Topic: Massachusetts

Timeline of Lowell History

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c. 1600: Passaconaway, a Pennacook chief living at Pawtucket Falls, emerges as leader of the Merrimack Valley’s native peoples.

1635: English settlers move into the valley.

1652: The area called Wamesit, between the Merrimack and Concord rivers, is declared Indian territory.

1655: Chelmsford is chartered on the Merrimack River, on land that is now Lowell.

1710: The Varnum family builds a gristmill on the Merrimack River.

1737: A small textile mill is built on land that will become Lowell.

1814: Francis Cabot Lowell invents the American power loom. Boston Mfg. Co. is established on the Charles River in Waltham, MA.

1822: The first large textile mill is built on land that will become Lowell. Local men and Irish workers from Boston dig Lowell’s first power canal.

1823: Merrimack Mfg. Co. produces its first textiles. Most workers are young Yankee women from the countryside: “mill girls.”

1826: The Town of Lowell is incorporated.

1831: Lowell High School is founded: first co-ed public high school in the U.S.

1834: James Abbott McNeill Whistler is born in Lowell (his father is chief engineer for Proprietors of Locks & Canals).

1835: Boston & Lowell Railroad begins service.

1836: The City of Lowell is incorporated. The city seal reads “Art Is the Handmaid of Human Good.”

1843: Dr. J. C. Ayer opens a lab for patent medicines, soon a major local industry.

1844: Sarah Bagley and the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association fight for a 10-hour workday.

1850: Lowell is home to 40 textile mills, 10,000 looms, and 10,000 millworkers, producing 50,000 miles of cloth a year: largest industrial complex in the U.S., second-largest MA city.

1861: Volunteer militiamen Luther Ladd and Addison Whitney of Lowell are killed in a riot in Baltimore, MD: first Union casualties of the Civil War.

1876: Dr. Augustin Thompson invents Moxie. Marketed initially as a “nerve food,” it outsells Coca-Cola into the 1920s.

1877: Alexander Graham Bell demonstrates his telephone in Lowell. Two years later, Lowell is the first U.S. city to have phone numbers.

1894: Lowell Normal School for teacher education is founded, followed by Lowell Textile School a year later: roots of today’s University of Massachusetts at Lowell.

1900: 43 percent of Lowell’s population is foreign-born (Irish, French Canadian, Scottish, Greek, Polish, Italian, Armenian, Portuguese, Swedish, Lithuanian, Syrian, Lebanese, Russian, and other nationalities).

1908: Bette Davis is born in Lowell.

1912: Lowell’s labor activists organize in sync with the “Bread & Roses” strike downriver in Lawrence, MA.

1920s: Lowell’s textile industry declines, with companies moving to the South. City population peaks at 112,759.

1922: Jack Kerouac is born in Lowell.

1925: Edith Nourse Rogers represents Lowell and surrounding District 5 communities in Congress, serving through 1960: longest continuous congressional service by a woman.

1931: Harper’s Magazine describes Lowell as a “depressed industrial desert.”

1936: A major flood ravages Lowell.

1940: Only three major textile mills are left in Lowell; shoe industry is failing; 40 percent of the population is “on relief.”

1950: Jack Kerouac publishes his first “Lowell” novel: The Town and the City

1975: First Southeast Asian refugees settle in Lowell, building toward the second-largest Cambodian American enclave in U.S. by 1990.

1976: Computer manufacturer Wang Labs opens its international headquarters in Lowell.

1978: Lowell National Historical Park is created to recognize the beginnings of the American Industrial Revolution.

1986: Charles, Prince of Wales, visits Lowell to see historic preservation in action.

1987-89: Lowell hosts the National Folk Festival three years running.

1988: Jack Kerouac commemorative sculpture and park are dedicated.

1990: First Lowell Folk Festival, now an annual tradition. Preservation magazine hails Lowell as “the relevant precedent emulated by rehabilitated gritty cities worldwide.”

1992: Wang Labs files for bankruptcy protection. Lowell native and former U.S. senator Paul Tsongas wins 8 presidential primaries and caucuses.

1996: The Lowell Spinners, a minor-league Red Sox affiliate, begin play.

2000: National Trust for Historic Preservation names Lowell one of America’s “Dozen Distinctive Destinations.”

2006: UMass Lowell announces a plan to build an $80 million nanotechnology center.

2009: Brazilian, African, and Iraqi families are among Lowell’s newcomers.

Lowell, MA: Poet Paul Marion
Yankee Classic: Jack Kerouac
Lowell, MA: Where to Go


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