Shawsheen River, MA

Part of the Merrimack River watershed in Massachusetts, the mainstem of the Shawsheen River flows 25 miles from its headwaters at the Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, through Andover as it travels to its confluence with the Merrimack River in Lawrence. The Shawsheen watershed has an urban character throughout and supports a population of roughly 250,000 people.

Until the early 19th century, the Shawsheen River served as essential habitat for Atlantic salmon, river herring, American shad, and hundreds of other native plants and animals adapted to the riverine habitats of the Northeast. During the industrial revolution, the river was dammed to power textile mills, converting it from a free-flowing river into a series of millponds. Today, this outdated infrastructure not only blocks access to fish habitat but the entire downstream river corridor is affected by flooding, sometimes catastrophic. Marland Place Dam causes flooding problems at the Atria Senior Living Center (located in a redeveloped textile mill which once used the dam for water power). 

American Rivers is working with the Center for Ecosystem Restoration, the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and others to remove dams as part of the Shawsheen River Restoration Project in order to:

  • Restore a free-flowing native river ecosystem;
  • Restore annual spawning runs of native diadromous fish including blueback herring, alewife, American shad, Atlantic salmon, sea lamprey, and American eel to more than 20 mainstem river miles and approximately 60 tributary miles;
  • Eliminate artificial impoundments and reduce the risk of dam failures increasing flooding problems for near-river residents;
  • Provide social, cultural, educational, recreational, stewardship, and economic value to stakeholders. The Town of Andover is using the Shawsheen River Restoration Project as a foundation for downtown revitalization and enhancement of public amenities in the river corridor where it flows through downtown Andover.

Project partners are currently working with the Town of Andover and a river restoration design firm to remove the first two dams on the river, the Balmoral and Marland Place Dams.

Dam Stats

Balmoral Dam

Size:  3-foot high by 30-foot long
Owner:  Balmoral Condominium Trust
Year Built:  Early 20th century
Historic Use: Ornamental dam built for Shawsheen Village
Current Use: No current purpose

Marland Place Dam

Size: 12-foot high by 30-foot long
Owner: Atria Senior Living Group
Year Built: 19th Century
Historic Use: Textile mill
Current Use: Marland Place is currently a senior living center, and the dam serves no current purpose.

For more information, contact Brian Graber with American Rivers at 413-585-5896.