The Industrial Revolution.
Trip Start Mar 04, 2005
253Trip End Dec 31, 2014
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Founded by Boston merchants in 1821-22, Lowell was built as a factory city along the Merrimack River to take advantage of the waterpower potential of the Pawtucket Falls. Within a few short years over 10 water powered textile mill complexes would be built along the man made canals. At their height these mills would contains over 300,000 spindles, 10,000 looms and would produce over a million yards of cloth a week.
These mills were originally staffed by local 'Yankee' farm girls who lived in company run boarding houses. In the 1840's Irish immigrants who were escaping poverty and famine in their homeland began coming to Lowell. After the Civil War, Lowell's textile companies began hiring immigrants in greater numbers starting with French-Canadians, Greeks, Poles, Portugese, Russian Jews, Armenians and many other ethnic groups. Many of these immigrants lived away from the mills in tightly knit neighborhoods. By the turn of the century, Lowell was a microcosm of urban American society - an uneasy blend of many ethnic groups living in distinct neighborhoods.
Faced with growing competition from other northern textile producers who operated newer, state of the art cotton mills Lowell began to fade in the late 19th century. Although many of the mills stayed profitable until the early 1920's the owning corporations invested in other enterprises or in the emerging southern textile industry rather than in updating the Lowell facilities. In the late 20's and early 30's several of the mills closed forcing thousands of residents out of work. A brief resurgence during World War II wouldn't last with the last mill closing in the mid 1950's.
There are no working mills left in Lowell. It's restored industrial and labor history is here today because of the work of a group of determined citizens. Beginning in the 1960's they began to envision a new kind of historical park, a living museum based on the city's distinctive industrial, etnic and architectural heritage. Their efforts led to the successful creation of the Lowel National Historical Park in 1978. It is a fascinating place to visit. We started with the video in the Visitor center before taking a free, ranger led trolley tour of the town. Next up was a ranger led canal boat tour along with a stop at the Pawtucket gatehouse. We would visit a restored boarding house and learn how these girls 'lived by the bell'. Lastly, we would visit the Boott Mill museum. This museum has a collection of working looms which allowed us to get a bit of an idea of the noise that the workers had to contend with.