Spirit of the Past
America's self-image is founded in part on the nation's rapid rise to industrial preeminence by World War I. While there is no single birthplace of industry, Lowell's planned textile mill city, in scale, technological innovation, and development of an urban working class, marked the beginning of the industrial transformation of America. Visitors can see today the working components of this early manufacturing center---the dam and nearly six miles of canals that harnessed the energy of the Merrimack River; the mills where the cloth was produced; a boardinghouse representing the dozens of like buildings that housed the workers; the churches where they practiced their faiths; the ethnic neighborhoods. These are the roots of American industry and of American working people.
The Lowell story is as much about change as about beginnings. Just as the city today reflects the deindustrialization happening across our northern states, so its historical structures represent one of the greatest transitions in American social history. This was the shift from a rural society, where most people adapted their lives to natural cycles, to a society in which people responded to factory bells, where work was the same year round and did not cease at nightfall. In these pages historian Thomas Dublin tells of the changes undergone by Lowell: the city's role in the Industrial Revolution; the transition on the mill floor from Yankee women to immigrant men and women; the transition from waterpower to steam; Lowell's decline following the shift of textile capital to the South.
Nowhere is Lowell's transformation more vividly seen than in its workforce. Successive waves of immigrants came to Lowell, taking the lowest paying jobs as those who had come before climbed the economic ladder. One of the most moving of the city's monuments is the group of 20 bronze bricks laid in the sidewalk that leads to Boott Mills. Inscribed on them are names like True W Brown, Patrick Kelley, Charles Demers, Karoline Alrzybala kinds of Yankee, Irish, French-Canadian, and Polish names still found in Lowell. In this unobtrusive setting is distilled the spirit of the city: At places like Boott Mills, one can touch Lowell's past. Its people remain the vital connection to the generations who labored here.
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.
Series: Lowell, Story of an Industrial City
Last updated: June 15, 2018