Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lowell (LOL)

Come take a quick trip with me! This past weekend the hubs and I went north to Massachusetts and now you're taking a quick visit. Now, hop on!

We're on our way around Lowell, Massachusetts. Why Lowell? Well, as nerdy as it might sound, I've wanted to go there since I learned about it in a college history class. Lowell is widely considered to be the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in America. Lowell was founded in the 1820s by a group of Boston investors (called the Boston Associates) who selected the location based on a specific aspect that I'll show you later but I'll give you a hint; it had a specific aspect relating to water that gave it an "edge." These investors built factory after factory based on the English model and utilizing the latest technologies. Many of these factories (such as the one seen below) were in use for well over 100 years.

Above is the Boott Mills factory. It was in use for over 120 years. They made numerous different items relating to cotton cloth. The entire process from getting in the cotton bales to the finished product was made here. Below are restored looms from around 1913 that they still use today. I even bought a tea towel made on one of the looms!

This is the "weaving room." The sound of these looms in production is deafening. Also, the room has to be humid to make the cotton more pliable so steam is pumped into the room from sprayers near the ceiling. You really get a sense of the working conditions in the early 1800s. the 1830s with the advent of the first factories they needed a free labor source. Where would you get a labor source that is untapped in the early 1800s in New England? Employ women! Yes, women! I am copying this next bit from Wikipedia, but I assure you, the facts check out, "In 1840, the factories employed almost 8,000 workers — mostly women between the ages of 16 and 35. The city became world-renowned as a center of efficient industry. The Industrial Revolution was changing the face of commerce, and Lowell was central to this transformation in the United States....In 1840, the factories employed almost 8,000 workers — mostly women between the ages of 16 and 35" These "mill girls" lived in nearby boarding houses where an equivalent of a "house mother" ensured the girls lived up to a set of certain standards.

(photo from Department of Commerce and Labor. Children"s Bureau. (Most Recent). Part of Series: Lewis Hine Photographs for the National Child Labor Committee, ca. 1912)

Here is one of the looms in action:

Okay, so I won't withhold the reason why an area of farmland was chosen to be the site of the beginning of America's Industrial Revolution. The Merrimack River which runs through Lowell drops 30 feet over the course of a mile's distance.

The use of gravity and water combined to be indispensable to early industry. The water turned great waterwheels in the basements of these factories. Later, turbines were used and greatly increased production output. Here's another view of the drop in the Merrimack River.

To be able to fully utilize this water power, a series of canals were built (there was one from the 1790s that already existed but it had been used to aid in transporting lumber around the drop in the river). Here is one of the locks. In that building up top is where all the mechanisms are to close the gates and raise/lower the water. After almost 200 years everything still works and still relies on human power! (We took a tour on a boat and were able to experience being raised then lowered in the lock).

So when you think about much of the origin of the "modern" era you can say you've seen where it began!


  1. thanks for the history lesson! :) looks like a nice place to visit with a lot of interesting things to see! i can't believe that little wall in the water doesn't collapse!!

  2. Hi Julie,
    I'm an architect working on a dining hall renovation at UMass Lowell. We're looking for photos of the Merrimack to adorn the walls of one of the dining areas. Would you consider letting us use on of your photos in the project?