, Newburyport, MA

Local News

March 24, 2012

Peering into our glass-bottomed river, the Merrimack

Living around the Merrimack River was not always fun; it was dangerous. Did you know the river has also been known by the people who lived around it as the glass-bottom river?

Through the centuries, sailors, merchants and others carried considerable amounts of liquor and rum on their ships, pulled into the harbor and temporarily settled along the river. They drank their whiskey, and when they finished drinking, they just tossed the bottles over their heads into the water.

There were also many people who lived in this area who would take their bottles of liquor down to the river's edge and drink. They'd toss the empty bottles into the river.

Many years ago, there was no public landfill. The river was the landfill. Donkeys pulled carts, and horses pulled wagons full of all sorts of debris down to the river. Each driver would then get down from atop the wagon or cart and pull a large peg out, which attached the rear of the cart or wagon, releasing it. It would then tip backward and off to its side, emptying its contents right into the river. I personally saw this take place many times.

Where did you think they dumped all the fire debris and demolition debris, etc., through the years? As the old saying goes: "Out of sight, out of mind."

When engineers recently came to Newburyport looking for tunnels and other relics, the only things they found were water-soaked wood and lots of old whiskey bottles, some dating as far back as George Washington's days and earlier. I believe they left the city somewhat in disappointment. However, they didn't realize they'd struck on a unique piece of history ... a bottle ... a valuable antique on the bottom of the river ... a glass-bottom river!

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