During the 1830s, Daniel Saunders, called the Founder of Lawrence, purchased strips of land on either side of the Merrimack River to gain control of waterpower rights. In 1843 he, along with other visionaries, formed the Merrimack Water Power Association and accelerated land purchases along the Merrimack, including a total of seven and a half square miles from Methuen and Andover, which would eventually become the city of Lawrence.

Boston-based investors, the Boston Associates, had already developed nearby Lowell as one of the first planned industrial cities. They sought to replicate their success ten miles downriver in Lawrence at the confluence of the Merrimack, Shawsheen, and Spicket rivers. In so doing, key players - Daniel Saunders, Sr., John Nesmith, Edmund Bartlett, and Samuel Lawrence - took steps to secure ample capital and petitioned the state to build a dam and to create and sell water power between Lowell and Lawrence. Historian, Orra Stone, said this about the city in History of Massachusetts Industries: Their Inception, Growth, and Success - Vol. I: “The influx of Boston capital created a mill city almost overnight and for nearly a mile on both banks of the stately Merrimack there tower the red brick walls of manufacturing establishment.”