In the 19th and early 20th century, three philanthropists left an impression on this city in Essex County that lingers to this day.
More than a century after they died, David Nevins Sr. (1809-1881), Edward F. Searles (1841-1920) and Charles H. Tenney (1842-1919) are names that come up time and again in Methuen.
The trio left behind monuments, parks, a library, a music hall and more, and so great was their contribution that downtown Methuen’s historic district bears their names.
Methuen was first settled in the 1640s, and was a center for industry in the 19th century, producing hats and shoes at mills along the Spicket River.
A railroad built at that time has been turned into a multi-use path, connecting with other paths like the Spicket River Greenway, leading to downtown Lawrence.
1. Methuen Memorial Music Hall
Any classical music enthusiast should make sure to catch a concert or recital at this magnificent venue gifted to the city by Edward Francis Searles in 1909.
Searles was an architect and interior designer who inherited his wife, Mary Hopkins Searle’s immense real estate holdings after she died in 1891.
The Methuen Memorial Music Hall was one of several philanthropic projects around the city, and was built specifically to house The Great Organ.
Still intact, this instrument was built in Ludwigsburg, Germany in 1863 for the Boston Music Hall, and was purchased at auction by Searles around 1897.
The building is a medley of styles, with a Baroque Revival Anglo-Dutch gable and a fine Italianate campanile, with English Baroque details inside.
2. Greycourt State Park
A dominant figure in 19th-century Methuen, the hat manufacturer Charles H. Tenney (1842-1919) built Grey Court, his lavish summer home on a 24-acre hilltop estate behind the City Hall.
This was built in the 1890s, with a design inspired by the Château de Montaigne in Dordogne, while the grounds were designed by prominent Boston landscape architect Ernest Bowditch (1850-1918).
The mansion burned down in 1978, and you can explore interesting vestiges littering the state park that was established on the grounds in 2001.
A backdrop for annual events, this is a lovely place for a walk and picnic, and there are distant panoramas from the hilltop when the trees are bare in winter.
3. Searles Tenney Nevins Historic District
Downtown Methuen is within an historic district created by the city in 1992 to safeguard its rare 19th-century townscape.
The name comes from three philanthropic figures regarded as Methuen’s fathers. These are the textile industrialist David Nevins Sr., architect and inheritor Edward F. Searles and hat manufacturer Charles H. Tenney.
In a spectrum of styles from Federal to Colonial Revival, there’s an startling diversity of historic buildings in the district, including textile mills, isolated commercial buildings, a wealth of beautiful old residences and a raft of institutional buildings, many with close ties to Nevins, Searles and Tenney.
As well as Searles’ Memorial Music Hall, look out for the English Revival Old Town Hall (1853), the Gothic Revival First Church Congregational (1855), the Central Fire Station (1899) and the Jacobethan City Hall/Searles Building (1904).
4. Methuen Museum of History
Since 2017 the restored Tenney Gatehouse, at the entrance to Greycourt State Park, is home to the Methuen Historical Society, filled with displays, exhibits and interesting artifacts from the city’s past.
There are separate rooms for David Nevins Sr., Edward F. Searles and Charles H. Tenney, each providing detailed background about these figures and outlining their many contributions to Methuen.
The museum also takes a look at life in early Methuen in the 17th, 18th and early 19th century, and profiles the prominent Whittier family, which sold the Greycourt estate to Tenney in 1882.
This building was in fact the Whittier residence before being converted into a gatehouse by its new owner.
5. Methuen Rail Trail
Running through the heart of Methuen, the abandoned Boston and Maine Manchester and Lawrence Railroad corridor through Methuen has been turned into a trail for walking, jogging and bicycling.
The trail is just shy of 2.5 miles long, and passes through previously inaccessible land like the Nevins Bird Sanctuary (more later).
The Methuen Rail Trail is a link between the Spicket River Greenway into Lawrence and the Salem Rail Trail in NH. At the corner of Union and Railroad Street you’ll pass the preserved Methuen Railroad Depot, constructed in 1907.
The southern trailhead at Manchester Street Park is a good place to recharge, with picnic tables and a children’s playground.
6. Nevins Memorial Library
A gift from the Nevins family to commemorate David Nevins Sr., this Romanesque Revival library was completed in 1883, and has exceptional stained glass.
The Nevins Memorial Library sits in eight acres of parkland, and has always been a key local resource for personal growth, education and community engagement in Methuen and for neighboring towns.
That spirit is kept alive in the 21st century with free Wi-Fi access, media subscriptions, museum passes, numerous services for children and teens, and a packed schedule of events.
Mostly kept in storage, the library also has a vast inventory of manuscripts, objets d’art, vital records and genealogical resources. On Fridays in summer through October there’s a farmers’ market on the front lawn, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
7. Jay-Gees Ice Cream & Fun Center
If you’re in need of something for kids to do in summer, there’s a family entertainment center, backing onto the Merrimack River and anchored by an ice cream shop.
Jay-Gees Ice Cream & Fun Center has an 18-hole mini golf course, bumper boats, batting cages, go karts, an arcade and bumper cars.
This attraction caters to children’s birthday parties in 90-minute slots. For a sweet treat you can just stop by the row of windows for an almost bewildering menu of homemade hard ice cream flavors, from almond joy to vanilla brownie.
8. Nevins Bird Sanctuary
The Methuen Rail Trail passes through this 18-acre parcel of wetlands on the Spicket River. This land is part of the bequest by the last Nevin heir, Harriet F. Blackburn Nevin (1841-1929), who was known for her love for animals as a key benefactor for the MSPCA.
This landscape of marsh and woods was once a popular recreation area, but can now only be reached via the rail trail.
You pause here for a while to survey the landscape, and spot birds including green heron, great blue heron, red hawk, American bittern, spotted sandpiper, chimney swifts, mallards and wood ducks.
In Methuen you’re moments from Lawrence, with a groundbreaking 19th-century planned cityscape on an awe-inspiring scale.
In the 1840s this land was purchased by a consortium of industrialists, who constructed a complex of textile mills driven by two canals, excavated on either bank of the Merrimack River.
The preserved mills, with their huge frontages, are a sight worth seeing and once employed a truly international workforce.
Many of those factories have found new roles as lofts and offices, although New Balance has set up shop in the former Ayer Mill. Crowned by an iconic clock tower, this structure is from 1909, and you can call in at the factory store.
10. Museum of Printing
Established in 1978, this museum relocated close to nearby Haverhill in 2016, and is a matter of minutes from Methuen.
The collection for the Museum of Printing was started when the Boston Globe replaced its old hot metal typesetting and letterpress printing equipment, and has grown to include a wealth of items spanning centuries.
You can browse hand-powered presses, copiers, typewriters, digital storage, paper cutters, folders, photolithographic equipment, thousands of typefaces, and what is thought to be the world’s largest collection of phototypesetters.
Also in the museum’s holdings are a printed Nuremberg Chronicle from 1493, colonial newspapers across almost 150 years and thousands of typographic specimen books.
11. Spicket River Greenway
From Manchester Street Park, on the Lawrence Town Line, you walk, run or bicycle along the banks of the Spicket River as far as its mouth on the Merrimack.
Completed in 2013, the 3.5-mile Spicket River Greenway was a revitalization project, linking existing parks with new open spaces along the restored banks of the Spicket River.
Once crucial for industry in Methuen and Lawrence, this watercourse had suffered from decades of pollution and neglect, until the greenway was first envisaged in the 1990s.
Now the greenway is a recreation draw, but also a convenient commuting route, connecting the heart of Lawrence with downtown Methuen via the Methuen Rail Trail.
12. Merrimack River Trail – Andover
Right across the Merrimack River from Methuen you can access several miles of secluded wooded waterfront on foot or by bike.
The wide sweep of the Merrimack River is in view for most of the way, and there are stretches of boardwalk and bridges across streams and marsh patches.
The trail runs almost unbroken from just north of Greater Lawrence Technical School in the east and Fossen Way in the west.
As well as those river views, there’s interesting history to discover, with interpretive signs at the Retelle Reservation shedding light on the Pennacook, who controlled traffic on the Merrimack River from nearby Pine Island before the 17th century.
13. The Loop
With close to 30 shops and services, this walkable outdoor shopping center opened just over 20 years ago on the redeveloped site of the old Methuen Mall, which opened in 1973 and closed in the late 1990s.
The replacement is a shopping, entertainment and dining destination, with a cluster of national chain stores like Old Navy, Loft, GameStop, The Home Depot and Bath & Body Works.
If you’re here for a bite there’s an Olive Garden, TGI Fridays, Chipotle, Jersey Mike’s, as well as a branch of Chuck E. Cheese’s if you have kids in tow.
14. AMC Methuen 20
Also at The Loop is a 20-screen movie theater that has been here since the shopping center opened.
The headline at AMC Methuen 20 is the upgraded IMAX Laser auditorium, with optimized picture clarity and precision sound for an even more immersive movie experience.
The remainder of the screens have stadium seating, as well as the reservable recliners. As for specials, you can get 30% discounts on matinee screenings any day of the week (before 4 pm), while movies on Tuesdays were $5 all day when we compiled this list.
15. Forest Lake
In a quiet corner of Methuen, close to the boundary with New Hampshire there’s a 50-acre great pond fed by groundwater.
This is the only pond found within Methuen to be large enough for general recreation, and is restricted to Methuen residents for swimming in summer, as well as fishing and walking along the wooded shores.
There’s a beach area, open daily throughout the summer, a boat ramp (electric motors only) and plenty of tranquil fishing spots. Check here for opening times: cityofmethuen.net
The pond is stocked with trout in spring and fall, and has largemouth bass, brown bullhead, bluegill and yellow perch to name a few.