OK, enough shopping! Regardless of the bargains to be had, we have our limits and this morning, we drove northwest from Boston towards Lowell, formerly the textile capital of the USA and now home to a collection of buildings in the care of the US National Parks. I had read about the city here on one of my favourite blogs a few weeks ago and had made a note, hoping to visit before long.
Well, the day dawned a little cooler and as we drove out into the suburbs it turned rather damp and foggy. Still, we had fun driving through places with familiar names, spelled a little creatively perhaps!
In no time at all we were there – Sunday morning on the freeway after a busy weekend was a good time to negotiate unfamiliar territory. We were to find ourselves the only visitors for most of the time, with National Park staff going out of their way to show videos “on demand”, start slide shows as we reached particular locations and generally do what they could to make our visit rather special.
Having learned enough about the city to begin finding out more, we strolled through empty streets over to Bootts Mill, where we could visit the museum proper. See how damp and dreary a morning it was – even the newly lit Christmas trail of lights couldn’t lift the place and it all felt very bleak indeed.
This wasn’t only a place for those of us with an interest in textiles, either.
As we approached the museum, we were missing our Golden Pass holder! Nonetheless, this was another shining example of the US National Parks at their best – beautifully preserved and presented buildings introduced by the most charming and knowledgeable staff. In spite of the weather, we were so pleased we’d come here.
Above all, it looked very familiar indeed!
We loved comparing then and now
and spent a while trying to imagine how it must have felt to have been there in the early 19th century, when this mill was at the height of its success.
Inside, having “clocked in”, we watched as one by one, the looms clanked into action, prompted by our arrival. Though only half a dozen or so were working, the noise was incredible and the one lady weaver was kept busy managing the process of keeping all of them running smoothly. We watched as she reloaded a shuttle, resolved a small problem which had halted one of the looms here and there and summoned up all lipreading skills as we exchanged brief greetings.
We wandered about, marvelling at the technological advances which resulted in the huge upheaval in manufacturing. Such a simple process, relatively simple technology and yet enough to change the world for so many people.
Though we’ve visited mills at home, I’m not sure that any have been as well explained or given such a clear impression of what it must have been like to have worked in such a place.
Upstairs, a museum told the story in greater detail with another well produced and thought provoking film about the Mill Girls (download a leaflet about them here) I spent a while marvelling at this great model of the mill and the activities which took place in each part of it.
The last part of the display centred on the products of this mill and finished with a few questions to provoke thoughts about why this and other cotton mills closed. Particularly aimed at children and younger people, the dilemmas faced by us all were clearly outlined – do we want to pay more for quality or be satisfied with cheaper, less well made clothes? Should we continue to rely on imported goods or show our support by wearing home produced garments? Quite right to aim these questions at the generation who will face many more of this kind of problem and hope that they will use what they learn about what happened here and elsewhere to take wise decisions for the future.
We were certainly given plenty of food for thought and from time to time throughout the rest of the day, our conversation returned to such things.
How telling, however, that a brief stop in JoAnns to fulfil a little shopping list for one or two bits involved standing in a queue of people buying half price fleece fabric printed in ghastly designs. Where was the beautifully woven woollen fabric? The home produced fine cotton? Sadly not in my hand either (I was buying tulle and polyester lining) My curiosity got the better of me though and I had to ask the sales assistant what everyone was going to do with all of this fleece? “Make tied blankets” was the reply. Two large squares of fleece placed back to back and a fringe cut around the outside. Each piece of fringe was then knotted to hold the two layers together, she explained, giving me “one of those looks” which revealed exactly her opinion of such things!
The bargain of the day? A new cutting mat and a new pair of very sharp scissors, both at 60% of their normal price – $6 each. Wow.
Oh, and Jordi, I paid homage to the building on the corner of Beacon as we passed by. It now bears the sign “Sovereign” on the outside – a bank?