Lowell, Massachusetts

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Seal of Lowell, Massachusetts
Seal of Lowell, Massachusetts

Lowell is a city located in Middlesex County, Massachusetts. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 105,167. It and Cambridge are the county seats of Middlesex County6. Founded as a planned manufacturing center for textiles along the Merrimack River northwest of Boston, it was a thriving industrial center during the 19th century, attracting many immigrants and migrant workers to its mills. With the decline of its manufacturing in the 20th century, the city fell into deep hard times but has begun to rebound in recent decades. The former mill district along the river is partially restored and comprises part of the Lowell National Historical Park.



Old mill complex now converted to a museum.
Old mill complex now converted to a museum.
View of Lowell, Massachusetts from the east, near the confluence of the Merrimack River and Concord Rivers.
View of Lowell, Massachusetts from the east, near the confluence of the Merrimack River and Concord Rivers.
Birthplace of painter James McNeill Whistler.
Birthplace of painter James McNeill Whistler.
Sculpture commemorating the textile mill industry in downtown Lowell.
Sculpture commemorating the textile mill industry in downtown Lowell.
The Great Gate, also known as Francis' Folly.
The Great Gate, also known as Francis' Folly.

The site of Lowell, the confluence of the Merrimack River and Concord River, was a rendezvous point for the Pennacook Indians in pre-Columbian times. In the 17th century before King Phillip's War, the Christian Indian village of Wamesit occupied the site, and was part of East Chelmsford, which was settled in 1655.

Lowell was a planned city; its site was chosen for the water power made available by the rapid descent of its rivers, as shown by the presence of Pawtucket Falls on the Merrimack and the Wamesit Falls on the Concord River. It was officially incorporated as a town in 1826, and became a city in 1836), named after Francis Cabot Lowell. A member of two prominent Massachusetts families, Francis Cabot Lowell traveled to Manchester, England to study its mill system for possible reproduction back home. He was forbidden to make any sketches of the looms in use, so it is believed that he resorted to memorizing their construction. By the 1850s, Lowell was the second largest city in New England, and nearly six miles of canals - the largest power canal system in the world- ran her factories. It is considered by many to be the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in the United States.

Nineteenth century Lowell was an important center for the textile industry, in particular an important source for cotton cloth. Its textile mills, which line the Merrimack River, were the largest, most modern mills of their time. Lowell was one of the first industrial towns to employ women, in what became known as the Lowell system. Women from agricultural communities throughout the region would take jobs in the mills of Lowell for one, two, or more years, then move on to marriage, return to their family farms, or emigrate west to the frontier. The women of Lowell's mills were innovators not only in their roles as industrial workers, but as labor organizers.

As an important industrial town, Lowell soon became a magnet for immigration. Lowell's population swelled rapidly with a flood of immigrants from Northern England, Quebec and New Brunswick, and Ireland, and later from Poland, Greece, and other parts of central and eastern Europe. This ethnic diversity lent to Lowell a unique cultural identity.

The city and its industries declined severely during the Great Depression of the 1930s (though signs of decline can be seen as early as the 1890s), and were not saved by a short-lived revival due to WWII. The textile companies moved south, where labor costs were cheaper, and jobs in Lowell became scarce. The infrastructure and architecture of Lowell began to suffer, as mills were repurposed as warehouses and canals were less scrupulously maintained. As the economic fortunes of the city sufferred, so the quality of life in the city sufferred.

Sports became an important part of Lowell's cultural life, especially football. Though parts of it are set in a small town, Jack Kerouac's book The Town and the City captures some of the importance of football in Kerouac's youth (Kerouac was himself a local football star). Semi-pro baseball, hockey, and boxing (e.g., the Golden Gloves) were also important parts of the city's cultural life.

The large number of Catholic immigrants to the city made the Catholic Church a powerful force in Lowell's cultural life, with many churches and church organizations, Catholic schools like Keith Academy and the Franco-American School, and two Catholic hospitals (now merged as Saints' Memorial Hospital). The Orthodox church, too, played a significant part in enriching the communities of Lowell.

Lowell's economy became dependent upon smaller scale industries and the retail stores of the downtown shopping district, as well as its new role as part of Boston's growing suburban sprawl. The rise of the shopping malls in the 1960s and 1970s encouraged the major retailers to leave their downtown stores for climate-controlled complexes which were more attractive to shoppers in New England's winter weather, and there was a precipitous decline in pedestrian presence in the city.

Beginning in the 1960s, a new generation's political activism worked to revitalize the city by capitalizing on its important place in industrial history and its cultural diversity through a number of poliical and economic organizations, most notably The Lowell Plan. The three most important factors in this revitalization were the University of Lowell, the Lowell National Historical Park, and the computer industry.

In 1975, the Lowell Technological Institute, an engineering college (originally the Lowell Textile Institute from 1928 to 1953, and the Lowell Textile School from 1895 to 1932), merged with Lowell State College (originally the Massachusetts State Normal School at Lowell), a state college which had traditionally specialized in teacher education, to form the University of Lowell (which was renamed the University of Massachusetts at Lowell in 1991). The University was well placed to serve as an engine for the growth of the new technology industries in the Merrimack Valley region.

Due to Lowell's history, it was the first American city to be declared a National Historical Park. The opening of the Lowell National Historical Park in 1978 served a central role in the revitalization of the city. As the expansion of the University of Lowell's mission drew young people from across Massachusetts to the city to live, the new National Park drew visitors, even tourists from across the region and across the country to learn about Lowell's role in an important transitional period in American history. The Park also inspired major improvements in the city's infrastructure and the rehabilitation of many buildings that had fallen into disrepair, as well as drawing attention to some of Lowell's forgotten natural resources. The National Park served as a focal point for community pride, and helped to motivate many projects important to the city's further development. Many of the original textile mill buildings have been renovated to hold museums, offices, and condominium housing.

Lowell's economic growth in the late 1970s and early to mid 1980s was also driven by the success of Wang Laboratories, for which it served as the international headquarters until the late 1980s. With the transition to microcomputers (personal computers) in the mid to late 1980s, the market for Wang's minicomputers collapsed, while a leadership transition from the founder, Dr. An Wang, to his son Fred Wang, made the company unable to adapt to changing market conditions, and Wang Industries folded during the economic recession of the late 1980s.

Through the next decade, Lowell continued to suffer from economic and cultural turbulence. With the decline of economic power, the city's influence in the political life in the region declined. Unemployment demoralized the city's working middle class. New waves of immigrants from Latin America and Southeast Asia faced resistance from the settled populations descended from earlier immigrants, and the drug trade took a terrible toll on the children of both populations. Lowell was featured in a 1995 HBO documentary called High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell which focused on a small population of hardcore drug abusers. It was a highly unpopular production in the city.

However, Lowell's prosperity grew throughout the 1990s and its reputation has improved dramatically. The resurgence of the area's technology industry and the growth of new service industries have once again revitalized the downtown, while the increasingly more diverse ethnic fabric of the city gives it great cultural depth.

Today, Lowell has a large French American population, most of whom are French-Canadians who migrated down from Quebec and Northern Maine, and a large Irish American population. There is a thriving new generation of Cambodian Americans who have put down roots there, as well as Laotian Americans, Vietnamese Americans, and Hispanic Americans.

It offers a campus of the University of Massachusetts, several theaters, many popular restaurants, small live music clubs, an American Hockey League affiliate team called the Lowell Lock Monsters (whose home ice is the Tsongas Arena), and a minor league baseball team called The Lowell Spinners (whose home field, LeLacheur Park, was designed by the architecture firm HOK Sports Facilities Group).

Lowell's musical influence is largely felt through the Lowell Folk Festival, the largest festival of its kind in the US, and the renowned School of Music at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. The Lowell Folk Festival got its start in 1990 after Lowell hosted the National Folk Festival from 1987 to 1989.


Lowell is located at 42°38'22" North, 71°18'53" West (42.639515, -71.314588)1. It can be reached by automobile from Interstate 495, US Route 3, and Massachusetts Routes 3A, 110, 113, and 133. It can be reached by passenger train from Boston's North Station on the MBTA Lowell Commuter Rail Line (stops at the Gallagher Transportation Terminal).

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 37.7 km² (14.5 mi²). 35.7 km² (13.8 mi²) of it is land and 2.0 km² (0.8 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 5.23% water.

Lowell's neighborhoods include the Acre, Back Central, Belvidere and Lower Belvidere, Centralville (sometimes called Centerville, though that is more properly the name of a non-adjoining neighborhood of the adjoining town of Dracut), the Highlands (which is the section of Lowell between Chelmsford and Stevens Streets adjacent to Chelmsford), Oakland, Pawtucketville, and South Lowell. The surrounding towns (clockwise from north) of Dracut, Tewksbury, Billerica, Chelmsford, Westford, and Tyngsboro are usually considered suburbs of Lowell; the nearby towns of Dunstable and Peperell are sometimes considered suburbs of Lowell.


As of the census2 of 2000, there are 105,167 people, 37,887 households, and 23,982 families residing in the city. The population density is 2,948.8/km² (7,635.6/mi²). There are 39,468 housing units at an average density of 1,106.7/km² (2,865.5/mi²). The racial makeup of the city is 68.60% White, 4.21% African American, 0.24% Native American, 16.52% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 6.48% from other races, and 3.92% from two or more races. 14.01% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There are 37,887 households out of which 34.0% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 40.1% are married couples living together, 17.4% have a female householder with no husband present, and 36.7% are non-families. 29.0% of all households are made up of individuals and 9.3% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.67 and the average family size is 3.35.

In the city the population is spread out with 26.9% under the age of 18, 11.9% from 18 to 24, 32.5% from 25 to 44, 17.9% from 45 to 64, and 10.8% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 31 years. For every 100 females there are 97.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 94.1 males.

The median income for a household in the city is $39,192, and the median income for a family is $45,901. Males have a median income of $33,554 versus $27,399 for females. The per capita income for the city is $17,557. 16.8% of the population and 13.6% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 23.2% of those under the age of 18 and 14.0% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.


Lowell has a Council-manager government. There are nine city councilors and six school committee members, all elected at large in a non-partisan election. The City Council chooses one of its number as mayor, and another as vice-mayor; the mayor serves as chair of the council, serves as the seventh member of the school committee, and performs certain ceremonial duties. The administrative head of the city government is the City Manager, who is responsible for all day-to-day operations, functioning within the guidelines of City Council policy, and is hired by and serves at the pleasure of the City Council as whole. As of August 2005, the City Manager is John F. Cox.

As of August 2005, Lowell is part of one Massachusetts Senate district (First Middlesex, represented by Steven C. Panagiotakos (D)) and three Massachusetts Representative Districts (Sixteenth Middlesex, represented by Thomas A. Golden, Jr. (D), Seventeenth Middlesex, represented by David M. Nangle (D), and Eighteenth Middlesex, represented by Kevin J. Murphy (D)). It is part of the Fifth Massachusetts Congressional District, represented by Martin T. Meehan (D).


Sports and recreation



Businesses started and/or products invented in Lowell

Famous people from (or associated with) Lowell

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