, Newburyport, MA

January 18, 2013

Prospect of Amesbury History Park offers lots to cheer about

Bill Plante's
North Shore

---- — I read Monday’s Daily News account of Amesbury putting its Lower Millyard plan on “fast track” with more than casual interest. It was thoroughly detailed and was accompanied by an artist’s rendering of what the area will look like when completed.

No one was in hearing distance when I drove to the area later and saw what had become of it, what it could look like once again, and said, “Wow!”

I have a thing about rivers that run through or along cities and towns. There was that of promise to settlers who depended on them for transport, of what could be done with them through all of time.

This northeast corner of Massachusetts is blessed with them, and Amesbury’s little Powow is the feistiest, plunging raucously over its falls as it does through the center of town and beneath its business district to reappear and wind its way peacefully below to join with the mighty Merrimack on its way seaward.

Newburyport, Amesbury and Salisbury share the Merrimack, but it is the grand sweep upriver along Amesbury’s Pleasant Valley Road that links it to the Powow that provided Amesbury’s settlers with a major natural resource.

It took me a good part of my lifetime to appreciate all of that, but downtown Amesbury has a special place in my memory bank.

As a 5-year-old when my father was working at the hat shop on the banks of the Merrimack and we were living upriver on Pleasant Valley Road, I attended the first grade in the school just up the rise from the town’s center and saw the river and downtown Amesbury in all its seasons.

It was 1926 and Amesbury was a bustling town where the making of hats and automobiles were major contributors to the town’s economy. Many of the buildings related to those times remain for whatever use might be made of them.

Newburyport faced that more than a half-century ago. Amesbury’s are a work in progress.

The photo of the artist’s colored rendering and the detailed news account led me to my walk about the area for a view of outcomes.

There are bound to be hurdles because there always are. But when completed, there will be a lot of people saying “Wow” as I did.

I suspect there may be some who will be saying, “If it’s completed,” because there are always uncertainties, and these are indeed uncertain times.

Newburyport, however, had them, and not all of what was intended for the use of its waterfront was realized.

What is foreseen for the Amesbury site will be a beautiful riverside park uncovering what led to the making of the town’s core — an appreciation for and the harnessing of nature’s power for the common good of a time now long past.

As for that I found a treasure trove, courtesy of Amesbury’s Royal Feltner, whose website,, is a treasure trove of information relating to the breadth and depth of Amesbury’s and Salisbury’s creative industrialists for which the Powow River provided much of the essential resources.

(Note: The boundaries of the two towns were later revised to what they are today.)

I had no clue that the Powow River contained iron ore that was used to make everything from horse shoes for my late blacksmithing grandfather, William Cyr, to the manufacturing of headed nails invented by Jacob Perkins, ships’ anchors from the Amesbury Iron Factory or, despite its otherwise modest shore-to-shore width, the building of ships for more than a century.

So, put me down as a late-life supporter for what appears to be forthcoming as Amesbury’s restoration of that small, but historically enriching section of the Powow that, together with the falls above, will speak to both the past, the present and the future of utilizing nature for the common good.


Bill Plante is a Newbury resident and staff columnist. His e-mail address is