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Haverhill Archive

January 27, 2008

Two tales of the same downtown

During visits to my eye doctor, Glenn Kimball, I like to stop and check on some of my photographs. He has several city pictures hanging in his halls, photos of downtown and other scenes taken a few years ago.

Among them are three that I took, I believe it was in 1949, when I stopped at White's Corner and took pictures in all four directions, toward Main, Merrimack, Water and Bridge streets - which now leads to the Basiliere Bridge.

The scenes are of simply a moment in the history of the city, because none of the buildings that were there then are still there. And that includes the now-famous and, perhaps, even notorious Woolworth Building.

The pictures that I took are so clear (hard to beat those big old press cameras) that another patient of Dr. Kimball was able to find herself standing on a corner, holding her folded coat and waiting for the light to change, in front of Izzy Ash's Manhattan Shop clothing store. However, all that aside, the pictures bring to me recollections of downtown Haverhill when it was at its busiest.

Going to downtown Haverhill, meaning Merrimack Street, was as much a social event as a business one. Part of the reason for that was the presence of the high school, about three blocks away. As soon as school was out in the afternoon, many students surged toward Merrimack Street, to shop, to work or to socialize. For me, it was the latter.

It wasn't only high school students who flocked there, however. There were all kinds of things to attract people of all ages. The Woolworth store was one of those reasons, long before that art deco building (which is still there) went up at White's Corner.

Mitchell's department store brought shoppers from all around this part of the state, and many from southern New Hampshire as well. In my case, though, it was a matter of joining the rest of my "crowd" from school and hanging out to listen to jukebox music and just plain loaf around.

For many, however, it was simply the presence of many neighbors, friends and visitors that made downtown a lively, thriving, social place.

Hard to believe today, but there were so many people shopping in downtown Haverhill on Saturdays the police department sent five men to help the pedestrians crossing Merrimack Street in both directions.

Would we like to see that happen again? Of course. Can we expect that? Maybe. Conditions and people and circumstances change, and there is no going back to some things and places.

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