A Peek Into Lowell’s Past
There’s so much to see and do in Lowell, a city that offers history, parks, culture, architecture and more. Some of its diverse offerings can be seen along Route 133 (Andover Street) between Route 38 and the Tewksbury town line, a stretch of road that winds through the city’s picturesque Belvidere neighborhood. Years ago, Lowell’s wealthiest residents called this wide avenue home. Today it’s listed on the National Register of Historical Places. Many of its mansions still stand, like the pair built by perfumer Eli Hoyt and his best friend and business partner, Freeman Ballard Shedd. Others, like the home that once belonged to Civil War Gen. Benjamin Butler, are gone, but survive in memory — in Butler’s case marked by the street sign announcing “Mansion Drive.”
Drive east through the Andover Street Historic District and watch as the houses move back in time, from the Colonial Revival homes of the 1920s and ’30s, to the Italianate and Queen Anne Victorians built during the Civil War era.
Venture off Andover Street and you’ll see that the Belvidere neighborhood offers pleasant drives and relaxing walks. Explore the Belvidere Hill Historic District along Mansur Street, Belmont Avenue and Fairmount Street and you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into the past with its Victorian mansions and pleasant glimpses of the downtown Lowell skyline far below.
From Belvidere, meander down Clark Road toward the Tewksbury line to see the stump of the Pow-Wow Oak, where the Wamesit Indians once held peace conferences and war councils, and where area men passed on their way to defend Lexington and Concord during the Revolution. The Pow-Wow Oak survived some 300 years before it was taken down in 2013 due to extensive decay.
Continue on to Rogers Street to see iconic Shedd Park. At more than 50 acres, the park is among the city’s largest, deeded by the aforementioned wealthy philanthropist Freeman Ballard Shedd in 1913. Today, Shedd Park offers tennis courts, baseball diamonds, picnic areas and a water park. Its pavilion hosts public events and concerts. Before 1913, however, the land that became the park was fields and forest. As late as 1896, the park was nearly subdivided into housing lots.
Near Shedd Park, on the opposite side of Lowell Cemetery, is Rogers Fort Hill Park, where, for the price of a five-minute hike up a paved trail, you can truly escape the city. At the summit, you might glimpse the Lowell skyline through the old and gnarled trees dotting the hillside. On very clear days, you might even spot the mountains of New Hampshire. Fort Hill takes its name from the fort that Chief Wannalancit of the Wamesit Indians built at the summit to fend off the rival Mohawk tribe. During the 19th century, the park hosted a zoo that featured zebras, a bear and deer. Today, it’s also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Between Shedd Park and Fort Hill lies Lowell Cemetery, the city’s 19th century answer to the garden cemetery movement that also created Cambridge’s Mount Auburn Cemetery. Founded in 1841, the Lowell Cemetery served as the city’s first park. Lowell’s citizenry admired the fine trees, flowers and greenery as they strolled along its paths. Its 85 acres include the final resting places of well-known Lowellians such as U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas, Massachusetts Gov. Thomas Talbot, and Rep. Edith Nourse Rogers, one of the first women to serve in the U.S. Congress. Also buried there is Moses Greeley Parker, a Civil War doctor and friend of Alexander Graham Bell who proposed that telephone calls be made with numbers and not letters. If you happen to be in Lowell for the cemetery’s 175th anniversary celebration on June 18, you can visit its “Monuments, Memorials and Memories” art show. The show is open to the public and offers prizes for the best contemporary images of Lowell Cemetery.
Follow Lawrence Street into downtown Lowell and see the Central Fire Station. It’s now the home of Fuse Bistro, which offers both history and alfresco dining. This local landmark, a fire station from its construction in 1889 until the 1970s, still dominates its intersection and recalls the frequent and dangerous fires that struck downtown Lowell during the Victorian era.
Walk up Middle Street and you’ll notice a smaller building set back and nestled between the fire station and Rogers Pool, Patio & Toy Co. Known as the Roark House for the family that called it home when it was built in 1866, this Italianate building, one of the oldest buildings in downtown Lowell, survived the huge January 1888 fire that claimed the rest of the neighborhood and resulted in the construction of the Central Fire Station.
Just a few blocks from the Central Fire Station sits Lowell’s City Hall, which was built in 1893. Its design was chosen in a competition that yielded 23 entries. The winning firm, Merrill & Cutler, built City Hall in the Richardsonian Romanesque style of the time, which is also evident in the city’s Pollard Memorial Library, to the rear of City Hall, and the former post office building on Appleton Street.
Before leaving the city, visit the Boott Cotton Mills Museum, a key component of Lowell National Historical Park. The mills themselves form a formidable brick wall, separating their interior courtyard from the Merrimack River. Check out the bell in the courtyard, which called generations of Lowellians to work and worship. And if you visit during park hours, you’ll see (and hear) a room full of authentic, working broad looms, and quickly appreciate why so many workers who toiled under these circumstances later experienced hearing problems. Go up to the fourth floor and you’ll find the Lowell Historical Society’s archive, which houses photographs, artifacts, books and records chronicling Lowell’s history.
After all that, if you’ve got time, be sure to check out Lowell’s many other unique neighborhoods, each with their own rich stories, histories and people. As you’re sure to hear while visiting Lowell, there’s a lot to like about the city, and there’s surely a lot to learn and appreciate by spending some time within its borders and meeting its people.
Boott Cotton Mills Museum
Lowell National Historical Park
Lowell Historical Society