Amesbury Hat Museum tips its hat for local history

Do you like hats? High fashion women’s and men’s hats? Visit the Amesbury Hat Museum in its new home on the second floor of the Whittier House at 86 Friend St., Amesbury, and feast your eyes on these vintage beauties. See the Merrimac hat factory in Amesbury, which in 1946 was the country’s largest manufacturer of hats and hat bodies.

Around 200 hats are on display, most of which were made in Amesbury by the Merrimac Hat Company. There are men’s hats, Civil War children’s caps, Howdy Dowdy beanies, Mouseketeer ears and even a headdress, but much of the glory goes to the high fashion women’s hats made in the 1930s. and 1940s, including elaborately trimmed hats with feathers and brown felt. hat made for Princess Eugenie for the 1939 Universal Exhibition.

Former Amesbury resident “Alison Kelley owned it,” said Suzanne Cote, who is now the collection’s caretaker. “She started collecting with four hats and loved them so much she kept looking for them. She transferred them all to me in 2014.”

The collection was on display in a room next to Salisbury Point station on Water Street, she said, “but we lost that room when Salisbury Point closed, so I put them in an installation of temperature-controlled storage. When the Whittier Home very kindly offered me the room, I was so happy. I hated having them in storage.

The history of Amesbury hat making may date back to the 1700s, but its heyday probably dates back to 1838, when Isaac Martin began making hats in a small factory on his farm in Amesbury.

In 1860 Martin entered into a partnership with Abner L. Bailey and a small mill was built near Bailey’s Pond, which was dammed to allow water for its boilers and wet finishing process.

From 1860 to 1866 the company was known as Amesbury Hat and Horton Hat. In 1866 the name was changed to Merrimac Hat Company, a name that remained until the company closed in 1971.

This 1940s felt hat, adorned with feathers, is on display at the Amesbury Hat Museum.

At the height of its success in the 1940s, the company was the largest manufacturer of hats and trimmed hat bodies in the country, employing up to 500 people at its manufacturing facilities in Amesbury and another 1,500 employees in facilities ranging from Alabama to Nova Scotia.

“Most of the hats here (at the Amesbury Hat Museum) were made in Amesbury,” Cote said, “but were cut in different places.”

After World War II, fashions changed and so did the demand for formal hats. The company struggled for a few decades before closing for good in 1971. Its facilities near the intersection of Beacon and Merrimac streets closed. The site is now home to the aptly named Hatter’s Point Condominiums and Marina.

Merrimac Hat Company may have closed, but many of its hats have survived. Cote, his son Shawn Cote and Whittier Home volunteers Chris Bryant and Karen Baptiste pulled them out of storage and displayed them in the second floor living room of Whittier Home.

“This room was full of clutter,” Whittier Home Association President Chris Bryant said. “When a drain burst in 2015, restorers worked here. Asking Suzanne if she wanted to put the hat museum here, the room was cleaned and cleaned.

Now that the hats are no longer in storage and on display, Cote said, “I’m going to do a flyer and do an inventory as best I can. Most of these hats are from the 30s and 40s. One of my favorite hats is a 1930s Leighton Fifth Avenue’, a spring green felt hat. Bryant’s favorite is a dark green velvet Peachbloom hat.

Suzanne Cote shows off a 1930s Leighton Fifth Ave spring green hat, which is on display at the Amesbury Hat Museum.

Which is your favourite? There are so many good choices.

“We will also display brochures on the history of the hat factory,” Côté said. “People can recognize their relatives, who were working at the factory at the time. People are having a blast. »

The Amesbury Hat Museum is included in the Whittier Home Tour. Visits are open to the public from May to October on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Donations are accepted. Reservations are required for groups of more than six people. Face masks and proof of vaccination are also required. For more information, visit whittierhome.org or call 978-388-1337.

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