Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Lawrence, MA

  • Published 2023/02/07

The city of Lawrence sits in Essex County, Massachusetts.

Located in the Merrimack Valley, the area is accessible by both significant roadways and secondary routes.

In 1853, it became an official city, and its early economic success was due to the textile industry.

Lawrence is a utopia for those with a penchant for early 20th-century industrial design.

Lawrence is a diversified city founded on a long history of immigrants who, until the 1920s, was predominantly European, Canadian, and British.

Many massive manufacturing buildings have been transformed into lofts, restaurants, offices, dance studios, and gyms.

Until the 1960s, when waves of Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and Vietnamese arrived, immigration had slowed significantly because of limitations.

Its diverse offerings make Lawrence a fascinating historical town with many attractions to choose from without breaking the bank.

Here are some free things to do in Lawrence, Massachusetts:

Learn about the Industrial Revolution at Lawrence Heritage State Park

Exterior of Lawrence Heritage State Park's visitor center

John Phelan, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Lawrence Heritage State Park is a great place to learn about the origins of Lawrence, one of the earliest planned communities in the United States.

Along the Merrimack River, there are three separate buildings.

The Visitors Center lies in a restored 1840s boarding house.

It has two stories of hands-on displays detailing the city of Lawrence and the surrounding area’s role in the industrial revolution.

A turn-of-the-century kitchen and replicas of mills and boarding homes paint a realistic image of life for Lawrence’s migrant workforce.

Entrance to Lawrence Heritage State Park

Bernie Ongewe, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Another highlight is the historic Lawrence textile strike (Bread and Roses Walkout) of 1912.

This strike lasted for three months due to miserable working conditions and an unexpected salary drop.

The westernmost point of Lawrence Heritage State Park honors the 145 employees who lost their lives in the Pemberton Mill Disaster in 1860.

This tragedy highlights the importance of improving working conditions, which is the focus of Pemberton Park.

Step Back in Time at Lawrence History Center

Lawrence History Center, located in a historic Essex Company building, provides visitors with a wealth of information on the city’s past and its inhabitants.

In 1978, German immigrant Eartha Dengler founded the Lawrence History Center as the Immigrant City Archives.

It aimed to collect, preserve, disseminate, and interpret the history and legacy of Lawrence and its inhabitants.

The complex, dating to the early 1880s, consists of a stable, a warehouse, a blacksmith shop, a carpenter shop, and an office building.

The extensive records kept by the center include all of the Essex Company’s financial and strategic planning documents.

Hundreds of oral histories, more than 40,000 pictures, and glass plate negatives are also available.

Although primarily intended for researchers, Lawrence History Center welcomes visitors who want to see fascinating displays drawn from the collection.

Admire Works of Local Artists at Essex Art Center

An art center for all Essex County is inside one of the grand mill buildings along the North Canal.

The Essex Art Center hosts well-planned solo and thematic exhibits covering various artistic fields throughout the year.

Each typically lasts two months, so there will always be something new to see.

The center also hosts the annual Fiesta en la Calle block celebration every July and is responsible for many of the murals seen on Lawrence’s mills.

In addition, the Essex Art Center is an active member of the Lawrence Arts Collective.

The group promotes arts and culture in and around Lawrence.

It showcases the work of local artists in various settings, such as gallery exhibitions, live performances, and installation art.

See the Historic Structures along North Canal Historic District

Pemberton mill at North Canal Historic District

CSZero, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

To appreciate Lawrence’s uniqueness and massive mill buildings, one must take to the streets and explore every corner.

The North Canal Historic District contains the city’s original manufacturing district.

The North Canal and Great Stone Dam serve as its epicenter, providing the hydropower that drives the city’s numerous mill complexes.

The North Canal divides the city in two.

The waters of North Canal Historic District

EraserGirl, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Although it appears barren, both sides are home to various businesses, eateries, the Picket River Brewpub, and cultural landmarks.

The 1909 Ayer Mill Clock, often regarded as the largest mill clock in the world, is a famous landmark on the Merrimack River’s southern bank.

With its four sides rising 267 feet above the river, it is only six inches shorter than London’s Elizabeth Tower.

New Balance, a shoe manufacturer, relocated to North Canal Historic District in 1978.

It still operates a retail location at 5 S Union Street in the historic Ayer Mill complex.

Strike a Pose with Lawrence’s Murals

Lawrence’s Murals adorn many of the city’s walls, adding color and providing a unique experience for visitors to Lawrence.

Residents of Lawrence have frequently created murals depicting the city’s varied past.

Students painted these murals in the summer mural program at the Essex Art Center about a decade ago in a dirt and grass lot between buildings at 151 Essex Street.

You may find two other murals in a graffiti style a few blocks down the road at 431 Essex Street.

Both paintings, titled “Food for the World,” may be seen at 516 Essex Street.

In addition to the artwork on Essex Street, there is another public decoration near Reservoir Park.

You’re losing out if you don’t take pictures next to Lawrence’s Murals.

Grab an Afternoon Read at Lawrence Public Library

Exterior of Lawrence Public Library

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

On a lazy afternoon in Lawrence, why not take advantage of Lawrence Public Library and spend time reading there?

Its mission as a vital public institution is to be the community’s go-to location for information and literature.

Lawrence Public Library is committed to fostering an educated and engaged community via its ever-expanding collection of resources and unwavering focus on its patrons.

Complete re-carpeting of the whole building, a new conference room named after poet Robert Frost, and the creation of a local history room resulted from renovation projects in 1999, 2000, and 2005 to 2006.

The library has maintained its primary goal of gathering the most exciting and valuable resources for the local population.

Moreover, it has substantially increased the number of formats you may access in our library.

It has also expanded resources for historical and genealogical research, computer software, and films.

In addition to the main library’s adult services, the children and teen departments, and the South Branch have computer labs.

Ride a Bike on the Spicket River Greenway

At the eastern end of the North Canal in Lawrence, the meandering Spicket River flows into the Merrimack.

The Spicket River Greenway, which spans 3.5 miles, connects a series of public parks along the river’s banks that have been around for a long time.

This route starts in Derry, New Hampshire, and finishes in Lawrence.

This paved, multi-use path winds through lovely residential areas bordered by historic mill communities.

Feel free to go hiking or biking through the Spicket River Greenway.

The Spicket River’s banks are verdant and tree-lined in the summer.

If you get hungry along the way, a bakery, cafe, or restaurant is never more than a few minutes away.

Hike the Methuen Rail Trail

Pathway of Methuen Rail Trail

John Phelan, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

From Manchester Street Park, close to the western trailhead of the Spicket River Greenway, is another path known as the Methuen Rail Trail.

It follows the route of the former Manchester and Lawrence Railroad circa 1849.

Almost 2.5 miles of former railroad tracks have been turned into a pedestrian path across the northern portion of Lawrence and into adjacent Methuen.

At Lawrence’s Manchester Street Park, where the route concludes, you’ll discover a playground, picnic tables, and a connection to the Spicket River Greenway.

You will find bridges, cuttings, and even an old station along the Methuen Rail Trail.

The Spicket River’s spectacular industrial infrastructure coexists with tranquil natural regions, such as the swampy Nevins Bird Sanctuary.

Spot Birds at Den Rock Park

This 120-acre park lies south of Lawrence, close to the Shawsheen River and the Stevens-Coolidge House.

Although a planned city cemetery was supposed to open at Den Rock Park, the park opened in 1896.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), during the Great Depression, mapped out the park’s path system.

They also constructed two amphitheaters and carved steps onto Den Rock, the massive granite outcrop where the park draws its name.

The park’s pathways go through marshes and along a peaceful section of the Shawsheen River, and its cliff is a favorite place for rock climbing.

Bird watchers, hikers, and anyone interested in views of the Shawseen River will enjoy visiting Den Rock Park.

Admire the Views at Riverfront State Park

The grounds of Riverfront State Park

JosueCom /

Everyone, no matter their age, can appreciate the natural beauty of Riverfront State Park.

The Lawrence Heritage State Park visitor center is within easy walking distance of the park, situated in a picturesque neighborhood.

Riverfront State Park has everything you need for a great day, from a street hockey rink to a marina with a public boat launch.

Goose on the waters of Riverfront State Park

Sandratorres28, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Across the river, you may see the city views in all their glory.

The park’s many winding routes through the woods offer a tranquil escape from the bustle of the metropolis.

The Greater Lawrence Community Boating Program has offered boating safety education at Riverfront State Park for over 25 years.

Enjoy the Sunset at Reservoir Park

Once an open reservoir, the land between Reservoir Street and Ames Street is now home to Reservoir Park.

The park has tennis courts and plenty of open space, and the view from the top of the hill is spectacular, taking in the entire city below.

All that’s here is a massive track that goes around a vast reservoir.

A secondary, narrower trail winds up a hill and around a tower at this location.

You may go for a run or a stroll and enjoy the breathtaking view of the city, especially as the sun goes down.

The wintertime conditions are ideal for sledding.

Reservoir Park is also near the High Service Water Tower and Reservoir, that’s currently close to the public.

However, you may take snaps with the tower from the street.

Cross the Union Street Bridge

Structure of the Union Street Bridge

PerriAndMe, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Lawrence’s historic industrial landscape includes the Union Street Bridge, sometimes known as the Duck Bridge, after the local mill that made duck cloth.

This bridge across the Merrimack River was built in 1888 and maintained by the Massachusetts Department of Public Works.

It is the oldest surviving example of a double-intersection Warren-through-truss bridge in the state.

As one of the state’s first examples of an all-riveted bridge, the Duck Bridge is also a historic structure.

The pedestrian railings are among the many original features that have survived since its construction by the famous Boston Bridge Works.

The river is surrounded by enormous abandoned textile mills and industries, creating an impressive artificial canyon you may appreciate from a pedestrian crossing.

Feast Your Eyes at SALSA/Kite Festival

There’s nothing more beautiful than a sky filled with flapping, multicolored kites.

The city of Lawrence has a summer kite festival that is fun for the whole family called SALSA/Kite Festival.

It’s an extraordinary gathering that caters to all tastes.

The magnificent kite festival in Lawrence happens every summer.

The SALSA/Kite Festival is an annual event where neighbors may enjoy a day of free meals, tunes, and activities while celebrating the spirit of kites.

At this event, attendees may participate in a wide variety of activities.

There will be free trolley rides, yoga, Zumba, and a great obstacle course for you to check out.

During the festival’s kite-making workshops, you may also learn how to make a colorful kite.

For many years before becoming a component of the SALSA event, kite flying was a staple of the Lawrence community.

Other Free Things to Do Nearby

Check Out the Artworks at Addison Gallery

Exterior of the Addison Gallery

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Twelve minutes from Lawrence is Addison Gallery, a museum and part of the academic community overseen by the Phillips Academy.

Thomas Cochran, a former Academy student, provided the funding for its founding in 1931 to enhance students’ lives indefinitely.

The museum has over 17,000 artworks, including paintings, sculptures, photos, and ship models.

Rotating displays showcase the various collections.

A lamp in the Addison Gallery

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Addison Gallery’s goal is the interpretation, exhibition, and education through tours, presentations, and lectures.

The gallery is open to the public and free to enter.

On Mondays and federal holidays, the museum is closed.

You can find the gallery in Andover, Massachusetts.

Ship models in the Addison Gallery

Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Immerse Yourself in Nature at Charles W. Ward Reservation

The Charles W. Ward Reservation began in 1940, thanks to a donation of 153 acres of property from Charles Ward’s widow.

The entire amount of land contributed by the family now stands at 704 acres.

Extensive pathways cover 13 kilometers and connect three central mountains.

In addition, there are 17 kilometers of stone walls.

Charles W. Ward Reservation features creeks, marshes, and swamps.

Here, you’ll find plant species found only in wetlands, such as the insect-eating pitcher plant and the orchids.

Numbered stations and accompanying guidebooks are available for those who want to explore independently.

The reservation is in Andover, 13 minutes from Lawrence.

Final Thoughts

Lawrence is a historic textile hub and home to many exciting attractions.

This city is the best site in New England to see examples of the region’s industrial past without breaking the bank.

Visit this quaint city for a quick and budget-friendly weekend trip, and take advantage of all the free things to do in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

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