Interesting and Beautiful Scenes Along Line Of Exeter, Hampton and Amesbury Street Railway -- Chapter 13

By D. Fisher -- 1900

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The City of Amesbury

"The first establishments were sawmills and grist-mills, in 1640, followed in later years by snuff mills, linseed oil mills, fulling mills, a starch mill, and a century ago a smelting furnace, where one thousand tons of iron were wrought in a year; anchors, scythes, axes, and other edge tools were also manufactured."

Jacob Perkins invented a machine to make the heads on cut nails. He established a nail factory in Amesbury in 1796. From that time until to-day (1900) it has been prominent in almost every form of industry. There are two national banks and a savings institution that alone can show nearly 6,000 open accounts and over $2,000,000 of deposits. There are over one hundred stores of various kinds, two machine shops, two large firms that make a specialty of street railway cars (Briggs Carriage Company), fifty or more firms make over 25,000 carriages annually, and there are large woolen mills and other industries in this busy city.

Of churches, there are nine; of schools, some twenty-eight; a large public library; a home for aged ladies; one daily and two weekly papers that are good to read and very good things to own, together with a monthly periodical devoted to the carriage interest. The assessed valuation of property foots up over $5,000,000. The poll lists show 2,800 names, and there are over 1,200 children of school age in the town. The streets have electric lights. Electric railway lines connect the city with Merrimack and Haverhill to the west, Salisbury, and Salisbury beach, and Newburyport, to the east and southeast. The city is on the Boston & Maine railroad and is entered by ten trains daily.

Within the present year, another important electric railway enterprise has been opened through the western part of Salisbury, through Seabrook, Hampton Falls to Hampton, where it connects with lines to Hampton beach and to Exeter. This is but too brief and imperfect a sketch of this thoroughly wide-awake and always busy city, but it will indicate something of the great magnitude of the industrial interests centered around the falls of Pow-wow river.

At first Amesbury was a part of Salisbury, and known as Salisbury New Town, "and up to 1640 consisted of some thirty families, who were compelled by a vote of the parent town to move across Pow-wow river." The first selectmen were chosen in 1666, and in 1675, boundary lines were established between the old and the new town.

On Market street, about half way between Market square and the chain bridge, near the present pumping station of the waterworks, is the Bagley well, of curious history. An unpainted well-house indicates it to the stranger. The sailor shipwrecked on the coast of Arabia, after suffering awful agonies from thirst, managed to escape, and finally settled in Amesbury. He had vowed to dig a well, where all who passed might freely drink their fill. Harriet Prescott Spofford has made this well the subject of a well-known poem. The two opening stanzas are as follows:

"Driving along the Amesbury Road,
We have flung the rein loose many a day,
And paused for a draught from the mossy depths
Of a gray old well by the public way.
A well of water by the public way,
Where the springs make their dark and mysterious play.

"Valentine Bagley sank that well,
A hundred years since, out of hand,
When he came back from the Indian seas
And his wreck on the fierce Arabian strand
Where the airs like flames about him fanned,
And the ashes of hell was the burning sand."

When the water-works sank their great wells near by, this well was drained. Later city service water was piped into it.

Just beyond the Bagley well, on the right, is the oldest historic house in the town. It stands on a rise of ground somewhat back from the street. By the street side is a post of granite. On a polished space near the top is this inscription:

"The first town clerk of Amesbury built this house prior to 1654.
Persecuted for harboring Quakers, he fled to Nantucket in 1659,
having previously sold his place to Anthony Colby,
whose descendants have occupied it to this day."

Four men, all Quakers, stopped at Macey's, and received his hospitality. Three of them were preachers. They were on their way eastward, and inquired their way to Hampton. Macey was summoned to appear before the General Court in Boston to answer for the offense of having harbored Quakers. He evaded this summons, and escaped with his family to the island of Nantucket. Two of the preachers entertained by Macey, Robinson and Stevenson, were afterward hanged on Boston common. On this part of early Amesbury history is founded Whittier's poem of "The Exiles."

Amesbury also had trouble with witches. Susan Martin was charged with witchcraft, arrested, carried to Salem, and there tried and finally hanged, May 1, 1692.

In a conspicuous place on Market street is a bronze statue, erected to the memory of Josiah Bartlett, who was born in Amesbury, and lived in Kingston, in New Hampshire. He filled many offices of trust prior to the Revolution, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and afterwards, for years, governor of his state.

Amesbury is the very centre of "Whittier Land." Here he lived until near the close of his life. Here he wrote of all the scenes of beauty and interest, from the Merrimack to the Isles of Shoals. His verse tells how he loved this whole region. He lived in a modest house, standing on the corner of Friend and Pleasant streets. A tablet on it will indicate it to the visitor. Just beyond and on the same side of the street, is the Quaker meeting-house. Its interior has not been changed since it was first built.

No one should visit the city without going to the top of "Po Hill," if the weather is at all clear. The view obtained will amply repay all the time and trouble required, which is but comparatively little. Pow-wow Hill is a dome-shaped moraine of the same formation as Great Boar's Head. It is 332 feet above the sea, and is the highest land within miles around. From its summit there is a surrounding view of from sixteen to twenty miles. On the east, in a sunny day, the ocean from Isles of Shoals to Plum Island dimples and flashes in the sunlight. Directly east, lie Salisbury and Salisbury beach. Southeast is Newburyport, and to the south are the hills and fields of Peabody and Danvers, with the asylum buildings as a landmark. Haverhill can be made out in the west, and far beyond can be seen the blue domes of Pack Monadnock and Mt. Pisgah. In the northwest are the Pawtuckaway hills, showing almost like a mountain range, while in the far north is the "blue disc" of Agamenticus, as far away as York, Me. To the northeast are nearby Seabrook, Hampton Falls, and the Hampton. So good is the view of the beach that the Casino there can easily be made out, while the Isles of Shoals seem veritable gems of the sea, as the light of an afternoon sun falls upon them.

The opening of the new electric railways will make Amesbury more than ever accessible to pilgrims to "Whittier Land." No one thing will better show why he loved the lower Merrimack valley, the region around his home, or all the country to and including Hampton beach as he did, than the view from the summit of "Po Hill."

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