8/13: Lots of Loud Looms in Lowell

Submitted by Ken Finkel:

Where Philadelphia became famous for specialized, custom work, other American textile centers grew and thrived due to their scale. In Lowell, Massachusetts, looms in 40 mill buildings driven by waterwheels powered six miles of canals helped create a reputation for the town. By 1850, the Boott Mill had 320,000 spindles and almost 10,000 looms and the place employed more than that number of workers. But when times got tough in the 20th century, Lowell’s scale became a liability. Too much production capacity and too little agility resulted in the closing the Boott Mill in 1955, after 120 years of operation.

In 1978, the site re-opened as the Lowell Historical National Park and today offers visitors a sense of the long-lost scale of production and its amazing sounds. Here’s a 14-second video that gives the idea of the original experience. (Many more images of the place can be found at the Library of Congress.)

It’s all very interesting, but it also leaves the impression that New England was THE center of American textile production. We know that skews and simplifies the arc of American textile history. With Philadelphia’s textile story in the mix, the narrative becomes deeper, more complex, relevant and, we think, more potent.”

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