CENTER FOR LOWELL HISTORY – UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS LOWELL LIBRARIES

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THE BLUE PLATE SPECIAL: AN ECLECTIC VIEW OF 
THE LOWELL HISTORICAL SOCIETY'S COLLECTION
 
      During the first half of the 20th century, the 
Society concentrated on developing its collections of early Lowell.  In the 1960's, a reassessment of the Society's purpose led to expand collection activities, and additional exhibits, public programs, and publication efforts.  In 1971, the Society's collections of manuscripts, photographs, and books were transferred to Lowell Technological Institute (now University of Massachusetts Lowell, Center for Lowell History) where they were cataloged and made available to the public for research.  Recently, the Society's paintings and prints, clothing, and artifact collections have been housed at the Whistler House Museum of Art and the Rectory of St. Anne's Church.

     The Society's collections of maps, photographs, manuscripts, books, pamphlets, and artifacts are particularly noteworthy.  The first daguerreotype produced in the city and the diaries of Rev. Theodore Edson are among the gems in the collection.  The Society's collections have been a valuable resource for researchers, planners, and exhibit designers over the past 20 years as the National and State Parks have been developed in Lowell.  Objects, documents, and photographs on loan to the Parks are incorporated into exhibits at the Visitor Center, Mogan Cultural Center, and Boott Cotton Mills Museum.

   The Society's collections of paintings and prints, clothing, and artifacts give added depth to the
personality of Lowell.  For example, there are numerous portraits of 19th century Lowellians - merchants and minor public officials - many painted by Thomas Bayley Lawson.  The portraits of by R.W. and S.A. Shute dating from the 1820's and 30's are extraordinary examples of folk art.  The subjects of the Shutes' paintings include a mill operative and town crier.  An original “mill girl” dress and parts of the uniforms of Luther C. Ladd and Addison O. Whitney, two Lowell men who were the first Union casualties of the Civil War, are notable items among the clothing.  The collection does include a few large pieces such as an 1870's hose reel for fire-fighting, a fishbelly rail from the Boston and Lowell Railroad, and Kirk Boott's pew from the Unitarian Church.

     Above all, the collections are about the people of Lowell.  These various elements of the story help us to understand our heritage, to know who we are and where we come from.  As the Lowell Historical Society opens an exciting chapter in its history with a new home and renewed energy, the Society will continue to collect pieces of the Lowell story for the benefit of present and future generations.

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