Lowell. First, one of my best and oldest friends, Stephanie, recently moved to the city. Second, Lowell is home to the Lowell National Historical Park, which tells the story of textile mills, immigration, labor, and industrialization in Lowell and America. As a Hartford resident, I was curious to see an urban national park, possibly similar to the one Hartford will eventually have in Coltsville.
I hadn't heard much about Lowell in the past. I think it might fit into my favorite category of place: the ignored and underrated city. Physically, Lowell felt familiar to me; it is classic industrial New England, with brick mill buildings and waterfalls, rivers and cobblestones, formerly grand Victorian houses and touches of art everywhere you look. But unlike anywhere else I can recall visiting, it is built around canals, divided by and joined together by canals, saved from an overwhelming heavy sturdiness by the surprise and occasional beauty of canals that slice and twist through the city's downtown.
The National Historical Park consists of museum exhibits, trolley and canal tours, and markers dotted along several walking trails that highlight different aspects of the area's manufacturing past. But even if all you do is stroll from one hipster coffee shop to another, you are nevertheless walking through a history lesson, past locks and gatehouses and narrow walkways connecting the massive mills that once filled Lowell with a clamor of power looms and a flood of people.
As we walked, I kept trying to compare Lowell to other places. It was like Hartford yet not like it; it resembled a mini-Pittsburgh; its canals, if this was Europe, would be lined with restaurant patios and filled with houseboats. But eventually I stopped comparing, and just took pictures.
Sights and Activities:
Lowell National Historical Park
Brew'd Awakening Coffeehaus
Coffee & Cotton (In Mill No. 5, see below)
Mill No. 5
Van Gogh's Gear (In the Arts League of Lowell)