The Shawsheen River is a tributary of the Merrimack River in northeast Massachusetts. It is appoximately 25 miles long and flows generally northward through the towns of Bedford, Billerica, Wilmington, Tewksbury, Andover, North Andover, and Lawrence, where it meets up with the Merrimack. Like the Merrimack, the Shawsheen played an important role in the development of the area, including industrial development, with many mills built to take advantage of the river’s power. While you can still spot the artifacts of this rich history, the Shawsheen is now returning to its natural state.


shawsheen reflection 2006      shawsheen bridge 2014

Click this link to view the Shawsheen brochure and recreation map:

Click here to see a video by Marlies Henderson about the Shawsheen River.

Click this link to check water levels:


  • The Shawsheen River Watershed has a total drainage area of approximately 78 square miles, including approximately 60 miles of named rivers and streams, and encompassing all or part of 12 Massachusetts’ municipalities
  • The main stem of the Shawsheen River flows for approximately 25 miles, losing 70 feet in elevation from its headwaters at Hanscom Military Base, to its confluence with the Merrimack River in Lawrence
  • Approximately 4.5% of the watershed area is covered by wetlands or open water
  • The watershed supports a population of approximately 250,000 people
  • According to legend, the name “Shawsheen” is actually a Native American word, meaning “serpent” or “serpentine”, which refers back to the meandering nature of the river. The river was given the name “Shawshin” by the General Court of Massachusetts on May 1644. In 1636 Matthew Craddock, governor of the colonial company in England, wrote to Governor John Winthrop in America expressing a desire to obtain a grant of two thousand acres of land “at a place called Shawe Shynn.” (- William Dunn, Watershed Team Leader, Massachusetts Watershed Initiative, Executive Office of Environmental Affairs,, – Bedford Historical Society)