Lowell is located at the convergence of three major thoroughfares and has easy access to Boston's North Station via commuter rail. One of the historic birthplaces of the industrial revolution in the United States, the city was planned around the Merrimack River, which was the source of power for early manufacturers.
The city has always had an ethnically diverse community, and it was originally populated by Greek, Irish, Italian, Portuguese and French immigrants. Today, the city is home to many of the region's Southeast Asian, Latino and African immigrants.
NEIGHBORHOODS AND DISTRICTS
Lowell maintains a small-town feel, thanks in part to its division into smaller neighborhoods, each with its own neighborhood association and access to health care. Lowell General Hospital and Saints Memorial Medical Center offer a full range of services. There are dozens of playgrounds sprinkled throughout Lowell. Notable neighborhoods include:
- Acre: One of Lowell's oldest neighborhoods, Acre was once Lowell's water-power and real estate center. Today, it is one of the city's most ethnically diverse neighborhoods.
- Back Central: Bordering Downtown, the Back Central neighborhood was one of Lowell's first residential neighborhoods.
- Belvidere: Known for its distinctive homes, Belvidere means "beautiful to behold" in Italian. Its Washington Square area was the first of Lowell's fashionable neighborhoods. Shedd Playground covers 56 acres within the neighborhood's bounds.
- Downtown: In the early 1800s, Downtown was an industrial hub, thanks to the canals that run through it. After the collapse of New England's textile industry, Downtown was virtually abandoned. Recently, it has been rebuilt as a center of culture, education and tourism.
- Pawtucketville: This diverse, lively neighborhood is home to the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. Author Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) was among the neighborhood's most famous residents.
- Centralville: A diverse neighborhood in northeastern Lowell, Centralville includes several landmarks dating back to the mid-1800s. The Brown-Maynard House (1852), Varnum School (1857), and Varnum Building (1882) are all situated here.
- South Lowell: This area comprises several smaller neighborhoods, including Ayer City, the Bleachery, the Grove, Riverside Park, Sacred Heart, Swede Village, and Wigginsville. South Lowell is also home to the Lowell Cemetery, an early Victorian cemetery that mixed burial sites with a landscaped park area.
- The Highlands: Located in the western part of Lowell, the Highlands is one of the city's largest neighborhoods and includes two historic districts, the Tyler Park Historic District and the Wilder Street Historic District. This neighborhood is extremely diverse, with a large Southeast Asian population.
The city's downtown is growing into a trendy housing area, as former mills are converted into apartments and loft spaces, an attractive feature for Boston commuters.
ECONOMY AND INDUSTRIES
Lowell is traditionally considered to be a working-class town. It was originally a manufacturing city, and Lowell's textile mills flourished during the Industrial Revolution. The city has now diversified to include various industries. Roughly a quarter of employment comes from the service industry, and other significant industries include manufacturing, trade, transportation and government. In addition, tourism is an important part of Lowell's economy, as approximately 500,000 people visit each year.
Lowell's historic textile mills have been converted into offices, housing businesses such as Coca-Cola, Raytheon, NYNEX, Textron, Colonial Gas and Joan Fabrics Corp. Retail businesses, including small shops, find a market in Lowell's student community.
- Lowell National Historical Park: This park is dedicated to commemorating Lowell's unique role in the Industrial Revolution. Tour the historic cotton textile mills, and wander among the 5.6 miles of canals. Guided tours, both walking and by boat, are offered daily.
- National Streetcar Museum at Lowell: Lowell's first electric streetcar began operation in 1889, facilitating the city's growth. In addition to educational exhibits on Lowell's historical trolleys and American transit, visitors to this museum can take rides on Desire, a historic electric streetcar.
- Boott Cotton Mills Museum: More than a quiet museum, the building houses working power looms in a 1920s weave room. Visitors can learn all about the Industrial Revolution in Lowell through the museum's permanent and changing exhibitions.
- New England Quilt Museum: For a look at Lowell's textile past, visit the Quilt Museum, which preserves original American quilts, in addition to housing galleries, a library, classroom and museum store.
ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
- American Textile History: This is the largest textile museum in the world. Explore an 18th-century weaver's cabin and 1870s mill, and view displays of textiles and period clothing.
- Brush Art Gallery and Studios: Take a peek at the work of local artists who rent studio space here; they're happy to explain their crafts to interested visitors.
- Lowell Auditorium: This auditorium accommodates 3,000 people and attracts world-class performers. It presents wrestling events, sporting events, concerts and plays.
- Merrimack Repertory Theatre: The MRT is dedicated to producing quality theater that is accessible to everyone. They present six productions a year in Liberty Hall, adjacent to Lowell Auditorium.
- Whistler House: This art museum was the birthplace of artist James Abott McNeill Whistler. It houses a permanent collection, as well as changing exhibitions of contemporary and historical art. Artists are sometimes invited to do residencies here, and the space is available for weddings and other events.
- Folk Festival: Every summer, the Lowell Folk Festival attracts local and New England performers for three days of music and performance. Visitors and residents alike are invited to volunteer and be a part of the event.
- RiverFest: Every year, Lowell joins cities along the Sudbury, Assabet and Concord Rivers for a two-day festival, featuring overnight canoe trips, scavenger hunts and bird walks. Lowell offers a RiverFest warm-up in preparation for the big event, an easy paddle along the Merrimack River.
- Winterfest: This annual family-friendly celebration takes place in early February and offers free ice skating, tundra rides, magic shows, soup bowl competitions, fireworks and the National Human Dogsled Championships, a Lowell specialty that involves a "dogsled" team composed entirely of people.
- Middlesex Community College offers dual enrollment for high school and home-schooled students, as well as college courses.
- University of Massachusetts-Lowell is nationally known for its science, engineering and technology programs.
Lowell's daily newspaper, the Lowell Sun, traces its origins to the 1870s.