Lowell Walks follow-up

Lowell Walks Retrospective at Pollard Memorial Library. Photo by Fred Faust.

Monday night about 35 veteran Lowell Walks participants gathered at the Pollard Memorial Library to review this past summer’s walks and to plan for the future.
We began with a slideshow that included scenes from each of this summer’s walks during which we paused for comments on the high points and lessons-learned from each. Here is a list of this summer’s tour topics, tour guides, and attendance figures:

• June 25 – Preservation Success Stories with Fred Faust (81)
• June 13 – Lowell Public Art Collection with Paul Marion & Rosemary Noon (107)
• June 20 – Inside Lowell High with Brian Martin (86)
• June 27 – Literary Lowell & the Pollard Library with Sean Thibodeau (76)
• July 11 – The Irish and the Acre with Dave McKean (125)
• July 18 – Green Lowell with Jay Mason (43)
• Aug 1 – Abolitionists in Lowell with Bob Forrant (119)
• Aug 8 – Hamilton Canal District with Allison Lamey (129)
• Aug 15 – Natural Lowell with Jane Calvin (75)
• Aug 22 – Lowell Artists with Jim Dyment (86)
• Aug 29 – Lowell Monuments with Dick Howe (167)
• Sept 5 – Trains & Trolleys with Chris Hayes (120)
• Sept 12 – Renewing the Acre with Dave Ouellette (105)

After reviewing the actual tours, I explained my thinking in developing Lowell Walks. Predictability was paramount. All tours would start on the same day of the week (Saturday), at the same time (10 am), and at the same place (Lowell National Park Visitor Center). All would last 90 minutes and would involve walking and listening. The topics varied and there was a different tour guide each week. Seeking to avoid even the slightest barriers to participation, there was no fee, no advance registration, not even start-time registration. You just showed up when you wanted to.

Many in the audience agreed that the simplicity of participation was an attraction. They also said that a camaraderie quickly developed among the participants that served to draw them back to future tours. As one put it, even when you arrived by yourself, you never felt alone or out of place.

Because not everyone could make every tour, there was sentiment to repeat tours from year to year. My inclination is to develop a rotation of tours with new ones joining the rotation each season. With that in mind, here are some of the suggestions made for future summertime walking tours of downtown:

The Greek Community in the Acre Downtown architecture Canals Downtown during different eras Little Canada Fires Floods Patent Medicine business Dancing and entertainment Photo tour

Citing our experience during the Lowell High tour and inside City Hall during the Arts and Artists Tour, I suggested we might do dedicated “inside tours” which would be a tour of the inside of a particular building or complex of buildings. These would originate at the building rather than at the National Park Visitor Center and could be held in colder weather since they would be inside. Here are some suggestions made for possible inside tours:

  • Lowell High School
  • City Hall
  • Pollard Memorial Library
  • Lowell Memorial Auditorium and the MRT
  • UMass Lowell (various campuses)
  • Middlesex Community College
  • Courthouses
  • Tsongas Arena and Lelacheur Park
  • Churches
  • JFK Plaza and Civic Center

Then we got to neighborhood tours. On Dave Ouellette’s “Renewing the Acre” tour this summer, we had to walk a considerable distance to get from the Visitor Center starting point into the Acre, and time and distance prevented us from reaching the North Common, a central element of the Acre neighborhood. While Dave gave a terrific tour nonetheless, in the future, we might start an Acre tour at the North Common and move out from there. By starting at an iconic location in the neighborhood, we could spend more time touring and less traveling to the venue.

With this in mind, we already had our first neighborhood tour back on October 6, 2015. That was of Cambodia Town and it was very successful. Suggestions on Monday night for other neighborhood tours include:

  • Belvidere Hill
  • Back Central
  • South Common
  • UMass Lowell (all three campuses)
  • Clay Pit Cemetery
  • Tyler Park
  • Hawk Valley Farm
  • Lowell Dracut State Forest

Although we ran out of time, other elements that might fall under the Lowell Walks umbrella include:

Mobile Tours – These would involve a bus, probably a fee, and a limit on the number of participants (how many seats in the bus). Possible tours destinations would be churches, cemeteries, or restaurants.

Other Events – There are many entities in Lowell that create and host historic, cultural, and related activities. These would include the Lowell Historical Society, Lowell National Historical Park, the Parker Lecture Series, UMass Lowell and MCC, the Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust, and many others. At a minimum, Lowell Walks should coordinate date selection with these groups to try to avoid overlapping activities, but there should also be cross-promotion and partnerships.

Spring Training – UMass Lowell Professor Bob Forrant, who led the very successful Abolitionists Tour this summer but who was unable to attend Monday night, met with me earlier to discuss the future of Lowell Walks. He suggested beginning with indoor talks late in the winter when the weather is more predictable but it’s still too cold to be outside. He compared it to how baseball players use spring training to prepare for the regular season. We could begin a series of indoor talks in March and April to get ready for the outdoor walking season. It was a great suggestion and it also provides us with a way to rotate our walking tour topics. In a year when a topic will not be offered as a walk, perhaps that tour guide could give an indoor talk on the topic.

There are many other possibilities and aspirations. One of the keys to the success of Lowell Walks is that it is very much a bottom-up, decentralized, grassroots endeavor. Its continued success depends not just on the attendance of others, but on the contributions of suggestions, ideas, and recommendations by others. So please, send me your feedback, either here as a comment or by email to DickHoweJr[at]gmail.com.