When the village was founded in 1640 on the banks of the Merrimack River it was known as Pentucket, an Indian word roughly translated as “place of the winding river.” That river helped shape the settlement for the better part of 200 years until the rise of bigger ocean-going ships sapped the importance of river towns. The towns merchants shifted their capital to manufacturing, first in hats and then in shoes. By 1836 there were 28 shoe factories in Haverhill with more on the way.
The city incorporated in 1870 as the shoe industry began to hit its stride. The town around Main Street was filled by this time and with the need for bigger and more efficient factories manufacturers turned west, towards the railway and began building around Washington Square, then a residential area. In a ten year period from 1872 to 1882, virtually every shoe and leather maker had moved to this area and replaced the houses with both wooden and brick factories. And then, on an inhumanly cold wintry night on February 17, 1882 a fire started in a stove in one of the shoe company offices. Before the fire was contained 10 acres of downtown Haverhill would be destroyed. Virtually every worker in town was tossed into unemployment.
The conflagration was so sensational that the New York Times wrote about it for days, “The city was full of strangers to-day viewing the ruins left by the fire. Train-loads came from Lowell and Lawrence, and a large number of people from the surrounding towns arrived by all sorts of conveyances. Several safes have been opened to-day, in most f which the contents were found to be unharmed. There were a great many, however, broken by falling from the upper stories, and many open ones can be seen in the ruins, their combustible contents reduced to dust, through which in many cases, shine melted gold and silver. Many disreputable persons came to town yesterday for predatory purposes, but the summary treatment of one man caught pilfering, who was beaten insensible by the citizens and Police, and the cool and praiseworthy diligence of the local authorities, made the plying of their trade extremely dangerous and there has not been a theft to the amount of $1 reported to the City marshal, nor any known tho the citizens.”
Despite the losses, Haverhill manufacturers set out to rebuild immediately and the factories they constructed stand today as some the finest examples of Queen Anne industrial architecture in the country. Humming once again, by 1913 one out of every 10 pairs of shoes worn by Americans originated on a Haverhill factory floor. It had earned the moniker of “Queen Slipper City.”
No one taking out walking tour today will be wearing a Haverhill shoe but many of the old factories remain in the area we will be exploring, designated as the Washington Street Shoe Historic District...
United States Post Office
2 Washington Square
The two-story brick Colonial Revival post office that spreads out around a plump central tower was constructed in 1930. It is topped by a balustrade-enclosed cupola. In 2010, as part of a series based on iconic newspaper cartoon strips, the United States Post Office released a stamp based on “Archie” that was created by one-time Haverhill denizen Bob Montana. Montana attended Haverhill High School until his senior year and based the characters on his time in school in Haverhill; the high school not serves as City Hall.
WITH YOUR BACK TO THE POST OFFICE WALK OVER THE NEXT CORNER.
Haverhill National Bank
191 Merrimack Street
The Haverhill National Bank was incorporated in 1836 and had operated from the resplendent Masonic Lodge since 1882 when this seven-story Haverhill National Bank rose in 1915. It conforms to the norms of early skyscraper architecture in that it was designed to resemble a classical Greek column with a distinct base (the ground floor with its blocks of stones and pilasters), a relatively unadorned shaft (the brick upper floors) and a decorative crown (the cornice of ornate dentils).
200 Merrimack Street
This is one of Haverhill’s oldest surviving commercial blocks, from 1856. The Italianate-influenced brick building sports stone trim, including corner quoins that wrap around the front of the building.
TURN AND WALK ACROSS WASHINGTON SQUARE ONTO WASHINGTON STREET.
2 Essex Street
This five-story corner landmark was constructed as the Whittier Inn in 1882. The building of brick and sandstone trim gets more elaborate as you look up until it reaches a riot of ornamentation at the roofline above the top floor of lancet windows.
First National Bank
77 Washington Street
The First National Bank organized as the Union Bank in 1849 “to supply the wants of the businessmen of Haverhill.” It received a national charter in 1864 and became the First National Bank on Merrimack Street. As the city pushed westward this land was purchased in 1882 and a substantial brick building erected. It later received a Neoclassical makeover with a facade of limestone blocks. The bank prospered until the Great Depression when if failed. After many years of vacancy the old vault was rehabilitated for a restaurant in 2008. The iron arm over the elaborate entrance that hold the establishment sign once sported a large lantern-shaped clock that was a favorite landmark on Washington Street.
100-114 Washington Street
Martin Taylor and Levi Taylor, who served a term as the second mayor of Haverhill in 1872, formed a clothing business that built a large trade that became even more prominent with the addition of Martin Taylor in what became “The Three Taylors.” The Taylors invested in real estate and built this quintessential Queen Anne commercial block in 1877. One tenant was the J. M. Hickey’s Shoe & Leather Exchange and today the brewpub that occupies the space honors that heritage with tap handles fashioned from old wooden shoe forms. Next door at #90 was the venerable business of C.P. Bullen, who took a $2,000 hit in the 1882 fire. To get a view of the Merrimack River walk between the two buildings down to Riverside Park.
TURN RIGHT ON RAILROAD SQUARE BEFORE THE RAILROAD OVERPASS.
80 Wingate Street at Railroad Square
This enormous Romanesque-style building that once stood opposite the train station for the first thing disembarking passengers would see, features splendid and imaginative brick work across all four floors.
17-19 Railroad Square
This sentinel of Railroad Square, 24 bays wide, is distinguished by the cast iron facade across the first floor shopping level. E.W. and S.P Gardner began manufacturing ladies’ serge shoes in 1869 in a factory on Washington Square, taking over a firm founded by their father John in 1845. The business grew to employ 150 workers in a commodious factory around the corner on Granite Street.
TURN RIGHT ON WINGATE STREET.
Wingate Street Art District
While Washington Street has sought revitalization through the restaurant trade, Wingate Street is turning to art-themed boutiques. Clustered in the west end of the street, the exuberant four-story Romanesque building of brick and terra cotta at #62 is the architectural standout. Across the street the Swett Block at #59-65 serve up a cornucopia of fancy brickwork.
72 Wingate Street
George H, Carleton began making ladies’ calf and buff shoes for the Wester and Southern trade in 1868. In 1880 he moved into a spanking new factory at this location only to watch it burn to the ground in the Great Fire of 1882. This building with its highly decorative brickwork around the windows and along the front cornice, was operative five months later.
TURN LEFT ON ESSEX STREET.
Hamel Mill Lofts
Essex Street and Locke Street
During the 1920s, Hamel Leather was the nation’s largest producer of shoe linings and for many years the largest employer in Haverhill. Their factory complex looks like much of Haverhill’s industrial building stock but the brick found here was used to sheath some of the nation’s first concrete-reinforced buildings, not as load-bearers. In recent years a handful of the Hamel buildings have been returned to life, including three eight-story buildings for residential use: the 1911 Pentucket Associates Building, the 1915 Essex Associates Building, the 1916 Tilton Building. The tall brick smokestack is a souvenir of the days when Hamel generated its own steam power for the operation.
TURN AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON ESSEX STREET BACK TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN WASHINGTON SQUARE.