Preserve America Community:
Lowell (population 105,167) is a working-class city that successfully embraced historic preservation as the key to its downtown economic revitalization. It was first settled in 1653 and was officially incorporated in 1826.
Established as a manufacturing center for textiles around the falls of the Merrimack River northwest of Boston, Lowell thrived during the 19th century, attracting many immigrants and migrant workers to its mills, the largest and most modern of their time. By the 1840s, Lowell was the second-largest city in New England and the industrial center of America.
With the decline of manufacturing in the 20th century, the city fell on hard times, but has begun to rebound in recent decades. Until the late 1980s, Lowell was the international headquarters for Wang Laboratories, although after Wang folded, Lowell had its ups and downs. Within the last decade, however, Lowell's prosperity has grown.
Integral to the economic resurgence was the establishment of the Lowell National Historical Park encompassed by a larger preservation district in 1978. The park preserves and interprets Lowell's vital role in the American Industrial Revolution and contains five miles of canals, cotton-textile mills, operating gatehouses and mill-worker housing.
Turn-of-the-century trolley rides and seasonal boat tours of the Merrimack River and the canals are offered. Productive reuse of former mills has led to the development of office space, apartments, and condominiums within walking distance of Lowell's many cultural amenities.
Lowell now has 13 historic districts and 22 individual properties listed in the National Register. In 2000, the National Trust for Historic Preservation recognized Lowell as one of America's initial Dozen Distinctive Destinations and, in 2002, gave Lowell a National Honor Award for 25 years of preservation-based economic development partnerships.
Lowell has an innovative program called Doors Open Lowell, which provides a chance for local people and tourists to catch a behind-the-scenes glimpse of this success. During this free weekend celebration, historic buildings throughout the National Park and Downtown Lowell Historic District open their doors and a program guide links them together by theme.
Participants experience everything from artists' lofts in 19th- century commercial buildings, to offices and homes within former textile mills, to 100-year-old civic and institutional buildings still in use today. Many participating buildings are not normally open to the public.
Lowell was the first city in the United States to launch this event dedicated to built heritage, architecture, and design. The inspiration came from Toronto, which launched the first Doors Open event in North America in 2000. Doors Open originated as part of European Heritage Days in 1991 with the number of participating countries increasing in 10 years from 11 to 47.
Another Lowell highlight is the Tsongas Industrial History Center, an award-winning heritage education partnership between the National Park and the University of Massachusetts Graduate School of Education, which provides programs for 62,000 school children each year.
For more information
City of Lowell: www.lowellma.gov
Lowell Historic Board: www.historiclowell.net
Greater Merrimack Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau: www.lowell.org
National Register Travel Itinerary: www.cr.nps.gov/nr/travel/pwwmh
Posted April 29, 2009