The Merrimack river begins at the confluence of the Pemigewasset and Winnipesaukee rivers in Franklin, New Hampshire, flows south through Concord, Manchester and Nashua, crosses the border into Massachusetts, then turns northeast to shadow the border with New Hampshire on its way through Lowell, Lawrence and Haverhill, before emptying into the sea at Newburyport.
The 19th century saw the development of textile mills along the river, driving a major industry for New England. While that era is gone, it came with a cost – canals and dams were built to control the flow to support the industry and textile waste was dumped into the river along with human waste of the growing population turning the beautiful river into a, well, not so beautiful river. Thankfully, the Clean Water Act of 1972 and many advocacy groups have helped turn the tide, and today the river is recovering – with fish and wildlife returning, and even a safe bathing beach.
For many, this region has been a pass through on the way to the lakes and mountains, with its heavy traffic on Route 3 and Interstate 93 through Manchester, the Hooksett tolls and Concord before finally breaking free. For others, the southern communities of Nashua, Salem and Derry are bedroom communities for commuters to Boston.
But there is more to this region than all that. Manchester, the largest metropolitan area in New Hampshire and once down and out, has seen a real revival, with high tech and other companies setting up shop in the old mills and a resurgence of arts and culture. With great museums, a major sports arena, theater, concerts and colleges, it is a town worth spending some time in. Concord, the capital of New Hampshire, has also seen a renaissance, where restaurants, breweries, shops and performing arts are on the rise.
Also worth checking out in the region is the Canterbury Shaker Village, a living history museum, Canobie Lake Park amusement park in Salem, and the Robert Frost Farm historic site in Derry. Beyond the hustle and bustle is bucolic countryside, with farmland, orchards, beautiful fall foliage, and scenic byways.
All this, and so close to Boston. So take a break from the lakes and mountains and check out the Merrimack Valley.