About the City

City of Lawrence, Massachusetts

Located twenty-five miles north of Boston, Lawrence and 5 miles south of the State of New Hampshire, Massachusetts is truly a city of immigrants and industry. The City of Lawrence is located in Essex County.  It is bordered on the north by the City of Methuen, on the west and southwest by the Town of Andover, and on the east and southeast by the Town of North Andover.   Incorporated as a city in 1853, Lawrence has a population of 76,377 (2010 U. S. Bureau of the Census) and occupies a land area of approximately 6.75 square miles.  The cities of Lawrence and Haverhill are the population centers of a Primary Metropolitan Statistical Area (PMSA) of approximately 230,000 persons.  The City is governed by a mayor and nine‑member City Council.  The Mayor and all Council members are elected on a non‑partisan basis.   City Councilors are elected for a two‑year term, and the Mayor is elected for a four‑year term.  All executive officers are appointed. 

The massive mill buildings lining the Merrimack River, the breath-taking Great Stone Dam, and the striking clock and bell towers are tributes to Lawrence's industrial heritage. The harnessed strength of the Merrimack River and its system of canals fueled the Lawrence mills that produced textiles for the American and European markets. By the early twentieth century, with a population of nearly 95,000, the city was a world leader in the production of cotton and woolen textiles in massive mills. 

Known as the "Immigrant City," Lawrence has always been a multi-ethnic and multicultural gateway city with a high percentage of foreign-born residents. The successive waves of immigrants coming to Lawrence to work in the mills began with the Irish, followed by the French Canadians, Englishmen, and Germans in the late 1800s. Around the turn of the century and early 1900s, Italians, Poles, Lithuanians, and Syrians began arriving. The wave of Puerto Ricans and Dominicans started in the mid to late 1900s, and the newest arrivals have originated from Vietnam and Cambodia. The current population is largely Hispanic and has given a Latino slant to the local economy and culture. 

The level of energy and commitment in the city's neighborhoods exceeds that of most communities. Whether it is exemplified at the grassroots levels in the strong neighborhood associations or in the community policing program, people in the community have worked to create a safe place to live and work. 

In addition, Lawrence offers recreational, historical and cultural attractions. The Lawrence Community Boating Program allows the city's youth and adults to sail through the rolling waters of the Merrimack River. The Lawrence Heritage State Park is a 23-acre historic preservation of urban life that records the history of immigrant workers and life in a mill town. The city also boasts art exhibitions at the Essex Art Center and hosts a wide range of cultural activities like ethnic festivals that celebrate the diversity and rich heritage of Lawrence.


In 1845, a group of Boston entrepreneurs led by Abbott Lawrence formed the Essex Company to harness the power of Bodwell’s Falls in the Merrimack River in order to run their commercial concerns.  The pace of development rapidly transformed Lawrence from a rural farming community into a major industrial center.  Within three years, the Essex Company completed a dam, constructed two canals and a reservoir, organized gas works, and erected fifty brick buildings, a boarding house, a machine shop for building locomotives, and plants which housed the Atlantic Cotton, Pemberton, Upper Pacific and Duck Mills. In 1847, the Boston and Maine Railroad introduced passenger train service and in 1853, Lawrence was incorporated as a city. Lawrence quickly achieved prominence as one of the major centers of woolen textile development in the United States and some of the original mills remain, underscoring the City’s continued importance as a textile manufacturing center.  

Founding and rise as a textile center

1912 Lawrence textile strike, Massachusetts National Guardsmen with fixed bayonets surround a parade of strikers.

Native Americans, namely the Pennacook or Pentucket tribe, had a presence in this area. Evidence of farming at Den Rock Park and arrowhead manufacturing on the site of where the Wood Mill now sits have been discovered.

Europeans first settled the Haverhill area in 1640, colonists from Newbury following the Merrimack River in from the coast. The area that would become Lawrence was then part of Methuen and Andover. The first settlement came in 1655 with the establishment of a blockhouse in Shawsheen Fields, now South Lawrence.

The future site of the city (formerly parts of Andover and Methuen), was purchased by a consortium of local industrialists. The Water Power Association members: Abbott Lawrence, Edmund Bartlett, Thomas Hopkinson of Lowell, John Nesmith and Daniel Saunders, had purchased control of Peter's Falls on the Merrimack River and hence controlled Bodwell's Falls the site of the present Great Stone Dam. The group allotted fifty thousand dollars to buy land along the river to develop. In 1844, the group petitioned the legislature to act as a corporation, known as the Essex Company, which incorporated on April 16, 1845. The first excavations for the Great Stone Dam to harness the Merrimack River's water power were done on August 1, 1845. The Essex Company would sell the water power to corporations such as the Arlington Mills, as well as organize construction of mills and build to suit. Until 1847, when the state legislature recognized the community as a town, it was called interchangeably the "New City", "Essex" or "Merrimac". The post office, built in 1846, used the designation "Merrimac". Incorporation as a city would come in 1853, and the name "Lawrence", merely chosen as a token of respect to Abbott Lawrence, who it cannot be verified ever saw the city named after him.

Canals were dug on both the north and the south banks to provide power to the factories that would soon be built on its banks as both mill owners and workers from across the city and the world flocked to the city in droves; many were Irish laborers who had experience with similar building work. The work was dangerous: injuries and even death were not uncommon.

The Bread and Roses Strike of 1912

Working conditions in the mills were unsafe and in 1860 the Pemberton Mill collapsed, killing 145 workers. As immigrants flooded into the United States in the mid to late 19th century, the population of Lawrence abounded with skilled and unskilled workers from several countries. 

Lawrence was the scene of the infamous Bread and Roses Strike, also known as the Lawrence Textile Strike, one of the more important labor actions in American history.

Post-War history

Lawrence was a great wool-processing center until that industry declined in the 1950s. The decline left Lawrence a struggling city. The population of Lawrence declined from over 80,000 residents in 1950 (and a high of 94,270 in 1920) to approximately 64,000 residents in 1980, the low point of Lawrence's population.

Municipal Services

The City provides general governmental services for the territory within its limits, including police and fire protection, solid waste collection and disposal, public education, street maintenance, park and recreation facilities, water services and a library.  Public housing is provided by the Lawrence Housing Authority.

Wastewater treatment is provided by the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District (the “District”), which serves the City through 137 miles of sewer mains and sewer stations.  The system serves essentially all residences and businesses in the City.  “The District” also serves the towns of Andover, North Andover, Salem, NH, and the city of Methuen, Massachusetts.


State Receivership of Lawrence Public Schools: On November 29, 2011, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education of Massachusetts voted to designate the Lawrence Public Schools a Level 5 (“chronically underperforming”) school district, pursuant to the Patrick-Murray Administration’s Achievement Gap Act of 2010 that provides the state the legal framework to place a school district into receivership.  The Commonwealth appointed Jeffrey C. Riley, the Chief Innovation Officer for the Boston Public Schools with a successful record of leading turnaround efforts in urban schools, as Receiver for the Lawrence Public School District effective January 17, 2012, at which time he assumed the responsibilities of the district superintendent and school committee.  As Receiver, Mr. Riley was a Commonwealth employee based in Lawrence, reporting directly to the Commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.  Under the statute, the Commissioner and Receiver were charged with developing a Level 5 District Plan that would include district priorities and strategies to accelerate achievement with measurable benchmarks of progress that connected directly to accelerated improvement of outcomes for all students in all schools.  On May 30, 2012, a turnaround plan was approved by the Commissioner which laid out the framework for the implementation of a four stage process to achieve the vision of the turnaround plan.  As of May 29, 2015, the turnaround plan was updated and renewed by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner and the State’s Receiver.  The new plan expired in 2018.

On November 15, 2017, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced that state-appointed Superintendent/Receiver, Jeffrey C. Riley, would step down at the end of the 2017-2018 school year.  Lawrence Public Schools entered a new phase of receivership with a local and state partnership structure.  The new governance structure consists of a partnership board, known as the Lawrence Alliance for Education, that serves as the new receiver for the Lawrence Public School District effective July 1, 2018 and has the statutory authorities granted by state law. The board’s members were appointed by the Commissioner and include Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera, community members and state education experts. The board, with the Commissioner’s approval, hired Cynthia Paris as the new superintendent.  The superintendent reports to the partnership board.  

The Commissioner prepares an annual report to the Board on the overall progress of Lawrence Public Schools, the effectiveness of the Receiver, and the implementation of the Level 5 Plan.

Public School Facilities: The City’s public school facilities include twenty-four elementary & middle schools, one high school and two alternative high schools which have a combined total capacity of approximately 13,800 students. This does not include rental space for the Lawrence Family Public Academy which opened in August 2014 and services 200 students.  Over the past decade, the City has embarked upon a program to rebuild and/or replace many of its school facilities.  The first phase of this program involved the building of three new elementary schools to replace obsolete smaller structures.  These were financed with bonds issued in 2001 and 2002 and have been completed.  The City receives annual grant reimbursement payments for approximately 90% of construction costs and interest on the bonds and notes issued for this purpose.  The second phase included the building of a new high school at a cost of approximately $110 million which was financed with grants and with bonds issued in 2007 and 2009.  

Public School Enrollments

The following chart sets forth the trend in school enrollments as of October 1 for recent years.   


SOURCE: Lawrence School Department.
(1) Excludes out of district placements paid for by the school district which totaled 178 in 2015, 150 in 2016, 133 in 2017, 116 in 2018 and 126 in 2019. 
(2) Preschool enrollment is on a half day schedule with two sessions of preschool per day.

Lawrence is a member of the Greater Lawrence Regional Vocational Technical High School District which also serves the towns of Andover and North Andover and the city of Methuen.  As of October 1, 2019 there were 1,590 students enrolled in the Greater Lawrence Regional Vocational Technical High School District, 1,262 of whom were residents of Lawrence.  

Industry and Commerce

Lawrence was originally planned and laid out as a commercial and industrial center and it maintains this character to the present day.   Industrialization began in the mid‑nineteenth century when a dam was built across the Merrimack River to take advantage of its great water power potential. 

Today, Lawrence is a diversified industrial city.  Services are the primary economic pursuit followed by manufacturing.  The following table sets forth the major categories of income and employment for the City of Lawrence. 

Employment and Payrolls

Source:  Massachusetts Department of Education and Training.   Data based upon place of employment, not place of residence.

Due to the reclassification the U.S. Department of Labor now uses the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) as the basis for the assignment and tabulation of economic data by industry.

Labor Force, Employment and Unemployment

 According to the Massachusetts Department of Employment and Training's preliminary data, in May 2020, the City had a total estimated labor force of 38,795 of which 27,544 were employed and 11,251 or 29.0% were unemployed as compared to 16.3% for the Commonwealth.  The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected unemployment levels nationwide.  (Note: Monthly data are unadjusted.)  The following table sets forth the City's average labor force and unemployment rates as well as the unemployment rates for the Commonwealth and the United States, for calendar years 2015 through 2019.

Unemployment Rates

SOURCE:The Massachusetts Department of Employment and Training, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data based upon place of residence, not place of employment.

Economic Development  

The City is strategically located in the center of the Merrimack Valley. Historic mill buildings along the Merrimack River offer accessible office space and adaptable manufacturing space at reasonable rates within the City. Residents of the City offer a diverse high quality labor force, many within walking distance of the compact, industrially planned downtown. As the City moves forward, businesses are benefiting from its renewed commitment to infrastructure, including better access to Routes 495 and 93, upgrading of major arterials within the City, as well as improvements to its schools, parks, and water lines. The following are some of the major projects in the City that were completed in recent years or are currently underway.

Public Sector Developments:

 The City is a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Community and receives an annual allowance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to implement community improvements and economic development projects. The City also receives funds for a wide range of housing projects from HUD’s HOME Investment Partnership Program (HOME). Annual allocation of HUD’s HOME and CDBG to the City has increased to approximately $2.5 Million.  These funds support the creation and preservation of affordable housing, first time homebuyer program, economic opportunities through small business development, public infrastructure improvements, and public services that support low-income, protected, and at risk populations.  There has been a slight increase in the City’s HUD allocation attributed to the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) funds the City has received for the past three years in the amount of $136,695, $137,715, and $147,883, respectively, to support homelessness prevention, intervention and stabilization services.  

The City has received notification of a grant award by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), in the amount of $230,959.  These funds will support housing rehabilitation to benefit low to middle-income households by providing them with safe, decent and sanitary housing targeting units that have been cited for building or sanitary code violations or that are subject to commercial insurance cancellation due to standard property conditions. 

Based upon the data presented within the Community Profile, the City’s single greatest community development need is to create economic opportunity for its residents. Housing policies and programs alone cannot solve the problems facing Lawrence and its residents, thus a comprehensive economic and human-resource development strategy is essential. Economic empowerment is therefore a requirement for Lawrence to achieve its overarching goal of being a healthy, vibrant community where it makes economic sense for people to invest their time, money and energy.

The City has established four core objectives toward increasing economic empowerment. The goals are to create and retain jobs, support neighborhood based economic development, create competitive workforce through increased educational attainment and improving the physical environment and streetscape appearance of the City. The City is committed to funding community economic development services in the following categories:

Business Assistance in the form of improvements to the physical conditions, the provision of technical assistance to businesses located or seeking to expand in Lawrence, and support for projects that will lead to the creation of jobs for the low- and moderate-income residents. The City, acting through the Lawrence Partnership, provides a 10% insurance, or loan loss reserve pool, to the Lawrence Venture Fund, a small loan program for microenterprise businesses through the City’s CDBG funds.

HUBZone Eligibility, the entire Lawrence Industrial Park has been reclassified as a HUBZone. This designation will open opportunities for businesses to compete for the federal government’s set-aside contracts.

Opportunity Zones – the City has 4 census tracts designated as Opportunity Zones by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The Opportunity Zone program is designed to spur new investments in economically distressed areas by offering preferential tax treatment to eligible investors. In Lawrence, the goals of the program are to unlock mixed-use development in commercial districts; create market rate housing; support small business growth; optimize and remediate brownfields; increase the vitality of the Downtown; and increase wages and quality of life for all. 

Targeted Neighborhood Commercial Area Assistance to revitalize neighborhood commercial corridors and shopping areas and reestablish their historic roles as central places to shop, work and meet neighbors. Through the MassDevelopment Transformative Development Program, a facade grant program has been established to offer a 50/50 match to property owners in the Downtown TDI district to improve their facades, upgrade signage, and install better lighting. The TDI program also spearheaded “Iluminación Lawrence”, a city-wide lighting program that was kicked off in early June as an immersive public art experience using LED lighting and projections onto public structures as part of a multi-phase place-making project. Most recently the City was selected by MassDevelopment as a Transformative Development Initiative community, giving us access to a 3-year fellow who will be working to improve the vitality of our downtown. In general, the City will continue to target resources and assistance to: 

  • focus planning and data analysis on strengthening corridors;
  • align and leverage resources;
  • make neighborhood commercial corridors more welcoming places; and
  • develop systems to attract and retain businesses along corridors 

Public Facilities and Improvements to community facilities, including senior centers, providing “community space” and further improving the image of the community. Senior facilities, community facilities, and recreational centers provide direct service and service referral for residents with diverse needs and provide necessary support to vulnerable households. Often, community organizations do not have the capital or fundraising resources to maintain the facilities that provide a source of community pride and activities. In all facility improvements, the City will ensure that handicapped accessibility is a key component. 

Streetscape Improvements/Beautification to public streets including installing new curbs, sidewalks, lighting and trees so these areas will be appealing places for residents to shop and work. The selection of streets/sidewalks will be undertaken in a systematic process that will give priority to the following: 

  • Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Areas;
  • Streets surrounding public facilities; and
  • Streets/sidewalks adjacent to other public investments, including targeted business assistance and affordable housing production. 

Open Space/Parks Improvements are extremely important to the City as the demand in the City for parks, open space and recreational amenities is high. The challenges of many vacant properties, abandoned alleyways, Brownfield sites, and underutilized riverfront areas are opportunities for creative and innovative open space development. The improvement of parks and open space are identified and prioritized in the Open Space and Recreation Plan (the “OSRP”) for the City. The OSRP identified the critical need for passive park space and active recreation areas to provide recreational and visual relief from the dense building configuration throughout the City. The OSRP indicated that Lawrence has only 3.7 acres of parkland for every 1,000 residents, compared to the City of Boston which has 9.3 acres per 1,000 residents. 

The OSRP is a seven-year plan (2017--2024) 

The 2017 OSRP goals are a framework to improve the City’s park system and make it a vibrant place to live, work, and play. To achieve this vision, the plan establishes goals that: 

  • Meet the recreational needs of all residents by providing a diverse range of park amenities that appeals to all ages, genders, and abilities.
  • Increase resident awareness about the natural, cultural, recreational, and historic resources provided by Lawrence’s park system.
  • Provide residents with alternative transportation options through the establishment of an interconnected system of rail trails, riverwalks, and greenways.
  • Preserve and maintain Lawrence’s historic resources and its rich cultural heritage.
  • Continue to provide opportunities for urban agriculture as a source of local, fresh food for residents.
  • Meet the evolving needs of residents by maintaining and renovating existing parks and open spaces. 

The Community Development Program will implement key elements of the OSRP over the period of 7 years.  The City partners with Groundwork Lawrence (Groundwork).  Groundwork receives some financial support from the U.S. Park Service and raises resources from local fundraising and foundations. In all facility and infrastructure improvements handicapped accessibility will be a component. This will include curb cuts and ramps for improved and updated park access. Handicapped signage for vehicular access and parking will also be prioritized. 

Land and Building Reuse is an important responsibility of the City. In older, densely populated neighborhoods, deteriorated buildings and vacant lots can be both a blighting influence and an opportunity. The City will continue to evaluate vacant building reuse with a priority for homeownership opportunity development where appropriate. For larger vacant properties, commercial reuse with a residential component - potentially as live/work space - will be considered. It should be noted that in the past four years the City has disposed of 40 parcels for reuse, mostly going towards housing, which totals $1.45 million in additional revenue. 

The City intends to continue its conversion of empty lots. Building lots will be evaluated for housing reuses while undersized lots will be evaluated as potential side-yards for abutters or as community gardens under the PARC grant. The City will use CDBG resources to support activities related to planning and improvement of community garden in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. 

A key component of the Economic Development Strategy is the creation of jobs and job training for low-income residents. The City will make affirmative action and employment and training for neighborhood residents an integral part of its operations. Federal Section 3 guidelines require that 30% of all construction and construction- related new hires be residents of the local area where the project occurs. The proposed capital investments will provide opportunities to meet or exceed the federal mandate. In support of this objective, the City is compiling a data base of local businesses to facilitate local job opportunities. 

The City’s job creation and training initiatives are paying special attention to addressing the high level of unemployment among City youth. With the assistance of a Safe and Successful Youth Initiative Grant from the Commonwealth, the City has developed and implemented a comprehensive employment program which targets young men who have been involved in the court system or are reentering the community from correctional facilities. The program is called the Lawrence Youth Team and provides these young men with job training and employment and opportunities to return to the educational system. The program has engaged over 90 young men and women and provided gainful employment for over 50 of them. The program also provides access to social services for family members of the qualified youth. 

In addition to community and economic development initiatives, progress is also being made in the area of public investment. The following are some of the public investments in the City. 

Transportation and Utilities 

The City is served by Interstate Routes 495 and 93 and State Route 28, which provide convenient access to all points in Massachusetts and northern New England.  Commuter bus service is provided to Boston, and the Boston and Maine Railroad provides commuter and freight service.  Bus service within the City and throughout the Greater Lawrence area is provided by the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority (MVRTA). 

Lawrence also has a 500-acre municipal airport which is located in the Town of North Andover and is self-supporting.  This airport has two runways: one is 3,655 feet in length and the other is 5,000 feet in length.  Established in 1934, the airport is located minutes from both the Ward Hill and Lawrence Industrial Parks, providing air transport services to the region’s employers for over 80 years.  The airport also has the potential to facilitate development of its own, on-site industrial park.  Major companies in the telecommunications, medical, financial and defense industries consider the airport an integral part of their business operations.  The airfield can accommodate a full range of aircraft, from single and multi-engine planes to smaller jets and helicopters.   The airport currently has over 200 based aircraft, an Instrument Landing System (ILS) and is served by an Air Traffic Control Tower. 

Gas and electric services are provided by established private utilities.

Building Permits  

The following table sets forth the number of building permits issued as well as the estimated dollar value of new construction and alterations for the last five calendar years.  The estimated dollar values shown are builders' estimates, which are generally considered to be conservative.  The number of permits granted and estimated valuations are shown for both private construction as well as for City projects.  The issuance of a permit does not necessarily result in construction. 

Building Permits

It is likely that the COVID-19 pandemic will negatively affect the total number and dollar value of building permits issued in the current calendar year.