From the Boston Globe
COMMUNITY SNAPSHOT
Methuen

Boston Globe, 5/23/2004

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shot of clocktower in Gaunt Square at the corner of Broadway and Hampshire in Methuen center.


12 Tyler Ave. Price $200,000 Style Colonial. (Globe photos)

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Miles from Boston: 27
Population: 43,789
Median house price: $273,000 (April)
Tax rate: $11.73 residential, $20.34, commercial
Transportation: Merrimack Valley Regional Transportation Authority bus service; MBTA commuter rail to North Station from Andover, Lawrence
Best things: near I-495, affordable homes
Worst things: no commuter rail stop; low MCAS scores
MCAS: Methuen ranked 179 of 210 school districts, ahead of Lawrence (210) but behind Haverhill (174), Dracut (104), North Andover (52), and Andover (7).
Census facts: Nearly 10 percent of residents are Latino; 15.7 percent of residents have a college degree; median household income is $49,627, vs. state median of $50,502.
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METHUEN -- When the 500,000-square-foot Methuen Mall closed in 1997, this city in the Lower Merrimack Valley took a huge financial hit.

Lured by Pheasant Lane Mall and Rockingham Mall, a pair of sprawling new shopping centers in sales-tax-free New Hampshire, shoppers abandoned the once-thriving center. As a result, property tax revenues from the 60-acre site dwindled from more than $40 million annually to $18 million.

But a few years ago, the failed mall was reborn as The Loop, a $70 million entertainment and retail complex with a 20-screen Lowes Theatre and a Wal-Mart Supercenter, a Borders bookstore, and several restaurants. Named for its location near interstates 495 and 93 on Pleasant Valley Street, the center features 30-foot-wide sidewalks that resemble a town center.

Not far away in the city's downtown, a few vacancies still exist. But the commercial district has been revitalized with a landmark clock tower in Gaunt Square, and a mix of restaurants and cafes have sprouted in the last few years.

For outdoor enthusiasts, Methuen offers a pair of rivers, the Spicket and the Merrimack, for boating and fishing. Riverwalk Park in downtown is another attraction. The city has two 18-hole golf courses, and the 52-acre Forest Lake Park and the beach are destination points each summer.

As Greater Boston home values have skyrocketed, Methuen has remained affordable. In 2001, the median price for a single-family home exceeded $200,000 for the first time. Of the 88 homes for sale last week on MLS Property Information Network Inc., nearly three dozen were priced under $300,000.

First-time home buyers who prefer new construction may be surprised to find new homes for under $500,000. At Birch Hill Estates, a four-bedroom Colonial on Maple Ridge Road was offered for $489,900 -- an impossible price within Route 128. The home sits on more than an acre and has a two-car garage.

While city officials boast that nearly every school has been renovated in the last few years, at a total cost of $76 million, MCAS scores are near the bottom.

Among the more alarming results: a majority of students in grades 4, 6, 8, and 10 scored "needs improvement" or failed the math portion. And a majority of 5th- and 8th-graders scored the same in science.

Like neighboring Lowell and Lawrence, Methuen had many mills in the 1800s. The Methuen Cotton Mills along the Spicket River manufactured hats and shoes.

Three wealthy families, the Nevins, the Tenneys, and the Searles played a significant role in Methuen's development. Today, buildings once owned by these families are landmarks, including Nevins Memorial Library, the Searles building -- home to City Hall -- the Tenney Gatehouse, and the historic Nevins Home.

THOMAS GRILLO

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