Lawrence Transforms

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Map of Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1844.

By 1876, the transformations that the Essex Company made to what was farmland thirty years earlier were dramatic. From a stone dam a canal was constructed to the north of the Merrimack River to carry water to the mills. It eventually emptied back out to the river. The mile-long North Canal, dug by mostly immigrant laborers of the Essex Company, provided greater space for manufacturers to position their mills parallel to the river on what appears to be an ‘island’ across the lower portion of the map. “And all along the river’s banks, merchants, peddlers, blacksmiths, and machinists set up shop….” (Bruce Watson, Bread and Roses, p. 34).

The Essex Company carefully planned the city, which by 1848 and grown from a small number of farmers to nearly six thousand people; more than a third were Irish. It included blocks of residential neighborhoods, vast expanses of industrial space, long commercial boulevards such as Essex Street, and a meticulously park. The roadways out of the neighborhoods crossed the bridges over the North Canal and into the mills. It was these bridges that became highly contested spaces during the strike.