Most National Parks, Sites, Memorials, and other such places are usually beautiful in it's rural settings. This site is much different. It is set in a city and the great majority of what you see is red brick and canals.
Regardless of the lack of natural beauty this National Historic Site has, it still exhibits its own kind of grandeur in its brick buildings that hold secrets of an age lost and a story that should not be forgotten.
I have been to Lowell NHS twice, both times have been in the off season. I recently had a business trip up to Maine and thought I would refresh my memory of this park by stopping by and reliving some of what it has to offer.
The Visitors Center is open daily 9AM-5PM except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day.
For further park info go to www.nps.gov/lowe
Once getting off Interstate 495 that runs around Boston it is a five minute car ride through the city streets of Lowell to the site. In the off season there has always been plenty of parking but I do wonder if the lot can accommodate peak season traffic.
A short walk brings you to the Visitors Center located in the Market Mills building. As you make your way you will see what must have been imposing buildings to the "girls" who just came into the city from their New England farms to find work and for some a good start in life. Others did not make it through the grueling conditions of the mills. You will find out that young woman, the "girls", made up the majority of the work force.
The Visitors Center has some interesting information to get you started. This is the place to sign up for tours. Most tours do not have a charge. I have written about two that do and mention the prices there. If you go on your own walking tour get a map. There is plenty to see at a leisurely pace. You can quickly go through this site in a couple of hours or spend a good part of the day learning.
The Visitors Center also has an open store that has some interesting books, films and pictures, the usual souvenirs and, what I found interesting, bolts of material. The Lowell National Site gives us the history of the industrial revolution, especially keying in on the textile industry of the town, thus representative samples of the cloth, that was manufactured there, is available for sale.
A small theatre gives a twenty minute or so narrated slide presentation of what the history and grounds of the area are about. It is very interesting and sets the mood for your self-guided or structured tours.
Let me also mention here that it is in the Visitors Center that you may have your Passport to the National Parks canceled with an ink stamp showing the name of the site and the day you were there.
The passports have stamps of different National parks and sites that are issued every year. Lowell happens to have had one issued and it it the stamp itself that I had canceled. If you have interest in learning more about the National Passport, how to get involved with it, and how it may spark interest in learning more about our National treasures please go to Passport to your National Parks
I liked the Visitors Center. It was informative, the help was interested and interesting and I enjoyed the shop. My first "real job", at age 17, was working for Sears Roebuck selling sewing machines. I suppose, because of that background, I was particularly struck by the bobbins that were for sale at the V.C. store. These were huge wooden things unlike the tiny metal and now plastic bobbins of today.
The Visitors Center and particularly the fine introductory film will give you some of this information, but for those who may not go or don't know the significance of and why Lowell, here are a few short facts.
The Merrimack River moves swiftly and with a drop in this area. Canals and locks were built and the power of the river was harnessed to turn the wheels of thousand upon thousands of textile machines. The "girls" from the neighboring farms and of those at greater distance were employed, many under horrible conditions, to work the mills. With the growth of the nation and the high demand for textile goods Lowell became Americas first industrial city.
Just a note of what I had learned. With the increase of demand for textiles and the ability to produce them gave rise to even more need for cotton. This in turn perpetuated the need for slaves in the south. I found this interesting and the tour guides brought this and many other issues to light including the injuries and poor working conditions of the "girls" and the contributions of immigrants.
SEEING THE SITES
People who visited Lowell in the 1800's were struck by the combined workings of so many machines housed in huge brick buildings with a series of intricate canals and lock systems that gave power to those machines. Though much of what you see today is a ghost of what was, there are still working machines, grand buildings, and 5.6 miles of canals and locks to see. Though limited, there is still textile manufacturing still in process in the area.
Reservations are required for tours and they can be arranged at the V.C. You may call ahead at
1 (978) 970-5000
I mentioned the map that can be picked up at the V.C. With it in hand you can do a self guided tour. Their map is easy to follow, though not very detailed, and will take you through the most prominent sites and lesser, yet very interesting, ones. Some of the buildings will have people there explaining, in as much detail as you like, the significance of the site.
One such place is the Mill Girls Exhibit that is now only open in the afternoons. It is a restored boarding house that shows how the girls spent their "off work" time. This is very interesting!
In the walks along the canals on a weekday I found myself all alone and it was quite peaceful and scenic in its own way.
BOOTT COTTON MILLS and MUSEUM
This is where you can experience the atmosphere of constant noise and imagine what it was like when the full mill was running. During any visit you will find about half of the, eighty or so, machines operating and five to ten of them are actually producing product. This place IS loud and you can ask questions by shouting out to the person on duty. They will shout back!! The help there is very friendly and informative. There is a $4.00 charge to enter this building but it is well worth it.
The kids may enjoy a hands on section that teaches how cotton goes from raw product to finished material. Junior Ranger programs are also available as in most National Parks and Sites.
I am yet to take this 90 minute tour of the canals by boat because it has been closed on both my visits. I would try it. The boats look very safe. It is to reopen again after Memorial day. This also has a charge of about $6.00. Seniors and children pay slightly less. You can save a dollar in a combined ticket of the canal tour and the Boott's Mill Museum.
There is also a trolley that is now down for repair. This takes you from the Visitors Center to the Boots Mill Museum. Now you must walk the distance. Its very doable for most healthy and mobile people. The trolley is also the transportation that would take you to the canal tour. They hope to have it running by the time the canal tour is once again open. The trolley added a nice quaint feel to the industrialized area.
THE END OF THE TOUR
I was there on a cool day both times. It was pleasant walking around. On a rainy day there are still some sites to be seen indoors, like the museum, but much of the canal walk is lost. There is a gatehouse that is also very interesting.
I found this a very informative site telling a story of the industrial revolution and those who helped make it happen including the intrapreneurs, the Yankee girl workers, and immigrants who came in waves to this country and did their time and made contributions in these factories. Though this a good site I would not drive a significant distance just to see this one place. It is well worth a visit if staying in or seeing Boston.
There are two other places that are not terribly far from this site yet I feel worth a look. One is the Anheuser-Busch Tours that take you through their brewery, beer tasting, and see the Clydedales and their stables.
Another place that is about 30 miles away is "America's Stonehenge". This place is well worth a half day visit, though many finish it in an hour. This is in the very southern New Hampshire area and not all that far from Lowell.
Be sure to check out Lowell National Historic Site while in the area. It's an easy off on stop if you are traveling up to Maine from any southern points.
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Best time to go: June-August
Recommended for: Anybody
Review Topic: Overview