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100 year old canal lock opens to tours

Lowell National Historical Park canal passes through Swamp Locks
Park canal boat passes through Swamp Locks
Phil Lupsiewicz, NPS

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News Release Date: May 30, 2008
Contact: Phil Lupsiewicz, 978-275-1705

For the first time since 1901, Lowell National Historical Park, guided a canal boat through the city's Swamp Locks, making the 13-foot drop on the Pawtucket Canal into the "industrial canyon" along the Appleton and Hamilton mills.

The Swamp Locks opened Memorial Day weekend for the first time since 1901 allowing the parks “Locks to Locks” tours to start the 2008 tour season with a splash.  The Pawtucket canal opened in 1797 to circumnavigate the Pawtucket Falls on the Merrimack River and allow good and products to flow from New Hampshire to Newburyport, Massachusetts.  At that time, hundreds had lined the canal dug by hand,  to watch a small boat loaded with spectators enter the first lock only to have it give way in a matter of moments.

Men, women and children were suddenly washed downstream, terrifying onlookers. Historical accounts at the time record some individuals "promiscuously" floating downriver as their clothes had been torn off from them. Accounts by the company that owned the locks, however, were less dramatic, calling the blunder a "disagreeable incident." The locks didn't open for another six weeks after that.

The inaugural passing through the restored Swamp Locks highlights a 20-year, $45 million investment to repair the waterways that earned the city the title of America's Venice. "It's been a long time in the making," said Michael Creasey, Superintendent of  Lowell  National Historical Park. "You can sense the excitement. For people to see the city from this vantage point is really a unique experience."  

This year, for the 30th anniversary of the Lowell National Historical Park, visitors will get to tour the canals uninterrupted from the Francis Park Gate near the Pawtucket Falls to the Lower Locks in downtown Lowell.

Did You Know?

Mile of Mills, Lowell, MA

Francis Cabot Lowell died before his colleagues began planning the industrial city of unprecedented order and scale that would eventually be named Lowell, Massachusetts.