This is the audio-only described version of the park’s brochure. The brochure includes text illustrations, historic and contemporary photographs and a map of the site. Side one features the history of the park. Side two focuses on highlights within the park and information to plan your visit.
An illustration of Lowell mills and a painting underneath of the Merrimack River are described under their own section.
Text: Lowell was born as a grand experiment that changed how Americans lived and worked. Capitalists tapped the energy of Merrimack River falls to turn thousands of textile machines. Young New England women and immigrant families came here to turn out millions of yards of cloth. From their labors grew America’s first industrial city.
As the Industrial Revolution in the United States intensified in the first half of the 19th century, the young nation’s social and economic fabric changed dramatically. Though still primarily agricultural, America was transforming itself into a nation of urban manufacturing centers. Enterprising merchants and capitalists organized corporations to develop and control the productive forces of emerging industries, while growing numbers of working people found employment as wage laborers in factories. Cotton textiles, the foundation of America’s Industrial Revolution, fostered not only working-class wage labor in the mills, but also supported slave labor on the cotton plantations in the South.
No city offers as dramatic a view of the American Industrial Revolution as Lowell, Massachusetts. Founded by Boston merchants in 1821 to 1822, Lowell was built as a factory city along the Merrimack River to take advantage of the waterpower potential of the Pawtucket Falls; within one mile, the river plunged 32 feet. Francis Cabot Lowell, for whom the city was named, had observed British techniques for weaving textiles, and with the aid of mechanic Paul Moody produced a successful power loom. In 1814, Lowell and other investors erected a water-powered mill in Waltham, Massachusetts, which carried out all the steps of textile production, carding, spinning, and weaving. Despite Lowell’s death in 1817, the venture proved hugely profitable, and plans for a larger enterprise led to the establishment of Lowell. The rapid development of power canals, factories, and corporate-owned boarding houses paralleled the growth of the city’s commercial, religious, and civic institutions.
While visitors to Lowell commented on the city’s extraordinary growth, many were also interested in the moral and physical well-being of the carefully supervised, mostly female work force. Could Lowell avoid the horrific social effects of industrial capitalism afflicting Britain’s manufacturing cities? Lowell’s industrialists reassured them, maintaining moreover that the enterprise advanced the needs and aspirations of republican society. By 1850, Lowell had grown beyond all expectations. The city had a population of 33,000—the second largest in Massachusetts—and its ten mill complexes employed over 10,000 women and men.
The top one third of side one is a color line drawing illustration of Lowell mills. Below it and to the left is a smaller color painting of the Merrimack River before industrialization. Their captions and descriptions follow.
The “Working in the Mills” section spans the middle of side one. On either side of the text are images. On the left is a color illustration of women mill workers. On the right are two historic photographs, one of mill worker Eliza Adams, and the other of male mill workers. Underneath is a security tag used to identify the workers. These images and associated text are presented under their own section. Following is this section’s text.
Title: “The Mill Girls.” Most of Lowell’s textile workers in the early to mid eighteen hundreds were young, single women from New England. Many hailed from farms or small rural villages, where economic opportunity was often limited to domestic service, family farm work, or poorly paid teaching jobs. Lowell’s mills promised much more, monthly cash wages and comfortable room and board in corporation boarding houses. In addition to economic independence, the growing city offered young women an array of commercial and cultural activities few had ever experienced.
The corporations, however, sought to regulate the lives of their workers, exercising paternal control over the social behavior of the women. Boardinghouse keepers enforced curfews and strict codes of conduct, and the corporations required church attendance. Factory overseers maintained discipline on the work floor. The clanging factory bell summoned workers to and from 12- to 14-hour days.
Although the mills paid relatively high wages, the work was arduous and conditions unhealthy. Despite threats of firing or blacklisting, female workers struck twice in the eighteen thirties to protest wage cuts and working conditions and again in the eighteen forties to demand a 10-hour day. Few strikes succeeded, and Lowell’s work force remained largely unorganized. Although Irish immigrants and a wide range of other groups settled in Lowell in the decades after the Civil War, women remained a large part of Lowell’s textile work force.
From left to right, this middle section has four images. A color illustration is to the left. To the right are two black and white historic photos and a color photo of an artifact. Their captions and descriptions are ordered from left to right.
Across the lower third of side one is text, a historic photo (left) and a map (right) on this subject. The text is presented below. The images and their associated text are presented under their own section.
Immigrants were part of Lowell’s story from the beginning. Before the New England female mill workers arrived, Irish laborers built the canals, mills, and boarding houses. A large number of Irish settled in a section of the city that became known as ”New Dublin” and later the ”Acre.” Many lived in poverty in ramshackle wooden cabins or primitive tents.
Beginning in the mid eighteen forties, Irish immigrants who were escaping poverty and famine in the homeland streamed into Lowell. They found work in the textile mills, where they toiled in unhealthy conditions in low-paying jobs. The establishment of Catholic churches and schools and the retention of traditional customs helped many Irish adjust to life in a predominantly Protestant, increasingly industrial society. Though conflicts between New England Protestants and Irish, Catholics occasionally flared into violence, Lowell’s Irish were eventually integrated into the city’s population.
After the Civil War, Lowell’s textile companies began hiring immigrants in greater numbers, starting with French-Canadians. They were followed by Greeks, Poles, Portuguese, Russian Jews, Armenians, and many other ethnic groups. Newer immigrants, like the Irish before them, faced long hours in low-paying, unskilled occupations. Many of these immigrants lived away from the mills in tightly knit neighborhoods where Old World cultures came to terms with the demands of American urban industrial life. Working-class immigrants had to cope with poor housing and unsanitary living conditions. By nineteen hundred, Lowell was a microcosm of urban American society—an uneasy blend of many ethnic groups living in distinct neighborhoods.
On either side of the Immigrant Lowell text is a black and white historic photo (left) and map (right).
At the bottom of side one, on either side of the Prosperity and Decline text are three black and white historic photos of the mills inside and out, one is left the other two are right. Their associated text and descriptions are presented in their own section. Following is this section’s text.
Henry David Thoreau called Lowell the ”Manchester of America, which sends its cotton cloth around the globe.” (Manchester, England was the British center of the textile revolution.) Lowell was also prospering beyond even the imagining of its founders. Ten mill complexes, with over 300,000 spindles and almost 10,000 looms, transformed cotton from the South into almost a million yards of cloth a week.
Lowell was in the forefront of mill technology, replacing water wheels with more efficient turbines and supplementing waterpower with steam. Yet by the late eighteen hundreds, the city’s industrial prominence was fading. Lowell faced growing competition from other northern textile producers who operated newer, state-of-the-art cotton mills. Working conditions in the aging factories declined as the corporations failed to reinvest in the mills.
Although the mills remained mostly profitable until the early nineteen twenties, corporations invested in other enterprises or in the emerging southern textile industry. A number of Lowell’s mills closed in the nineteen twenties and nineteen thirties, casting thousands of residents out of work. A brief resurgence during World War two led to renewed hiring and production. By the mid nineteen fifties, however, the last of the original mills shut down and only a few, smaller textile producers remained.
On either side of the Prosperity and Decline text are three black and white historic photos, one left, two right. Associated text and descriptions follow.
Side two focuses on planning your visit and the canal system around the park and rivers of Lowell. A map of the park and area takes up two thirds of the side. Three small maps and text explain the expanding canal system. Across the bottom third of this side are five color contemporary photos and text that highlight tours and places to stop while visiting the park. Introductory text is below. The map, canal information, photos and specific topics related to planning your visit are under their own headings.
Text: Visitors to Lowell in the eighteen hundreds were overwhelmed by the scale of the canal system and mills, and impressed by the female work force. One foreign traveler said: “Niagara and Lowell are the two objects I will longest remember in my American journey, the one the glory of American scenery, the other of American industry.” Poet John Greenleaf Whittier wrote: “[The observer] feels himself thrust forward into a new century.” Experiencing the park’s sites today will help you understand the awe felt by these early visitors to Lowell.
Map description: This map includes the downtown area and Acre neighborhood of Lowell. The map is oriented with North on the top. Downtown and the Acre neighborhood are bounded by a rough diamond shape of waterways, formed by the Merrimack River on top, the Pawtucket Dam, Pawtucket Falls, and merger of the river with Pawtucket Canal on the left, the Pawtucket Canal on the bottom, and the merger of the Pawtucket Canal, Concord River, and Merrimack River towards the right of the map. The Acre neighborhood takes up most of the left interior of the diamond bounded by waterways. The downtown area underneath the Merrimack River on the right side of the map is bounded by Father Morrisette Boulevard heading east and then south through Arcand Drive along the Merrimack Canal. The outlying neighborhoods of Pawtucketville and Centralville are located northwest and northeast of the Merrimack River, respectively.
The Downtown area is the more detailed portion of the map. The park and it sites are essentially within the 2nd phase of the canal growth and are enclosed within the Merrimack, Eastern, Hamilton and a portion of the Pawtucket canals. The park exhibits and buildings are highlighted on the map in green, while other remaining historic structures and points of visitor interest are gray. Solid brown lines indicate canal way walking routes, while a dotted brown line is a suggested walking route between the Visitor Center and the Boott Cotton Mills Museum. From the Visitor Center, the walking route goes right on Market Street, turns left onto Palmer Street, right turn onto Merrimack Street, and then a final left turn onto John Street, which passes along Boarding House Park and the Mill Girls and Immigrants exhibit on the left. John Street ends in the Boott Mill courtyard, with an accessible Museum entrance on the right. Trolley tracks are indicated by a thin black line with hash marks, and stops are represented by green dots.
The variations in blue for the waterways corresponds to four different water levels engineered into the canal system. In general the waterways, canals, as well as the natural course of the river, decrease in water level from west to east, left to right on the map. In the upper river, the guard locks drop 2 feet. The upper canal swamp locks have a 13-foot drop. For the lower canal, the lower locks have a 17-foot drop. There is a 32-foot vertical drop from the upper to lower river.
Other blue structures on the map include gatehouse and lock structures, which can be experienced through a guided canal boat tour.
In the upper left corner of side two is a small square map that repeats itself two more times, but with added blue lines that indicate the growth of the canal system. The map shows the shape of the Merrimack River, which is like a wide, upside down “V” that runs east-west with the high point in the upper center. The smaller Concord River flows north-south from the eastern down-turned slope of the Merrimack River in the far right side of the map. The canal system and its growth are explained below under the description and text for each of the three map variations. While labelled on the larger map and not these smaller maps, the names of the canals are included.
The five color photos across the lower third section of side two are described from left to right. All photos are credited to National Park Service / James Higgins
Revival of a City Lowell’s restored industrial and labor history sites are here today because of a group of citizens determined to help a city fallen on hard times. Beginning in the nineteen sixties they began to envision a new kind of historical park, a living museum based on the city’s distinctive industrial, ethnic, and architectural heritage. In the early nineteen seventies educator Patrick J. Mogan and others brought together community organizations, urban planners, historians, political leaders, and business and banking groups to revitalize the city and breath new life into its educational system. Lowell native Paul Tsongas, then a congressman, led the effort in 1978 to pass legislation creating Lowell National Historical Park. Lowell’s ongoing economic and cultural development is guided by a coalition of groups, including the park, the City of Lowell, the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and Lowell Heritage State Park. Together they are preserving the past and nurturing a vigorous heritage that will continue to define the city.
Take the Lowell Connector from either I-495 (Exit 35C) or Route 3 (Exit 30A) to Thorndike Street (Exit 5B). Follow brown and white ”Lowell National and State Park” signs. Free parking in the lot next to the visitor center at 304 Dutton Street.
We strive to make our facilities, services, and programs accessible to all. For information go to the visitor center, ask a ranger, call, or check the park website.