Lowell Waterways Redevelopment Rove

Redevelopment Rove

Redevelopment Rove

Learn how historic mill complexes and canalside spaces are transformed into a vibrant mixed-use neighborhood that will serve as a dramatic new gateway for the city. The walk is approximately 1 mile.

Start your tour at the Lowell National Historical Park at Market Mills, 246 Market Street, Lowell, Massachusetts. Walk from the Visitor Center to the middle of the courtyard of the Market Mills complex.

Market Mills

Out of Business
Street Scene in 1960s
Downtown Lowell

Mill for Sale
The old Massachusetts Mills for sale in 1930

Merrimack Demolition
Aerial view of the demolition of the Merrimack Mills- 1960


You are standing at the center of one of the typical mill complexes built here in Lowell starting in the 1820s. This is the Lowell Manufacturing Company, started in 1828 and designed to manufacture first textiles, and later carpeting. At the height of production, Lowell Manufacturing employed xxx workers and produced xxxx yards of carpeting/cloth per year.

Like so many others in Lowell, this company went out of business in the 1920s. By the 1950s, all ten of the large textile companies that had driven Lowell's economy since the early 19th-century were closed down or moved elsewhere. The closings caused unemployment, depression, and a loss of Lowell's sense of itself. The closings also left nearly five million square feet of abandoned mill space. The crumbling brick complexes stood as mute reminders of Lowell's heyday and the loss of the city's principal industry. Some of these complexes were torn down, some fell to arson and accidental fire, and all continued to be ravaged by the effects of weather, vandalism, and the passing years.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, a new preservation ethic emerged in Lowell. Concerned citizens and local institutions worked with the city, state and federal governments to save Lowell's history and to use that history as an engine for economic growth. That effort resulted in the establishment of Lowell National Historical Park in 1978. The movement also inspired and encouraged efforts to find new uses for the old mill buildings in the city.

City leaders, developers, banks, and all levels of government teamed up to use loan programs, grants, and tax incentives to adaptively reuse the mills in ways that would benefit the city, provide local jobs, attract residents to the downtown, and still allow for a profit on the investment.

You will see many of the results as you travel along the "Redevelopment Rove" tour route. Lowell continues to evolve, and in this tour, you will see projects that have been completed, projects that are in the process of construction and rehabilitation, and building projects that are just getting started.

Walk up the mill yard toward Dutton Street and the Merrimack Canal. When you reach the fence at the edge of the Merrimack Canal, turn around and look down into the millyard that you've just come from.

Market Millyard

Lowell Manufacturing Company 1970s
The Brussels Weave Mill in the 1970s. Note the "Lowell Manufacturing Co." sign, which is still in place.

Bridge over Merrimack Canal
The bridge over the Merrimack Canal which once carried trains that brought supplies and finished goods in and out of the millyard.

Market Mills

The Lowell Manufacturing Company built, demolished, and rebuilt several buildings here throughout the 19th century. The building on your right, the Brussels Weave Mill, was built in 1882 and is the oldest surviving building in the complex. On your left is the 1902 weaving mill built for the Bigelow Carpet Company.

This complex is one of the earliest mill conversion projects in Lowell. In 1982, developers transformed these unused and deteriorating factory spaces into 230 income-geared apartments for families and the elderly.

This millyard once served a mostly utilitarian purpose, with storage sheds, utility buildings, and a light rail line running through the center. Today, the millyard is open and clean, and is used as a small shady recreational park, as well as an inviting space leading to the National Park visitor center.

Walk along the Merrimack Canal about 50 feet, until the parking lot comes into view and you can see the tall yellow-brick chimney across the parking lot to your left.

Lowell Canal Entrance

1896 Lowell Canal Map
1896 Map showing the Lowell Canal (the red dot marks the site of the photo above).

Canal Place Complex

Lowell Canal Entrance

Looking down into the Merrimack Canal, you can see a grate platform about 5 feet below the walkway you are on. This grate marks the opening of the Lowell Canal, which runs all the way along the left edge of the parking lot to the buildings just past and to the right of the yellow brick chimney. The canal provided the waterpower to run the machinery in the whole complex. The water still runs through the canal (the parking lot was built over it), and is now used to run generators that produce electricity to be sold into the regional power grid.

The cluster of buildings beyond and to the right of the chimney is another successful mill conversion project. Canal Place I & II were completed in the late 1980s and include 175 condominiums. Canal Place III, an $11 Million project to convert the former Grace Shoe Company building to 124 condominiums, was finished in 2004.

Keep walking along the Merrimack Canal, cross the entrance to the National Park parking lot, and continue to the wayside sign on your left "The Lowell Machine Shop."

Former Site - Lowell Machine Shop
Former site of the Lowell Machine Shop

Lowell Machine Shop 1880s
The Lowell Machine Shop Complex in the 1880s

Dutton Yarn Building
The Dutton Yarn Building

Lowell Machine Shop

The entire parking lot, along with the low vacant area on the other side of the chain link fence, was occupied by the Lowell Machine Shop complex. The Machine Shop was established in 1824 to supply machinery for the mills, and operated here until 1928. More recently, much of the site was occupied by the Pellon Corporation, which manufactured nonwoven fabrics for floppy disk liners, industrial filters, and linings for clothing. The Pellon buildings were demolished in 2006, clearing the space for future redevelopment.

Behind you and across the street is the 1915 "Dutton Yarn Building," the last building constructed by the Lowell Machine Shop. The building was used by the Giant Department Store after the machine shop closed. After the store closed in the 1970s, Joan Fabrics, an upholstery manufacturer, opened its yarn production operation here. In 2003-2004, the building was converted into 135 apartments, each with high ceilings, hardwood floors, and 10' x 17' steel windows. The project was completed at a cost of $13.5 Million and took advantage of $11 Million in Historic Preservation Tax Credits.

Keep walking along the pathway until you reach the round brick chimney base next to the Swamp Locks Gatehouse. Stop along the railing just before the gatehouse and look out at the Pawtucket Canal.

Swamp Locks Gatehouse

Swamp Locks 1918
1918 View of the Swamp Locks Gatehouse with the Machine Shop foundry just beyond.

110 Canal Building
110 Canal Street- the former Pellon building

110 Canal Drawing
Artist's rendering of the redeveloped 110 Canal Street and adjacent trolley line

Swamp Locks Gatehouse

This gatehouse is one of the key control points in the 5.6 mile canal system. Boards underneath the long gatehouse structure can be added or removed to control the height of the water in the canal on the other side of the gatehouse. With more boards in, the water level rises and pushes more water back into the canals that branch off upstream, providing more power to factories along those canals.

Two stone-lined lock chambers on the other side of the canal allowed boats to descend 13' from the upper Pawtucket (to your right) to the lower Pawtucket (to your left). A set of locks has been located here since the Pawtucket Canal first opened in 1796. Today, it is also the starting point for the seasonal canal boat tours run by Lowell National Historical Park. For more information on tours, stop by the Visitor Center or check out our Tour Schedule.

On the other side of the canal is a redevelopment work in progress. Once part of the Pellon Corporation, the 5-story 110 Canal Street is being converted into a 55,000 square foot office building. The $14 Million project will be LEED-silver certified and will feature a green roof to minimize storm runoff and help with cooling. The project is planned for completion by the end of 2013.

Feel free to explore the area around the lock chambers (follow the path around to your left, but use caution around the open lock chambers and machinery). When you are ready to continue, walk over the small bridge next to the gatehouse and proceed along the sidewalk to two benches next to the trolley rails.

Textile History Museum - Kitson Machine Shop

American Textile History Museum / Lowell Sun

The Kitson Machine Shop, a manufacturer of cotton pickers, built this complex in phases between 1860 and 1918. After the machine shop closed in the 1920s, the building was used for light industrial purposes and warehouse storage until 1992, when it was purchased by the American Textile History Museum. After much renovation to the building, the museum opened in 1997. Today, the building is also home to the Lowell Sun newspaper. Part of the building is being redeveloped as The Residences at the American Textile History Museum- 45 loft-style condominiums with luxury amenities and customized living space.

Continue along the path past the end of the trolley line and onto the pedestrian bridge. Stop about halfway across and look to your right, away from the Swamp Locks Gatehouse.

Pedestrian Bridge

Mass Mohair Ad
1940 ad for luxury passenger train upholstery made by Massachusetts Mohair

Western Avenue Studios
Thorndike Street Bridge with Western Avenue Studios in the distance

Massachusetts Mohair / Western Avenue Studios

This pedestrian bridge, completed in 2012, follows the path of a previous rail line and bridge over the canal. In the distance, beyond the vehicle bridge (Thorndike Street), is a 5-story brick factory complex with a brick stair tower on top. The building is the Western Avenue Studios, one of Lowell's great redevelopment success stories.

Much of the complex was built for the Massachusetts Mohair Plush Company in 1906, and used for the manufacture of upholstery for furniture as well as railroad passenger cars. Joan Fabrics, and later Collins & Aikman, operated an automotive upholstery factory here until 2005.

Today, the building is home to 143 studios with 215 associated artists. Western Avenue Studios is a vibrant part of Lowell's cultural life and one of the important centers for the local and regional artist community. The Studios sponsor a summer art program for kids, operate the Loading Dock Gallery, and hold an Open Studios event the first weekend of every month. A newly developed section offers 50 affordably-priced and fully-customizable live/work rental spaces for artist residents.

Turn around to face the Swamp Locks gatehouse.

Hamilton Canal Redevelopment District
Panoramic View of the Hamilton Canal District. The triangular piece of land dividing the canal will become "Point Park".

Hamilton Redevelopment District
Developer's rendering of the District

New Lowell Trial Court Building
Architect's model of the new Trial Court building

Hamilton Canal District Redevelopment

All of the empty spaces you see around you are part of the Hamilton Canal District, a 15 acre, $800 million development project that will transform this part of the city into a dynamic and vibrant mixed-use neighborhood. Construction in the district will include commercial, retail, and residential uses, all tied together with pedestrian-friendly walkways, public art, and landscaped recreational spaces. The district will provide a signature gateway for visitors coming to the city by car, bus, or train, and will connect the Gallagher terminal to the downtown. The district will be serviced by the future trolley expansion project, which will extend trolley service across the Pawtucket canal, through the heart of the district, and over to the train station at the Gallagher train & bus terminal.

One of the highlights of the district will be the 7-story $175 Million trial court building. The courthouse will be built on the empty parcel directly ahead of the end of the pedestrian bridge. The building will include 16 courtrooms, state-of-the-art security, a garden court multi-floor atrium, a roof garden, and underground parking. The building will be energy efficient (LEED platinum certified) and will use renewable solar technology as well as a heating plant with the future capacity to burn biofuel.

On leaving the bridge, turn left along the walkway, then stop at the next bridge/street crossing.

Hamilton Canal Bridge
The bridge, with one of the Hamilton Guard Gates in the foreground

Hamilton Bridge Trolley Tracks
The first 80' of track, with 110 Canal Street in the background

Hamilton Canal Bridge

The bridge crosses the Hamilton Canal, which was dug out in 1825 to channel water to power the Appleton and Hamilton Mills. This bridge was completed in the summer of 2012 and includes the first 80-foot section of rails for the Lowell trolley expansion project. The Park's historic trolleys operate on 1.2 miles of track and offer transportation for tours and park visitors. The trolley expansion will transform the system into a public transit network with 6.9 miles of track, 20 new stops, and trolleys circulating throughout the city every 10 minutes. The new system will allow easy transportation between the Gallagher commuter rail/bus terminal, the downtown, and the campus of UMass Lowell.

Keep walking along the sidewalk until you reach the main entrance to the Appleton Mills on the left (at the bridge with "219 Jackson Street" over the opening to the millyard) and turn to your right to look across the street.

Mill Number 5

Appleton Skywalk

Appleton Manufacturing Company

You are standing in the middle of the Appleton Manufacturing Company complex. The Appleton was established in 1828 and remained in business until 1929. Many of the company's earlier structures were demolished and rebuilt between 1905 and 1918. The "New Mill" to the right was built in 1873, and is the oldest building in the complex still standing. The ground floor opening leads to the powerhouse, turbine room, and "Mill No. 5," a new venture that will include "spaces for technology start-ups, artists, and independent retail with a black box theater, indie movie theater, and farm-to-table café."

Just overhead is the steel frame for the skywalk that once connected Mill #6 to the rest of the Appleton complex behind you. Mill #6 was built around 1900 for use as a warehouse. In 2004, the top two floors were converted into 31 condominium units as the Cotton House Lofts. The building is also home to the Lowell Community Charter School, which provides a multicultural learning experience for nearly one thousand local K-6 students.

Turn around toward the Appleton Mills on the other side of the Hamilton Canal.

Appleton Mills Entrance

Appleton Mills Atrium
The five-story Appleton Atrium

Appleton Mills Unit Interior
Interior of an Appleton Mills unit

Appleton Mills

The area now occupied by 219 Jackson Street is the site of the original Appleton Mill Complex. All of the 19th-century buildings were demolished by 1904, and the buildings you see today were built between 1905 and 1918. After the Appleton went out of business, some of the buildings were used for warehousing and light manufacturing purposes, but most suffered through years of neglect, and in 1997, a devastating fire destroyed much of the complex.

The redevelopment of the Appleton Mill was one of the first projects begun as part of the Hamilton Canal District. The $64 Million project involved removing most of the structures in the complex, while retaining the historic mill building façades. The project was financed in part by $42 million in historic preservation and affordable housing tax credits purchased by MetLife Insurance. Residents began moving in during the summer of 2011.

The Appleton Mills represents the next exciting chapter in Lowell's downtown development. The complex now features 130 affordable apartments for artists and other creative professionals. Applicants for apartments must meet with an artist selection board, and rents are charged based on income (rent for a 600 square foot studio ranges from about $450 to $800, depending on income). The apartments are set up with distinctive floorplans, high ceilings, and abundant lighting, and some are even built with double walls (soundproofing for the musically-inclined). The centerpiece of the Appleton Mills is the five-story atrium, which also serves as an art gallery and exhibit space.

Step through the entrance to 219 Jackson Street and walk straight out into the Millyard until a long brick wall fronting the Pawtucket Canal comes into view.

Appleton Dye House Wall

Appleton Dye House 1920s
The lower Pawtucket Canal in 1929 with a fully-intact Appleton Dye House (on right)

Pawtucket Canal Rendering
Artist's rendering of redevelopment plans on the lower Pawtucket

Appleton Dye House

The brick wall in front of you is all that remains of the 1916 Appleton Dye House. Cloth dyeing operations required a large quantity of water and produced an equally large quantity of waste water, so dye houses were typically sited right along canals or other waterways.

The building was two stories, 430' long and 52' wide, but most of it had collapsed by the 1990s, and even the one remaining wall was crumbling and falling brick-by-brick into the canal. As part of the Appleton Mills project, the brick wall was stabilized and secured and now provides a scenic accent that adds to the historic character of the Pawtucket Canal. The gap in the wall directly in front of you marks the place where a vehicle bridge will eventually connect the Appleton Mills area to the buildings that will be developed in the current National Park parking lot.

Return through the entrance and back out to the sidewalk. Turn left and walk along the sidewalk toward the narrow brick building with the two arched openings and "Hamilton" in the brickwork overhead.


Last updated: June 5, 2013

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