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Welcome, I‟m Corey Sciuto – thanks for coming to New Discoveries in Lowell. To the
Historical Society – thanks for sponsoring this: it‟s an honor. To those of you taking a
break between Doors Open sessions, welcome. Hope you saw some cool things this
morning (I did?). For the four years I have been living here in downtown Lowell, I‟ve
been reading about, photographing, and writing about Lowell‟s past, present, and future.
I primarily do this through what has morphed from a geocitiesish hand-coded website of
photo essays into a 21st century blog that in addition to Lowell history and current events
(tomorrow‟s history), dabbles a little into politics, urban theory, computers, or whatever
else I feel like talking about online at the time.

I do this for fun on the side: by trade, I‟m a software engineer. Perhaps with less playful
attitude than young Bill Gates here. Translation: I don‟t speak in public, so feel free to
interrupt with questions or whatever because I like speaking to people and not at them. So
yes, I‟m a software engineer: I wouldn‟t consider a lot of the work I do on Lowell serious
history, and I use a fairly low-end camera…so I wouldn‟t consider myself much of a
photographer. However, people in software love complex systems, they love
understanding how the world around them works, and they generally love sharing
knowledge with others. I think those interests fit a neighborhood-oriented Victorian
industrial city like Lowell well. In my years growing up in the Lowell area from a fairly
deeply rooted family and my last few years in Lowell itself, I‟ve learnt to have a deep
appreciation for our little city – what makes it tick, how it works, who makes it work,
how it got here, and where it‟s going. So, I started a website to share this information
with others. Again, as a non-historian I‟m taking a lower-brow approach to this stuff, and
I use my camera more to take photos for illustrative purposes than for the sake of art:
Lowell is full of people who actually are great photographers, no reason for me to get in
the way. People seem to like my work and it seems to generate interest in Lowell, so
that‟s a good thing.

I started my website in March 2006 to put up a quick group of photos I had taken, and by
January of this year I had gotten to about 30 pages of photo essays on various Lowell-
related topics, but generally downtown Lowell history or events like the big Mother‟s
Day flood a few years back. I‟ve done a little in our neighborhoods but have been
accused by certain local blogs of underfocusing on Pawtucketville, but I‟d like to say for
the record that I don‟t feel that‟s fair or accurate. You‟ve gotten as much attention as
Belvidere, and yet they haven‟t complained... Anyhow, the Lowell Sun interviewed me
in January: this is the picture from the article. Nice that it‟s reasonably flattering
considering it was freezing out that day and my nose wouldn‟t stop running. My
coworkers warned me of one thing going into this: Don‟t tell them anything you don‟t
want printed. So what did I do? I told the reporter that at work, since I talk about Lowell
so much (I‟m one of two people who live up here most people are Boston-oriented) they
jokingly call me the Ambassador of Lowell. Totally ended up being the headline for the
article, it‟s in your program description, and it just won‟t die. Complaining now probably
won‟t help.

Biography/ Influences
Anyhow, your program description says “Corey will discuss his interest and approaches
to documenting Lowell‟s historic places, influences on his work and how he uses the
Web to showcase the city‟s historical and cultural landscapes.” So let‟s start with interest
and influences. This is a picture my uncle took on my very first tour of the Lowell
National Historical Park in 1989 when I was six. If you look closely, you can see all the
perms… This stuff has interested me for a long time. Fun fact: I‟m not from Lowell, I‟m
from T-burro. I know how people feel about blow-ins here, so here‟s my story and why
someone from the „burbs would be interested enough in Lowell to do this work.

Born @ LGH in 1983 – you can tell it‟s the 80s because that‟s the last time these colors
for drapes and wall-to-wall carpets were acceptable.

Parents are both from Lowell, most of their parents are from Lowell…some of their
parents, some of their parents. I‟m essentially the fifth generation on both sides of my
family to have lived in Lowell and I have the gravesites in Saint Patrick‟s Cemetery to
prove it. Considering my immediate family lived in places as far flung as South Lowell ,
West Tyngsboro, North Billerica, and East Dracut when I was a kid…well, small world.
This is me when I was six at Grandma-Ma‟s on Clifton Street in South Lowell.

So, my parents are both Lowell born, raised, and educated, local parochial schools, Dad
St. Peter‟s, Mom Sacred Heart, then both to Lowell High and ULowell. Undergrad and
Graduate school. Mom‟s of Irish decent and a little French Canadian, grew up off
Woburn St. My Dad is Portuguese and Italian – his father is from Lawrence (hence my
non-Lowellish surname), and met my back-central raised grandmother (shocker…her
family is from the Azores) after WWII at the Lakeview Ball Room. Dad grew up off
Westford Street by the old Armory…which is long gone.

So, my parents met in college, I was born, and after a brief stint living beyond the
western edge of civilization in Townsend, my family moved to „bucolic‟ T-burro to be
back closer to their jobs and family here in Greater Lowell. I grew up in Tyngsboro,
home of the Parking Lot of the Pheasant Lane Mall and the Great Green Traffic Jam (not
pictured). Fun fact: Until the 70s, Tyngsboro Bridge was the longest unlit bridge in the
northeast. Then they added lights to it… and in very few other places.

Even though they eventually moved out of the city, my parents have remained active here
which has been a big influence on me. My dad worked at WCAP in the 90s – had a radio
show about computers, so I spent some time hanging out above Cappy‟s in the to meet Maurice. Dad and his partner Bill had a column that ran a column in
the Sun, had a show on WJUL for a bit as well. Along with Councilor Mendonca, Guy
over on Jackson St, and other people, he was involved in the 90s with,
which was an early Lowell web portal. Today, Dad is adjunct faculty @ ULowell doing
eCommerce – his interests in teaching, communication, and history (he was an English
major undergrad…has a big thing for those Transcendentalists) has worn off on me.

Mom worked for Greater Lowell Pediatrics, the Lowell High School-Based Health
Center, was the nurse at the Rogers School, Bartlett, etc. Mom is also adjunct faculty
teaching nursing at ULowell – works at Tewksbury State. She went to college on a city
scholarship – and feels you should give back to the community that‟s been good to she‟s spent most of her career here. This attitude has been a big influence on me
as well. Also, unlike my father, my mom has your classic Lowellian‟s sense of
practicality, stubbornness, directness, and love for tradition. I think some of that wore off
on me and that shows through in my writings too.

I guess for whatever reason I took an early appreciation for history and cities. I built my
first Sim City with a six-figure population when I was like eight. Admission: I used a
cheat code on the budget to have unlimited money: could that work for Lowell? Here‟s
me and Grandma-ma (mom‟s mom) on a canal boat in 1989. Things I learnt that day:
Lowell‟s canals were originally 3‟ deep. Why do I remember that? Because when the
ranger told us that, I proudly told him that I was 3‟ tall. He gave me one of the dirtiest
looks of my life and I haven‟t interrupted a tour guide since. I got a neat book about
Victorian machinery and a bobbin from the Park Visitor‟s Center that day that I still have.
It‟s interesting to me because my Vavoo, my father‟s grandfather – came to the US from
the Azores during WWI under threat of UBoat attack to work in Lowell‟s mills bringing
racks of bobbins to machines over on Jackson Street. I live just a few blocks away today.

My first memory of something happening in Lowell? In 1987, the Lawrence Mills burnt
down. Cause I was three and three year old boys like fire trucks, I thought this was pretty
cool. It didn‟t occur to me what the tragic loss of 150 year old buildings slated for
conversion by the University meant: I remember my dad telling us watching the fire from
ULowell and I totally had to go see: It fascinated me for years.

Went to Notre Dame in Tburro for K-8. One of the first classes with boys in it – they
hated us. However, I think going to school in such an opulent building had an effect on
my love of architecture. After getting over the fireman thing, I wanted to be an architect.
Then I realized I can‟t draw so I went with Aerospace Engineering. Then I realized I‟m
not that great at math so I went with Software Engineering, where we pretend we‟re
Engineers. Notre Dame was founded in the early 1850s in Lowell, on Adams Street, and
was associated with St. Patrick‟s. In 1927 it moved out of the crowded Acre to
Tyngsboro to a rural campus that used to contain the summer home of a silent movie star
and stage actress named Nance O‟Neil. Turns out she was – at a minimum – very close
friends with a woman from Fall River named Lizzie Borden who is best known for her
er…purported violent streak. Remaining true to their Lowell roots, NDA ordered Friday
pizza from Espressos. Don‟t banish me for this, but I hated it then, and I still do … and
Cotes beans.

But NDA is not a parochial school, so we went back to mom‟s old neighborhood to go to
church on Sundays, so I went to Sacred Heart as a kid. First communion at Sacred Heart
After NDA I went to Bishop Guertin up in Nashua…turns out there‟s a whole city of
Nashua up beyond the mall. But, people thought I had a funny accent up there. Got my
thinking about my roots. I‟m clearly so removed from being one ethnicity, I‟m not one of
those people that can wear a green t-shirt and claim I‟m Irish. Anybody read the Onion?
See the one about “Area Man who is 1/16 Irish Proud of his Irish Heritage.” Yeah, don‟t
be that guy. I did a paper on Lowell‟s early history my senior year, was the first time I
had ever really studied this stuff. I learnt a lot of really interesting things that happened
underneath the city I had basically just taken at face value my whole life. The teacher
liked the paper, especially how I related Lowell of the past to the present.
“Passaconaway, great Sachem of the Penacook throughout the entire Merrimack Valley,
lived where the Micky Dee‟s drive-thru is today. His Son, Wannalancit, was later exiled
to the island that is now some of the holes for Vesper Country Club.” Flattering to a
great leader, no… gives you a new appreciation for the histories of Pawtucketville and
Tyngsboro? Sure. This concept of relating past to present, discussing it matter-of-factly,
and exposing the Lowell underneath what we see every day, is a big part of my website.

But as a teenager, I continued being interested in all things urban and didn‟t really see
Lowell as being tied to that. Architecture, city planning, history, etc, but my focus was
on the big cities. New York‟s Commissioner‟s Plan of 1811, Boston‟s relentless land
reclamation projects and freeway revolts, the architecture of the Chicago skyline. Here‟s
me and some Guertin guys in New York in 2001. At this point in my life, I saw myself
as maybe living in New York City. My interest in urban planning and development also
was a major influence on the website‟s development.

So, I went off to college at RPI in Troy, New York – get some distance from home but
not too much. Troy, I get asked this a lot, is precisely nowhere near New York City. Or
Boston. Or anything. Fun fact: Nearby Albany looks bigger than Worcester, it‟s the
capital of one of the largest states in the nation, but it‟s actually got fewer people than
Lowell. And Troy is only 45k people and shrinking, but it is a beautiful little Victorian
city. In really, really rough shape. Great place for a college because there are very few
things to distract you in town. My parents, and I quote, were worried if I went to school
in Boston, all I‟d do is “look at buildings all day.” Last time I was in Troy, I couldn‟t
stay at the hotel in the foreground here because they turned it into a dorm. I thought
“what kind of city turns its only downtown hotel into a dorm…?” Yeah…

A few months later and…the ICC is born. Seems like it‟s been a positive for the city so

Anyhow… Here I am in downtown Troy. Third Street. Architecturally, it puts Lowell to
shame – you should see Second and River Streets! It was once one of America‟s richest
cities and was fully rebuilt after a huge fire in the 1860s. Lot of fancy façades, lot of
genuine Tiffany glass. Not much has changed since then – they used it for outside shots
in the movie The Time Machine that came out a few years ago. I heard it was a
competitor with Lowell for the National Park. We won, and it‟s made us a better city for
it. I have an article posted to my blog that compared the political machine and ambition
in Lowell to that in Paterson, New Jersey, which was also in the running. The article
goes on to discuss how Paterson and Troy have suffered tremendously in the past 30+
years whereas Lowell continues to reinvent itself on the backs of its hyperactive
citizenry. This is a wonderful thing. It makes you feel bad for the Troys, and Patersons,
and Lawrences of this world. It makes you kind of want to try to be part of something
important. I never felt a part of Tyngsboro, and Troy was never part of me, so here I am
in Lowell.

So, while I was in college, I started getting really homesick. I missed the Merrimack
Valley but I really got to like living in a small city like Troy. That meant it wasn‟t back
to Tyngsboro for me. For a kid from the suburbs, there is something romantic about not
needing a car for every little thing, or a place where every little corner has a story beyond
the “this was a dairy farm since before the Revolution, and then 30 years ago it was sold
off to some national chain and now it‟s a prefab building on a few acres of parking” tale
that you hear in so many of the post-war towns around here. I started reading a lot about
Lowell in college. Made all my roommates come visit once or twice. While they don‟t
and likely can‟t share my appreciation for it, at least the Owl Diner is something they
speak of fondly. I took this picture I think on a college break from the top of the Saint‟s
parking garage.

In addition to reading a lot about Lowell, I started reading a lot about cities in general:
why they‟re in trouble, why they‟re worth saving. Suburban Nation is a great book, and
was co-written by Jeff Speck, who recently lived in downtown Lowell for a few weeks
and gave a presentation on what we can do to make downtown Lowell more vibrant and
livable. They‟re calling it New Urbanism and we‟ll get back to that. Unlike my parents,
I think I view Lowell as something a little foreign and therefore interesting. You see this
a lot – when people from a place don‟t often fully appreciate it: I remember Lowell
running a “be a tourist in your own town” campaign a good decade ago, trying to get
people to learn more about their home. A lot of you are doing that today with Doors
Open. Me, I grew up right outside the city, with a lot of ties back in, and I think that too
shaped why it‟s interested me so much. I grew up as part of a suburban generation that
the concept of a city, heck, even the concept of a corner store, or a neighborhood or even
a sidewalk, is interesting to…because it‟s different from what we know.

So, upon graduation and gainful employment, and with my growing appreciation for
cities leading me to chose Lowell over second-place Chelmsford, I bought a condo here
in downtown Lowell in 2006 – got right in at the peak of our historic national housing
bubble. This picture was taken shortly after I moved in and the Freudenburg (Pellon)
building was demolished. Anybody go check out the Appleton Mill renovation today?

Website Beginnings
So, that is how I came to live in Lowell and why it interests me enough to do this project.
So begins my website.

While still at RPI, I joined a web forum for geeks and nerds called
I‟m guessing you‟ve never heard of it and it‟s probably for the best. Things we did
positive for the internet: Lolcats. Also, part of somethingawful was that forums
members would often post pictures of things they just got. So, I put up a few pictures of
my luxurious 500 sq. ft. Lowell mill conversion condo. People thought it was pretty cool
that I lived in an old factory, so I thought I‟d show more of the city. So, one crappy
Sunday in March, I was in a bad mood and decided I needed to walk to Centralville to get
some guitar strings at Russo‟s (now CVS). Stupid me, being fairly new to Lowell, didn‟t
realize that thou shalt not sell anything on Sundays, so it was nominally a wasted trip.

However, I had brought along my new digital camera and took pictures as I walked first
to the Library, then over the Aiken Street Bridge, along that sketchy walkway to Bridge
Street, to the closed Russo‟s, then back down Bridge St and home.

The pictures weren‟t flattering. It was overcast, bare trees, nobody else around… but I
wasn‟t in a great mood so that worked. I wrote a long post, describing, in a somewhat
sarcastic tone, a five minute story on where and what Lowell is and what I was doing
there. I peppered it with little factoids like Lowell introduced the world to CVS and
Market Basket and Moxie, and phone numbers, alongside the standard F.C. Lowell and
decline of the textile industry and the birth of the National Historical Park narrative. I
complained that at the time, the canals were empty because of work on the Boott Mills. I
complained about how the trolley flagmen back up traffic on Merrimack Street
sometimes. Basically, I wove the past and present together and I told it like it is here on
the street today, but something surprising happened: people liked it.

They liked the architecture (although some commented that we should try building in a
color other than red or gray for a change), they liked the canals, they liked the history.
Kids in Australia had never seen such an eclectic series of old and new buildings. A girl
in California had just read about the mill girls in her Women‟s Studies course, and here
were the real boardinghouses. Other people had gone to ULowell and hadn‟t been back
in years and thanked me for the memories. My thread got rated a top-ranked five. So,
over the next few days, me and my girlfriend at the time, Jen, who took many of the early
pictures, competed to capture more of the city. Once we got tired of that and we realized
that we had something here, I migrated my text and our pictures over to webspace I had,
and we worked on it together for the next few years.

Pretty early on I realized one of the great things about digital photography (which I was
an admittedly late adopter of) was how easy it was to take as many pictures as you want.
One of the great things about the internet is anybody can be a publisher, and readily find
an audience (thanks to the wonders of Google and hyperlinks). Due to such modern
technologies, I was able to play as publisher, photographer, historian, journalist, and
commentator. I was able to show the city as I saw it and wanted it to be shown: Good,
bad, ugly, interesting, and mundane, like this picture of a rainy day on Merrimack Street.

Very few blogs (or in this case, protoblogs as I was embarrassingly late to blogging as
well) elevate themselves to the level of real journalism. Mine certainly does not, but I
still feel there has been value in going out during events and non-events alike and
snapping a few photos and speaking on them. The next group of slides are photos
grouped by subject matter that I‟m going to describe quickly: please feel free to stop me
and ask me if you have any questions about them. These are pictures from a few flood

I‟ve also done negative flood events,


Caught the filming of a movie (wish I had done a better job on this one, I certainly went
into work late enough times to check out what was going on)

A few fires…

Demolition, construction…

Because of my location right against the JAM area and the HCD, I have been able to do a
lot of cataloging changes in that area, with very little effort. This is the Marston Building
in 2006, 2007, 2008. I‟ll get back to the HCD briefly at the end.

The progression of the seasons…

and other annual cycles near and dear to Lowellians.

Did a couple tours with my camera along…

And on a rare occasion, left Lowell!

I‟ve also photographed things that only I could care about, like traffic going the wrong
way down my street.

And things with more general appeal, like the diversity of our neighborhoods. One of the
most common emails I get is from people who were born and raised in Lowell and left
twenty, thirty…fifty years ago and are excited to see how much (or how little) their town
has changed. So far: one piece of hate mail early on from a guy calling me a yuppie
communist for complaining about the coldness that the often absentee mill owners
showed when they shuttered the mills. Other than that, I often get genealogy questions,
occasional questions from people asking if they should open a business here (it‟s amazing
what people think I‟m qualified for), general thank you‟s for the time and effort, things
like that. However, communication was limited to email between me and whoever was
on the other end, and publishing was slow. I needed to move forward because I didn‟t
know how many more pictures of a 14 square mile city I could take and just narrate with
my limited experiences and what I could find in books. Take a moment here to thank the
Historical Society for their many contributions to books written on Lowell – you guys are
a huge source of information for me…and the other big one, of course, is whatever pops
up on Google. Google, in addition to providing links to a lot of great resources online,
has digitized countless out-of-print books that are fully text-searchable. If you haven‟t
checked that part out, you should.

Web 2.0 and Lowell
So, shortly after The Sun published their article about my four-year-old website, I joined
the growing Lowell blogosphere, which has been a very enriching experience. Blogs are
one major component of what is known by the technology buzzword: Web 2.0. It‟s a
place where there is still room for much growth and collaboration among the various
interests here in Lowell. Although a silly term at face value, especially because Tim
Berners-Lee himself, inventor of the World Wide Web, claims that this sort of activity is
precisely what he had in mind for the Web, and nothing has fundamentally changed
technologically or at the internet infrastructure level to bring us to 2.0, much of the
activity on today‟s internet is in so-called 2.0 applications. So, what exactly is it? A
working definition:

Web 2.0 is the move towards user-generated dynamic content, online collaboration,
social networking, content tagging, and the web as an application platform (cloud
computing). It is a move away from older models, like static personal websites (mine),
manually generated lists of links (like the old LowellOnline portal), and desktop
applications (think Outlook Express versus gMail). Lowell‟s younger generations are
more visibly active here in this newer part of the web, and should be actively engaged.
Out of fear of omission, I won‟t really mention names, but many of our local blogs, while
generally more focused on current events than events in the past (although today‟s news
is tomorrow‟s history) are run by, and read heavily by, a younger group. In my own
personal experience, those who used to email me on my 1.0 page trend much older than
those who I found sharing my links or content with friends online: a 2.0 concept.
Facebook, the social networking site that has an ever-growing list of Lowell-related fan
pages and groups, and Wikipedia editors, those of us like myself who author the
extremely useful, if of questionable academic value, user-written free encyclopedia, trend
younger still. If you‟re at all interested in sharing Lowell history with a wide audience,
Wikipedia is in dire need of Lowell-based editors. The bureaucracy and rules take a
while to get used to, but it‟s a rewarding experience.

Here‟s how this works: The Sun published the article about me and a man named Ken
Coffin up in New Hampshire read it in the dead tree edition. Ken wouldn‟t consider
himself particularly computer-savvy and has a slow internet connection. He emails me
and explains how he took photographs for a Comprehensive Employment and Training
Act program called City Fair here in Lowell 30 years ago. He emails me a few photos
(some are shown above). I post them to my blog, which is much easier to do than it
would‟ve been with my old webpage. I ask for information on them from whoever is
reading (believe it or not, there are some things that Google can‟t answer), and my post
and request gets picked up by and reposted there. Now, Dick and his
team run a far larger and more successful blog than I, and his readers were quickly able to
identify most of the people in the upper right photo, and placed it as a photo of the
original Lowell Historic Preservation Commission from 1979. Later, some research in
The Sun archives at the library on the 1979 fire in the upper left photo resulted in me
blogging about the disaster, and that sparked subsequent discussions on the Market Mills
buildings history and the arson epidemic in the United States in the 1970s. While there
was some great collaboration work done here (in fact this slide on Ken is per a suggestion
from a blog post I did asking what I should talk to you guys about), we still have a way to
go I feel towards a critical mass of bloggers and commenters. In my experience, just
about everyone in Lowell is a bit of an historian. But, the Lowell blogosphere is growing
at a good clip, so I‟m optimistic we‟re still getting better.

Another request I got was for some before-and-after shots. I had a few earlier, but this is
one of my favorites. The Tremont Yards / Jeanne D‟arc project: 2006, 2008, 2009. The
Tremont Company and the Suffolk Company (Wannalancit) merged pretty early on, and
were owned by the Ayer brothers by 1871. At some point, I know the Tremont Mill was
gone by the 1970s, there was a huge fire here, and they left the old powerhouse standing.
A few years ago, Jeanne D‟arc Credit Union, founded in 1912, demolished most of the
ruins of the powerhouse and built a new office building, the first in central Lowell in a
long time, on the site. The old wheelpits are actually still there in the basement, and are
one of your tour options this afternoon. The new glass tower, like many of the Modernist
buildings Lowell gained in the urban rewal spree years following World War II, stands
alone, set back from the street, and is designed to be monumental and simplistic as
opposed to being part of an indoor room of ornate coordinated buildings, like we see
downtown. Unlike these older buildings though, it evokes the brick and stone industrial
architecture it replaced on its lower levels – this type of sensitivity has been fortunately
catching on in the postmodernist architectural world: context and character are once again
replacing towers in the park and truth in materials, which ruled architecture for a half
century. In general, older concepts on what a city is and should be have been going
through a revival.

Lowell and New Urbanism
Soapbox time. Urban design, as I said, is an old interest of mine, and my opinions on the
matter have been popular on my blog. Over the past few decades, the concept of a “New
Urbanism” has taken hold. We are seeing this design philosophy in the planning and
early implementation phases in the Hamilton Canal District, of which I am an abutter.
The HCD is a hugely ambitious project to re-invent a large section of a run-down part of
our downtown as a new neighborhood. One that has modern amenities lacking in much
of Lowell‟s current downtown infrastructure, while still feeling like our city. I think the
detail of the car on the left being a Prius is cute, but what exactly is New Urbanism and
why should we care?

Half of which are in historic urban centers. Hey, that‟s us! Lowell recently took down
some guide signs with the slogan “Old City, New Twist” maybe they‟re being replaced
with “Alive, Unique, Inspiring” I don‟t know. Either way, New Urbanism I think fits our
community and is our best bet for maintaining and acknowledging our history. It seeks to
undo much of the damage that many feel has been done to cities and towns across the
United States by car culture since World War II – but it‟s not going backwards. It would
be short-sighted to think that the mistakes of the past were without merit at the time or
based in ignorance. Urban renewal by way of demolition was in vogue for decades, to
replace crowded, dangerous, obsolete, and often inhuman tenement and industrial
neighborhoods…of which Lowell had plenty.

However, these mid-century projects in Lowell have not been looked at as great
successes by many, years later. From the demolition of Hale-Howard, which affected my
father‟s neighborhood, to the tombstone constructed out of the remains of a tenement that
marks where Little Canada once stood to the loss of the Greek part of the Acre in what
was one of the first urban renewal projects in the US, maybe things could‟ve been done
better. Maybe tearing down the Merrimack Manufacturing Company and the
boardinghouses was a mistake. Maybe we lost something there we can never get back.
Urban Renewal and the car didn‟t win with the Lowell Connector – imagine if this plan
had been implemented, would quicker access to Merrimack Street been worth the
tradeoff of demolishing half of Back Central? Our own little freeway revolt here says
even at the time, Lowellians said no. If Lowell is to remain alive, unique, and inspiring,
embracing and protecting Lowell as an urban center, a walking city, a city of
neighborhoods, and a cultural destination, should be high on all of our conscience as
Lowellians. Otherwise, we risk competing with suburban developments, and we don‟t
have the highway access and the open space needed to do that. And we would lose a lot
of what makes Lowell Lowell.

However, we have the existing built environment to improve on, renovate, and rethink.
Not every single building ever built is good, but once they are gone, they‟re gone. And
for a city like Lowell that banks so heavily on its history, that‟s a big deal. The caption
that goes with this picture in the upper left, which comes from a paper in the Harvard
Architecture Review describes this early 20th century incarnation of the Appleton Mill
complex as “overbuilt” and “lacking distinction.” The current plan calls for saving the
Jackson Street Façade and the wall along the Industrial Canyon, and replacing the central
courtyard with an airy, well-lit contemporary interpretation of a mill yard. A little plastic
and Disney-like? Maybe. An improvement over the crumbling buildings we have today?
Sure. In the same vein where Lowell has been courting the particularly urban-oriented
creative class, that is people who turn ideas into reality for a living like myself, it‟s
intended to be affordable live/work space for artists. How they will restrict it to artists, I
don‟t know. Maybe that‟s a non-issue, as many of our generation, in addition to liking
the character of cities and feeling they fit better with the environmental movement we
were indoctrinated with, is well aware of the homogenization effects – that is, the
destruction of diversity – and isolation suburban development has had on our country.
While the mills have long since closed, Lowell‟s function as a melting pot is still quite
active, and should remain a point of pride.

That all said, drawing on the lessons of the past, we need to have a healthy skepticism for
the Hamilton Canal District plan. This is more complex than “if we build it, they will
come.” Running trolley tracks down Thorndike Street will not make people from
Wilmington forsake their cars and start taking the commuter rail to work, it‟s still not
convenient enough and its not cost-effective. I, an armchair activist, don‟t take the
LRTA to work because a 15 minute drive becomes about 90 minutes of travel on an
inconvenient schedule. What we need is to continue building on the momentum
downtown, and to help more businesses and residents fall in love with our city and locate
here – or maybe we start with getting more of our younger generation to stay here –
figure out what they want. Once we again become more self-contained, we‟ll be better
off. One thing Jeff Speck said that amused and frightened me was that Lowell is a “City
State.” I totally agree. “Greater Lowell” is, in many ways, not exactly a component of
“Greater Boston” our quirks make us interesting and unique. Sometimes you get the
feeling that there is not even a concept of “Greater Lowell.” We need to make better
connections with our neighboring towns. Get them excited about Lowell, too. We have
work to do there – I‟ve met plenty of “New Lowellians” in my neighborhood and I‟ve
personally had a few near-conversions.

As one final point, why save the Appleton Mill, which is the first phase of the Hamilton
Canal District to get off the ground? Charles Cowley, a Civil War era Lowell historian
and Frederick Coburn, writing in 1920, remind us of the following: The Appleton
Corporation was established in 1828, and capitalized with $600,000. According to the
Historical Society‟s website, the mill closed in 1927...99 years. In 1844, the Boyden
turbine was first utilized here – a major improvement over the old breastwheels, which
were fairly inefficient and fared worse in backwater conditions (when the wheel is
partially underwater due to backups in the tailrace). OK, while not the first application of
a water turbine anywhere, it‟s still a neat little factoid that hydropower in the US was
revolutionized in this very yard. Additionally, Uriah Boyden was an occasional
collaborator with James B. Francis, Chief Engineer of Locks and Canals here in Lowell,
who beyond his local fame for the Francis Gate, his Turbine design is still used today in
minor applications worldwide like the Hoover Dam. Read a little deeper, connect a few
dots, and a bigger picture of what Lowellians accomplished here, and our place in
national history, starts becoming clearer, and becomes a source of civic pride. And
we‟ve done a world-class job of preserving these places for further generations. But for
Lowell to survive, we can‟t turn the place just into a museum – it needs to be a living,
working city. And to do so, we need to engage the next generation – cater to their
interests. If my light-weight approach to the place, using the internet as a medium, helps
to accomplish this, then I feel I‟ve done my civic duty.


OK, thanks for coming – thanks for having me. Hope this was informative or at least not
too boring. Here is the URL for my blog – visit it, visit the ones linked off of it, start
your own. Check out the links page for a partial bibliography. This presentation should
be up by tomorrow morning. Thanks again, see you at the afternoon Doors Open


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