Lowell. Not baseball.

I keep trying to write a post about baseball, but end up going “There is too much, let me summarize” and then waffling on even more. So instead, let me introduce you to Lowell.

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One of the three canals that run parallel through the city’s downtown area.

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Lowell streetscape, evening.

Lowell is a smallish city (pop 100,000) and it’s an old mill town. But a fabric mill town, not a lumber mill town.

Despite it being a 45 minute train ride (from North Station, which depending on the time of day can take nearly 30 minutes to get to from my place, which is about 6 stations away on the Green Line – about 3.5 km), I’ve ended up in Lowell 3 times already and I’ve been absolutely charmed every time.

It’s pretty clearly an industrial town that’s been economically smashed, but the worst of the smashing was decades ago, rather than years ago and so they’ve been through the process of figuring out what they can be if they can’t be a factory town.

Some of the answer has been historical/cultural.  There’s a National Historical Park that weaves throughout most of the Lowell downtown area. It takes in some of the beautiful  Victorian mills and factories, the canals and the tramways.

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Random bit of historical park – just a sign by a canal bank.

The University of Masschusetts Lowell is spread over 3 campuses. I’m not sure how many students attend, but it looks like a pretty big chunk of the town relies on the university and that there were a couple of research institutes into textiles / plastics / engineering  / emerging technologies (which I hope is nanotech and/or biotech) – and they are the official testers of major league baseballs, which was a pretty cool part of the textiles museum display.

The museums were great. The National American Textiles Museum was really fascinating. It was exceptionally difficult for me to keep my hands off everything – especially once I got up to the top floor of modern textiles, which included displays like carbon-fibre racing  bicycles, fire-resistant clothing and other really neat stuff.  But there were some really cool interactive things, like a little 4-frame loom for people to play with and what looked like a closed display on making flax thread for linen.

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And, of course, a few irresistably gorgeous pieces of fashion.

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Stories of boys… WHO MAKE MONEY!!

The national tram museum is also there (I didn’t get a chance to look in depth) and the museum looking at the lives of the mill girls along with the stuff around Lowell’s immigration patterns were fascinating.  I spent a lot of time lurking in the mechanical engineering parts of the historical park looking at the machinery that manages the flow of water in the canals and the big sluice gates, along with the hydro-electric plant near the Merrimack Falls.

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Unfortunately, the day I was there was a high-flow day, so the canal walkways and the good access to the hydro plant were emphatically locked off, with heaps of chain and really big padlocks.

There’s a huge, free folk festival that I was lucky enough to get to and have a marvellous time – 3 big stages, about 6 small stages and a huge number of roving bands/entertainment and alleys of tat for sale.  I saw the West African Highland band, who were set up in the dancing tent, a bit of a parade, a wandering jazz brass band, a bit of celtic slow folk (no jigs or reels – I’m gone), and some cajun music. The city was pumping full of people having a great time and I saw absolutely no problems or hassles while I was there.  I arrived at about 4pm from Concord, found relatively cheap/close parking and walked back to the car by myself at about 10.30pm, before the final band finished up in the dance tent.

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Get your roaming brass band here!

I have also (inevitably) spent an evening watching the Lowell Spinners – short season A class baseball team in the Penn-NY League, affiliated with Boston Red Sox.  For those who don’t know, major league baseball operates a kind of ‘farm’ system, where players move up through the affiliated clubs towards the major league team – or get dropped down through the affiliated clubs if they’re rehabbing / having a rough time/not as good as someone else. Did I mention that talking about baseball gets away from me?

I happened to be able to get there (and get back to Boston again, which is the important bit) on the Superhero Day / Family sleepover night.  The folks pitching their tents in the outfield were also going to watch Return of the Jedi on the big screen. I mean, can you imagine something that hits more of my interests in one day – superhero dress-ups, baseball, camping and Star Wars. Oh Lowell Spinners, you have stolen my heart.  And it didn’t hurt that you played a pretty good game on the day either.

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My first attempt at seeing the Spinners got rained out (the long weekend of car ownership) and I ended up spending a chunk of that evening chatting in the pub with guys who worked in the community services area – one was managing several supported living homes for people with disabilities and the other was a programmer working in health records management. So basically, Lowell was win-win-win for me.
I don’t think I’ll be back there again, but I really liked it.  If you’re wandering around Massachusetts/Boston and feel like a bit of a road/train trip, I highly recommend it. I’ve spent roughly three days there and if I had the time, I think another 3 or so days would be about right.

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