Lowell is a city in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, in the United States. With an estimated population of 108,861, it is the fourth-largest city in Massachusetts, after Boston, Worcester, and Springfield, and the second-largest in what the U.S. Census Bureau defines as Boston's metropolitan area.
Incorporated in 1826, Lowell became known as the cradle of the American Industrial Revolution, and many of the city's historic sites have been preserved by the National Park Service. Lowell is home to the University of Massachusetts Lowell, a Carnegie-classified research university and the second largest public university in Massachusetts. Along with Cambridge, Lowell is one of Middlesex County's county seats.
Founded in the 1820s as a planned manufacturing center for textiles, Lowell is located along the rapids of the Merrimack River, 25 miles northwest of Boston in what was once the farming community of East Chelmsford, Massachusetts. The so-called Boston Associates, including Nathan Appleton and Patrick Tracy Jackson of the Boston Manufacturing Company, named the new mill town after their visionary leader, Francis Cabot Lowell, who had died five years before its 1823 incorporation. As Lowell's population grew, it acquired more land from neighboring towns, and diversified into a full-fledged urban center. Many of the men who composed the labor force for constructing the canals and factories had immigrated from Ireland, escaping the poverty and Potato Famines of the 1830s and 1840s. The mill workers, young single women called Mill Girls, generally came from the farm families of New England.
The Mill Cities' manufacturing base declined as many companies began to relocate to the South in the 1920s. The city fell into deep hard times, and was called a "depressed industrial desert" by Harper's Magazine in 1931, as the Great Depression deepened. More than one-third of its population was "on relief", as only three of its major textile corporations remained active. Several years later, the mills were reactivated, making parachutes and other military necessities for the World War II effort. However, this economic boost was short-lived and the post-war years saw the last textile plants close.
Although Wang went bankrupt in 1992, the city continued its cultural focus by hosting the nation's largest free folk festival, the Lowell Folk Festival, as well as many other cultural events. This effort began to attract other companies and families back to the urban center. Additional historic manufacturing and commercial buildings were adapted as residential units and office space. By the 1990s, Lowell had built a new ballpark and arena, which became home to two minor league sports teams, the Lowell Devils and Lowell Spinners. The city also began to have a larger student population. The University of Massachusetts Lowell and Middlesex Community College expanded their programs and enrollment.
In 2002, in lieu of updating the Comprehensive Master Plan, more broad changes were recommended so that the land use and development would be consistent with the current master plan. The most significant revision to the 1966 zoning code is the adoption of an inclusion of a transect-based zoning code and some aspects of a form-based code style of zoning that emphasizes urban design elements as a means to ensure that infill development will respect the character of the neighborhood or district in question. By 2004, the recommended zoning changes were unanimously adopted by the City Council and despite numerous changes to the 2004 Zoning Code, it remains the basic framework for resolving zoning issues in Lowell to this day.
In July 2012, Lowell youth led a nationally reported campaign to gain voting privileges for 17-year-olds in local elections; it would have been the first municipality to do so. The 'Vote 17' campaign was supported by national researchers; its goals were to increase voter turnout, create lifelong civic habits, and increase youth input in local matters. The effort was led by youth at the United Teen Equality Center in downtown Lowell.