Lowell National Historical Park | PARK AT A GLANCE

Mill Girl works a loom at Lowell National Historical Park

Mill Girl works a loom at Lowell National Historical Park


Lowell National Historical Park in Lowell, Massachusetts, preserves the history of the first city in the United States that was created strictly as a manufacturing center. Known as the Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, Lowell started out as the farming village of East Chelmsford, which by the late 1700s had a population of only a few hundred people. By 1836, when the area was incorporated as the City of Lowell, the population was nearly 18,000. By 1850, Lowell was the second largest city in Massachusetts. All of this was the result of textile mills that were built to take advantage of the water power provided by the little-used Pawtucket Canal, a canal completed in 1796 to transport boats around an unnavigable section of the Merrimack River called Pawtucket Falls. The river ends at Newburyport, and from there products could be transported down the coast to Boston. However, in 1804 the Middlesex Canal was completed, and it connected Lowell directly to Boston. As a result, the Pawtucket Canal saw very little use by 1820.

Around this time, wealthy mill owner Francis Cabot Lowell was looking for a place to build more mills. Realizing the potential of the Pawtucket Canal as a source of water power, Lowell and fellow investors decided to focus their attention on developing East Chelmsford into an industrial center. The idea was to dig power canals—canals built for water power, not transportation—that branched off of the Pawtucket Canal, and use the Pawtucket Canal to keep them filled. Massive textile mills could then be built right along the edges. When canal-side real estate ran out, simply dig a new canal and put up more mills. By the mid-1800s there were approximately ten major mill companies and dozens of smaller ones operating in Lowell.

The city became what is known as a factory town. Mill owners built housing for the workers, many of whom were girls from the surrounding farms. To assure parents that their daughters would be taken care of, chaperones ran the boarding houses, and company churches and schools were built. In fact, every business that opened in Lowell did so to support some aspect of the textile industry, be it the workers or production.

The good times couldn’t last forever, and after the Civil War much of the textile industry moved to the south where wages were cheaper and cotton was more accessible. By the end of the 1920s, many of the mills in Lowell had closed, and the city fell on hard times. The last of the original mills, Merrimack Mills, closed in 1958, and shortly thereafter the old buildings began falling victim to the wrecking ball. This mustered preservationists into action, sparking an urban renewal movement. Today, many of the surviving mills have been converted into offices, condos, and apartments.

In 1978, Lowell National Historical Park was created to educate visitors about the city’s vital role in the Industrial Revolution. However, unlike a traditional National Park with an entrance gate and boundary, the park covers the entire downtown area. Visitors can explore five miles of canals on foot via four urban trails, or better yet, get right on the water by attending one of the boat trips offered by the National Park Service. To learn about the city and the Industrial Revolution, visitors are urged to stop by one of the park’s four museums. A small exhibit that covers the city’s history is located at the Visitor Center; actual looms from the early 1900s still produce cloth at the massive Boott Cotton Mills Museum, the park’s source of information about the textile industry in Lowell; the Mill Girls and Immigrants Exhibit focuses on the life of the women who worked at the mills and the immigrants who eventually replaced them starting in the mid-1800s; and the Suffolk Mill Turbine Exhibit consists of a disassembled turbine and a drive shaft, plus a few information panels on how water was used to power the mills.


Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center, the Boott Cotton Mills Museum, the Mill Girls and Immigrants Exhibit, and The Suffolk Mill Turbine Exhibit are open year-round, though hours may be truncated in the winter season. From Memorial Day weekend through Thanksgiving they are generally open daily. Most of the tours, on the other hand, run only from Memorial Day through Labor Day on a daily basis, and after that, only on select days through early October.

The urban trails are on city streets, so you can hike these at any time of the year. The only exception is the Northern Canal Walkway, which runs along the top of the wall that separates the Northern Canal from the Merrimack River. This is only open from May 15th through October 15th, 9 AM to 5 PM.

The National Park Service does not publish a schedule for the entire year, but you can get one for the current season on the official Operating Hours and Seasons web page for Lowell National Historical Park.


Most of the activities at Lowell National Historical Park are free. The exceptions are the boat rides on the canals and entrance to the Boott Cotton Mills Museum. Get the current ticket prices on the National Park Service’s official Fees and Passes web page for the park.


Visitor Center
allow up to 1 hour

Boott Cotton Mills Museum
allow 2 to 3 hours

Mill Girls and Immigrants Exhibit
allow 30 minutes to 1 hour

Urban Hiking Trails
allow 5 hours to hike all four urban trails

Suffolk Mill Turbine Exhibit
allow 30 minutes

Guided Tours
allow 1.5 to 2 hours per tour

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Last updated on July 13, 2020
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