The Rebirth of Lowell
By the 1960s Lowell’s glory days were far in the past. The city was hard pressed economically, and promising young people were leaving their hometown. Those who stayed were ambivalent about their history, recalling the hard conditions under which their parents had worked. With little sense of a worthwhile heritage, many were ready to erase the past and start over. There were even proposals to fill in the city’s most distinctive landmarks—its canals—in order to create more downtown real estate.
In the early 1970s a few people with vision, political know-how, and business sense stepped forward with plans to revitalize Lowell. Educator Patrick J. Mogan insisted that any revitalization of the city should be based on its industrial and ethnic heritage. This was the soul of the city—and not incidentally, a key to its economic salvation. Through the efforts of Mogan and others, the city undertook its rehabilitation. The Human Services Corporation and other community organizations worked with the Lowell Plan, the Lowell Development and Finance Corporation, and business and banking groups in a partnership to guide the city’s revival.
After years of study and debate on Mogan’s proposal to make Lowell a new kind of national park based on labor and industrial history, Congress established Lowell National Historical Park and the Lowell Historic Preservation Commission in 1978.
Arguing for the park legislation, then Congressman Paul Tsongas, a native of Lowell, defined the idea behind the park:
Twelve years ago Lowell decided that its identity was important. Important to its people and the Nation. There are hundreds of people who should be credited for discovering this America. Many workers…wanted the good and the bad of the past preserved, rather than flattened and denied.
The first steps were modest, starting with the renovation of small downtown buildings. The movement quickly gained momentum, benefiting from a new public appreciation for industrial architecture and a belated realization that preservation should embrace working class history and culture. Lowell has once again become a place that is visited by planners from other cities, and even from other countries, who want to follow Lowell’s example of using public-private partnerships to bring new life to their communities.
Source: Lowell National Historical Park Handbook 140
Did You Know?
The population of Lowell grew dramatically during the years of industrial expansion-rising from about 2,500 in 1826 to more than 33,000 in 1850, when Lowell was the second largest city in Massachusetts.