Hometown Featured in Boston Globe

It’s not often the Boston Globe has a column about one’s hometown—these correspondents featured it the travel section—yes, it’s a gem of a 340+ year-old town.

 A TANK AWAY

Hats off to the little river city of Amesbury 

By Diane Bair and Pamela Wright
Globe correspondents   
  June 11, 2013

Located on the banks of the Merrimack River, Lowell’s Boat Shop is a National Historic Landmark.

Unless you’ve gone careening down the famously steep, snowy hills of Amesbury Sports Park, you might have missed Amesbury completely. That’s OK; this city of 16,000 on the northerly edge of Massachusetts is used to being overshadowed by its more showy neighbors, Portsmouth, N.H., and Newburyport. So you’ll feel like you’ve stumbled upon something unexpectedly cool as you dig into the blue corn-fried chicken at Crave Brasserie, or set the kids loose on the pony swings at Cider Hill Farm.

Amesbury doesn’t sit on the coastline, but two rivers wind through the city, the Merrimack and the Powwow. The Powwow’s 90-foot drop powered the mills that shaped the city’s history. Downtown’s brick mill buildings housed carriage makers from the 1830s to the early 1900s and, later, Merrimac Hat Factory, the largest producer of high-fashion headgear in the country in 1946. Now, the mill buildings are being revitalized to house shops, art studios, and small businesses.

 

STAY
Located just off 1-95 north on exit 58B, the Fairfield Inn (35 Clarks Road, 978-388-3400, www.marriott.com/mhtfa, from $139), offers 105 bright and modern guest rooms, with pillow-top mattresses and 32-inch flat-screen TVs. Freebies include a “deluxe” continental breakfast and Wi-Fi; there’s also an outdoor pool. If you’re looking for something more intimate, check out the bed-and-breakfasts in Newburyport. The Compass Rose Inn (5½ Center St., 978-423-5914;www.compassrosenewburyport.com; summer rates from $225), located on a side street downtown, garners rave reviews. With five three-bedroom suites, this elegant Federalist-style (new, but made to look old) B&B offers niceties like Molton Brown toiletries and heated towel racks. Another Newburyport favorite: the Garrison Inn (11 Brown Square, 978-499-8500, www.garrisoninn.com, from $190; two-night minimum on weekends, June-Oct.), a 24-room boutique hotel set in a four-story Georgian-style building. Amenities include a complimentary breakfast and afternoon tea service.

EAT
Set in an old train station, Crave Brasserie & Wine Bar (32 Elm St., 978-834-6075, www.cravefoodandwine.com, $17 and up) is Amesbury’s go-to spot for a good meal. While the menu reads like a mash-up of food trends — chipotle shrimp and gnocchi, Korean BBQ, lobster mac, fried chicken and waffles — you’ll be besotted once you taste the popovers with cinnamon butter. If the blue corn-fried chicken is available when you visit, get it. Tiny Phat Cats Bistro 65A Market St., 978-388-2777,www.phatcatsbistro.com, entrees from $12) puts a fresh, local spin on comfort food. The multi-grain risotto comes with organic tofu as an optional add-in, and the New England haddock potato cake is made with local fish (plus a tasty cilantro cumin crème for dipping).

And even though the Flatbread Company (5 Market Square, 978-834-9800, www.flatbreadcompany.com, large flatbreads, $13.75-$18.75) is part of a small chain, this was the original location. Skip dessert and dig into the sea salt dark chocolate caramels at Ovedia Artisan Chocolates (36 Main St., 978-388-7700, www.ovedia.com). Owner Barbara Vogel’s charming shop is the place to go for two of the four basic food groups: handmade chocolates and espresso.

Riverwalk

DURING THE DAY
On a beautiful day, meander the Riverwalk, a 1.3-mile multi-use path that skirts the Powwow along the old Boston & Maine rail bed. Amesbury’s signature attraction is Lowell’s Boat Shop (459 Main St., 978-834-0050, www.lowellsboatshop.com). Explore centuries of wooden boat-building history at this National Historic Landmark, located on the banks of the Merrimack. It’s a working boat shop (since 1793) and a living museum, with guided tours and exhibits.

 

Whittier Historic House Museum

The city is also home to a couple of small museums, the Whittier Home Association (86 Friend St., 978-388-1337, www.amesburytreasures.org, $7), former home of Quaker poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier, and the Bartlett Museum (270 Main St., 978-388-4528, www.bartlettmuseum.org), a two-room museum that houses the city’s artifacts from centuries past. And if you love Amesbury Sports Park (12 South Hunt Road, 978-388-5788, www.amesburysportspark.net, two hours of summer tubing $14, Zorb ride $20) in wintertime, you’ll be happy to know it’s open for summer tubing and Zorb rides. Since you’re not traveling far, you can take advantage of Amesbury’s best stop for a souvenir, Cider Hill Farm (45 Fern Ave., 978-388-5525, www.ciderhill.com). You can pick your own blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, apples, and peaches at this 145-acre farm, or buy them by the pound, along with goodies like apple cider doughnuts. (Check the website for harvest information.) And if you have kids, check out the pony swings, made from old tires.

AFTER DARK
Nothing says retro fun like candlepin bowling. Local favorite Leo’s Super Bowl (84 Haverhill Road, 978-388-2010, www.leossuperbowl.com) goes cosmic on Friday nights (from 9-11), when black lights, strobes, disco balls, and dance music amp up the atmosphere. On Saturdays from 7-11 p.m., they switch on the blue lights and queue up the oldies tunes for “Moonlight Oldies” night. Get your game on at the Riverside Lounge (37 Main St., 978-834-0020, www.riversideloungebar.com) where 18 TV screens and 17 draft beers make it a party. Just down the street, there’s the Ale House (33 Main St., 978-399-1950, www.amesburyalehouse.com), where they’ve got 24 brews on tap. And we’d lose all street cred if we didn’t mention Hodgie’s Ice Cream (71 Haverhill Road, 978-388-1211, www.hodgies.com), open till 9 p.m. This throwback ice cream stand draws crowds for massive, made-on-site ice cream — and even the small servings are enormous.

Amesbury is 52 miles north of Boston. For information, visit www.amesburychamber.com.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@gmail.com.

Downtown Amesbury

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