Lowell: A city of reinvention

Click here to see the park Visitor's Center

While Francis Cabot Lowell kick-started the American Industrial Revolution with his Boston Manufacturing Company in Waltham, it was to the north where that revolution was perfected, in the town that bears his name. In Lowell, America became industrialized. 

That story of expansive industrialization begins after Lowell died. In 1817, his former partners searched for a place with sufficient water power to drive larger mills. They found such a place on the Merrimack River near Pawtucket Falls. At the falls, the water dropped 32 feet, which would allow for much larger power generation than the Charles River in Waltham. Having found the perfect place, they founded a town and named it after their former partner.

In the newly incorporated town of Lowell, workers, predominately Irish immigrants, built nearly six miles of canals, completed in 1850. In 1831, the Merrimack Manufacturing Company, the first textile mill in Lowell, was founded. Other factories followed not long after, and helped lead Lowell into a golden age.  During that golden age, the canals provided enough power to drive 40 mill buildings, including 320,000 spindles and  nearly 10,000 looms. The mills employed up to 10,000 workers, mainly women.

The women who worked in the mill were housed in company dormitories and were able to earn money to send back home or to save for a dowry or for themselves. But Martha Mayo, director of the Center for Lowell History, said that there was much more to Lowell’s “mill girls,” and that women of today can find inspiration from them. “We see a lot of young people, particularly young women, are inspired by these strong female role models that worked, wrote and stood up for themselves, and I think that for young women that that is the linkage between then and now,” Mayo said. “Many of these women who came here to work, after they left the textile mills, continued as authors or were in the labor reform movement, or the suffrage movement, and went on to other, active lives.”

However, after more than 130 years, the Merrimack Manufacturing Company closed in 1958. Then, few remnants of this economic boom remained. All that was left were the buildings. In the years that followed, Lowell went into a steep decline, with high levels of unemployment and little economic development.

But, in the 1970s, a resurgence in local pride about Lowell’s industrial past led to a movement to preserve and remember Lowell’s glory days. One place to do that is at the Lowell National Historical Park in the city center.  The Lowell National Historical Park covers 141 acres in the center of the city, scattered among a number of buildings. At the center of the park is the visitor’s center. Inside are exhibits on Lowell history from the 1820s to the present, a gift shop and a theater where you can watch a short film on the rise, fall and rebirth of Lowell.

The park also features various locks, a turbine exhibit, an exhibit on the boardinghouse, as well as the Boott Cotton Mills Museum, an 1836 mill with a 1910 weave room with operating looms.

Cathy Neveux, a park guide, said she tries to talk with visitors that come and to “connect them with something that resonates with what they see.” “Most anybody can see connections to their personal life to when industrialization first made an impact on our lives,” Neveux said.


Name of Place:
Lowell National Historic Park

Site founded:

Visitor’s Center: 246 Market Street, Lowell, Mass. (click for directions)

Vary by season and site (click here for park website)

Boott Cotton Mills Museum: $6, Students $4, Ages 6-16 $3, Age 5 and under is free; Canal Tour: $8; All other areas: Free

City Settled:

City Founded:

City Population:
103,229 (2006) 

Commuter Rail Stop:
Lowell/Gallagher Terminal, Lowell Line

Departs from:
North Station





Lowell National Historical Park

University of Massachusetts Center for Lowell History

City of Lowell

MBTA Gallagher Terminal Commuter Rail Information