Haverhill, MA (HHL)
Once a major shoe manufacturing center, Haverhill retains a rich industrial heritage. Historic factories near the station now house apartments, shops, galleries and restaurants.
Annual Station Ridership (FY 2021): 12,467
- Facility Ownership: Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
- Parking Lot Ownership: Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
- Platform Ownership: Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
- Track Ownership: Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
The Haverhill station, which serves Amtrak and Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) commuter rail, lies on the northern bank of the Merrimac River, and it is only a short walk to the shops, restaurants, and galleries located in the adjoining Washington Street Historic District and the Wingate Street Arts District. In the fall, riders receive a dazzling show as the leaves outside the windows turn colors to produce a fleeting mosaic of rich oranges, yellows, golds, and reds. On portions of the journey, the train advocacy group TrainRiders/Northeast runs a host program in which volunteers assist customers on board by doling out useful advice about the train and the stations and towns along the route.
Due to the rail crossing over the river, the Haverhill station sits on an embankment above street level on Railroad Square. Travelers may use the ramps on the east side or walk around to the west side where the parking lot ascends to meet an open-air shelter structure that protects riders from inclement weather while they wait for the train. The principle shelter next to the parking lot features a large clock placed within a delicate geometric lattice work; much like its Victorian-era predecessors, the clock helps passengers remain aware of the train schedule.
Prior to the colonization of the Massachusetts area by European settlers, the northeastern portion of the state was populated mainly by the Pennacook Native Americans. Their territory was focused on the Merrimac River Valley, and appropriately their name translates to “at the bottom of the hill or highland.” Similar to their neighbors, the Pennacook were part of the Algonquian language family found in the northeastern United States. They were divided into numerous smaller bands, but many of these were severely affected by disease during the first decades of contact with European colonists. The Pennacook groups were semi-sedentary, and different village sites were occupied during the year depending upon the season and the availability of food through hunting, fishing, harvesting, or planting. After decades of warfare with other American Indian groups and the growing colonial population, the remaining Pennacook moved north into Canadian territory towards the end of the eighteenth century.
Within two decades of their arrival in Massachusetts, the Puritans had formed settlements at a distance from their Boston base, and one of those was Haverhill, whose land was granted in 1640 to Reverend John Ward and a group of fellow pioneers. Given a choice of sites, Ward chose “Pentucket,” a tract which sat on a bend of the Merrimac River 32 miles north of Boston and marked the extent of river navigation by boat. Located on the northern fringes of the Puritan sphere of influence, Pentucket was a true frontier settlement among dense woods; the site had once hosted a Pennacook village, but it had been abandoned by the time of the Puritan settlement. The pioneers made arrangements to purchase the land from the local American Indian tribe, and the 1642 deed between the two groups still exists in the collection of the local historical society. In a few short years, the village took the name “Haverhill” after Rev. Ward’s birthplace in England.
The first crude houses were constructed near Mill Creek where it emptied into the Merrimac; although the creek has been covered, Mill Street reflects its path. As in many Puritan communities, a meeting house was quickly built to accommodate the spiritual needs of the residents. In addition to a homestead in the village, settlers also received grazing and planting lands on the periphery, and the first generations worked diligently to transform the land into productive agricultural fields and pastures. Struggles between the British colonial population, the American Indians, and the French sometimes put the town in the path of conflict, but it managed to survive various attacks.
As the 18th century progressed, Haverhill supported a shipbuilding industry, brick kilns and saw mills. These enterprises would support American efforts during the Revolutionary War, to which Haverhill gave many of its leading citizens. Not long after nation was formed, George Washington visited the town and commented on its beauty. In a sign of respect, officials named a street and square after the first president.
Shoe-making had long been present in Haverhill, but in the 19th century the industry expanded rapidly. The availability of hides formed the base for a tanning industry, which in turn sold its product to shops where individual cobblers crafted footwear. Finished shoes could be shipped down the Merrimac to Boston or taken overland. The arrival of the railroad in 1839 changed the industry by making it easier to acquire needed materials and to ship products to the major cities of the East Coast, including Philadelphia and Baltimore—and beyond.
In 1833, a railroad was chartered to build a branch line from the Boston and Lowell Railroad (B&L) at Wilmington. It connected that town with Andover by 1836, but before the last spike was driven, the citizens of Haverhill began to agitate for an extension of the railroad to their town, knowing that an improved transportation connection could give their industries an advantage over those of neighboring communities. Grading began between Andover and Haverhill in 1835, and by October 1837 the rail line had reached Bradford on the south side of the Merrimac River. It would be another two years before the tracks crossed the waterway and arrived in Haverhill proper.
Towards the end of the century, the B&L was leased by the Boston and Maine Railroad (B&M), which through a calculated campaign of acquisition and consolidation, leased numerous regional short lines and competitors to become the dominant passenger and freight railroad in the far Northeast. The B&M depot in Haverhill no longer exists, but the careful observer can find its outline. The rusticated stone wall that supports the raised railroad right-of-way has an indentation on its eastern side that appears to serve no purpose; this is where the station used to abut the embankment.
Constructed of solid granite, the depot’s ground floor was accessed from Railroad Square; a deep eave supported by brackets sheltered the entrance and protected passengers from inclement weather as they milled about, waiting for friends or family or the streetcar along Washington Street. Travelers ascended to the second floor of the depot to access the platform which was covered by an extensive canopy along its entire length. The building was topped with a hipped roof accented by two gabled dormers. To the northwest of the station on Essex Street, a pair of B&M brick freight houses still stands near the tracks.
From 1837 to 1857, the number of shoe manufacturers increased from 42 to 90, and workshops lined both sides of Merrimac Street west of the Main Street Bridge. To grow the industry, entrepreneurs took advantage of technologies developed during the Industrial Revolution. Parts of the shoemaking process could be standardized and performed by machines. New types of buildings were constructed to facilitate these processes; they tended to be multi-storey structures with open floor plans that allowed ample space for assembly line manufacturing.
Since the railroad had passed to the west of downtown Haverhill, the new factory buildings shifted in that direction to be near the rail facilities. The old houses and trees along residential Washington Street between Essex Street and Railroad Square were torn down in the 1870s and in their place rose 3, 4, and 5 storey brick industrial buildings. The robust growth almost came to a halt in February 1882 when a major fire spread through the Shoe District and wiped out nearly 10 acres. Business and civic leaders faced a difficult choice: rebuild or risk the slow death of Haverhill, which had become so dependent on one industry.
Rebuilding commenced quickly and the new factories incorporated the latest technologies. In 1890, Haverhill could boast of 300 shoe manufacturing-related companies employing more than 15,000 workers. Larger factories constructed with reinforced concrete rose next to the railroad tracks. The quality products of local craftsmen were recognized in 1876 at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, and the town began to sport the slogan “Haverhill Shoes Tread the Carpets of the Globe.” In addition to shoes, the city’s factories also turned out hats, woolen garments, and paper. This industrial powerhouse functioned because of the human power provided by the immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Armenia, Lithuania, Poland, Greece, and the Ottoman Empire. Each successive group made a place for itself in Haverhill, defining its cultural life through houses of worship, stores that sold familiar products, and social clubs. Through these efforts, immigrant groups retained a part of their heritage while adapting to a new way of life.
To serve the rapidly expanding population, new businesses opened. One of those was a dry-goods store established by Rowland H. Macy in 1851; he and his family would go onto fame and fortune with their chain of early department stores based in New York City. A half century later, future movie mogul Louis B. Mayer began his career in entertainment by running a chain of movie houses in downtown Haverhill.
In 1897, Bradford, a town on the south side of the Merrimac, decided to merge with Haverhill. Bradford also had its own stops on the B&M and a branch line, and thus Haverhill could boast of more than one train station.
As Haverhill’s wealth increased, the Highlands area east of Main Street grew in popularity. Its streets were lined with large Victorian-era homes on spacious lots that were within close proximity to three lakes that afforded opportunities for boating, fishing, and pleasure walks around their edges. One of the more unusual manses erected there was Winnekenni Castle, financed by Dr. James R. Nichols, a chemist and agriculturist. Inspired by the castles of England, he decided to build one of his own with a prominent tower and crenellation. Eventually, the family sold the house and grounds to the city, and it became Haverhill’s first public park. Today the building is used for classes and events while the surrounding 700-acre conservation area is a well-liked recreational spot with trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and walking.
The major lake east of the Highlands was once known as “Great Pond,” but received the name “Kenoza” from the pen of poet John Greenleaf Whittier. He was born in 1807 in a farmhouse outside of town that has been preserved as a museum that celebrates his life and works. As a Quaker, he was raised to reject slavery and he early corresponded with abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and subsequently wrote for a handful of anti-slavery newspapers and journals. With close reading and some sleuthing, many of the places mentioned in Whittier’s works can still be found in and around Haverhill, and are today part of a literary trail developed by the Whittier Birthplace museum. A group of admirers preserved the Whittier home and opened it to the public in 1893; the members collected a wide array of his early work and manuscripts, most of which are available to researchers at the Haverhill Public Library.
Haverhill residents such as Whittier played a vital part in the Underground Railroad, spiriting escaped slaves towards freedom in Canada. In 1841 a group of residents wrote a tract calling for the dissolution of the United States, maintaining that their resources were being unfairly used to support slavery in the southern tier of states. Former President and then U.S. Representative John Quincy Adams presented the petition to Congress, highlighting the anti-slavery debate in a national forum.
As the 20th century dawned, Haverhill, then known as the “Queen Slipper City,” continued to produce vast quantities of footwear: 25 million pairs of shoes annually, amounting to 10 percent of the nation’s shoe production in the 1910s. After the Great Depression and changes in manufacturing post-World War II, the shoe industry all but collapsed in Haverhill, and many of the old factories sat empty and unguarded, slowly deteriorating. Recognizing the value of Haverhill and northeastern Massachusetts’ industrial history, the buildings along Washington Street were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. These structures were specifically cited for their fine Queen Anne industrial architecture and the manner in which they form a cohesive street wall.
Although listed as an historic district, it was not until the late 1990s and early 2000s that the area saw renewed interest from townspeople and developers. Working with federal and state preservation tax credits and state development incentives meant to promote transit-oriented “Smart Growth” projects, a number of the factories have been rehabilitated to become market-rate and affordable housing units, often with ground floor commercial space. Some buildings retain pieces of manufacturing equipment that have been restored as a tangible link to the town’s industrial past.
Due to these changes, Haverhill is able to attract new residents who easily commute into Boston via MBTA or Amtrak service. New shops, restaurants, and galleries encourage visitors to explore the city, which boasts a riverside boardwalk. Haverhill is also one of many towns and cities included in the Essex National Heritage Area, a 500-acre tract of northeastern Massachusetts that highlights the region’s role in the founding of America, its maritime history, and industrial prowess.
Each September, the city celebrates “River Ruckus,” a day of family fun and games that focuses on the role of the Merrimack River in the city’s history—as transportation corridor, power source, for its scenic beauty, and at times as a destructive force when it overflows its banks. Centered on the Washington Street Historic District, the festival, presented by Team Haverhill, includes a classic car show, live music, pontoon boat and kayak boat rides on the river, street performers, children’s activities and a fireworks display. The highlight for many participants is the Annual Rubber Duck Regatta sponsored by the Haverhill Rotary Club. More than 10,000 rubber ducks are dropped from the railroad bridge, and the owner of the first duck to cross the finish line wins a grand prize. The rubber ducks are then gathered and brought to rest on dry land.
The Downeaster is financed primarily through funds made available by the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority.
Platform with Shelter
- ATM not available
- No elevator
- No payphones
- No Quik-Trak kiosks
- No Restrooms
- Unaccompanied child travel not allowed
- No vending machines
- No WiFi
- Arrive at least 30 minutes prior to departure
- Amtrak Express shipping not available
- No checked baggage service
- No checked baggage storage
- Bike boxes not available
- No baggage carts
- Ski bags not available
- No bag storage
- Shipping boxes not available
- No baggage assistance
- Same-day parking is available; fees may apply
- No payphones
- Accessible platform
- No accessible restrooms
- No accessible ticket office
- No accessible waiting room
- No accessible water fountain
- Same-day, accessible parking is available; fees may apply
- High platform
- No wheelchair
- No wheelchair lift