Merrimack River (or Merrimac
River, an earlier spelling that is sometimes still used)
is a -long river in the northeastern United States. It rises at the confluence of the Pemigewasset and Winnipesaukee rivers in Franklin, New Hampshire, flows southward into Massachusetts, and then flows northeast until it empties into the
Ocean at Newburyport. From the point where the Merrimack turns
northeast in Lowell, Massachusetts onward, the Massachusetts–New Hampshire
border is roughly calculated as the line three miles north of
The Merrimack is an important regional focus in both New Hampshire
and Massachusetts. In New Hampshire, the central-southern part of
the state is known as the Merrimack Valley Region
, and in
Massachusetts, the "Merrimack Valley
" refers to
a cluster of towns and small cities in the northeastern part of the
Several U.S. naval ships have been named the USS Merrimack
in honor of this river.
History and details
glaciation, the Merrimack continued its southward course far beyond
the present day New Hampshire-Massachusetts border to enter the
Atlantic Ocean near Boston.
the glacier's retreat, debris deposited north of Boston filled the
lower Merrimack Valley, redirecting the river into its current
northeast bend at Lowell. The Neville archaeological site
located along the river's banks in New Hampshire.
Merrimack River watershed
The total watershed of the river is approximately , covering much
of southern New Hampshire and a portion of northeastern
Massachusetts. On its banks are a number of cities built to
take advantage of water power in the 19th Century, when textile
mills dominated the New England economy: Concord, Manchester, and Nashua in New Hampshire, and Lowell, Lawrence, and Haverhill in Massachusetts. At the mouth of the
river is the small city of Newburyport.
Prior to the construction of the Middlesex Canal
, Newburyport was an
important shipbuilding city, in a location to receive New Hampshire
timber that had been floated downriver.
The river is perhaps best known for the early American literary
Week on the Concord and Merrimack River
by Henry David Thoreau
. Among its tributaries
are the Souhegan
River, which extends west from the town of Merrimack, New
Hampshire; the Nashua
River, which flows north into the city of Nashua; the
Concord River, which flows north from
Massachusetts to Lowell; and the Shawsheen River, which after also flowing
north, joins the Merrimack at Lawrence.
Etymology and spelling
The etymology of the name of the Merrimack River - from which all
subsequent uses derive, such as the name of the Civil War ironclad
- remains unknown.
There is some evidence that it is Native American. In 1604 the natives of
England told Pierre
Dugua, Sieur de Monts, who was leading a colony of French language speakers to Acadia (later Nova Scotia), of a beautiful river to the south.
French promptly pronounced its native name as Merremack. In 1605
Samuel de Champlain
this lead, found the river and renamed it Riviere du Gas.
The French and their name did not remain on the Merrimack.
natives dwelling along the river at that time were the Agawam on the lower reaches, the
Pawtucket at Lowell,
Massachusetts, the Nashua, Souhegan and
Namoskeag around Manchester,
New Hampshire, the Penacook northward
from Bow, New
Hampshire, and the Winnepisseogee at the source, Lake
These were all members of a nation of
speakers known as the Nipmuck
According to Joseph B. Walker, relying on Chandler Eastman Potter's
The History of Manchester
contains the elements merruh
("strong") and auke
("place"—a recognizable locative
and means "the place of strong current,- a term not inappropriate,
when we consider ... the river's rapids ...." Potter was an
authority on native American affairs in colonial New England. By
contrast, in A Week on the Concord
and Merrimack Rivers
implies that "its name signifies the Sturgeon
goes on to cite spellings of Merimacke, Merimack and Merrimacke in
"the colonial records of Massachusetts", as well as the Merrimake
and Merrymake of a 1721 land grant at Penacook,
New Hampshire. William Wood's New England's
Prospect of 1634 calls the river the Merrimacke and locates it
eight miles beyond Agowamme (Ipswich, Massachusetts).
Merrimack River in flood, October
2005, Manchester, NH
It hosts, he says, "Sturgeon, Sammon and
Basse, and divers other kinds of fish."
Massachusetts, settled in 1638 and originally part of Amesbury,
Massachusetts, was called West Amesbury until 1876, at which time
it adopted its current name and spelling. Merrimack,
New Hampshire was incorporated in 1746, spelling its name
"Marrymac" in the record of its first town meeting.
referred to as Merrimac into the early 19th century: in the 1810
decennial census, it was spelled Merrimac, but in the 1820 and
In 1914, US Congressman John Jacob
(MA) petitioned that the official spelling be
May 2006 Flooding
Merrimack River is prone to minor flooding,
on May 15, 2006 rainfall
raised the river more than above flood stage, forcing evacuations,
damaging property, and breaking the main sewage pipeline in the
city of Haverhill, Massachusetts, dumping 35 million gallons of raw sewage waste
into the river per day.
Reports of total rainfall vary, but
most areas appear to have received around a foot of rain with some
areas receiving as much as .
According to The Boston Globe, around 1,500 people evacuated their
homes to escape the flood.
flood also prompted the city of Lowell, Massachusetts to install a modern (albeit temporary) flood
control gate comprising square steel beams at the site of the
historic Francis Gate, a 19th and
20th century wooden flood gate.
When lowered, the Francis
gate seals the city's canal system off from its source on the
Merrimack. The Great Gate, as it is also called, was built in 1850
under the direction of James B.
. Considered unnecessary
when it was first constructed, "Francis' Folly" first saved the
city in 1852 and subsequently in 1936.
Other flooding events
The most significant flood in the recorded history of the Merrimack
was in March 1936, when a double flood of rain and melting snow and
ice swelled the Merrimack at Lowell to , higher than the 2006
flood. The Jack Kerouac
is set during this
In addition to the 1936 flood, the 1852 flood, and the Mother's Day
Flood of 2006, the New
England Hurricane of 1938
and a flood in April 2007 round out
the river's most serious flood events, measured at Lowell. The
Francis Gate had been left in place after being dropped in 1936, so
it prevented flooding in 1938 as well. In 2007, the steel beam
system was again assembled in place.
- Pages 414-415.
- Johnson 319
- Currier (1902), page 23.
- History of Lowell and Its People V1 Frederick W.
- Flooding besets region; more rain in forecast
by Brian MacQuarrie, The Boston Globe, 16 May 2006.
- Downloadable from Google Books.
- . Downloadable from Google Books.