Making the Park

A brick building with the signage "H & H Paper Co." The windows are in various states from being boarded up to bricked in. The rooftop is flat. A brick building with the signage "H & H Paper Co." The windows are in various states from being boarded up to bricked in. The rooftop is flat.

Left image
The boardinghouses pre-renovation housed the H & H Paper Company. (1980)
Credit: NPS

Right image
The modern boardinghouses exhibits the Mill Girls and Immigrants Exhibit and the Patrick J. Mogan Cultural Center. (2011)
Credit: NPS / James Higgins

 
 
Connected to the mill building is the clock tower. The tower's exterior wall and tower is weathered. There is a bell inside the tower, with a weather vane atop. A large chimney looms behind the mill building.
Boott Cotton Mills Clock Tower before reconstruction work.

Harley Collection

The fight to save historic Lowell began as a grassroots effort. One of the activist leaders of the effort was Patrick Mogan, then Assistant Superintendent of the Lowell Public Schools, who pushed for creative alternatives to urban renewal.

In 1966, Mogan and a group of civic leaders obtained funding through President Johnson’s Model Cities program. Their project combined preservation and education in the historic Acre neighborhood. Mogan led the education part of the project. They scaled up their plans to encompass more of the city. Mogan and his allies referred to their ideas as the “City as a Classroom,” and the area as an “Urban Cultural Park.”

In 1970 the U.S. Department of the Interior announced plans to create fourteen new parks near urban areas. This seemed like a perfect opportunity for Mogan’s vision to be realized. Initially, National Park Service officials did not believe enough sound historic structures survived in Lowell to warrant National Park status. In 1974 Paul Tsongas won a seat in Congress and was determined to keep up the fight. In 1975 Congress established the “Lowell Historic Canal District Commission” to investigate the viability of a historical park in Lowell.

With the 1978 legislation introduced by Paul Tsongas, Congress created a new park to be managed by the National Park Service. Based on the report of the Historic Canal District Commission, the bill also established the Lowell Historic Preservation Commission to supervise a downtown “Preservation District” for a finite period of time. The Commission continued until 1995. The park now sits in the heart of the Preservation District.

With the establishment of the park and the commission, Lowell’s activists and civic leaders had achieved their immediate goal and began the long process of turning their vision into a reality.
 
Newspaper cover of Jimmy Carter signing bill with Kennedy and Tsongas.
President Jimmy Carter signed the legislation creating Lowell NHP in 1978. Senator Edward Kennedy and Representative Paul Tsongas, passionate supporters of a National Park in Lowell, were given pens used to sign the legislation.

Lowell Sun







The Park Bill

The Lowell Sun published a special commemorative section celebrating President Carter’s signing of the park’s legislation. Senator Ted Kennedy and Congressman Paul Tsongas, two of the park’s strongest national advocates, received commemorative signing pens.
 
Cover of "The Brown Book", featuring a man holding glasses.
Cover of “The Brown Book.” Officially titled Lowell, Massachusetts; Report of the Lowell Historic Canal District Commission to the Ninety-Fifth Congress of the United States of America.

NPS

The Brown Book

In 1975 the United States Congress created the Lowell Historic Canal District Commission to study Lowell’s prospects for joining the National Park System. The commission’s report, commonly known as the “Brown Book,” has served as a roadmap ever since, embodying the park’s vision and guiding its activities.

Writing about the Brown Book, Superintendent Celeste Bernardo described the cover image as “a black and white image of the sturdy loom fixer Albert Biro standing among machines on a factory floor in one of the last textile mills. Superimposed on his grimy work shirt is a small circular badge imprinted with a diagram of the Lowell canal system. The message was clear from the start: The extraordinary account of canal-building and textile production in Lowell cannot be told without the central narrative about the people who built this city and gave it a soul.”
 
Workers setting the last cap stone for Pawtucket Dam. They pose as water trickles down the granite structure.
Proprietors of Locks & Canals, 1915

NPS

Preservation and Restoration

Almost five million square feet of former mill space have been rehabilitated for mixed use, including commercial spaces, residences, museums, and education-related organizations.

The Lowell Historic Preservation Commission was vital in establishing the ongoing effort to preserve historic structures, complementing the work of the National Park Service. The Commission collaborated with developers, arranging for financial incentives like low-interest loans and tax credits.

Many of Lowell’s historic buildings look untouched from their earliest days but actually required extensive restoration to reveal their historic character.
 
A boarding house during renovation. Scaffolding lines the exterior of the building over multiple floors.
Boots Cotton Mills Boarding House under construction.

Lowell Historic Preservation Committee

Preservation in Action

Historic preservation and work in a preservation district can take many forms. Some of Lowell’s historic buildings were lost to newer development, including the Kirk Boott mansion house which served as a residence in one location, a hospital in another, and then was demolished in the 1960s.

The Lowell Historic Preservation Commission and the City of Lowell have both worked to re-establish a historic look and feel in the Preservation District, including installing historically appropriate lights in parks and along canalways. Each lamppost is cast from multiple molds like this one.
 

Last updated: August 16, 2019

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67 Kirk Street
Lowell , MA 01852

Phone:

978 970-5000

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