Good News from A Great City Haverhill, MA
The Heartbeat of Haverhill made a radical move last evening. I was looking for an easy, scenic, minimal chance of ticks, walk that supported my need for nature and fulfilled my promise to myself to walk 2-3 miles 3+ times a week. But it was really hot, and maybe I’d go without the strenuous hills for the evening’s promenade. If the start and end offered the chance for an ice coffee, better still.
All clues led to Haverhill’s Downtown Loop that combines the urban yet nature rich Fiorentini Rail Trail (including extension to the Crescent Yacht Club), the decidedly urban but scenic Dempsey Boardwalk and two bridges – Basiliere and Comeau. The rail trail section in Haverhill’s Bradford neighborhood is hot-topped with a wide path for bikes and pedestrians. And has street parking right at the Dunkin Donuts. I’ve walked the 1.66 mile loop (each side of the river is 1/2 mile and the bridges are .33 miles each) many, many times, and hoped the jaunt back and forth on the extension to the yacht club and meanderings off course would amount to my two-mile minimum limit.
What made this walk radical was that for the first time, I walked it counterclockwise. Wooooo. Spooky, right. Perhaps for those judgmental minds, this is not radical at all. But you know that adage of what happens when we assume? We make an Ass of U and Me. See how that spells out ASSUME? What I found is that when you travel over very familiar territory in a different direction you notice entirely different things.
We started at the Dunkin Donuts at the corner of So. Main St/Rte 125 and Middlesex St. The first thing I noticed was an amorous mocking bird serenading anyone in the vicinity in the hope of captivating some (or at least one) single chicks. Man, this guy was singing his heart out.
Taking a right passed the biking bronze man, led us to Fiorentini Rail Trail Phase 2 and the underpass of Rte 125 where sadly some of the less talented graffiti artists had left their mark. Further down the path, and nearly completely obscured by overgrowth is an example of some beautiful artwork (some may still call it graffiti) on foundation remnants. I peeked through the leaves and saw bright patches of color that I know will reveal themselves as the leaves tumble down. The first time I saw it, I felt like I’d stumbled upon a long lost treasure.
The end of the trail in this direction is currently at the Crescent Yacht Club, which is a highbrow name for a friendly casual gathering place and docks for river travelers and those who visit the river from a dry distance. We walked to the river which was too high for shore combing and watched a few birds swooping low. Then retraced our steps and headed back to Rte 125 where we crossed the Basiliere Bridge.
Harbor Place Plaza at 2 Merrimack Street (site of the fountain and little green area) hosts activities year round. The Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce coordinates free summer work out sessions at 8am throughout July and August this year, and as well as concerts and movie nights. During our walkabout, we witnessed hardworking fitness enthusiasts feeling the burn as led by instructors from The Compound, located next door.
The Dempsey Boardwalk provided expansive views of the Merrimack River and the developing tower called The Heights on Merrimack Street. From the newest construction to an old financial center, there is a lot to discover on a backwards walk downtown.
The Team Haverhill Farmers Market (Saturdays 9am-1pm) is the weekly gathering space for Hillies. 2019 is year two in its new location at the Goecke Parking Deck on Merrimack Street. But I’ve written about that any number of times, so it wasn’t a surprise for me. Though, the freshly painted elongated mural was easier to see without the big crowds and tents of a typical Saturday.
Engraved in the building at 191 Merrimack Street, we saw a bit of history. According to Antiquemoney.com The “Haverhill National Bank Of Haverhill in Massachusetts printed $6,001,690 dollars worth of national currency. Once a bank issues that much money there really isn’t much room for rare issues. However, there are certainly exceptions to every rule. This national bank opened in 1864 and stopped printing money in 1935, which equals a 72 year printing period.” Antiquemoney.com Haverhill National Bank article
George Washington visited Haverhill on November 4, 1789. The name Washington Square (at the junction of Merrimack Street and Washington Street) commemorates where he spent the night. We checked out the monument dedicated to that visit at the Post Office, 2 Washington Street. Recently Team Haverhill cleared the area around the monument and made it visible, and for the first time THOH noticed it.
Tempting shops and restaurants are nothing new on Washington Street, they lure us back to area all the time. But little bursts of urban gardens and flowering window boxes were a welcome surprise. Many are created and sponsored by Haverhill’s Brightside Adopt a Park or Planter Program or Nunan’s Florist and Garden Center. So if you meet the sponsoring groups, be sure to say ‘Thank You’.
Trains hold a certain allure for many, and the Comeau Bridge parallels the train bridge that holds commuter rail, Amtrak, and freight trains. The bridge is undergoing a 5-year renovation, that goes on hiatus in early spring to allow the rare short nose sturgeon to lay their eggs in peace at the base of the bridge.
Once crossed, we are back in the Bradford neighborhood of Haverhill. Off to the right is SteamPunk Station. A cafe that allows you to start your trail walk there with generous free parking and a portable bubble tea or iced coffee. When you finish, consider sitting out on their patio and watching the trains go by.
Following the river brings walkers back to the Fiorentini Rail Trail. Art dots the rail trail with provocative pieces combining whimsy and history. The 5 statues/sculptures create the Art Walk. The selected artists include David Borrus, Susan Blim, Susan Kneeland, Dale Rogers, and Jack Welch, who were selected by the Art Walk committee. This is another Team Haverhill project. The statues are hard to miss, but what is unusual about them on this walk was the way the light reflected off of them. Representative photos are below. Apologies to Susan Blimm who’s statue is so unique as to be difficult to effectively capture in a photo, and so it is not represented. I will try again and update.
Between the first and last sculpture, breaks in the trees that edge the river provide views of the downtown. We noticed that electricity has been activated at The Heights, and lights now can be seen sparkling on all floors from dusk and beyond.
The city institution called Roma – is a restaurant with the best views of the river and cityscape, plus a patio to enjoy them. The restaurant seems to have been around forever, and moved to this location years ago after being on the other side of the river even longer. With such a lengthy history, Roma is not unexpected on our travels, however, it is a testament to their crew and tenacity that they rebounded so quickly from a small fire just weeks ago. Also, they grow some of the most beautiful hibiscus to surround their deck. They make it seem like we should be ordering pina coladas, after we’d walked through some sort of Star Trek-like transporter, that plopped us on a tropical isle.
From the Roma, it’s just a short jaunt back to the entrance to the trail, and the Dunkin Donuts iced coffee I promised myself as a reward for a good walk, on a warm summer’s night. Once there I decided to shake things up even more with an iced tea instead. Somebody stop me, I’ve really gone rogue, now.
Photos and text (c) Alison Colby-Campbell