The Merrimack Canal

Fall colors along the Merrimack Canal in Lowell. Photo by Steve Daly.

Fall colors along the Merrimack Canal in Lowell. Photo by Steve Daly.

Sometimes the best photos you capture aren’t always the ones you set out to get.

I recently headed into downtown Lowell to get some shots of the historic St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, a house of worship built by Kirk Boott and consecrated in 1825 in what was then a section of Chelmsford – Lowell was incorporated a year later.

It wasn’t long before I noticed the brilliant autumn colors reflecting off the abutting  Merrimack Canal.

As much as the mill buildings constructed by Boott, Nathan Appleton and Patrick Tracy Jackson remain part of the city’s architectural landscape – given new life in the past 20 years as residential and commercial condominiums – the 5.6 miles of canals that snake through the downtown are what kept those mills humming at the height of the Industrial Revolution.

The Lowell Power Canal System is the largest of its kind in the United States, and it provided the textile mills with 10,000 horsepower through eight canals: the Merrimack, Pawtucket, Hamilton, Lowell, Lawrence, Western, Eastern and Northern.

The Merrimack, pictured above, is the second oldest in the city, and was completed in 1822. It runs from the Pawtucket Canal through the downtown before emptying into the Merrimack River near the Boott Cotton Mills. The Merrimack was the first major power canal built in Lowell, and it provided the water power for the Merrimack Manufacturing Company, the first major textile mill built in the city.

Today, the Merrimack Canal is nothing more than a tranquil, picturesque waterway that flows between Lowell High School’s two largest buildings. And when the leaves turn, it’s also a place to get some great fall foliage shots, even on an overcast day.


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