A Lowell Massachusetts development “to rival any other village that ever was started”

Surveyed & Drawn by Butterfield & Swan, Civil Engineers / C. Cook’s Lithography, PLAN OF LAND IN AYERS’ NEW-CITY LOWELL, MASS. Belonging to DANIEL AYER.  To be Sold at PUBLIC AUCTION MONDAY MAY 10 1852… And at PRIVATE SALE at any time PREVIOUS to May 1 1852. Lowell: Daniel Ayer, 1852
Lithograph on very thin stock, 40 ½”h x 26 ½”w at neat line plus margins, uncolored. Old folds, minor soiling and discoloration, wear at edges and losses at corners (not affecting image), no doubt from the broadside having been tacked to a wall for display.

A spectacular and extremely rare visual document of an ambitious 19th-century industrial development in Lowell Massachusetts.

Lowell was established by the Boston Associates in the 1820s along the Pawtucket Falls of the Merrimack River, with the intention of expanding on a manufacturing and social model first pioneered in Waltham.  Supplied with ample water power and sited at the nexus of a river, canal and rail network linking the resources of the northern New England with the coastal entrepotof Boston, the city soon became the United States’ leading manufacturing center, particularly known for shoe and textile production.

The Boston Associates’ success inspired others, including one Daniel Ayer, who developed a large area along River Meadow Brook (aka Hale’s Brook) in the south part of the city.

“One of the most famous real estate developments of the forties was that of ‘Ayer’s New City,’ projected in 1847 by Daniel Ayer.  This gentleman purchased a large tract of sandy plain near Hale’s brook, laid out some streets and lots and inaugurated a monster auction sale, inciting attendance by promise of a barbecue.  The ox was duly roasted and ‘the occasion drew a crowd of people but the unsavory smell spoiled their appetites.’  Mr. Ayer later went through bankruptcy, owing money to a large list of creditors.  He eventually, however, paid every cent for which he was morally liable.” (Coburn, History of Lowell and Its People, I.232)

Nevertheless, Ayer persevered, and the area was laid out according to his original street plan, as depicted on the map offered here.  But actual development proceeded slowly:

“Although Ayer touted that the New City would be home to many diverse manufacturing enterprises and would rectify the problem of Lowell’s dependence on one industry, textiles, he had difficulty attracting other industrial interests. For the first two decades the tanneries, clustered around Tanner and Lincoln streets, formed the principal industry. The largest of the three employed about 100 men, many of whom were Irish immigrants. They produced leather goods primarily for the apparel trade, and in particular for manufacturers of gloves and shoes. There was little additional industrial development and by the late 1850s, Ayer’s New City was simply called Ayer’s City.” (City of Lowell, Ayer’s City Industrial Park[:] Revitalization and Development Plan, p. 10)

Development only began to accelerate, with the arrival of new rail lines in this area of Lowell, beginning with that of the Framingham & Lowell Railroad Corporation in 1871.

Plan of Land in Ayers’ New City
Offered here is a wonderful broadside map advertising lots for sale in Ayer’s New City, perhaps produced in advance of the “monster auction” mentioned above.  The central image is a plan of the area laid out into streets (many of which survive) and hundreds of individual lots, with perhaps ten percent marked as already sold.  Text notes and no fewer than 16 pictorial vignettes of factories and fine residences highlight the advantages of the development, including a spur of the Boston & Lowell Railroad built just for the New City and a steam power plant serving local factories.  Ayer’s enthusiasm bubbles over:

“There is no knowing what the village may grow to be yet: men of capital are now settling, and times and business are improving.  It is not too much to say that the village will probably grow to rival any other village that ever was started.”

A long note at upper left explains that lots can be had for private sale prior to May 1, 1852 or at auction on May 10, then gives the terms of sale for various lot types.  As indicated above by Coburn the private sale and auction largely failed.  This fact is reflected in a later state of this map held by the Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library.  On that version large areas of the text at upper left have been masked out to eliminate references to the May sale and auction. Other changes on that variant include adjustments to the course of River Meadow Brook and corresponding changes to the street layout, the addition of acreage figures to many lots, and the elimination of several buildings projected on the original plan but apparently never constructed.

OCLC #587744458, giving examples only the Boston Public Library and Massachusetts State Library (As discussed above, the BPL example is a later variant, while the status of the State Library example is not known.) Another example of the first state held in a Midwest private collection. Not in Antique Map Price Record, OCLC, Phillips or Rumsey, and a Google search yields no mentions of the map. Background on Ayer’s New City from City of Lowell, Ayer’s City Industrial Park[:] Revitalization and Development Plan.