Photo credit: Lawrence, MA from High Service Water Tower, Lussier Photography


Boston merchants involved in international trade evolved into manufacturers through development of textile communities powered largely by water. 


Daniel Saunders begins to purchase strips of land on either side of the Merrimack River from Dracut to what is now Lawrence in order to gain control of water power rights. More about Saunders: Saunders, Underground Railroad & Osage Orange Trees 

1844: 1844 Map of Lawrence Area 

1845: Population: 104


  • Lawrence incorporated as a town.
  • Formed from 3 ½ sq. miles from Methuen and 2 ½ sq. miles from Andover.
  • Named after one or all members of the Lawrence family.
  • Lawrence Fire Department was organized.



  • High School begins.
  • North Canal completed.
  • First mills on-line.

1850: Population 8,358


  • Lawrence chartered as a city.
  • The Essex County Jail was built, located at what is now the corner of Auburn and Hampshire Streets.
  • Map of the city of Lawrence, 1853


  • Small riot between Irish and native born.
  • Part of the larger statewide sweep by the anti-immigrant “Know-nothing” party in 1855.


  • National Financial Crash. Particularly bad in Lawrence because of embezzlement by Samuel Lawrence.
  • Bay State Mills, Pemberton Mill, Lawrence Machine Shop all went bankrupt.


  • Essex County Superior Court - Lawrence built at 43 Appleton Way.

1860: Population 17,639. Foreign born 42%

1870s: Population 28,921 

Lawrence City Hall was the site of the first city lockup. Prisoners were kept in wooden cells built into the archways of the basement. 

1880: Population 39,151 

In the 1880s, the Spicket River was a threat to Public Safety as it was used as an outlet for household garbage and sewerage and was a source of filth, smell and disease. To mitigate this, local engineers installed a sewer line along the river, and, confident of the purifying qualities of fast moving water, they straightened the path of the Spicket to allow for more rapid flow.

1890s: Population 44,654. Foreign born 45%.

  • Massive influx of southern, eastern European and Middle Eastern immigrants.
  • Hiram Mills, chief engineer of the Essex Company, creates the Experimental Station to treat water and sewage. It became a world-renowned center of research on water filtration and had an immediate and profound effect on the health of Lawrencians. The overall mortality rate for the city dropped by 21% in the first year after the filtration system began.
    • Mills becomes a member of the Massachusetts State Board of Health to chair its committee on water supply and sewerage.
    • Because of severe Typhoid epidemic, work begins on state-of –the-art slow sand filter for water treatment based on Hiram Mills’ work on purifying water at the Lawrence Experiment Station (now, as of 195 the MassDEP William X. Wall Experiment Station).
    • Water tower and reservoir completed.
    • The rate of Typhoid immediately reduced dramatically.
  • 1890: On July 26, a Cyclone devastated parts of South Lawrence, killing 6 and injuring dozens of others. Relief efforts began immediately.The Mayor and the heads of the city departments galvanized the community to extricate the dead and wounded, and begin the cleanup.The following evening a mass meeting was held at City Hall where messages of sympathy from other cities were read and offers of aid were presented.Various committees were formed to oversee the needs of the city.
  • 1892: American poet Robert Lee Frost (March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963) graduates from Lawrence High School.
  • 1898: Lawrence's biggest blizzard of the nineteenth century occurred on February 1, 1898, when the city was paralyzed by 30 inches of snow blowing into drifts 8 feet deep.
  • 1899: American Woolen Company is established.
  • Combination Lawrence Police Station and Courthouse located on the corner of Lawrence and Common Sts.

1900s: Population 62,559

  • Despite the documented problems in the City, a very rich cultural life also was taking place.
  • 1904: Mary Ellen Halley, of Lawrence, one of the first two state police women in the country.
  • 1906: Actress Thelma Todd was born on July 29, 1906.
  • 1907 Flour Mill Fire, burned for 3 days
  • 1909: Venerini Sisters come to Lawrence

1910s: Population 85,892. Foreign born 48%

  • 1910: Panorama Images of Lawrence
  • 1911: The Lawrence Survey published, detailing overcrowding, working conditions and contamination as causes for high rates of disease and death among Lawrence residents living in poverty.
  • 1911: New Charter for the Department of Public Safety was approved on November 7, 1911, to replace the one in existence since 1853. Under this “new” charter the Department of Public Safety included police and fire departments, lighting, wiring, weights and measures and conduits. Director of Public Safety was one of the most coveted positions of those running for public office, especially former police offers.
  • 1912: The Great Lawrence Textile Strike of 1912 (aka the Bread and Roses Strike) took place (January 11 - March 14, 1912)
    • Exhibition: Bread and Roses Strike of 1912: Two Months in Lawrence, Massachusetts, that Changed Labor History
    • Strike Timeline

      January 11: Everett Mill weavers go on strike to protest cut in pay.
      January 12: Workers across Lawrence leave their jobs and storm other mills.
      January 13: I.W.W. organizer Joseph Ettor arrives in the city. He speaks at City Hall and organizes strike committee.
      January 15: Strikers clash with police and militia troops across city.
      January 17–18: Thousands of strikers parade through city streets.
      January 20: Police discover dynamite planted in three popular meeting locations to discredit strikers.
      January 23: Relief stations open to serve strikers
      January 29: Angry mob attacks streetcars; Anna LoPizzo is shot and killed in a melee.
      January 30: John Ramey dies from bayonet wound; police arrest Ettor and Arturo Giovannitti charged with murder and inciting a riot; I.W.W. leader Bill Haywood takes over as chairman of strike committee.
      February 10: Children’s exodus begins; 119 children leave Lawrence for New York City
      February 17: Another 150 children leave for New York and Vermont.
      February 24: At train station, police crack down on third group of children and their parents.
      March 2: U.S. House of Representatives begins hearings to investigate the strike.
      March 4: Children of the strike testify before Congress.
      March 7: William Wood meets with strike committee members and is ready to bargain.
      March 12: Pacific Mill announces 15 percent raise in wages; Wood agrees to strikers’ demands.
      March 14: At final mass meeting, 15,000 workers vote to end strike.
      November 26: Ettor and Giovannitti are acquitted.
    • Mass Moments
    • Eagle Tribune Article : Theater Espresso's American Tapestry
  • 1913: On June 30, the Bath House Tragedy struck when a dock leading from the banks of the Merrimack River to one of the municipal bathhouses collapsed and 11 boys, ranging in age from eight to 15 years, were drowned. An inquest found that the accident was due to inadequate support of the dock. Shortly after the catastrophe, the city government abolished the bathhouses and made plans to build a municipal pool.
  • 1914: Alice Winifred O'Connor's Immigration Thesis published.
  • 1914: Former Lawrence Police Station and Courthouse torn down and new Police Station built on the corner of Lawrence and Common Sts.
  • 1918: Sullivan’s Furniture Fire, Essex St.
  • 1914 - 1918: World War 1
  • 1918: Global Influenza Pandemic: Influenza outbreak grips the world. In Lawrence, one in seven families was stricken with the disease. Over 2000 Lawrencians died in 1918 (compared to 1391 in 1917 and 1280 in 1919). The military was called in to assist and an emergency open-air hospital, Camp Emery (also know as Tent City), was established on Tower Hill. It was here that doctors, nurses, nuns, public health workers, and civilian volunteers labored tirelessly to treat sick.
  • 1918: Leonard Bernstein born in Lawrence.
  • 1919: Video: 48 54 The Lawrence Textile Strike of 1919, By Dexter Arnold
  • Rate of immigration slows.

1920s: Population 94, 270. Foreign Born 42%


  • The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression that took place mostly during the 1930s, beginning in the United States.
  • 1931: February 24th marked a general strike in three mills of the American Woolen Company, more than 10,000 workers were out.
  • 1936: In March, heavy rain and melting snow up north caused unprecedented flooding in New England. Lawrence was hit especially hard, as the Merrimack River overflowed it banks, flooding the city, putting residents at risk of death and disease, and leaving thousands homeless.The threat was so great that the National Guard was called to active duty and sandbags were placed along the River. By April, displaced Lawrencians began to return home and deal with the mess the flood left behind.

1940s - 1950s:

  • Majority of mills leave the city.
  • Greater numbers of Lawrence natives leave.
  • 1941: In May, the Massachusetts Women's Defense Corps, a group of volunteer women dedicated to providing war-related and emergency services to the citizens of the Commonwealth during World War II, was formed under the Massachusetts Committee on Public Safety. Lawrence had their own division.
  • 1939 - 1945: World War II
    • Lawrence History Center World War II Exhibit during the summer of 2000 drew 200 people on its opening night and was extended from three to four months due to popular demand. The World War II exhibit was the first exhibit in which we combined oral histories with other artifacts. The 71 oral histories, collected over two years, cover all branches of the military and the home front based upon the experiences of Lawrence residents.

1950s: Population 80,536

  • Latino Immigration begins. After several decades of slower immigration, a new ethnic group (Latinos) began to arrive.
  • Puerto Ricans first migrated to Lawrence, some to work in the farms and orchards in the region.

1960s: Population 71,865

  • Cuban refugees come and Dominican Republic immigrants begin to arrive.
  • 1965: New (and current) Lawrence Police Station opened on Lowell Street

1940s - 1970s:

1970s: Population 66,216

  • Refugees from Southeast Asia and immigrants from Central America arrive.
  • Lebanese Mahrajan Festival founded.
  • 1978: Immigrant City Archives is founded under the leadership of German immigrant Eartha Dengler (now known as the Lawrence History Center).
  • 1978: Semana Hispana en Lawrence is founded by Puerto Rican immigrant Isabel Meléndez.
  • 1978: On February 5 - 7, the biggest blizzard of the 20th century occurred.

1980s: Population 63,175,

1990s: Population 70,207. Minority 41%.

  • Substantial population increase reflects high immigration rate.
  • Neighborhood Associations increase and become more active, cleaning public areas, making efforts to beautify neighborhoods and setting up neighborhood watches to combat crime.
  • Community development partnerships bring together residents of diverse backgrounds to undertake common projects.
  • Arson crisis
  • The Lawrence Eagle-Tribune changes it's name to Eagle-Tribune.
  • 1992: The Lawrence History Center acquires its home in the former Essex Company Offices & Yard at 6 Essex Street, Lawrence -- a site built in 1882-3 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • 1993: Essex Art Center founded.
  • 1994: Fire at Plycraft, Inc., 39 South Canal Street.
  • 1995: Malden Mills explosion on December 11. More than 200 firefighters from as far away as NH and Boston’s South Shore battled the blaze. Not one life was lost. The next day, company president Aaron Feuerstein announced that he would rebuild and keep his employees on the payroll during that time.
  • 1996-1998: Lawrence District Court opens at Fenton Judicial Center, 2 Appleton Street.
  • 1999: Lawrence History Center's Black History exhibit on display at the Lawrence High School Library.
  • 1999: Friends of the Lawrence Heritage State Park founded.
  • 1999: Groundwork Lawrence (GWL) founded.


  • Recent newcomer families increasingly buy Lawrence property and rehabilitate it for businesses and homes.
  • The expanded Lawrence Heritage State Park area revitalizes Riverfront Park in South Lawrence.
  • A zoning overlay permits multiple uses of mills to accommodate retail, artist studios, residences.
  • Increasingly, entrepreneurs buy and invest in mills in a variety of creative ways.
  • Enel North America works on replacing the flash boards on top of Great Stone Dam.
  • 2002: On December 14, four boys age 7 to 11 drowned when they plunged through thin ice while playing on a partially frozen Merrimack River. The city mourned and grieved the loss of life and then took action. In the following years, river safety and swimming classes were offered, and emergency stations with ropes, floating devices and poles, were installed along the Merrimack River, including where the boys drowned.
  • 2006: Mother's Day Floods were the result of several days of major rainstorms. Lawrence public safety and emergency personnel were prepared, but the flooding was worse than expected. The city evacuated nearly 3,000 people and set up shelters throughout the city.
  • 2008: The Lawrence History Center (Immigrant City Archives) celebrates its 30th Anniversary.
  • 2008: Parker Street Fire
  • 2009: Washington Mills Building No.1: Preservation Award
  • 2009: Lawrence elects State Representative, William "Willy" Lantigua First Hispanic Mayor in City and in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
  • 2009: Hiram Mills is inducted into the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Alumni Hall of Fame as a Distinguished Hydraulic Engineer, 1836-1921.

2010s: Population: 78,197, 36% foreign born.

2020s: Population: 89,143

  • 2020: In mid-March, the COVID-19 Pandemic began with a 2 week school closure and shut down that ultimately lasted for months. The Public Health Emergency was declared as COVID-19 began to spread rapidly. Schools and non-essential businesses were closed and people were encouraged to wear masks to stop the spread of the virus. Many COVID-19 testing sites were created in the city, and funds were raised to help those affected by the Pandemic. Lawrence would end up disproportionately impacted by the virus in terms of rate of infection and deaths.
  • 2020: Across the first weekend in June, Lawrence responded to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others killed at the hands of police with Black Lives Matter (BLM) rallies and calls to action.
    • BLAC (Black Lawrence Activist Collective), a youth led organization, organized a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest and response on North Common that was held June 5, 2020
    • LPD Chief Vasqueand Mayor Dan Rivera organized a joint Black Lives Matter rally on the North Common on June 7, 2021 that was also peaceful.
    • Rumors and fears of violence in advance of the Black Lives Matter events led to boarded up stores and a heavy police presence from Lawrence up through Salem, NH, however, the events remained largely peaceful. Business owners fears of violence and destruction were not realized. Photo
  • 2021: Holy Rosary Rectory, February 22
  • 2021: Saratoga Street Fire, April 4
  • 2021: On May 1, the Lawrence History Center hosts virtual community symposium focusing on Public Safety in Lawrence.
  • 2021: On August 25, Lawrence's own Sergeant Johanny Rosario Pichardo, USMC, age 25, was one of 13 killed in a terror attack in Kabul, Afghanistan. She passed carrying out the critical work of helping to evacuate thousands of women and children so that they may make it to safety. A candle-light vigil was held on August 31. She was welcomed back to the city on September 11, her funeral procession was September 14, 2021.