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Unspooling a 2,000-mile Thread of UML History

New Book Shows How Lowell Textile School Helped Shape Texas Tech University

Southwick Hall Photo by Ed Brennen
Southwick Hall, which opened in 1903 as home of the Lowell Textile School, helped inspire the founding of Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.

06/02/2020
By Ed Brennen

The Francis College of Engineering has launched countless careers since it was founded as the Lowell Textile School in 1895.

It also helped to launch a university 2,000 miles away in Lubbock, Texas.

In his recently published book, “Opus in Brick and Stone: The Architectural and Planning Heritage of Texas Tech University,” architect and author Brian Griggs reveals how Texas Tech’s roots became intertwined with UMass Lowell nearly a century ago.

“There’s a unique story in everything,” says Griggs, whose book evolved from a proposal he wrote in 2009 for his architectural firm, Parkhill, Smith & Cooper, for a project at Texas Tech.

As Griggs discovered in his research, a delegation of administrators and architects from the newly created Texas Technical College visited Lowell in 1924 to learn as much as they could about the booming textile school located at Southwick Hall.

Per its charter, Texas Technical College’s curriculum was to include textile engineering. To understand what the college’s academic program should offer, as well as what its new building should look like, the delegation toured two of the most prominent textile schools of the day: Philadelphia Textile Institute and Lowell Textile School.
Texas Tech's engineering building Photo by Texas Tech University
Although it was built in the Spanish Revival style, the Textile Engineering Building at Texas Tech was influenced in many ways by UML's neoclassical Southwick Hall.

“There is strong evidence to support that the resulting Textile Engineering Building at Texas Tech was inspired by Southwick Hall,” says Griggs, who notes that both buildings feature a sally port entry into a courtyard space, a “square donut” plan configuration and similar spaces for machinery halls, wool carding and dye labs.

Texas Tech’s two-story building, which is now home to the school’s mechanical engineering department, ended up being about one-quarter the size of the four-story Southwick Hall.

“It wasn’t designed to match what the Lowell Textile School’s importance was to the huge mill industry that existed in Lowell at the time,” says Griggs, who adds that Texas Tech didn’t plan on enrolling more than 6,000 students (today it has 38,000-plus students).

Southwick Hall is the cornerstone of UML’s North Campus. Opened in 1903, the yellow brick neoclassical structure was named for Royal Southwick, a Quaker abolitionist and state senator who established the Lowell Carpet Company. Southwick’s grandson, Frederick Ayer, was one of the primary benefactors of the Lowell Textile School, which originally opened on Middle Street in downtown Lowell in 1895. It became the Lowell Technical Institute in 1929.

One of Southwick Hall’s most distinctive features is the grand archway on its University Avenue façade. Griggs noted that the archway’s vaulted ceiling is clad in “Guastavino tile,” named for Spanish engineer Rafael Guastavino, who brought his celebrated “tile arch system” to the United States in the late 1800s. 
the Gaustavino tiles at Southwick Hall Photo by Ed Brennen
Southwick Hall's sally port entrance features Spanish engineer Rafael Guastavino's well-known 'tile arch system.'

“It’s a neat feature that’s kind of unusual,” Griggs says of the tiles, which can also be found at the Boston Public Library, the Plymouth Rock portico and the Queensboro Bridge in New York.

The Texas Tech building, meanwhile, was done in a Spanish Revival style that its architect, William Ward Watkin, chose for the new college’s campus. Spanish Revival, which became popular in the Southwest in the early 20th century, features red tile roofs and long arcades of rounded arches.

Griggs, who has never been to Lowell, received research help from Executive Director of Planning, Design and Construction Adam Baacke and Janine Whitcomb, special collections and archive manager for the UMass Lowell Library.

“Texas Tech’s modeling of the Lowell Textile School was more than just the building,” Baacke says. “Yes, they copied the functional architecture of the building, but it also appears that they were looking at the Lowell Textile School as the model around which to craft their entire academic program in textile engineering.”

And it helped to launch the careers of textile engineers 2,000 miles away from Lowell.