Lawrence History Timeline

Boston merchants involved in international trade evolved into
manufacturers through development of textile communities powered largely by water.

Daniel Saunders begins to purchase strips of land on either side of the Merrimack River from Dracut to what is now Lawrence in order to gain control of water power rights.
Saunders, Underground Railroad & Orange Trees

1844 Early Map of Lawrence Area
1844 Map

Essex Company formed by Boston merchants turned manufacturers to encompass land purchased by Daniel Saunders.
Company Charter calls for building a dam and canals for manufacturing purposes.
Requires establishment of fishways to permit fish to swim upstream beyond the dam.

Abbot Lawrence invests most money to project.
Other investors include Nathan Appleton, Patrick Tracy Jackson, Amos Lawrence, Samuel Lawrence and other interlocked Boston merchants become manufacturers.
Hired , Charles Storrow as agent and chief engineer.
*Irish begin large influx to “new town on the Merrimack”
*First schools opened
*Population 104
Essex Company Collection

1847: Lawrence incorporated as Town,.
-Took 3 ½ sq. miles from Methuen and 2 ½ sq. miles from Andover.
-Named after one or all members of the Lawrence family.

History of Development of Lawrence
More history of City Development

1848:Great Stone Dam completed. Current photos and additional history

1849:High School begins.
-North Canal completed.
-First mills on-line.

1850: Population 8,358
Town of Lawrence
Sanitary Survey of Town of Lawrence: Massachusetts Sanitary Commission - Lemuel Shattuck, 1850

1853: Lawrence chartered as City

1854: Small riot between Irish and native born.
Part of the larger statewide sweep by the anti-immigrant “Know-nothing” party in 1855.

1857: National Financial Crash. Particularly bad in Lawrence because of embezzlement by Samuel Lawrence.
Bay State Mills, Pemberton Mill, Lawrence Machine Shop all went bankrupt.

1860: Collapse and fire of Pemberton Mill,
-Kills 88, maiming hundreds, and depriving hundreds of families of income. International attention.
-Enflames debate between North and South on comparative working conditions of southern slaves and northern factory workers.
-Population 17,639. Foreign born 42%
Information on the Pemberton Mill Collapse.
Victims' gravestone story in Tribune

1861-64:Civil War
*Lawrence manages to get by.
-Lowell closed most of its factories to retrofit during War, putting 11,000 out of work.
-Lawrence manufacturers had stockpiled cotton.
-Also featured mills that processed woolen textiles.

- Arthur Schuyler, Lawrence resident, joins the Mass 54th Colored Regiment and survives the war.

1860s: German and French-Canadian populations grow
Turn Verein Story

1870: Population 28,921

1870s: Hiram Mills, chief engineer of the Essex Company, creates the Experimental Station to treat water and sewage.
Station is then turned over to the State .
Mills becomes a member of the State Board of Health.

Oliver School Class, c 1875-1880

1880:Population 39,151

1882:Work begins to straighten the Spicket River
-General Strike at Central Pacific Mill
-First Irish mayor, John Breen, elected

Essex Co Spicket River Engineering Project

1890:Population 44,654. Foreign born 45%.

1890s Massive influx of southern, eastern European and Middle Eastern immigrants

1891: Because of severe Typhoid epidemic, work begins on state-of –the-art slow sand filter for water treatment based on Hiram Mills’ work on purifying water at the Lawrence Experiment Station.

1892: Water tower and reservoir completed.
The rate of Typhoid immediately reduced dramatically.

Public Health in Lawrence

1899 American Woolen Company established.
Washington Mills ~ American Woolen Company

1900:Population 62,559
Despite the documented problems in the City, a very rich cultural life also was taking place. Cultural Exhibit

Venerini Sisters come to Lawrence

1910:Population 85,892. Foreign born 48%
Immigration Lawyer, Alice O'Connor.

1911: Lawrence Survey published, detailing overcrowding, working conditions and contamination as causes for high rates of disease and death among Lawrence residents living in poverty.

1912: Great Strike of 1912 (sometimes called Bread and Roses Strike).
Workers of diverse ethnic groups and languages struck for three months. In the short-term they won.
Of greatest importance were the U.S. Congressional Hearings afterward which called national attention to the conditions of workers, especially of children. It contributed to changes in the Federal laws regarding child labor.

Jim Beauchesne speaks on WGBH about Strike,
Strike Victim, John Ramey
More information
Bread and Roses Festival
Mass Moments
Eagle Tribune Article : Theater Espresso's American Tapestry

-World War 1
WWI casualty, Alec Bern Bruce
-Immigrant Donohue & Battle of Argonne
-Influenza pandemic, (Flu Epidemic of 1918)
-Additional strikes,
-Great Depression.
-Rate of immigration slows.

-1918 - Leonard Bernstein born in Lawrence

1920: Population 94, 270. Foreign Born 42%
Panorama Images of Lawrence

1940s-50s: Majority of mills leave the city.
Greater numbers of Lawrence natives leave.

- World War IIWorld War II Exhibit

1950:Population 80,536

1950s: Latino Immigration begins.
After several decades of slower immigration, a new ethnic group (Latinos) began to arrive.
Puerto Ricans first migrated to Lawrence, some to work in the farms and orchards in the region.

1960:Population 71,865

1960s: Cuban refugees come and Dominican immigrants begin to arrive.

1950's - 1970's: Urban Renewal
Urban Renewal of this period results in demolition of whole neighborhoods. Results in more native families leaving.
Interstate 495 and the Orange Trees

1970:Population 66,216

1970s:Refugees from Southeast Asia and immigrants from Central America arrive

1978: Immigrant City Archives is established under the leadership of German immigrant, Eartha Dengler.
The Archives later changes the name to Lawrence History Center~Immigrant City Archives.
Eartha Dengler

1980:Population 63,175,
Lowest population since 1890s.
Reflects large number of earlier Lawrence families who leave.

Lawrence Heritage State Park opens

Photo by Jim Beauchesne, 2010.

1990:Population 70,207. Minority 41%.
Substantial population increase reflects high immigration rate

1990s: Neighborhood Associations increase and become more active, cleaning public areas, making efforts to beautify neighborhoods and setting up neighborhood watches to combat crime.
Community development partnerships bring together residents of diverse backgrounds to undertake common projects.

2000:Population 72,043. Minority 61%.

2000s:Recent newcomer families increasingly buy Lawrence property and rehabilitate it for businesses and homes.
Expanded State Park area revitalizes Riverfront
Housing Styles in Lawrence
A zoning overlay permits multiple uses of mills to accommodate retail, artist studios, residences.
Increasingly, entrepreneurs buy and invest in mills in a variety of creative ways.
Enel North America works on replacing the flash boards on top of Great Stone Dam.

Crestgates replace the wooden flashboards

Enel NA

2008: The Lawrence History Center ~Immigrant City Archives celebrates its 30th Anniversary.
Transforming Leadership Honorees
30th Anniversary Event
Getting Ready for 30th Anniversary
Change in Leadership at LHC

2009: Lawrence elects State Representative, William "Willy" Lantigua First Hispanic Mayor in City and in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Enel North America completes new crest gate project on Great Stone Dam.


Tue–Fri: 9am-4pm
Sat: By appt
Sun-Mon: Closed

Address & Phone

6 Essex Street
Lawrence, MA 01840

Social Media


Founded in 1978 as the Immigrant City Archives, the mission of the Lawrence History Center is to collect, preserve, share, and animate the history and heritage of Lawrence and its people.