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Lowell History: Visitor Observations 1827-1913

Observations of Lowell by Thomas Spence, 1861



I will now proceed to note the great factory towns of Massachusetts. Lowell, 26 miles northwest of Boston, is situated at the confluence of the Concord and Merrimac rivers. The rapid growth of this city, the variety and richness of its manufactures, have rendered it an object of interest and inquiry throughout the world. In its extent of manufactories it stands unrivaled in this country, and is well entitled to the appellation of "the Manchester of America."

The number of inhabitants in the town in 1820 was less than 200, and the whole valuation of real estate did not exceed $80,000. The Merrimac Company was first incorporated in 1822 with a capital of $1,500,000. There are now 14 incorporated companies in Lowell, with a capital of $18,000,000, besides $750,000 more of other mechanical and manufacturing investments by private individuals. The population at present is about 40,000.

The water-power was constructed by a company and owned by the same, leasing out the mill privileges to individuals or corporations. There were, in 1852, 50 mills in operation, containing 325,500 spindles and 9,906 looms; the number of male operatives employed there was 3,702--of females, 8,274, using up 575,400 lbs. of cotton per week, and 69,000 lbs. of wool; making of cotton cloth per week, 2,190,000 yards, and of woolen cloth, 20,477 yards, and of carpeting, 15,000 yards. The average wages earned by males per day, clear of board, is 94 cents; that of females, 40 cents, clear of board. Besides these mills spoken of, there are extensive powder-mills, paper-miulls, mills for making batting, the Lowell bleachery, founderies, planning- mills, and a variety of other manufactories carried on by wealthy individuals, which in all employ as many as 2,000 hands.

And here I would state, the morality of the operatives working in these mills is of a high cast, taking the large number into account that is congregated together. The Lowell factory girls have been taken off nicely for their importance by the late Judge Haliburton, of Nova Scotia, in his inimitable "Sam Slick, the Yankee Clock-maker," as Samuel, in his wife-seeking tour among them, could find none who were not ready for the affirmative answer to the union question, and most all were boarding with a friend for their health, or visiting with an aunt or some relative--no factory girls among them, "nary one." I think the author of Samuel Slick amply repaid, by his rich and racy caricatures of factory life, of New England provincialisms of manners, etc., the author of the caricature on the Nova Scotians, termed or named the "Blue Noses."

But to my subject. The public buildings of Lowell are spacious and elegant; there are 28 churches of the different denominations. The population, as I have before stated, although so largely composed of young persons removed from the counsels and restraints of the parental roof, is superior to that of most cities.

There are two savings-banks in Lowell, principally for the benefit of the operatives; the amount on deposit by them in 1852 was $911,595.

The place where Lowell now stands was known in the early annals of the country as the best fishing-grounds of the Indians in New England. "Their apostle Elliot" speaks of a journey which he made to Pawtucket Falls, "to become acquainted with the tribes of the interior, and to teach them the principles of Christianity." Lowell, in the short space of between thirty and forty years, has risen to be the greatest manufacturing city in America--a most successful experiment of the triumphs of capital and labor and their grand achievements--a city upon which Americans look with pride and foreigners with admiration. It certainly deserves the title given it by the Hon. Edward Everett, of "The noble City of the Arts."