Haverhill, MA

A Tale Of Two Cities

Kevin Vitali

textile mills along the Merrimack River in Lowell MAPicryl

Lowell MA and Haverhill MA are two old mill cities aling the Merrimack River in Northeeast Massachusetts.

The similarities between the two cities start with the industrial revolution. Both cities turned from farming communities to industrial powerhouses in a very short period and epitomize the industrial revolution.

Factories and mills built up fast and each downtown area still highlights these old factories and mills. The stone and brick structures fill the downtown and are a reminder of an era gone by.

The Rise and Fall of Two Industrial Cities

Both had their pinnacle in the mid to late 1800s than the decline that many industrial cities in New England went through in the early to mid-1900s as manufacturing moved south to more modern manufacturing facilities and lower costs to manufacture. By 1930 the Great Depression had taken hold and wreaked havoc on these industrial cities.

Haverhill and Lowell were depressed cities for 60-70 years as manufacturing was brought to other areas for economic reasons.

The thriving downtowns filled with commerce and manufactures were all but boarded up until the 1990s when both towns decided to revitalize their floundering downtowns. These old manufacturing cities have used the old mill buildings as their downtown focal points in their revitalized downtown areas.

Today both Lowell and Haverhill offer destination downtowns, with shopping, services and restaurants as well as many residences.

The Role Of The Merrimac River

The Merrimack River played a large role in the early success of these two cities as well as many other in the Merrimac Valley. Lowell relied on the river to power its textile mills and Haverhill was a shipping port even before the start of the shoe industry due to its proximity of the mouth of the river.

Like many of the rivers that were taken advantage of during the industrial age, the Merrimack River had hard times of its own. By 1972 the river was heavily polluted. The Clean Water Act of 1972 helped put the river in better shape for current and future generations.

top of Haverhill MA's DoentownKevin Vitali

Haverhill Massachusetts and Shoe Manufacturing

Haverhill MA built up around the shoe industry and was one of the biggest producers of shoes in the 1800s.

The shoe industry in Haverhill started as a cottage industry in the mid to late 1700s. And by the mid-1800s was reliant on modern manufacturing processes. Many of the old brick and stone buildings in the downtown area are old leather or shoe factories.

By 1925 there were well over 100 shoe manufacturers and over 40 tanneries and leather dealers in the city of Haverhill.

What Brought About the Decline Of The Shoe Industry In Haverhill?

First and foremost, the Great Depression was one of the largest factors in the failure of the Haverhill MA shoemaking industry. But several other factors already had the industry in trouble.

For the longest time shoes were a necessity and the general fashion of the era left shoes covered by the fashion of the time and more of a utility item than a fashion statement.

But as women’s skirts shortened, shoes became more of a fashion statement than just an item of necessity. The Haverhill shoe industry was unprepared for the change.

The last factor was the labor union was strong for the workers in the shoe industry of Haverhill. The labor unions drove up the cost of labor making Haverhill less competitive in the industry.

One last factor was labor costs. The Shoe Industry Union was strong in Haverhill and demanded better working conditions and higher wages. Unfortunately, that left the industry in Haverhill unable to compete with other parts of the country that could produce a lower-priced product.

Living In Haverhill Today

Today with the revitalized business district, Haverhill has a lot to offer. It has maintained the Queen Anne style downtown. But instead of housing manufacturing, you will find many independent shops, galleries and services. The Haverhill MA Real Estate Market in its downtown includes many condos and apartments that still highlight some of the features of the old mill buildings.

The historic downtown also is home to over 25 restaurants all within a short walking distance.

The city of Haverhill is large and can go from a horse farm to a small city all within its borders. It has two commuter rails to Boston and is certainly commutable to Boston as well.

The City Of Lowell And The Textile Industry

Lowell is the Industrial Revolution. Located on the banks of the Merrimac River it was prime for the water power it could bring to the textile industry. It was the first large, planned industrial city in the US.

It was named after Francis Cabot Lowell who was instrumental in bringing the industrial manufacturing of textiles to the US with a system he developed called the Lowell system. His process involved not only providing the manufacturing systems but also a process of hiring younger girls and women from the local farms, housing and feeding them, providing a decent wage and helped them maintain the strict moral code of the time.

Textile mills owned by Cabot could produce 30 miles of textiles a day.

Lowell was initially considered East Chelmsford until it was incorporated as a town in 1826. The city was named after Lowell himself

Before the early 1900s, the textile industry was a cottage industry in Lowell. But as Lowell was formed and industrialized the area went from a population of 2500 to 33,000 in under 30 years.

By 1840 there were over 8,000 “mill girls” in the city.

Smoke Stack at Renaissance on the River- A Lowell Loft communityKevin Vitali

The Demise Of Lowell’s Textile Industry

The demise of the textile industry in Lowell started mid-century as production stopped because of the Civil War. After the market became saturated and large profits were no longer easy to obtain.

The well-paid and well-cared-for mill girls left the factories and were replaced by immigrants that could be hired for less.

By the end of the century, Lowell was competing with mills in the south that had more modern systems, cheaper labor and tax incentives.

Yet, modest prosperity continued until after an uptick during World War l and by the time the Great Depression hit all but a handful of mills had either closed or relocated to the south.

Living In Lowell Today

While many of the factories were demolished there are still many that remain standing.

The historic downtown still has plenty of old mill buildings along the canals. Many of the old mill buildings house independent shops, restaurants and galleries.

There are also several condominium complexes offering loft-style apartments in Lowell. The old Boott Mills complex is a prime example. Not only does it house a textile museum, but it has also taken the old manufacturing facilities and converted them to residences that are available for sale or rent.

Boott Cotton Mills Today- Museum, Lowell Lofts and ApartmentsKevin Vitali


While Haverhill and Lowell Massachusetts fell on hard times after the fall of their manufacturing, they have both made an admirable turnaround by revitalizing their downtown areas.

Both areas provide affordable living opportunities in cities rich in the industrial history of our nation.

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I have been a Massachusetts real estate agent for 20 years. In that time period, I have been an avid blogger writing about real estate-related topics including buying a home selling a home, home improvement and mortgages. Every real estate transaction brings a unique set of challenges to the table. After 20 years I have gained much experience that can be put to use for eash and every real estate client.

Haverhill, MA

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