Lake Gardner History

Lake Gardner History

The Powow river has been a source of power for industry in Amesbury since shortly after its settling. Since the earliest settlers built their homes from limbs and branches cemented with mud, there was soon a need for lumber with which more permanent housing could be built. Saw pits were used, but they were both slow and expensive to operate. William Osgood saw a need for a better system, so he devised a water powered sawmill, which was in fact the first operational sawmill in North America, predating the first patent by five years! His mill was productive for over one hundred and fifty years, before he was muscled out of the river by the growing number of carriage mills and their demand for water power. Some of the boards sawn there are almost certainly within the walls of the Macy-Colby house on Main Street.

Early mill owners used to manipulate the water between Lake Attitash, Meadowbrook and Tuxbury Pond, to provide regular heavy flows necessary to power the mills. The town still uses the stonework tunnel between Meadowbrook and Tuxbury to this day to control water levels for both drinking water and flood control purposes. There was, at one time, a small brick dam across the Powow just above where the present dam is now located. The remnants were until recently visible, but have been since buried by silt.

Lake Gardner was created just after the Civil War, in 1872. It was formed by the construction of the dam, which was built by the Salisbury Mills Corporation. The dam itself was constructed at a cost of $60,000 using granite brought in from not-so-nearby Cape Ann. Accounts vary as to the source of the name; one version credits the name to a Mr. Gardner who worked for the Salisbury Mills Corporation in the capacity of Accountant or Finance manager for the dam project, among other things. Another version claims that John Lowell Gardner, Jr., husband of Isabella Stewart Gardner, was a key investor in the Salisbury Mills. By the year 1873, the Gardners had withdrawn from foreign commerce to pursue the large profits that could be made closer to home in railroads, mining, mills, and real estate.

Many acres of farmland were flooded when the dam was completed, but the power of the Powow was effectively harnessed for the multitude of mills then operating in Amesbury.

During the 1800's, ice was harvested from Lake Gardner during the months of January and February by the J.E. Pray Icehouse for use in the iceboxes of the region during the summer months.

A Manmade Lake

The dam was used by the power company in the early part of this century, and the remains of the old powerhouse are still in place just below the dam When demand for electricity grew in the post-war years, the power house ceased to be viable, probably due to the less than dramatic natural flow which is the norm for most of the year, and the dam was sold to the Town of Amesbury in 1952. Since then the lake and beach area were used by local families, essentially unknown and under-utilized for decades, until the restoration project of 1989.

Lake Gardner and Powow Hill seen from the western shore.