The Merrimack River

The Merrimack River runs from the Lakes Region in New Hampshire to the Atlantic Ocean.   Source to Sea it’s roughly 117 miles long from the confluence of the Pemigewasset and Winnipesaukee rivers at Franklin, NH to the mouth at Newburyport, Massachusetts.  This stretch of river has served as a source of food, commerce and transportation for thousands of years.  Depending on who you believe, the name is derived from Native American words merruh and auke, which together mean “the place of strong current”.  The Merrimack lives up to that name.

The powerful current of the Merrimack drew the attention of the Boston Associates, who expanded their manufacturing operations from Waltham to the Pawtucket Falls in what was East Chelmsford, and soon would be known as Lowell (named after the founder of Boston Associates, John Cabot Lowell).  The massive success of the textile mills in Lowell was quickly duplicated in other locations along the Merrimack, sprouting the cities of Lawrence and Haverhill in Massachusetts, and Manchester and Concord in New Hampshire.

The explosive growth of colonial expansion and then the textile industry transformed the Merrimack River from sleepy Native American fishing villages to massive red brick cities connected by an increasing network of roads.  Dams and canals have changed the flow of the river and impacted the migration of salmon.  In many ways the river has changed forever from what it was in the early 17th century, but much of the river looks essentially the same as it did 400 years ago.

If 60% of an adult man’s body is made of water, then much of mine is Merrimack.  I’ve lived most of my life in the Merrimack Valley, spent my college years rowing between Lowell and Nashua, visiting my father’s home along the river in Franklin, hiking the old Native American trail network from Lowell to Andover and now sailing out of Newburyport.  The brook in my backyard flows into the Spicket River, which in turn flows into the Merrimack River in Lawrence.  The Merrimack River continues to shape me, as it shapes the eastern border between New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

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