Book Review – Legendary Locals of Lowell
Anyone who knows Lowell, even in the most casual of ways, is probably familiar with the city’s industrial beginnings. It’s not hard to imagine the place as the centerpiece of the country’s industrial revolution, a bustling mill city built around the power of the mighty Merrimack River.
But Lowell’s story doesn’t end with the closure of its mills, because it’s a city that has invented and reinvented itself more than a few times. Today, Lowell is a model example of urban renewal, with a rich, new foundation in the arts, politics, commerce and academia.
Names like Francis Cabot Lowell, Kirk Boott, Paul Tsongas and Micky Ward are as familiar to many Lowellians as the names of their own neighbors. But Lowell’s original foundation and transformation doesn’t rest only on the shoulders of these well-known people. Throughout its history, many others have gone about their business quietly, perhaps not knowing the profound effects they would have on the city’s residents and future.
This book by Richard P. Howe Jr., the register of deeds of the Northern District of Middlesex County, and Chaim M. Rosenberg, author of “The Life and Times of Francis Cabot Lowell,” explores the familiar and lesser-known figures who have helped shape Lowell into what it is today, a community that is much more than the sum of its parts.
“Legendary Locals of Lowell” traces the city’s history via snapshots of its noteworthy people, places, groups and events. Black and white images collected from public and private archives, local photographers and residents, accompanied by lengthy captions, tell Lowell’s story as richly — and perhaps in a more gripping way — as we might expect from a thicker and wordier history book.
Many of the people you’d expect to see are included in the book’s five chapters. There are stories about all the key players in Lowell’s textile boom: the young women and children who worked the mills,the businessmen who built empires from scratch, the rise and fall of technology giants who came and went, and the local writers, artists, entertainers and politicians who helped invoke change on the local and national levels. James C. Ayer, Wang Laboratories, the Lowell Folk Festival, Jack Kerouac, Ed McMahon, Marty Meehan, Niki Tsongas, Edith Nourse Rogers and James McNeill Whistler — they are all there.
But there are also the stories of Nancy Donahue, one of Lowell’s leading philanthropists and patrons of the arts; Catherine Goodwin, who gave walking tours of Lowell Cemetery for more than 30 years; Fru Nkimbeng, who helped found Lowell’s African Festival; Frank Barrett, a city hall reporter-turned city manager who embraced federal funding for building projects that brought Lowell into the modern era; and activists Mary Bacigalupo and Marie Sweeney, who helped improve the lives of those most in need through countless hours of volunteer work.
“Legendary Locals of Lowell” is a quick, but informative read for anyone interested in learning about the city’s unique history and its permanent place on the national landscape. Most importantly, the book gives equal weight to all who have contributed to the evolution of Lowell, from its famous locals to those who have, until now, flown quietly under the city’s radar.