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past and present photos of lowell canals

Then & Now


black and white photo of Merrimack River in Lowell

Lowell would not have become the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution without the water power delivered by the Merrimack River, whose falls provided an energy source to the mills that were the root of the city’s economy for a century. The 5.6-mile-long canal system produced 10,000 horsepower, which by 1850 was provided to 10 corporations with a total of 40 mills (dubbed the “mile of mills”). The city’s waterways were responsible for Lowell being known at the time as “The Venice of America.”


Lighting display at the Swamp Locks canal complex in the Hamilton Canal District

The university’s Welcome Back Night in September culminated in a special one-night lighting display at the Swamp Locks canal complex in the Hamilton Canal District. The Waterways Vitality Project—a collaboration between the city, national park and several community organizations—aims to enhance the experience of Lowell residents and visitors by making the city’s distinctive waterways more active and vibrant. While the canals continue as a sustainable energy source, they also today serve as cultural and recreational attractions.