This is the third in a series of posts about Lowell’s canals. The first was on the Pawtucket Canal and the second on the Middlesex Canal. Links to all can be found on our “History” page (see link along upper right corner of your screen). Today’s topic is the Merrimack Canal.
After purchasing the stock of the Proprietors of the Locks and Canals on the Merrimack River, the first task of Patrick Tracy Jackson, Nathan Appleton and their associates was to widen and deepen the existing Pawtucket Canal. The next task was to dig a branch canal from the Pawtucket that would provide power to the new textile mill complex that was also under construction. Named the Merrimack Canal and completed in 1823, it leaves the Pawtucket at the Swamp Locks, the area adjacent to modern day Dutton Street about midway between the down ramp from the Lord Overpass and Broadway. From there, the canal proceeds due north towards Merrimack Street, running parallel to Dutton Street the entire way (the view in the photo above). The canal continues northward, passing underneath Market Street, Merrimack and through Lucy Larcom Park (photo below) and then under Father Morissette Boulevard where it flows into the Eastern Canal near the Boott Mill and then into the river.
The 1879 atlas of Lowell shows that the Merrimack Canal when it first left the Pawtucket Canal at the Swamp Locks, flowed through the grounds of the Lowell Machine Shop. Further down Dutton Street the canal also powered the Lowell Manufacturing Company which was located where the National Park Visitor Center now is extending all the way down that side of Market Street almost to Central. Once across Market Street, the Merrimack Canal passed underneath Huntington Hall which was a combination train station and civic auditorium and then underneath Merrimack Street. Back then, Dutton Street continued across Merrimack and all the way down to what is now Fr Morrissette – essentially along the trolley tracks that run alongside Lowell High’s 1980 addition. On the other side of the canal, what is now the wide walkway that passes through Lucy Larcom Park, was then called Anne Street. All of the land on the City Hall side of the canal at this point extending to the river was the home of the Merrimack Manufacturing Company.