History of Lowell, Massachusetts

Lowell, located in Middlesex County, is 26 miles northwest of Boston at the confluence of the Merrimack and Concord rivers. Pawtucket Falls, with a drop of 32 feet, provided most of the power on which Lowell's industrial development was based.

Before the coming of white settlers, the present site of Lowell was within the territory of the Merrimack Valley Indians. John Eliot, an early missionary, preached to them in 1647. It is believed that he also took his ministry to the site of Manchester, New Hampshire. In 1686, the Wamesit and Pawtucket Indians sold their lands to English settlers and left the area.

Lowell developed around the water power available from the Merrimack River. The first canal was built in 1796, to circumvent Pawtucket Falls and allow timber to be floated downriver to the shipbuilding yards in Newburyport. Later, the Middlesex Canal created a direct water route from Middlesex Village, just upstream of East Chelmsford, to Boston by a system of locks and aquaducts between the Merrimack and Mystic rivers.

Manufacturing began to take root at about this time. Local manufacturing was greatly stimulated by the Embargo and the War of 1812, which disrupted normal commerce and forced the local population to supply more of their own needs, especially cloth.

After the War of 1812, British goods again became easily available and some small manufacturers were driven out of business. Others decided to make greater use of power machinery and expanded their operations.

In 1822, Patrick Tracy Jackson built some mills in partnership with Francis Cabot Lowell. The community was incorporated as a town in 1826 and named Lowell after Jackson's partner. In 1830, Jackson obtained a charter for a railroad to connect Lowell with Boston. It became a city in 1836.

James McNeill Whistler was born on July 11, 1834, in Lowell, the son of an agent of the Proprietors of the Locks and Canals Corporation. The home in which this famous American artist was born is now the Whistler House Museum of Art. Lucy Larcom, born in Beverly in 1824, moved with her family to Lowell in 1835. Her writings played a significant role in the advancement of women's rights and Lucy Larcom Park along the Pawtucket Canal commemorates her.

During the 19th century, Lowell was considered a model for industrial progress. Lowell General Hospital was organized in 1891. Lowell State Teachers College opened in 1894 and Lowell Technical Institute was established in 1895. Much later, these two combined to form the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. Lowell is also served by Middlesex Community College.

Lowell continued to thrive through the Roaring Twenties, but the Great Depression dealt its textile industries a blow from which it never recovered. The center of American textile manufacturing moved to the South following World War II, but Lowell recovered by diversifying into high technology. The entire old industrial area of Lowell is now included in the Lowell National Historic Park, which celebrates Lowell's role in the American industrial revolution. Originating as the Merrimack Valley Textile Museum in 1960, the American Textile History Museum is located in the Kitson Manufacturing Company building, adjacent to the national park. Celebrating a less industrialized vision of textiles, the New England Quilt Museum opened its doors inn 1986.


See Lowell native son, Jack Kerouac .

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There is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America by Philip Dray.
From an award-winning historian, a stirring (and timely) narrative history of American labor from the dawn of the industrial age to the present day. ...
Industry, Architecture and Engineering: American Ingenuity 1750-1950 by Louis Bergeron.
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