Disposable Camera Tour
500 Pawtucket Blvd., Lowell,
millions of Americans descended from immigrant factory
workers, Lowell can be a moving experience. Many New England towns
are still dominated by red brick factories, but it all started here.
Lowell was the dream city, designed in the 1820s to be the perfect
high-tech experiment. Women from local farms were the original
skilled weavers in what became the largest textile mills in the
But the experiment went awry. Owners pushed for faster machines, then more machines
per worker. Women textile workers were replaced by unskilled immigrant
laborers who worked for tiny wages over long hours six days
a week. The Irish were first, then Rusians, Prussians, Italians, French
Candaians, Greeks, Poles, Turkish and Bulgarian refugees and more.
Children 14 and younger worked in the loud and dangerous mills, side
by side with their parents, and lived in crowded tenaments rented to
workers by factory owners. It was a pattern repeated throughout New
Today Lowell is a state park in the middle of a city. We visited recently during the
excitement of the annual ethnic folk festival. Arriving at the visitors
center we watched the long-surviving orientation slide show -- still
impressive. Visitors can take an electric trolley to a number of
downtown museums. Step inside the boarding houses where thousands of
mill girls, then immigrants, got their start. One complete section of
the mill is still standing, transformed into a museum. The looms
still hum amid well-designed displays.
Upstairs in the
museum haunting wax figures, including a man in thick glasses and a
red sweater, show how the mills have been adapted to moden
companies. Outside ethnic dancers pose along the canal that once
powered the massive mills. Nearby visitors lounged before a massive
steel stage as musicians from a dozen nations played.
Policeman on horses monitored the crowds of guests.
Working to re-invent itself, Lowell has become a memorial to the
people who struggled through the harsh life the city once fostered.
It is an amazing rebirth in a fascinatingly diverse new city with a
very American past and a million stories to tell. -- JDR.
All photos and text by J. Dennis Robinson
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