Revitalizing Lower Locks
"Revitalizing Lower Locks"
Lower Locks is a historic lock chamber and gatehouse that is part of the Lowell Locks and Canals National Historical Landmark District, also designated a National Civil and Mechanical Engineering Landmark and within the boundary of the Lowell National Historical State Park and Lowell Heritage State Park. All canals in the system converge and travel through Lower Locks before emptying into the nearby Concord River. It is not only the heart of the Lowell Canal System, but also in many ways the heart of downtown Lowell. Several notable historic events took place in the area, and now it is the site of Middlesex Community College (MCC)’s Carol Cowan Building and University of Massachusetts Lowell (UML)’s Inn and Conference Center.
The massive complex of gates, locks, and spillways offer a visually dramatic gathering point. Prodigious granite walls rise up from the base of the locks within site of the confluence of the Concord River. An elegant gatehouse perches atop the locks, masking the serene mill pond above the sheets of water pouring down to the canal bed. The Pawtucket Canal was originally built as a transportation canal in 1796 to route goods around the Pawtucket Falls on the Merrimack River. With the construction of the Lower Locks in 1823, the canal was incorporated into a water control system to power mills.
Today, the spectacular setting is framed by the downtown campus of MCC and the UML Inn and Conference Center. The presence of two institutions of higher education offers a wealth of opportunities for active use as well as options for regular and special events.
Despite its centrality and historical significance, this area is in severe disrepair, not universally accessible, and underutilized. The ownership of the assets is fragmented. Major landowners and/or easement holders include the City of Lowell, UML Building Authority, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), MCC, Lowell National Historical Park (NPS), Boott Hydro d/b/a Central Rivers Power, and Proprietors of Locks and Canals (PLC). Therefore, the City has convened a working group of these stakeholders and additional community partners. The working group has developed a scope to assess the area, create a work plan of repairs and cost estimates, and create a compelling vision for a redesign of the public plazas and walkways.