Uncovering Lowell

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Since January, I have committed to walking 10,000 steps a day and most days I reach my goal.    Just last month, my step tracker calculated that I had walked  over 1,500,000,000 steps since January.   During that time, I have walked the Merrimack river countless times, a number of trails throughout the Merrimack Valley, neighborhood and city streets, beaches and even had the opportunity to walk along the Tiber River in Rome, the Arno river in Florence and along the numerous canals in Venice this summer.  

This past Sunday, I decided to do something new and joined the Lowell National Historical Park on their Pawtucket Power Walk.    Beginning at the Boott Cotton Mills and ending at the Pawtucket Gatehouse at the O’Donnell Bridge on School Street in Pawtucketville, the rain held off just long enough for us to complete the 3 mile walk and explore the Pawtucket Gatehouse right above the Pawtucket Falls. The Pawtucket Gatehouse is also a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark and was designed and invented by James B. Frances.   One of my favorite places to photograph in Lowell is the Pawtucket Falls and having this open to the Public allowed for a unique and picturesque photo shoot!  And besides, with the Bladder Damn coming soon, it was nice to get a few more photos of the existing wooden flashboard system in place today.      

While this tour was more of a recreational walking tour, as everyone walked at their own pace, there were plenty of way signs along the route that pointed out a number of historic facts about the River, the Northern Canal project and Lowell’s Mills.  The walk started out along the Merrimack River, just below the Boott Cotton Mills Courtyard and Turbine.   We continued past the Tsongas Center following the river walk to the walkway behind LeLacheur Park and up and around UMass Lowell Dorms, an urban garden and then the 9/11 memorial, dedicated to students who lost their lives that day, until we arrived at Aiken Street.   During this section of the walk, there were a number of ducks in the river and if you were lucky, you may have even caught a glimpse of a blue heron that likes to feed at the Western Canal located on the left right after the Tsongas Center.   You also get a great view of the Oulette Bridge on Aiken Street.

Once the group arrived at Aiken Street from behind the UMass Lowell dorms,  we crossed the street and took a right onto the northern canal walkway over a small bridge. The route was easy to navigate but with mist in the air, you had to be a bit careful at times as part of the walk included some granite pathways, which could get a bit slippery. Having never walked the Northern Canal Walkway before, it was certainly cool to see the last canal built in the City of Lowell.   You get a wonderful view of the Howe Bridge on University Ave as well.    One way sign described the work on the Northern Canal as “the great rock excavation”  and reported that over 1,000 workers labored on the canal and wall for eighteen months.   Given when this was built and the depth of the 35 foot wall drop, it’s amazing it didn’t take longer.   As you continue on, you round the river’s bend and come to a dirt pathway with lots of trees and vegetation including wildflowers.  I bet it’s breathtaking in the fall when mother nature gets all dressed up for us!

The Park Rangers did a great job explaining how the building was used during Lowell’s Textiles days to power every last mill in Lowell and how we still generate electricity from the River’s water at the Eldred L. Field Hydroelectric Plant. When the canal was completed the new canal increased waterpower to Lowell’s mills by fifty percent.    No wonder why the Mill Girls revolted and stood up for themselves!

The Northern Canal Historic walkway is open between May 15 and October 15, pending river conditions as it’s closed when the water is too high.   For more information call the Lowell National Historical Park at 978-970-5000.


Until next time,

Deb Belanger

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