Lawrence is a city in Essex County, Massachusetts, United States on the Merrimack River. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the city had a total population of 76,377. Surrounding communities include Methuen to the north, Andover to the southwest, and North Andover to the southeast. It and Salem are the county seats of Essex County. Lawrence is also part of the Merrimack Valley.
Manufacturing products of the city include electronic equipment, textiles, footwear, paper products, computers, and foodstuffs. Lawrence was the residence of Robert Frost for his early school years; his first essays and poems were published in the Lawrence High School Bulletin.
Founding and rise as a textile center
Native Americans, namely the Pennacook or Pentucket tribe, had a presence in this area. Evidence of farming at Den Rock Park and arrowhead manufacturing on the site of where the Wood Mill now sits was discovered.
Europeans first settled the Haverhill area in 1640, colonists from Newbury following the Merrimack River in from the coast. The area that would become Lawrence was then part of Methuen and Andover. The first settlement came in 1655 with the establishment of a blockhouse in Shawsheen Fields, now South Lawrence.
The future site of the city (formerly parts of Andover and Methuen), was purchased by a consortium of local industrialists. The Water Power Association members: Abbott Lawrence, Edmund Bartlett, Thomas Hopkinson of Lowell, John Nesmith and Daniel Saunders, had purchased control of Peter's Falls on the Merrimack River and hence controlled Bodwell's Falls the site of the present Great Stone Dam. The group allotted fifty thousand dollars to buy land along the river to develop. In 1844, the group petitioned the legislature to act as a corporation, known as the Essex Company, which incorporated on April 16, 1845. The first excavations for the Great Stone Dam to harness the Merrimack River's water power, were done on August 1, 1845. The Essex Company would sell the water power to corporations such as the Arlington Mills, as well as organize construction of mills and build to suit. Until 1847, when the state legislature recognized the community as a town, it was called interchangeably called the "New City", "Essex" or "Merrimac". The Post Office, built in 1846, used the designation "Merrimac." Incorporation as a city would come in 1853, and the name "Lawrence", merely chosen as a token of respect to Abbott Lawrence, who it cannot be verified ever saw the city named after him.
Canals were dug on both the north and the south banks to provide power to the factories that would soon be built on its banks as both mill owners and workers from across the city and the world flocked to the city in droves; many were Irish labourers who had experience with similar building work. The work was dangerous: injuries and even death were not uncommon.
The Bread and Roses strike of 1912
Working conditions in the mills were unsafe and in 1860 the Pemberton Mill collapsed, killing 145 workers. As immigrants flooded into the United States in the mid to late 19th century, the population of Lawrence abounded with skilled and unskilled workers from almost every nation in Europe: Ireland, France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Poland, and Lithuania; French-Canadians from the provinces of Quebec, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island; and farm girls from all over New England. Lawrence became known as Immigrant City very early in its existence, and can reasonably boast that for its small geographic size (less than 6 square miles) it has had more immigrants from a greater variety of countries in the world per capita, than any other city of its size on Earth.
Lawrence was the scene of the Bread and Roses strike, also known as the Lawrence textile strike, one of the more important labor actions in American history. In 1912, Massachusetts law reduced the work week from 56 hours to 54 hours and subsequently lowered wages for thousands of women and child workers. The average worker at the time earned a $7 a week and paid an equal amount for their monthly rent. On January 11, mill workers discovered their pay had been reduced and went on strike. Fewer than 1,000 of the 25,000 workers who went on strike were members of a union. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) provided most of the leadership for the strike and also provided food and clothing for the strikers. The Massachusetts National Guard, private, and city police countered strikers for two months. Because of dangerous conditions, small children were sent out of the city for their protection. Although there were many skirmishes between the police, militia, and the strikers, only 2 people died and relatively few were injured on either side. Dynamite was found, and although newspapers originally accused the strikers, a local undertaker, John Breen, was arrested and charged - admitting that the president of a mill had paid him $500 to do so, in an attempt to discredit the IWW. Immigrant groups normally mistrustful of one another banded together in the common cause of higher wages. When police and National Guard assaulted a group of women and children, public outcry forced mill owners to capitulate. The striking workers won wage increases for themselves and thousands of workers across New England. One of the major companies involved in the strike was the American Woolen Company, led by the son of a Portuguese immigrant, William Madison Wood who had risen through the ranks in the textile industry.
Lawrence was a great wool-processing center until that industry declined in the 1950s. The decline left Lawrence a struggling city. The population of Lawrence declined from over 80,000 residents in 1950 (and a high of 94,270 in 1920) to approximately 64,000 residents in 1980, the low point of Lawrence's population.
Urban redevelopment and renewal
Like other northeastern cities suffering from the effects of post-World War II industrial decline, Lawrence has often made efforts at revitalization, some of them controversial. For example, half of the enormous Wood Mill, powered by the Great Stone Dam and once the largest mills in the world, was knocked down in the 1950s. The Lawrence Redevelopment Authority and city officials utilized eminent domain for a perceived public benefit, via a top down approach, to revitalize the city throughout the 1960s. Known first as urban redevelopment, and then urban renewal, Lawrence's local government's actions towards vulnerable immigrant and poor communities, contained an undercurrent of gentrification which lies beneath the goals to revitalize Lawrence. There was a clash of differing ideals and perceptions of blight, growth, and what constituted a desirable community. Ultimately the discussion left out those members of the community who would be directly impacted by urban redevelopment.
Under the guise of urban renewal, large tracts of downtown Lawrence were razed in the 1970s, and replaced with parking lots and a three-story parking garage connected to a new Intown Mall intended to compete with newly constructed suburban malls. The historic Theater Row along Broadway was also razed, destroying ornate movie palaces of the 1920s and 1930s that entertained mill workers through the Great Depression and the Second World War. The city's main post office, an ornate federalist style building at the corner of Broadway and Essex Street, was razed. Most of the structures were replaced with one-story, steel-frame structures with large parking lots, housing such establishments as fast food restaurants and chain drug stores, fundamentally changing the character of the center of Lawrence.
Lawrence also attempted to increase its employment base by attracting industries unwanted in other communities, such as waste treatment facilities and incinerators. From 1980 until 1998, private corporations operated two trash incinerators in Lawrence. Activist residents successfully blocked the approval of a waste treatment center on the banks of the Merrimack River near the current site of Salvatore's Pizza on Merrimack Street.
Recently the focus of Lawrence's urban renewal has shifted to preservation rather than sprawl.
Events of the 1980s and 1990s
Immigrants from the Dominican Republic and migrants from Puerto Rico began arriving in Lawrence in significant numbers in the late 1960s, attracted by cheap housing and a history of tolerance toward immigrants. In 1984, tensions between remaining working class whites and increasing numbers of Hispanic youth flared into a riot, centered at the intersection of Haverhill Street and Oxford Street where a number of buildings were destroyed by Molotov cocktails and over 300 people were arrested.
Lawrence saw further setbacks during the recession of the early 1990s as a wave of arson plagued the city. Over 200 buildings were set alight in an eighteen month period in 1991–92, many of them abandoned residences and industrial sites. The Malden Mills factory burned down on December 11, 1995. CEO Aaron Feuerstein decided to continue paying the salaries of all the now-unemployed workers while the factory was being rebuilt. By going against common CEO business practices, especially at a time when most companies were downsizing and moving overseas, he achieved recognition for doing the right thing.
A sharp reduction in violent crime starting in 2004 and massive private investment in former mill buildings along the Merrimack River, including the remaining section of the historic Wood Mill – to be converted into commercial, residential and education uses – have lent encouragement to boosters of the city. One of the final remaining mills in the city is Malden Mills. Lawrence's downtown has seen a resurgence of business activity as Hispanic-owned businesses have opened along Essex Street, the historic shopping street of Lawrence that remained largely shuttered since the 1970s. In June 2007, the city approved the sale of the Intown Mall, largely abandoned since the early 1990s recession, to Northern Essex Community College for the development of a medical sciences center, the construction of which commenced in 2012 when the InTown Mall was finally removed. A large multi-structure fire in January 2008 destroyed many wooden structures just south of downtown. A poor financial situation that has worsened with the recent global recession and has led to multiple municipal layoffs has Lawrence contemplating receivership.