Reeds Ferry was a Colonial era ferry across the Merrimack River operated by William Read from which Reeds Ferry Village derived its name. This is the site of the original landing on the west side of the river. The ferry was headquartered on the east side, in Litchfield. For this reason, Merrimack’s records of the operation of the ferry are sparse, although it is known that upon William’s death in 1772, his widow, Lucy, petitioned the courts and was granted the right to run the ferry.
This was an important access site to the Merrimack River. In addition to the ferry operation, the landing served as the loading point for canal boats carrying both passengers and freight destined for Newburyport. Later, with the completion of the Middlesex Canal in 1803, Merrimack merchant trade was opened directly with Boston.
The canal boat landing was centered at the ferry landing and extended several hundred feet on either side. Large quantities of raw materials such as granite, hay, grain, lumber, tree bark for tanning, and bricks were all shipped to ready markets in Boston and towns along the way. A large Merrimack brick factory operated by Eri Kittredge was located close by, approximately where Reeds Ferry School now stands, and many of their bricks were used to build the mills in Lowell. Foreign and domestically manufactured products were carried back to Merrimack on the return trips. Food and lodging for the boatmen and other travelers were provided by McGaw’s Tavern, which previously stood at the northeast corner of Depot Street and Daniel Webster Highway.
The ferry site was also the location of a Boston and Maine Railroad depot for which Depot Street was named. Competition from the railroad ultimately led to the demise of the canal boat trade, causing the bankruptcy of the Middlesex Canal Company in 1851. The railroad also greatly diminished, but did not totally kill, ferry traffic. The last ferry passenger is said to have crossed in the mid-1920’s.
Historical photographs of Merrimack, including the Reeds Ferry RR Station.
A description of the Reeds Ferry RR Station and a brief history of railroading in Merrimack.
The text of Lucy Read’s petition, from a Town of Litchfield history.
History and maps from the Middlesex Canal Association.