The City of Spindles

Sometimes when you live near history, you take it for granted. I was reminded of that during February vacation when I took the kids to the Boott Cotton Mills Museum in Lowell.

Growing up in Massachusetts, I was aware of the various mills in the state and the company towns that formed around them. It’s also hard to miss what happened to them when the company pulled out and headed south for cheaper labor, a practice still very much in the news.

These mill towns still exist of course and in various states of economic stability, even after all this time. The buildings also exist and some communities have taken to revitalizing them. Lowell is a great example of this, with many of its former mill buildings now having a second life as apartments, lofts, office space, and art studios.

Because I get too distracted by my home life to write some (most) days, I’m even thinking of renting one of these studio spaces in the hopes that having artists around me–as well as the history–will prove more inspiring and less distracting than my two dogs and vacuum cleaner.

But if you want to see what these places looked like in their prime–sans air pollution, human suffering, and safety concerns!–a visit to the Boott Cotton Mills is in order. Part of Lowell National Historic Park, the multi-storied space illustrates not only what these mills meant to the towns that hosted them, but what life was like for the people who worked within, as well as the shift from employing farm girls to the immigrants that would make Lowell their home.

In addition to standard museum exhibits and some pretty stellar dioramas, the machines are fired up from time to time, allowing visitors to get a sense of what the building sounded like when the mills were active. It’s also a pretty fantastic location for  photography.

What did I learn that I didn’t already know? I guess I hadn’t realize how much innovation affected the mills. I knew they moved to southern states to get cheaper labor, but I hadn’t realized that technological advances also accelerated the process.

Admission is $6 for adults and $3 for kids 6-16. In the summer the park also offers canal tours, which is on my list come June.

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