Merrimac, Massachusetts

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Merrimac is a town located in the county of Essex in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, USA along the Merrimack River (sometimes called the Merrimac River). Essex County, like many counties in Massachusetts, has no major administrative functions over the town, which, like most towns in Massachusetts, practices a limited form of home rule. As of the 2000 census, the town had a total population of 6,138.

Merrimac is also located on the border of the U.S. state of New Hampshire.

Contents

Description

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Merrimac Square as seen from the corner of Church Street and Main during the winter.

A town in Northeastern Massachusetts, Merrimac is located on the northern shore of the Merrimack River. It was known for its horse-drawn carriage industry during the latter part of the 1800s and the Industrial Revolution, which, in the United States, found one of its seeds in nearby Lowell, Massachusetts. It is now known as a relatively sleepy, residential community. Its town center consists of the typical brick buildings and Victorian architecture of the late-19th century. Much of the town's population surrounds this center, with the old part of the town bordering the shore of the Merrimack River. The older and newer parts of the town, which are the more affluent and middle-to-lower class parts of the town respectively, are divided by Interstate 495, which roughly follows the river. Merrimac is located on exit 53 of this interstate highway, though it also shares exit 52 with the city of Haverhill, Massachusetts.

Today, Merrimac is a typical and small New England community. However, it has gone through numerous growth spurts throughout the 1990s and the turn of the 21st century, with the construction of several new residential developments, much to the lament of the greater community, and namely due to the provisions of Chapter 40B of Massachusetts General Law (M.G.L.).

Merrimac is also the home of the world-famous hamburger restaurant known as Skip's Hamburgers.

History

Note: Merrimac was not incorporated as a town until 1876. Before then, it was a part of Amesbury known as West Amesbury. For the sake of clarity, however, it shall be referred to as Merrimac in this article.

Merrimac, or namely the village of Merrimacport, was first settled in 1638 and was officially incorporated in 1876. It is believed that the town, as well as the river that runs through it, are both named for the American Indian tribe that occupied the region. "Merrimac" (or Merrimack) means "swift water place" in the language of this tribe.

Like most towns in New England, Merrimac supported the American War of Independence with men-at-arms.

Though it began as a shipbuilding and fishing port along the Merrimack River, the arrival of the Industrial Revolution and the mill-powered factory permanently changed the town. The center of the town shifted from Merrimacport to a newly-developing village, Merrimac center (see Merrimac Square), which was dotted with many carriage-manufacturing factories.

During the American Civil War, Company E of the Fourteenth Massachusetts was composed of men from Merrimac; they were stationed for some time at Fort Albany, Virginia, near Washington, DC.

Throughought the 19th century, Merrimac's economy principally relied on carriage manufacturing and various other forms of industry.

The Massachusetts Gazetteer of 1890 (Rev. Elias Nason, M.A.; revised and enlarged by George J. Varney. Boston: B.B. Russell. 1890, 724 pages) describes Merrimac in the following fashion:

Merrimac is a thrifty and attractive manufacturing town situated on the north bank of the Merrimack River, and bounded by Amesbury on the east, West Newbury and Haverhill on the south, and Newton in New Hampshire on the northwest and north. The West Amesbury (Merrimac) Branch Railroad connects this town with the Western Division of the Boston and Maine Railroad. The villages are Merrimac, near the centre, Merrimacport on the river, and Birchdale, near Amesbury. The first two are post-offices. The assessed area of the town is 4,969 acres [20 km²], including 786 acres [3 km²] of woodland. The town is pleasantly diversified with hill, valley and plain, with a fine pond (Kimball's) at the northeast side, 90 feet [30 m] above the sea, and covering 498 acres [2 km²]. From it flows Powow River, forming the divisional line with Amesbury, and turning several mills in that town. There is an extensive plain near the central village, marked by a meeting-house, and a burying-ground, noted for the old fort and the militia trainings; and another plain equally large near the eastern cemetery, noted for great trainings and Indian relics. Brandybrow Hill, west, and Red Oak Hill, north of the centre, are the chief elevations, and afford extensive and beautiful views. The geological formation is chiefly Merrimack schist. The noble Merrimack River makes a deep curve in the southern side of the town. It is navigable for schooners to Merrimac; and during the warmer part of the year it presents an animated scene, from numerous sailing crafts and small steamers bearing pleasure parties from the busy cities above to favorite points on the river, or out on the sea. Cobbler's Brook, gathering its waters in the northwestern part of the town, flows through both villages to the large river, furnishing valuable power. The principal business is carriage-making, in the different departments of which, in numerous shops, some 500 men are engaged. The aggregate value of the product in the last State census year (1885) was $621,935. There were also a boot and shoe factory employing 16 persons; two saw mills, a tannery, an earthenware factory, a printing office and others. The food preparations amounted to $24,100. The value of the aggregate manufactures of the town was $708,498. The product of the 50 farms amounted to $44,084. There is a national bank with a capital of $ 200,000; and the Merrimack Savings Bank, at the beginning of the present year, held deposits to the amount of $400,996. The valuation in 1888 was $1,337,739, with a taxation of $18 on $1,000.
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Remnants of Merrimac's industrial past: the Lynn Sign factory.

The dwelling-houses numbered 492; the population 2,378, including 641 legal voters. The town-hall, a handsome building with a tower containing a clock, and costing about $25,060, was presented by William P. Sargent, Esq., a wealthy carriage manufacturer of the town, but residing in Boston. The public library, opened in 1877, had in 1885, 4,000 volumes. A further source of entertainment and instruction is the 'Budget,' issued weekly. The town has primary, grammar and high schools, occupying eight buildings, valued at nearly $20,000. The Congregationalists, Baptists and Universalists each have a church edifice at the centre village, and the Methodists and Baptists have each one at Merrimacport.

The Congregational church here was organized in 1726. This town was formerly the west parish of Amesbury, and was set off and incorporated, April 11, 1876.

With the introduction of the automobile in the early 20th century, the carriage became obsolete, and Merrimac became a mainly residential community. Only a few of its former 40 separate carriage factories exist, and are used for other purposes today.

Merrimac, along with its many surrounding communities, was known as a blue-collar community well into the 20th century. Only recently has the entire town begun to experience gentrification.

Places

Events

Merrimac is home to several regional events:

  • The Merrimac Santa Parade
  • Merrimac Old Home Days

Government

Merrimac's local government is composed of an open New England town meeting. Three selectmen are elected to administer the government, but all major decisions, as well as many minor decisions, are handled during the town's annual town meeting, as well as special town meetings, if required. Per the constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, any resident of Merrimac may introduce legislation with the support of 10 registered voters.

Education

The following schools serve the town of Merrimac. All of the regional schools, however, are located in neighborhing West Newbury, Massachusetts.

  • Frederick N. Sweetsir School
  • Helen R. Donaghue School
  • Pentucket Regional Middle School
  • Pentucket Regional High School
  • Pentucket Regional School District

Geography

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 22.9 km² (8.8 mi²). 22.1 km² (8.5 mi²) of it is land and 0.8 km² (0.3 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 3.40% water.

Merrimac is bordered by the following towns and cities:

Demographics

As of the census2 of 2000, there are 6,138 people, 2,233 households, and 1,699 families residing in the town. The population density is 277.8/km² (719.6/mi²). There are 2,295 housing units at an average density of 103.9/km² (269.1/mi²). The racial makeup of the town is 98.27% White, 0.39% African American, 0.11% Native American, 0.28% Asian, 0.00% Pacific Islander, 0.29% from other races, and 0.65% from two or more races. 0.90% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There are 2,233 households out of which 40.6% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 62.8% are married couples living together, 10.3% have a female householder with no husband present, and 23.9% are non-families. 19.8% of all households are made up of individuals and 9.2% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.73 and the average family size is 3.16.

In the town the population is spread out with 29.0% under the age of 18, 5.0% from 18 to 24, 31.4% from 25 to 44, 23.6% from 45 to 64, and 11.0% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 37 years. For every 100 females there are 94.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 90.5 males.

The median income for a household in the town is $58,692, and the median income for a family is $69,118. Males have a median income of $48,718 versus $35,325 for females. The per capita income for the town is $24,869. 2.7% of the population and 1.9% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 0.7% of those under the age of 18 and 7.7% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.

Famous Merrimacians

  • Frank E. Pease, distinguished carriage manufacturer
  • George Warren Weymouth, U.S. Representative (1897-1901); former student of Merrimac High School (now nonexistent)
  • Ephraim Morse, founder of the Bank of San Diego, California in 1870, instrumental figure in the development of San Diego as a city

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