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Lawrence is a city in Essex County, Massachusetts, United States, on the Merrimack River. As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 76,377 which had risen to an estimated as 80,028 of 2019. Surrounding communities include Methuen to the north, Andover to the southwest, and North Andover to the east. Lawrence and Salem were the county seats of Essex County, until the Commonwealth abolished county government in 1999. Lawrence is 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 poet Robert Frost for his early school years; his essays and poems were first published in the Lawrence High School newspaper.
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 have been 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 the “New City”, “Essex” or “Merrimac”.:23 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 laborers who had experience with similar building work. The work was dangerous: injuries and even death were not uncommon.