The New - Old Way of Transportation

There is a sense of nostalgia and charm one gets when hopping on the Trolley in the heart of Downtown Lowell. Operated by the National Park Service, visitors or residents of the city of Lowell can ride the authentic trolleys free of cost. Covering nearly two miles of track throughout downtown, users of the trolley can start their journey at the Mack Station, conveniently located near the Lowell National Park Visitor Center. From there the trolley will start its ride along the Merrimack Canal, pass the Mill Girls and Immigrants Exhibit, and continue its journey to the historic Boott Cotton Mills – at this point the trolley will stop for riders to explore and take in the authentic feel of some of the oldest mills still standing. Riders can enjoy the fresh spring or summer air in two of the “breezers”, open-air trolleys, allowing them to take in the historic downtown area and all it encompasses. Riders can also travel on one of the most famous trolley cars that Lowell now has the pleasure of owning. That would be the fully restored New Orleans Public Service streetcar #966. This car is one of the famed cars that inspired Tennessee Williams’ play “A Streetcar Named Desire”. The city of Lowell adopted streetcar #966 from the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, ME as part of the “On Track” exhibit.

In the early 1800’s Lowell, MA was considered a “walking city,” where residents would travel on foot to get to and from work, home and any other outings around the city. Lowell is a small city, covering less than 15-square miles, so walking is not an issue for some. However, an easier form of transportation for others may have been the electric trolley cars. The first electric trolley cars in Lowell began operations in 1889. The trend of using the electric trolley cars continued for about 30 years until the popularity of automobiles rose in the 1920’s. Although not all turned to automobiles as their primary form of transportation, the electric trolley car system ceased service in 1935. After nearly 50 years of the absence of electric trolley cars in the city, and with an increased interest in reviving Lowell’s historical roots, the trolley cars made a comeback in 1984. Thanks to the development of Lowell National Historical Park, about 500,000 people visit the area annually and take a ride on the trolley.

I had the pleasure of riding on one of the “open-air” trolleys on a beautiful summer afternoon. Starting at the Boott Cotton Mills Museum, a small group of about 15 individuals boarded trolley car #1601 and chugged along the historic tracks to our destination at the Wannalancit Mill. The open sides of the street car allowed for me and the other passengers to take in all our surroundings. The loud train-like whistle blew every time we crossed through an intersection, signifying to pedestrians and those driving their cars that we were making our way through Downtown Lowell. After our tour of the Wannalancit Mills, which still houses powered weaving machinery that produces cotton cloth, we returned to the trolley and headed back to the Boott Cotton Mills. Although this particular trolley tour didn’t take me on the full 2-mile stretch of tracks, I still got a sense of what it would have been like to travel around the city when this was one of the only sources of transportation.

Driving through Lowell is not the same as riding the trolley or walking, you don’t take in all the beautiful sites this historic city has to offer. Riding the trolley is a must do for every resident and visitor of Lowell.