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The Great Stone Dam

Map image courtesy of the Lawrence History Center.

In 1845 Abbott and Samuel Lawrence, Nathan Appleton, Charles Storrow, and the other founders of the Essex Company set out to create a "New City on the Merrimack" that would serve the needs of the Industrial Age.  The project attracted a group of Boston investors who visited Bodwells Falls on the Merrimack, finding the area surrounded by farmland and woods.  With a drop of only five feet, it became clear that in order to provide power for textile mills a dam of great size would be required to raise the river to a usable height of 30 feet. The heart of their venture was the construction of the Great Stone Dam.

After much study, Storrow settled on an arched masonry design.  The first stone was laid on September 19, 1845 and the final crest stone was set three years later in 1848. At the time it was completed in 1848, it was the largest dam in the world, measuring 900 feet long and 35 feet at the base.  The height of the dam was lowered by 16 inches when it was found that the impoundment extended too far upstream toward Lowell.

The Essex Company sold water rights to mills, who in turn used the water to power turbines. As industries along the river changed over the ensuing years, Lawrence Hydroelectric Associates purchased a controlling interest in the Essex Company in the mid-1970s. Without disturbing the original Great Stone Dam, the Essex Company placed the current hydrostation in operation in 1981

Our race course is set in the impoundment just above The Great Stone Dam, which you can see downstream from the Boathouse.