About 35 miles north of Boston is the planned city of Lowell, built around the Merrimack River and its canals. Because it was designed for industrial production and hosted a large amount of textile mills, which have since been converted into museums, apartments and office space, it attracted many immigrants. Most people came straight off the boat and right into the factories, in turn creating many different kinds of neighborhoods throughout town. Because of its beginnings, Lowell has a deep and rich history and begs to be explored.
Begin your day with a big breakfast at the Owl Diner. It is traditional diner in every sense and has the best breakfast in town. However, you better be blessed with patience if you happen to visit on a Sunday morning.
Once you finish stuffing your gob, you should head down to the Whistler House Museum of Art. The best thing about this historical house that dates back to 1823 is that it was the birth place of the early modernist painter James Whistler, who is best known for Portrait of the Artist’s Mother, a painting of his mother sitting in a rocking chair, as well as housing some great work by local artists. Incidentally, James Whistler isn’t the only famous son of Lowell. It is also the birthplace of actors Michael Chiklis, Olympia Dukakis and Bette Davis, as well as the incomparable Jack Kerouac, who remains one of America’s most influential writers.
Next, it’s time to explore the Boott Cotton Mills Museum. This museum highlights Lowell’s history as a mill town and discusses Massachusetts mills and immigrants in general. Upon entering you will find a room where they have textile machines going full speed to give visitors an idea of how loud these mills were and what kind of conditions people worked in.
As you travel upstairs in the museum, one can discover more about the development of textile trade and Lowell with some interactive exhibits. However, what captures your attention the most is the video they screen capturing generations past and present talking about what it was like to work in these mills. There is by far more than one engrossing story. The Boott Cotton Mills Museum is simply a wonderful vehicle to understanding not only Lowell as an immigrant-founded textile town, but the whole textile and mill industry as it relates to America.
After museum-hopping it’s time for a rest and a bite to eat. Downtown Lowell offers a few restaurants to choose from and even a shop or two to catch your eye. The Old Court Irish Pub and Restaurant is always a good choice, especially if you are in the mood for some Shepherd’s Pie.
Once you are all rested and have a happy belly, take an afternoon city tour offered by some of the park rangers. The best season for tours is summer since there are more options but there are a few also offered in the spring and fall. The "‘Mill Girl’ and Immigrant Tour" and the "Pawtucket Canal Tour" are two interesting tours. The "Immigrant Tour" will have you travel by foot and trolley to the different ethnic neighborhoods and talk about the changing work force of Lowell while the "Canal Tour" has you travel by foot and boat around the water world of the Merrimack.
As your afternoon winds down and your evening approaches, there are several things to occupy your time. If it is baseball season, you will want to go to a Lowell Spinners game and see the best of the minors and eat a traditional baseball hotdog. If it is hockey season, there is also the Lowell Devils, formerly the Lowell Lock Monsters. However, if you have arts in mind, you can’t go wrong if you catch a play at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre.
Lowell is definitely a city with a lot of history and all the mills are reminders of what and who really helped shape and build America. However, it is the mix of this history and the new, modern life which really showcase Lowell as a great example of an American city. It is one day trip worth taking.
What & Where:
Owl Diner (244 Appleton St; 978-453-8321)
Whistler House Museum of Art (243 Worthen St; 978-452-7641)
Boott Cotton Mills Museum (400 John St; 978-970-5000)
Lowell Tours (246 Market St; 978-970-5000)
The Old Court Irish Pub & Restaurant (29-31 Central St; 978-452-0100)
The Lowell Spinners (LaLacheur Park; 978-459-1702)
The Lowell Devils (Tsongas Arena; 978-458-PUCK)
Merrimack Reparatory Theatre (50 E. Merrimack St; 978-654-4MRT)