Over the summer I spent a sunny afternoon in Lowell, Massachusetts taking in the history and architecture of this great town . Lowell is about 1/2 hour northwest of Boston and isn’t too far from our home in New Hampshire. I love Lowell’s unique character that comes from its historical relationship with the rivers and canals that flow through its center.
Lowell started in the 1800’s as a planned manufacturing center and was the first large-scale factory town in the United States. The 30 foot drop along the rapids where the Concord and Merrimack rivers meet provided a constant source of direct hydro-power for mills and factories. In addition to the river that flows through downtown, there is also a man-made canal system built to by-pass the Pawtucket Falls and provide additional access to water power. At the peak, Lowell had more than 30 different textile, saw and grist mills and the canal system is the largest power canal system in the United States.
As new, more efficient sources of energy were introduced, Lowell’s manufacturing center steadily decline and mill after mill were closed. Some of the mill complexes were torn down in the interest of urban renewal, both many others are still standing - taking new form as apartment complexes, offices and shopping venues. The old mill buildings and river walk are one of my favorite things about Lowell.
The National Park Service has taken over one, restoring it with working machinery as a history museum and offers canal boat tours (one of the things I did on my visit). If you like history, think river locks and dams are cool and have a free afternoon, I definitely recommend the tour. It starts and ends with a ride on the trolley and takes you through a set of locks to get out along the river dam.
If that’s not your speed, a walking tour of the cobblestone downtown streets and searching out the many faded ‘ghost signs’ painted on the sides of buildings is also recommended. Walked through downtown many times but never realized how many there were until we started looking. The amazing ‘Lawrence’ manufacturing sign is on the side of one of the the buildings now part of the U. Mass Lowell campus.
I love Lowell - so much history, cool architecture and industrial beauty.