July 2, 2015

[Travel Itinerary] Lowell, Massachusetts

  • By: David Weible

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Trolley tours through Lowell National Historical Park are free of charge.

One of Lowell, Massachusetts’ defining qualities -- beyond being a hard-working, blue-collar town -- is change.

In the second quarter of the 19th century, locals harnessed the Merrimack River and transformed the farming community 25 miles northwest of Boston into the cradle of the American Industrial Revolution. By 1850, its 40 textile mills employed 10,000 workers -- the majority of them women. The success lured a pulse of immigrants from across Europe who constantly applied new layers to the cultural complexion of Lowell.

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The Boot Cotton Mills Museum in Lowell.

Loss of industry after both world wars dug the city into depression, but the arrival of Wang Laboratories in the 1970s, coupled with a new wave of immigrants from Southeast Asia, fueled Lowell’s next age of growth.

But as much as this boom-and-bust city’s survival has relied on change over the last two centuries, today, the community has put its industrial history and multicultural heritage to work to achieve sustainable success.

In Lowell, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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Lowell National Historical Park was the first National Park of its kind.

Lowell National Historical Park: Designated in 1978, the park showcases the city’s 5.6 miles of canals, historic mill complexes, traditional streetscapes, and its diverse cultural heritage. Learn about life in the mills at the Boott Cotton Mills Museum and the Mill Girls and Immigrants Exhibit.
246 Market St.; 978.970.5000; http://www.nps.gov/lowe/index.htm

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The Lowell Folk Festival celebrates the city's diverse culture, including African-American, Portuguese, Cambodian, and Puerto Rican influences.

Lowell Folk Festival: What started in 1987 as the National Folk Festival is now the longest-running free folk festival in the country. During the last full weekend in July, most of downtown floods with a celebration of Lowell’s diverse cultural and historical heritage through music, arts, crafts, and food.
Downtown Lowell; 978.970.5000; http://lowellfolkfestival.org/

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Jack Kerouac is buried in his wife's family plot.

Jack Kerouac Resting Place: The father of the Beat Generation often used his hometown as story material. After returning to Lowell, Kerouac spent much of his time at Nicky’s Bar and Pollard Memorial Library. The Mill Girls and Immigrants Exhibit hosts a collection his things. He is buried in the Sampas family plot at Edson Cemetery.
Gorham Street, two miles south of the Lowell Connector; http://www.nps.gov/lowe/learn/historyculture/kerouac.htm

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The Pawtucket Dam was originally built in 1847.

Pawtucket Dam: A National Treasure, the 1847 Pawtucket Dam directs water through the city’s two canals and once powered the textile mills that sparked the American Industrial Revolution. The National Trust has been working to save the structure since 2013.
School Street, just north of Pawtucket Street: http://savingplaces.org/treasures/pawtucket-dam

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Lowell Memorial Auditorium honors American veterans from all of the country's wars.

Lowell Memorial Auditorium: Boxing is almost as much a part of Lowell’s blue-collar history as industry, and the downtown venue hosted the area’s Golden Gloves events where greats like Rocky Marciano and Marvin Hagler got their starts. The 1922 war memorial boasts the names of well-known American battles and still hosts roughly 250 events per year.
50 East Merrimack St.; 978.937.8688; http://www.lowellauditorium.com/

Have additional historic travel recommendations in Lowell? Tell us in the comments.

David Weible is the content specialist at the National Trust, previously with Preservation and Outside magazines. His interest in historic preservation was inspired by the ‘20s-era architecture, streetcar neighborhoods, and bars of his hometown of Cleveland.

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