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Lowell, Massachusetts (Part 15)

Christian Hill - April 2008

At only 14 square miles or so, Lowell is a relatively small city. Additionally, outside of the downtown, there's really only so much to say. I'm amazed at how much rambling I was able to do about the downtown even :-) In other words, my posting here has really slowed because I'm really running out of material!

However, when I did the neighborhood pages I mentioned, but did not go to, Christian Hill. Maybe I just don't like ever having to be that close to Dracut, I don't know. My mom and I had my young cousin convinced for years that Dracut is a swear. My mom also has a serious problem with Billerica and all that is in it or comes from it. She grew up a stone's throw from the place - Maybe my mom has a problem.

Anyhow, Christian Hill is the easternmost neighborhood of Lowell on the north bank of the Merrimack. It's usually considered part of Centralville, but it's notably different in both density and ... hilliness ... from the lowland neighborhoods between the Bridge Street and Aiken Street Bridges. Christian was a guy, not a faith, and the Hill that got named after him became crowned with a drinking water reservoir. It seems to have been developed closer to the end of the 19th century, beginning of the 20th. A very informative city publication called Lowell's Special Places that I got for free when I moved here suggested making a trip up to the top of the hill to get a view of the city from up there. So, after the weather warmed up and before the foliage grew in, I did.

Our path was Bridge to Sixth to Beacon. As I was doing this around 8 AM on a workday, the traffic going down Bridge Street into (and probably simply cutting through) downtown was almost a sight unto itself. I didn't take any pictures until we got halfway up Sixth Street. This is the Varnum School, which dates to before 1850 and was the oldest operating school in the city. It closed for good this year. It was clearly built in two phases. The back section (2nd picture) is the part I'd put at the late 1840s into the 1850s. I'd put the front part in the 1870s or 1880s.

The Reservoir and the ornate little pump house. You see stuff like this in Boston as well. A close look in the second picture to the right of the house shows the City Hall clocktower. The city had another reservoir in Belvidere that was originally for fighting fires in the downtown mills with a primative, I guess gravity-fed, sprinkler system. I never saw it, and it was filled in in 1996.

The view of the millyards and all the way to ULowell North from the intersection of Beacon and Sixth. I was expecting a better view to be honest! I wonder how far off to the west the mountains in the background are. Just Wachusett or Monadnock if I had to guess.

You can go a little higher up still, above the reservoir onto the top of what must be a giant water tank. The view from here is south and eastward, which isn't too exciting, but apparently this is a good place to do drugs.

This is a red-tailed hawk I think, perched on the high reservoir. Jen thought it was a pigeon. Either way, the bird variety in Lowell along the river is surprising.

Next stop - back to the bottom of Bridge Street to go to a very non-photogenic but high-quality Dunks. Sitting there watching everyone start their morning with coffee while the old mills loom across the river made me try to imagine this scene 100 years ago, when the whole neighborhood walked across that bridge in time for the first bell to ring. Today, downtown Lowell is simply an inconvenience for the residents of Centralville on their way to some likely suburban job it seems.

This mess of a park across the VFW highway from Dunks has since been converted into a dog park.

Continuing downriver from the park are these candy canes that are actually sewer vents I believe. When I was little, they weren't painted like this, but everyone thought that's what they looked like. One day, someone just up and did it.

Getting these pictures made me seriously doubt the safety of the 1950s Hunts Falls Bridge we were standing on. I'm not sure it's even been painted since then! MassHighway has been getting a lot of flack for the condition of the state's roadways. There is a quaint little faux covered bridge in nearby Pepperell that got a TWO on a 50 point safety scale. Yeah, they're closing that one.

Back on land, we pass Saint's Medical Center, formerly Saint's Memorial Medical Center, formerly Saint John's Hospital. No pictures of that, but as we come back to downtown on East Merrimack Street, we pass the beautiful Immaculate Conception Church.

Then, we pass the less beautiful but still pretty cool Lowell Memorial Auditorium. This auditorium is about 80 years old and the walls and the grounds of it are a giant Veteran's monument, inscribed with wars and battles

The "Federal" building is I guess the library for Middlesex Community College. It obviously was a federal building at one point, and I think the city post office in between.

...and finally, we're back in Kearney Square.

Part 14 - Miscellaneous - Summer 2007 * Part 16 - JAM Update - April 2008

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Corey Sciuto (e-mail)