Shawsheen River History
The Shawsheen River is a 27-mile-long tributary of the Merrimack River. Its headwaters are in Bedford (within the boundaries of Hanscom Field/Air Force Base) and runs generally northward through Billerica, Wilmington, Tewksbury, and Andover before joining the Merrimack in Lawrence -- six towns total. The name has had various spellings over the years. "Shawshin" appears to have been most common in the oldest records and is most commonly translated from the Algonquin language as "Great Spring."
Many of Andover's 17th century English settlers moved from the town's original center (in modern North Andover) to the banks of the Shawsheen River to harness its power for grist, saw and fulling mills. As homes, flourishing farms and dams were built, South Parish gradually became the more populated half of the colonial town. By the middle of the 19th century and the time of the political division of North Andover and Andover, prosperous textile mills operated along the river in Ballardvale, Abbot Village (Smith and Dove in what is now Dundee Park), Marland Village (now Atria Marland Place on Stevens Street) and Frye Village (now Shawsheen). The Shawsheen River was Andover's economic "spine" and the source of most of the town's wealth, prosperity and philanthropy.
Late in the 19th century, the Shawsheen became an important recreational resource as well. Families, usually from towns closer to Boston, built "camps" or small vacation houses in Ballardvale and around Foster's Pond. The Boston and Maine Railroad brought large groups of excursionists to its Shawsheen Grove picnic grounds and dance hall at Pole Hill in Ballardvale.