Lowell, Story of an Industrial City: Lowell's Canal System

Historical evolution of the canals of Lowell, by Howland and Chrisney. HAER, collections of Library of Congress, public domain
The development of Lowell's Canal System.

Drawing by Mark M. Howland and Margy Chrisney, Historic American Engineering Record. From the collections of the Library of Congress, Public Domain (

The Lowell Canal system evolved steadily from 1821, when the Boston Associates purchased the old Pawtucket transportation canal in East Chelmsford (which later became Lowell). They initially used the Pawtucket as a feeder canal to channel water into new power canals. Just above Swamp Locks, the Merrimack, Western, and Hamilton canals branched off, taking water to the Merrimack, Lowell, Tremont, Suffolk, Lawrence, Hamilton, and Appleton mills. Only the Merrimack Company used the full 30-foot drop of water; for other mills the drop was 13 or 17 feet.

In 1847 the construction of the Northern Canal increased waterpower generation by the canal system by 50 percent. By mid-century the canal system we see in Lowell today was in place. Including almost 6 miles of canals and operating on two levels, this system powered 10 major mill complexes employing more than 10,000 workers.

From: Dublin, Thomas. 1992. Lowell: the story of an industrial city: a guide to Lowell National Historical Park and Lowell Heritage State Park, Lowell, Massachusetts. Washington, D.C.: Division of Publications, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.

Part of a series of articles titled Lowell, Story of an Industrial City.

Lowell National Historical Park

Last updated: June 15, 2018