When I was a boy, I learned that Lowell was central to America’s leadership during the Industrial Revolution. My teacher told me that paternal New England factory owners staffed their Massachusetts mills with single farm girls over whom they exercised a benign fatherly control. What she didn’t tell me is that to squeeze out profits, the owners soon speeded up the work and lengthened the hours, driving those young women back to their parents’ farms.
They were soon replaced with immigrants.
Lowell National Historical Park tells the story of these immigrant textile workers. Their daily lives, their sweated labor, and the communities they built are all on display in this fascinating park. You’ll learn about the desperate work in boiling hot textile factories filled with cotton dust. You’ll find out how the owners tried to keep the workers divided by pitting one ethnic group off against another, and about the brave efforts of the workers to organize.
You can visit a boarding house where the workers lived and a factory where they worked. The looms on the factory floor are still running full tilt and you can hear the thunderous noise of the machines and wonder how the workers kept their sanity.
I took my kids here a few years ago, and they loved it. And not just for the history. There is a rail line running through town and a free trolley still runs down the tracks.
There are also miles of canals in Lowell, and a boat ride on the canal is available for a small fee. I strongly recommend it, it takes you through the old factory district, along canals first dug by Irish day laborers in the early 1800s. You then pass through an ancient hand operated canal lock out onto the Merrimack River where you hover at the edge of a dam.
Lowell’s mills were worked by French Canadians, Italians, and Eastern Europeans. Today, the city is a center for Cambodian immigrants. The National Park Service has done an admirable job of engaging the new Southeast Asian community in the operation of the site. As the descendants of European and Canadian immigrants move to the suburbs, it is important that this piece of immigrant history not become an orphan. Making the most recent immigrants part of the museums history assures its future.
This park works on many levels for kids. The canal and trolley rides are favorites, but the budding engineer will like exploring the many systems created in the 1800 to power huge factories before the advent of commercially available electricity. Girls will be surprised to find out that youngsters their age worked in the factories and that young women helped lead the fight for better conditions and unions.
There are several inexpensive Italian, Cambodian, and Greek restaurants within walking distance of the park.
Map of Lowell National Historic Park:
More Immigration Vacations:
Castle Clinton and Battery Park
Lowell National Historic Site
Lackawanna Coal Mine and Steamtown
Old Croton Aqueduct
Irish Hunger Memorial
The Tenement Museum