A Self-Guided Walking Tour of Jack Kerouac’s Downtown of Lowell

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The 2022 centennial Jack Kerouac Festival recently wrapped up in Lowell. Four full days from October 6th to the 10th of celebrations and events. “The October Festival features tours of Kerouac’s Lowell places–including many sites described in his Lowell-based novels-panel discussions, reading, jazz and folk music, films, open mike events, as high poetry competition, book signings, and more. Kerouac fans and scholars from across the United States and around the world travel to Lowell for the festival.”

Photo of Jack Kerouac

While you might have missed out on the fun of the marathon reading Kerouac’s novel Big Sur,  the poetry workshops, or guided tours — that doesn’t mean you have to miss out completely! 

If you’d like a guided tour (and we recommend it), you can contact the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac (LCK)  committee directly to book a walking tour, a car, or even a van tour.  

The tour is led by Bill Walsh, Judith Bessette, or Steve Edington. Steve also offers tours of the Kerouac sites of Nashua, NH, as cited in Kerouac’s works Visions of Gerard and Doctor Sax.

How To Book: Contact Judith at tours@lowellcelebratesKerouac.org or Steve at revsde@hotmail.com to arrange a tour or for more information.

For more details about the LCK Committee, visit https://lowellcelebrateskerouac.org/tours/ 

Price: A $10.00 donation per person is requested to support Lowell Celebrates Kerouac. 

But if you’d like to take a stroll through Lowell’s downtown area before or simply take a self-guided tour, you can! 

This self-guided walking tour was initially created as a joint project of the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Committee and by the Jack Kerouac subterranean Information Society. But here are the stops and details below to help you follow along! 


First Stop: The Pollard Memorial Library 

Address: 401 Merrimack St, Lowell, MA 01852

An older black and white photo of the Pollard Memorial Library

The Lowell Public Library is a fine place to begin a walking tour of Jack Kerouac’s Lowell. Today it’s called the Pollard Memorial Library, after Samuel S. Pollard, a prominent Lowell politician. Lowell’s public library was founded in 1844 and has gone through changes over the decades due to a fire in 1915 and major repairs in 2002 and 2018. While the decades have changed parts of the library, it is still the same place Kerouac wandered through the shelves and read the classics. 

Here is more information about the high school by Jack Kerouac’s Lowell Project:

In the novels, Maggie Cassidy and Vanity of Duluoz, Kerouac writes of skipping school “at least once a week” to read Shakespeare, Victor Hugo, William Penn, and scholarly books on chess. 

Specifically in Maggie Cassidy, he wrote: “It was how I’d become interested in old classical looking library books, some of them falling apart and from the darkest shelf in the Lowell Public Library, found there by me in my overshoes at closing time.”


Second Stop: Lowell High School

Address: 50 Father Morissette Boulevard, Lowell, MA 01852

This is a quick spot from the Pollard Memorial Library to take a look at before heading to the next spot. Since it is a high school still in operation, entering the building is not possible. Here is more information about the high school by Jack Kerouac’s Lowell Project:

“One can imagine Kerouac returning to school from the library, heading back to his last class before the bell. By nearly all accounts from classmates, teachers, even his own writing — Kerouac was a shy but popular student. A standout in track and football, and a fine outfielder on the baseball team, Kerouac also earned A’s and B’s in his classes. 

In his novel, Maggie Cassidy he mentions a Spanish course, the poetry of Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson, the great difficulty of physics, and “wonderful classes in some kind of pre-science fiction astronomy, with an old lady with a long stick demonstrating moons at the blackboard.” Kerouac graduated from Lowell High School in 1939, three months after his seventeenth birthday.”


Third Stop: Kearney Square

Address: 55 Kearney Square, Lowell, MA 01852


As a child, Kerouac would visit Kearney Square and the downtown area with his family and friends. While the downtown area has changed, the spirit of Kerouac lingers on. 

“More than that, downtown Lowell is a Kerouac place for the way it evokes that self-contradicting spirit of America which Kerouac captured so precisely at the close of On the Road and in the opening of Visions of Cody. Insolent and courteous, banal and curious, as fixed and evocative as a blinking neon sign, downtown Lowell continues to assert itself as a Kerouac place.”


Fourth Stop: Jack Kerouac Commemorative Park

Address: 75 Bridge St, Lowell, MA 01852

Source: https://www.nps.gov/places/-jack-kerouac-commemorative-sculpture.htm

Photo of the commemorative park for Jack Kerouac credit to Jim Higgins
Photo by Jim Higgins

This work of public art is a tribute to Jack Kerouac, and is a part of the National Park Service which discusses this commemorative piece. “The work includes excerpts from 10 of Kerouac’s 20 books that appear on eight triangular, polished, reddish-brown granite columns, creating a literary giant’s memorial in language. The artist, Ben Woitena, of Houston, Texas, knows Kerouac’s work well. His design was selected in a national competition.”

The Jack Kerouac’s Lowell Group had this to say about the site

Jack Kerouac would be familiar with the site chosen for The Commemorative. A twelve-story brick and concrete warehouse once stood on the site, a building Kerouac described as “the great gray warehouse of eternity.” Next door to the warehouse was B.F. Keith’s Theater, a vaudeville house and cinema. A small alley ran between the warehouse and Keith’s Theater, leading to the mill buildings behind The Commemorative where Kerouac’s father worked for a time as a printer.”


Fifth Stop: Boott Mills

Address: 115 John St, Lowell, MA 01852

Photo of the Bootts Mill
Photo by Andrew Donovan

Today, you can visit the Boott Cotton Mills Museum and see the legacy of the Industrial Revolution through the museum’s unique programs and exhibits. See the Weave Room full of historic power looms, or explore the exhibits that capture Lowell’s history and industry. Of course, Kerouac was inspired by the Boott Mills, which was still in operation during his time.  

Here is more information on Kerouac’s complicated feelings on the Boott Mill by Jack Kerouac’s Lowell Project:

When Kerouac mentions any of the Lowell mills in his books it is most often the Boott. In his novel Doctor Sax, the Boott is often seen in “a maze of haze sorrow,” where the red chimneys sway in “the dreambell afternoon” or, at night, the windows shine “like a lost star in the blue city lights of Lowell.” 

Kerouac’s descriptions of the Boott are often amorphous, and insubstantial, as if the redbrick mills are only clouds in a fiery sunset. It’s interesting to match Kerouac’s descriptions of the mills with the depiction of work in his novels. Kerouac’s characters may have jobs, and we may see many people on their way to or from work, but the joy of life lies elsewhere. “Everything belongs to me because I am poor,” he wrote in Visions of Cody. “Dicky and I covered these millyards.,” he writes in Doctor Sax, “and agreed millwork was horrible.”


Jack Kerouac’s complex vision of America often inspires many young Americans to set off “on the road” But Jack Kerouac’s complex vision of America, like Whitman’s, was vast enough to contain contradiction. It’s possible to see all these contradictions in a walk through downtown Lowell.

“Follow along to the center of the town, the Square, where at noon everybody knows everybody else.” – A quote from The Town and the City by Jack Kerouac

Through this self-guided tour, we hope you have learned a bit more about one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century and as well as the city of Lowell. While downtown has evolved and the people have changed since the days of a young Jack Kerouac, there are still the familiar places he wrote about endlessly in his work. Places you’ll love and can’t wait to explore. 

For more details about the LCK Committee, visit https://lowellcelebrateskerouac.org/tours/ and remember, for a guided tour: contact Judith at tours@lowellcelebratesKerouac.org or Steve at revsde@hotmail.com to arrange a tour or for more information.

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