Where the Powwow River flows into the lower Merrimack, Amesbury is a delightful little city in the far northeast of Massachusetts.
From its earliest days Amesbury had a strong reputation for shipbuilding, and you can tap into this heritage at Lowell’s Boat Shop, still making wooden dories and skiffs by hand.
In the industrial age, the community became a hub for hat making and carriage production. Old brick-built mills from that time pervade the downtown area, and now house an assortment of interesting stores and service businesses
The noted poet and abolitionist, John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) spent most of his life in Amesbury, and his house is now a museum barely altered since the time he lived here.
1. Amesbury Center
With a stately, tree-lined main street and preserved mill building clustered around the Powwow River, downtown Amesbury deserves as much time as you can give it.
The center is laid out on hilly ground, with a swirl of streets and abundant local businesses, many of which have been around for decades.
Crammed into a small radius are galleries, boutiques, antiques shops, a craft brewery, and a surprising diversity of restaurants, from wood-fired flatbread pizzas to white tablecloth Italian.
Along the Powwow’s millrace, your curiosity will draw you into the Millyard, where a cauldron of old textile factories encloses an idyllic outdoor space for live performances and outdoor movie shows in the summer.
Amesbury has a buzzing social calendar, including a giant block party in June to raise the curtain on the summer season and kick off Amesbury Days.
2. John Greenleaf Whittier House
In Amesbury you can tour the house of John Greenleaf Whittier, where the poet and renowned abolitionist wrote much of his poetry and prose, including the beloved Snow-Bound (1866).
The John Greenleaf Whittier House was built in 1811 and was purchased by Whittier in 1836, also serving as a home to his mother, aunt, and sister Eliza, remembered in her own right as a poet and vocal abolitionist.
Most of the original building’s furnishings, decor, and structure are precisely as they were at the time of Whittier’s death, thanks in part to the efforts of his great nephew, who added a second story over the house’s eastern half when he lived here at the turn of the 20th century.
The house is open to the public on Saturdays, May through October, and recently the Amesbury Hat Museum has been added to the tour on the newer second floor.
3. Lowell’s Boat Shop & Museum
This working boat shop on the Merrimack River dates back to 1793 and continues to build traditional dories and skiffs with methods honed by seven generations of the same family.
Lowell’s Boat Shop has a unique spot in New England history, as the birthplace of the fishing dory, developed by founder Simeon Lowell (1745-1830), and refined by his grandson Hiram Lowell (1814-1897).
In the 19th century there was an assembly line at this complex that is thought to have influenced Henry Ford’s mass-production methods.
To illustrate, more than 2,000 boats were made here, by hand, in 1911 alone. You can glimpse more than two centuries of history in these buildings, sporting venerable ship’s knees and support beams, and see traditional skills in practice.
The shop is open for guided tours, and hosts a variety of programs and events in the warmer months.
4. Bartlett Museum
The town museum is set in a charming old building that was originally the Bartlett School, opened in 1870 and then turned into a museum to mark Amesbury’s tricentennial in 1968.
This attraction is open in the afternoons, Friday-Sunday, Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend. The History Room here features Native American artifacts, a timeline of local history, and reproductions of a Victorian parlor and a Colonial kitchen.
In the other rooms you’ll discover cabinets displaying natural history specimens, an exhibit detailing Amesbury’s military heritage, and a preserved 19th-century schoolroom.
On the grounds is a carriage house, with farm tools, machinery and authentic carriages and wagons made in Amesbury.
5. Cider Hill Farm
Dating back to 1978 and spanning three generations of the Cook family, Cider Hill Farm has a picture-perfect setting on a lush hillside. These 145 acres are worked using organic, non-GMO practices, with 90% self-generated electricity via wind turbines and solar panels.
You can visit for a long pick-your-own season, running from April (tulips) to the holiday season (Christmas trees). The peak is summer and fall, with berries, wildflowers, peaches, apples and pumpkins, while hayrides are part of the experience.
The Farm Store brims with delicious items grown and made on the farm or produced locally, and has a bakery loved for its apple cider donuts.
Children will adore the farm, and can use play equipment, meet the goats, feed the chickens and take part in a variety of programs.
6. Macy-Colby House
Amesbury’s first town clerk, Thomas Macy (1608-1682) built this historic house around 1649 before moving on to become an early European settler at Nantucket.
In 1654 he sold it to Anthony Colby, a prominent figure in public life in Amesbury, and the first of nine generations of Colbys to live in this house, before Moses Colby (1822–1901) donated the property to the Bartlett Cemetery Association in 1899.
On Saturdays in the summer you can visit this wonderfully preserved First Period residence, extensively modified in the mid-18th century.
Among many other intriguing items, the house contains Whittier’s Quaker hat, and a cradle that belonged to Amesbury resident Susannah North Martin, a victim of the Salem witch trials, hanged in 1692.
7. Chain Bridge
The country’s oldest continually occupied, long-span bridge crossing is at the south end of Main Street crossing the Merrimack River to Newburyport.
There has been a long-span bridge here since the construction of a timber truss bridge in 1792. A little later, in 1810, this was replaced by the first wrought-iron chain suspension bridge in New England.
That structure collapsed in 1827, and the reconstruction became a model for several other bridges in the region. The bridge, 225 feet in length, was reconstructed again in 1910 as a replica of its predecessor and has come through several renovations, most recently in 2003.
8. Lake Gardner
This 80-acre impoundment on the Powwow River is within walking distance of Amesbury Center, and has been a treasured asset for recreation since the 19th century.
There’s a small beach on the southern shore, with a shallow swimming area, and views spanning the length of the lake. On the eastern side there’s a patchwork of public parks and town-owned conservation areas, accessible via the trail that begins next to the beach.
One, Battis Farm, has more than half a mile of shoreline on Lake Gardner, with a string of secluded coves for swimming or landing kayaks and canoes.
9. Amesbury Riverwalk Trail
Just over a mile long, this well-maintained paved path begins at the Lower Millyard downtown and follows the Powwow River down to the Carriagetown Marketplace off Route 110.
The Amesbury Riverwalk passes through a quiet corner of the town, crossing only one street (Rocky Hill Rd), on the old right-of-way of the Eastern Railroad’s Salisbury-Amesbury Branch, built in 1848.
At several points you’ll see the Powwow River through the trees, and there are several convenient access points, including the parking lot at the eastern trailhead.
10. Brewery Silvaticus
It seems right that one of Amesbury’s 19th-century industrial buildings should be a brewery. You’ll find it at the foot of a towering octagonal chimney that can be seen across Amesbury, with a beer garden that backs onto the Powwow River.
Less IPA-heavy than many craft breweries in the region, Brewery Silvaticus specializes in traditional European beers like German lagers and Belgian farmhouse ales.
On tap when we made this list were two Pilsners, a Kellerbier, three Lagers, a Belgian-style Tripel, and the brewery’s signature Black Lager. Food trucks are often parked outside, and there’s a menu of small bites, like pretzels, hummus, coldcuts, and cheddar cheese sticks.
11. Amesbury Industrial Supply Co.
Visiting a hardware store might not be top of your list of tourist activities, but few hardware stores have a location like the Amesbury Industrial Supply Co.
Part of the Millyard, this is in a former woolen mill dating back to 1825, and built as Mill 2 by the Salisbury Manufacturing Company.
As you browse the store, it’s worth remembering that a hand-dug channel of the Powwow River would have once rushed beneath your feet in the basement, powering two 24-foot water wheels.
It’s reassuring to know that today the store is powered by solar panels on the roof. People swear by Amesbury Industrial Supply Co., founded here in 1973 and known for its massive inventory, stocking or ordering every tool, resource or component you could need.
12. R. E. Kimball & Company
Regularly spotted at farmers’ markets in northeastern Massachusetts, R. E. Kimball & Company makes just about any kind of jam, jelly or fruit preserve you could imagine.
Based in a clapboard building, across the road from an old mill from 1877, the company has been in business since 1955.
There are more than 100 products in the range, from apricot jam to cinnamon apple jelly, all made using traditional recipes, methods and ingredients, including pure cane sugar. The factory and outlet store are open Monday-Friday during normal business hours.
13. Maudslay State Park
A short hop across the Merrimack River to Newburyport, and you’ll be in a turn-of-the-century landscape on the old estate of Frederick Strong Moseley (1852-1938).
He hired the pioneering woman landscape architect, Martha Brookes Hutcheson (1871-1959) to design the splendid grounds, exquisite remnants of which have survived in the form of rhododendron, azalea, lilac, and fruit tree plantings, as well as the grand drives and stone bridges.
Come in early or mid-summer when the park is a riot of color. The 500-acre property has 16 miles of trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing.
A sensational feature is one of the largest naturally occurring stands of mountain laurel in Massachusetts.
14. Amesbury Friends Meeting House
The thriving Amesbury congregation of the Society of Friends is the oldest in the area, dating back to 1657. At that time meetings were held in New Hampshire to escape persecution by the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s Puritans.
The active current Greek Revival building, a little way west of downtown Amesbury, is the fourth meetinghouse, and was completed in 1851.
A practicing Quaker, John Greenleaf Whittier was a driving force behind its construction. His bench has been preserved inside, and is marked with a plaque.
This wood-frame building is larger than a conventional meetinghouse, which is a reflection of its importance as the setting for regional quarterly meetings from its completion up to 1962.
The main chamber has partitions that can be adjusted with pulleys, depending on the occasion—services were attended by the entire congregation, while business meetings in the past were segregated by sex.
15. Amesbury Days
Overlapping with the July 4th holiday, Amesbury Days includes more than a week of activities, events and celebrations, beginning in late June.
The origin of this tradition can be traced back to 1899, when the town’s millworkers were given the day off, which they spent at Lake Gardner. Subsequent Amesbury Days involved outings to the beaches from Hampton to Sailsbury.
Now, there’s a packed schedule of events, including live music performances at the Millyard, open houses, a city-wide yard sale, a block party, a beer & music walk, a kids’ night at Heritage Park, a 5k run and a Pride celebration, all culminating with fireworks and music at Woodsom Farm on July 4th.