C and I have been apartment-hunting in Massachusetts for the past few days. We just signed a lease on our home for the next year. This place is sweet! We are living in a great loft in a renovated 180-year old textile mill in downtown Lowell.
Lowell, by the way, has really blown away my expectations and even the early positive opinions I had of it when we were out here in February. The whole place is like the San Antonio Riverwalk or the Indianapolis Canalwalk on steroids. Engineering steroids :-)
Downtown Lowell is itself a National Park, so deemed due to Lowell's role as the starting point of the American industrial revolution. This city was engineered from its inception, when several textile companies drew up plans for a town based entirely around textile manufacturing. In the early 1800s, these companies dug an elaborate network of canals to divert the Merrimack River as it descended a ~32 foot elevation drop over the course of a mile in a particular bend of the river near Boston.
The canals turned the farmland that would become Lowell in to a shallow archipelago, and astride the canals the companies erected massive cotton and wool textile miles.
The canal water turned massive water wheels and turbines in the basements of the mills, and this mechanical motion was transferred by systems of gears and belts throughout the mills to turn the first mechanical looms in the United States. The rest of the city sprang up in support of the mills.
The textile industry in Lowell ground to a halt after World War II, and for about 30 years the mills fell into disrepair and several were demolished. The US Congress created the Lowell National Historic Park in 1978 and began renovating some of the mills. Since then, every federal dollar invested has been matched with 10 private dollars for renovation, as Lowell's mills have been restored to their former glory, although now housing doctor's offices, small businesses, condos and loft apartments, and tons of great restaurants.
The water from the canals no longer drives mechanical looms, but is now used to generate electricity at four hydroelectric stations throughout downtown located on the old locks of canal system as well as in the basements of two of the old mills. The National Park operates boat tours along the canals (C and I took a fascinating 3-hour canal tour today). In addition, the Park has restored part of the old electric trolley line that ran through the city and conducts tours in two cool old streetcars.
I am honestly finishing this trip more excited than I was before. I think we're really going to enjoy living here :-)