Lawrence, Massachusetts, called “The City of the Damned” in a 2012 Boston Magazine feature, has seen some hard times. According to 2014 data the national median number of violent crimes per 1000 residents is 3.8 and the Massachusetts rate is 3.9. Lawrence comes in at 11.1. It is also the state’s poorest city (per capita income less than $17,000 per year), has the highest unemployment rate (over twice the state as a whole) and has been poorly led — it’s last mayor was investigated by state and federal officials for corruption (an aide was convicted and received 18 months) while a state-appointed overseer managed the city’s finances.
But it wasn’t always so. Sitting on both sides of the Merrimack River at a point where a series of natural falls of 5 feet or so were not sufficient to drive water powered equipment, the future city of Lawrence occupied a site containing enough drop, if engineered, to support a massive output of power. The wealth-producing potential of water power had been amply demonstrated a generation earlier in Massachusetts, first at Waltham by Francis Lowell and then at Lowell itself, only 11 miles upstream from this new site. The call went out for investors and in 1845 Abbot and Amos Lawrence raised a million dollars, created Boston Associates, and purchased seven square miles of land on either side of the Merrimack River.