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America's Venice and National Park Site

October 7, 2016

Unit #49 / 413 - Lowell National Historical Park 

 

After five months traveling around the Upper Midwest and Northeast United States, I've noticed 3 things you'll likely find in any American shopping mall:

 

An Auntie Anne's pretzel shop.

 

A Dairy Queen/Orange Julius.

 

And clothes made from every corner of the world.

 

In our age of "fast-fashion" and globalization, it's hard to imagine a time when clothes weren't available at the click of a button. Yet for those who lived in the 19th-century, getting a new shirt could mean up to six months of making that garment yourself.

 

As with many products of the time, the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s brought an opportunity to solve that. Upon witnessing--and memorizing--the tightly concealed technologies of British textile making, Francis Cabot Lowell brought his knowledge to the United States, and starting in 1821 began to establish a town specifically for the manufacture of his product.

 

Designed like a 19th-century Venice, Lowell and other merchants carved canals out of land near the Merrimack River and created a factory-town that ran off water power. This then-efficient model allowed for the employment of women in a way before unseen, and later an opportunity for swarms of immigrants looking for jobs in the U.S.

 

 

As I've now seen at the third NPS site on this trip, Lowell became the victim of the same symptom that brought down the industry-towns of the Pullman National Monument and Keweenaw National Historical Park: Lack of diversification.

 

When water power was overtaken by steam and coal power (which wasn't dependent on factories being near the water), cheaper manufacturing locations became available and Massachusetts' Venice slipped into the same disintegrating fate as many other industry towns.

 

 

Today, the National Park Service preserves a piece of Lowell's glory days through the Lowell National Historical Park: a unique site that amorphously intertwines with a modern city slowly diversifying its economy.

 

However different than that early Lowell in terms of manufacturing, modern Lowell takes pride in its roots as a multicultural town of immigrants, and seeks to continue being a place where cultures from around the world can come and live harmoniously.

 

So whether you're looking for an example of 19th-century manufacturing history, or how a 21st-century town breathes new life into its historical buildings, a walk--or boat ride--around Lowell National Historical Park's canals provides the opportunity to tap into an America shaped by its industries.

 

 

2 Lowell Highlights

 

Click here to read the Lowell Sun coverage of my visit

 

1. Talk a Canal or Trolley Tour

 

The National Park Service operates free Trolley Tours (M-F) and paid Canal Boat Tours (weekends), with reservations via this link.

 

Given the indefinite "borders" of this park, a Ranger tour is highly recommended to understand how the land and buildings played a part in Lowell's history.

 

 

2. Explore Lowell

 

With famous residents like Jack Kerouac (of "On The Road" fame) and blocks of canals that represent this city's past, strolling around Lowell's downtown provides a charming self-guided tour.

 

 

 

How did this 3 year road trip begin? Read the blog of Launch Day

 

Upcoming Units (COMMENT with recommendations. What should I do at each park? Local interesting detours? Food stops?)

 

Massachusetts

 

-Minute Man National Historical Park

-Salem Maritime National Historic Site

-Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site

-Adams National Historical Park

-Boston African American National Historic Site

-Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area

-Boston National Historical Park

-Cape Cod National Seashore

-Frederick Law Olmstead National Historic Site

-John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site

-Longfellow House-Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site

-New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park

-Springfield Armory National Historic Site

 

The journey thus far:

 

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