Massachusetts State Archives. Photo by Brad MacGowan

More than a map: “A Plan of Chelmsford” by Frederic French, 1794

by Brad MacGowan


At that time there were, I think, less than a dozen houses on what now constitutes the city of Lowell, or rather the thickly settled parts of it; that of Nathan Tyler, near the corner of Merrimack and Bridge streets, that of Josiah Fletcher, near the Boott Mills, the house and store of Phineas Whiting, near Pawtucket Bridge, the house of Mrs. Warren, near what is now Warren street, the house of Judge Livermore, east of Concord river, then called Belvidere, and a few others.

Nathan Appleton, 1858


Such was East Chelmsford in 1820. A few scattered farmhouses, standing, however, on good soil, and occupied by intelligent and substantial families, the store, the tavern, the humble wooden factory, the few small buildings for the powder-works, the two gristmills — this was nearly all that the place possessed . . . Associated power took up the work which individual enterprise had feebly attempted, and in this was the origin of Lowell.     

Henry A. Miles (1845)


There must have been a misapprehension of the facts in the minds of those who have written concerning the early days of East Chelmsford --- its population and industries. It was more of a place than represented to have been.

Zina E. Stone (1894; 1906).


The advantages of the brooks and rivers above mentioned will best appear from the number of Mills, Machines and Manufactories, ·built upon them. There are six saw-mills; seven grist mills; one woolen manufactory; and iron works, where hoes and shovels are manufactur'd, and various kinds of curious work done, and irons for machinery cast; a fulling Mill and clothier's shop. Also a very curious loom for weaving boot-straps, moved entirely by water. This loom, constructed by Mr. John Golding is a great curiosity in these parts, and will, it is believed, bring a handsome income to the ingenious and indefatigable owner.

Wilkes Allen, 1820

While the descriptions of pre-1821 East Chelmsford by Nathan Appleton and Henry A. Miles endured for decades and are sometimes still quoted without context or qualification, we know that the area was “more of a place than represented to have been.” Two primary sources for this were Wilkes Allen’s 1820 book and a 1794 map surveyed by Frederic French.


           Another source is “A plan of sundry farms etc. at Patucket in the town of Chelmsford.” Originally published in 1821, the available copy is “Reduced from the original plan, for the Props. of Locks & Canals on Merrimack River, Nov. 1871.” While this is a beautiful and interesting map, it does not contain the details about mills, etc. that are on the French map.


           The book History of Chelmsford by Reverend Wilson Waters (also Waters and Perham, see below; 1917), contains a two-page “Map of Chelmsford in 1794.” There is a small amount of block printing on the lower left that reads



· · · BY CHARLES E. PARK · · ·




In 1794 a map or plan of the Town was made from a survey by Frederick French. From this map it appears that there were at that time two sawmills and one corn-mill on the Merrimack river at Pawtucket falls; one sawmill and one set of iron-works on Concord river near its mouth; one sawmill on the canal near where it emptied into the Concord river; one clothier's mill; one saw- and grist-mill upon River Meadow brook: these were all within the limits of the present City of Lowell. A grist-mill and sawmill are shown upon Stony brook, at what is now North Chelmsford; a grist-mill on Beaver brook at the centre of the Town, and one on Great brook (then the Adams mill). . . .


Hale's clothier's or fulling mill, built in 1790, stood just below where Gorham street crosses River Meadow brook. The other mills on this brook were above Gorham street. . . .

The iron-works mentioned were carried on by John Ames and John Fisher, and were situated on the Concord river at Massick falls, near Ames street, which was named for John Ames. His son, Nathan P. Ames, according to Mr. H. S. Perham, introduced many improvements in the works. Allen says: "hoes, and shovels are manufactured, and various kinds of curious work done and irons for machinery cast." N. P. Ames possessed great mechanical skill, an enterprising spirit and an inventive talent of high order. In 1829 he removed to Chicopee. . . .


There was a bridge over the Concord at the iron-works, and an old road, which lead from Tewksbury, may still be traced running to it from the junction of Rogers and High streets. The bridge and adjacent buildings were burned, probably about 1820.

Wilson Waters (1917)

While the Perham and Waters book with the copied map is digitized and available on the web, I could not find a digitized version of French’s original map online. I learned that original is extant and is currently housed at the Massachusetts State Archives. The Archives staff kindly allowed me to photograph the map and a similar on in the same book that details the measurements and other information taken during the survey for the map. (I also photographed a map of Dracut and a map of Tewksbury that were in the same book and I made them available online.)

Massachusetts State Archives. Photo by Brad MacGowan

The labeled features on the map included five “saw” mills, six “grist” mills, an “iron works” and “trip hammer,” a “clothiers mill,” the “Petucket Bridge” across the Merrimack, two bridges across the Concord River (drawn but not named), the Middlesex Canal, the [Pawtucket] Canal (marked but unnamed on map), the “Great Road to Boston 25 miles to the State House,” a “Road to Salem,” a “Road to Concord Court House 11 miles,” county roads, town roads, and the names of six surrounding towns (Tewksbury, Carlisle, Billerica, Westford, Dracut, and Tyngsborough). Many of these features were in what is today Lowell and other sources show that other mills, manufactories, and infrastructure were added between 1796 and 1821.


           The next map is from the same book of maps in the State Archives. It details the measurements taken during the survey for the map.

Massachusetts State Archives. Photo by Brad MacGowan

The following photo is a detail from that map listing the mills and iron works operating in the area.

Massachusetts State Archives. Photo by Brad MacGowan

           The next image, using the Park/Perham copy, labels the map’s features with modern text.

           The image below shows the Park/Perham copy of the 1794 map side-by-side with a modern map of the same area. On the modern map, the Town of Chelmsford is outlined with a dotted red line.


           The images below both are details from the larger map showing the northern end of the Concord River at the confluence with the Merrimack River with original and modern text.

Compiling the man-made structures mentioned in Allen (1820), Waters and Perham (1917), East Chelmsford in 1820 included at least 50 houses, three stores, two inns, two schools, five sawmills, four gristmills, one clothiers’ mill, one woolen mill, one fulling mill, one boot-straps manufactory, one carding machine, one cotton mill, one iron works/trip hammer, a glassworks, and a gunpowder manufactory. All of this at the confluence of 2 major rivers with extensive transportation, plentiful fishing, and two canals; one going to a major seaport.


* The current author's compilation

About the references

            For more images and details of this map. Please visit These are the only versions of these maps on the internet. The Park/Perham copy is available in the digitized copy of Waters’ (1917) book.


           History of Chelmsford, Massachusetts by Wilson Waters was printed for the Town of Chelmsford by the Courier-Citizen in 1917. This book was started by Henry Spaulding Perham who died in 1906 after writing the first chapter. Rev. Waters went on to complete the 1020-page book. Sometimes just Waters is mentioned as the author and other times both Waters and Perham are mentioned. The book is available for free on the internet on a few different websites including Google Books.


            Introduction of the Power Loom and Origin of Lowell by Nathan Appleton was published in 1858 by B. H. Penhallow of Lowell. It is printed right on the title page of the book that it was “Printed for the Proprietors of the Locks and Canals on Merrimack River,” and the section quoted shows that the story is told from that perspective. It is available free on the web from Google books, and other sites.


            Reverend Henry A. Miles wrote Lowell, As It Was, and As It Is, which was published in 1845. It is available on a few different free sites on the web.


            The Z. E. Stone quotes are from a paper titled Before the Power-Loom. The Earliest Cotton and Woolen Industries at East Chelmsford and Vicinity, and their Promoters, which was published in Volume 6, No. 1 of Contributions of the Old Residents' Historical Association. This Volume was published in 1906; however, it states that the paper was read before the association by Z. E Stone in 1894.


            Robert Weible’s chapter, quoting Z. E. Stone, “More of a place than represented to have been;” East Chelmsford, 1775-1821, in the book The Continuing Revolution and John A. Goodwin’s chapter, “Villages at Wamesit Neck,” in Cotton Was King provide modern versions of the East Chelmsford described by Allen, Waters, Perham, and Stone.


            The Wilkes Allen quotes are from the 1820 book, The history of Chelmsford: From its Origin in 1653, to the year 1820--together with an historical sketch of the church, and biographical notices of the four first pastors. To which is added a memoir of the Pawtuckett tribe of Indians. With a large appendix. This book is available for free at Google Books and The timing of this book is remarkable as it was published right before the progenitors of the future Town then City of Lowell made their first visit. So, using Henry A. Miles’s phrasing, Allen’s book is East Chelmsford “as it is,” not “as it was.”