The Original Rust Belt?

Last week I visited Lowell, Massachusetts, which many consider to be the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in the United States.

The city near Boston was home to many cotton mills in the early 1800s, but by the 1920s and 1930s, many of the mills had closed. The economy briefly revived during World War II, but most mills closed for good by the 1950s and 1960s – foreshadowing the manufacturing job losses that would later hit cities like Pittsburgh, Detroit and Cleveland.

The city saw dark times during the 1960s, and some proposed filling in the city’s distinctive canals to make more space downtown for buildings, though luckily those proposals were rejected.

Today, many of the old mill buildings and the network of canals that powered them are part of a National Park there.

Others, like the one below are loft apartments:

(Sorry, my photos are terrible! Take a look at these much better images on Flickr.)

What helped turn the city around in the 1970s?

The founding of Lowell National Historical Park in 1978, the Lowell Historic Preservation Commission which helped preserve the city’s unique downtown, the emergence of the University of Massachusetts Lowell (formed from the merger of several other schools) and the arrival of tech firm Wang Laboratories and a general economic boom in those years in the state, according to Lowell: The Story of an Industrial City.

The city is also home to new immigrants from places like Laos, Cambodia and Colombia.

While the city still has problems with brownfields and poverty, I highly recommend a visit for folks interested in Rust Belt history.


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Filed under architecture, Economic Development, Featured, Good Ideas, The Big Urban Photography Project, Urban Planning

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