At the edge of the mighty Merrimack in Amesbury, where a small bend in the river makes the water seem almost like a harbor before rushing out of sight toward Newburyport and the Atlantic Ocean, sits Lowell’s Boat Shop. The river sparkles in the soft spring sunlight, providing a striking blue backdrop against the red shop. A wooden skiff, seemingly plucked from a Winslow Homer painting, bobs in the water.
Any sense of being part of a placid painting is erased the moment you step through the shop’s narrow wooden door. Inside, the place is alive, heaving with the sounds of sanding, hammering, and pounding, exhaling sawdust and the smell of cedar.
“When you come here, this place attacks all of your senses, and that would include your heart, in my case,” says Pamela Bates, executive director of Lowell’s Boat Shop.
Lowell’s has been building wooden boats since Simeon Lowell established the shop in 1793, making it the oldest continually operating boat shop in the country. It is credited with introducing the Surf Dory in the late 1700s and the Banks Dory in the 1800s. Bates says the Banks Dory revolutionized the fishing industry by allowing fishermen to stack multiple boats on the deck of a schooner and launch them all at once, rather than going out one by one in individual boats.
Today, Lowell’s is a National Historic Landmark and a nonprofit working museum. But don’t let those distinctions fool you; Lowell’s might not be cranking out over 2,000 dories like it did in 1911, but it is still an operating shop, building custom dories and skiffs for people around the country. The place is heavy with history, yet the past and present live side by side. The tools have changed over the centuries and the techniques have been refined, yet the end result is still the same: handcrafted wooden boats that are the gold standard in the industry.
“Lowell’s is to wooden boats as Hermes is to handbags,” Bates says. “We make the highest quality wooden boats that you can buy.”