History of Lowell, Massachusetts - Beginnings of Lowell

Beginnings of Lowell

With the War of 1812 over, British goods again returned to the American markets. Wanting to protect the fledgling American textile industry, F.C. Lowell went to Washington, D.C. to lobby for a protective tariff on finished cloth. In spite of all his success, Lowell died the following year in 1817 at age 42. He left the very wealthy Boston Manufacturing Company to Patrick T. Jackson. By 1820, the Company was searching the Merrimack River for a suitable location for their new operation, but were struggling. Eventually, business associate Ezra Worthen reminded Paul Moody about the Pawtucket Canal, and in 1821 the Boston Manufacturing Company bought the properties of "Proprietors of Locks and Canals." The canal was deepened, the number of locks was decreased to three and a dam was built at the top of the falls to improve the flow into the canal. A sizable amount of farmland was bought in East Chelmsford, and in 1822 The Boston Manufacturing Company spun off the Merrimack Manufacturing Company The company officers were Warren Dutton as President, Ezra Worthen as Superintendent, Kirk Boott as Agent and Treasurer (since Jackson needed to remain in Waltham), Appleton, Jackson, Moody, and others.

When the investors first visited East Chelmsford, the population within Lowell's current borders was approximately 250 and consisted mostly of farmers. Thousands of employees, mostly young women, were recruited from all over New England to work in new textile mills. These women were to be model citizens, unlike the working underclass in England. They lived in company owned boarding houses. They went to cultural events, attended classes, and read books. In 1840, some of the mill girls even began writing and publishing literary magazines, including the Lowell Offering. In addition to the mill girls, Yankee workmen and Irishmen from Charlestown came to dig the canals. They widened the Pawtucket Canal and dug the Merrimack Canal, Lowell's first power canal. The Merrimack Canal, which ran from the Pawtucket Canal just above Swamp Locks to the Merrimack River, delivered almost all of the 32 foot drop (head) of the Pawtucket Falls to the level of the Merrimack Mills. The Irish settled outside the center of the planned town in what became known as the 'Paddy Camps' - today's Acre neighborhood. St. Patrick's Church, one of the earliest Catholic churches north of Boston was established there a few years later in 1831. The Merrimack Manufacturing Company's first mill was operational on September 1, 1823 and a church and school were founded the following year. In 1825, "Proprietors of Locks and Canals" separated from the Merrimack Manufacturing Company, allowing it to lease water power back to the Merrimack Company, as well as other ventures. Kirk Boott was also the agent of this company. The Lowell Machine Shop opened that same year, led by Moody, who had moved from Waltham in 1823. On March 1, 1826, Lowell was incorporated as a town with a population of 2,500.

The selling of hydropower and land to other companies led to an explosion in manufacturing in Lowell :

  • 1825: Hamilton Manufacturing Company, Hamilton Canal
  • 1828: Appleton Company, Lowell Company, Lowell Canal
  • 1830: Middlesex Company
  • 1831: Suffolk Company, Tremont Company, Lawrence Company, Lawrence Canal, Western Canal
  • 1835: Boott Mills, Eastern Canal
  • 1839: Massachusetts Mills
  • 1844: Prescott Mills were founded, and bought by the Massachusetts Mills in 1845.
  • 1847: On Thanksgiving Day, the Northern Canal and Moody Street Feeder opened, increasing water power available to the corporations.

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