshire Institute of Art, Manchester
- Rivier University, Nashua
- Saint Anselm College, Goffstown
- Southern New Hampshire University, Manchester and Hooksett
- University of New Hampshire at Manchester
- University of New Hampshire School of Law, Concord