For decades it was said Haverhill was a sleeping giant just waiting to be discovered by investors and developers who could see the community’s potential.
The old abandoned shoe factories some people saw as an albatross were viewed by others as a way to make the city a success again, as it was in the late 1800s through the mid-1900s, when Haverhill was a leading maker of women’s shoes.
The giant has indeed awaken. In the last few years, developers have invested in those buildings and revamped them. Now hundreds of apartments and condos occupy the old factories. Many people walk from their downtown homes to the train station and take the commuter rail to their jobs in Boston. Successful restaurants and other businesses are prospering in Haverhill. The city is seen as a desirable place to live.
If the city was a sleeping giant, then perhaps the Merrimack River is its lifeblood. The river flows through the heart of Haverhill, the downtown where workers once piled uncounted shoes onto barges to be sent around the world.
Today’s version of the river promises a different kind of lifeblood. Instead of carrying barges here to ship shoes to other countries, the Merrimack is seen as serving another purpose — but one that can also boost the city’s economy.
Enter state Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives. Haverhill’s new senator has been is named to a legislative committee for tourism and culture. She said her priorities include tourism in Haverhill, with a focus on the Merrimack.
That’s good news.
The groundwork has been laid by Haverhill’s recent accomplishments around the river. The Bradford Rail Trail on the south side of the river offers walkers and bikers a place to go for a stroll along the scenic waterway. There is a move afoot to have local sculptors erect their works along the trail to make it more attractive to visitors.
Riverfront Park on the downtown side of the river has a boardwalk and docks, making it easy for people to leave their boats and walk along the river, and then stroll to a nearby restaurant, lounge or shop.
On top of that, a variety of seasonal celebrations take over the downtown near the river and draw crowds. They include the summertime River Ruckus festival, with its emphasis on river activities such as boating and a laser light show along the waterway.
It’s our hope that Haverhill’s new state senator is indeed aggressive in getting state money for river’s edge improvements that will lure tourists and locals alike to activities and businesses along the Merrimack.
More visitors to the area will translate to more money spent there, a stronger business community with more jobs, and a stronger sense of community pride.
If O’Conner Ives and others do their parts, the giant that has awakened will make even greater strides.