In “Voices of a Vanished Amoskeag” (October/November, 1978), men and women spoke of what it was like to work and live in Manchester, New Hampshire, when the great mills of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company composed the largest textile center in the world. Established in 1837 and patterned along the same company-town lines as the more famous Lowell, Massachusetts (and built and controlled by many of the same Boston-based interests), Manchester, as we reported, went through a period of accelerated decline through much of this century, until by the late 1960’s there was little physical evidence remaining of the old way of life. As one former textile worker recalled, “Today, everything is falling down. If our old parents, who worked so much in these mills, if they’d come back today and see how these mills are, it would really break their hearts.”
Much the same could have been said of the mills of Lowell, for many of them, too, had succumbed by then to the shifting demands of modern industry. The town itself, America’s first planned industrial city, had long since slipped into a kind of grimy lassitude, and the vast red-brick mills stood empty, ignored even by the urban renewers of the 1950’s.
In the early 1960’s a Model Cities community group proposed a revitalization program for the city based on its history. In 1972 the Lowell City Council refined the idea into what it called a “historical park concept,” and which eventually won the backing of city, state, and federal governments. On June 5, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed an act creating Lowell National Historical Park, the first such park to be devoted not just to a place, but to an industry. Full development of the park—which eventually will include the 5.6 miles of canals that once powered the mills, the mills themselves, and company housing for the work force—is not foreseen until sometime in the 1980’s, but the National Park Service hopes to begin its first walking tours in the summer of 1979.
Lowell, it appears, will soon be speaking for itself.