Merrimack Valley Region of MA
The Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts is an area of rich history, scenic beauty, and diverse culture. Encompassing the northern parts of Middlesex and Essex Counties, the region is made up of the many cities and towns that lie along or near the banks of the Merrimack River from the New Hampshire border south to Lowell then northeast to Newburyport.
The river forms the geographic core of the region and is at the center of its history as well. Indigenous peoples populated the river's banks from prehistoric times, and the valley was an early center of agriculture from the time of European settlement. But the Merrimack's greatest contribution to the history of the region and, indeed, of the United States, is its providing the water power to fuel the American Industrial Revolution. By the 1850's and continuing for almost 100 years, the mills in the cities of Lowell, Lawrence, and Haverhill were the giants of the textile industry in America.
After the mills moved south, the cities in the Merrimack Valley saw years of decline. Within the past twenty years, however, a Renaissance has begun, with new diverse industries now occupying many of the mill buildings. The region's textile mill heritage is preserved, though, at the Lowell National Historical Park, a unique urban park tracing the history of the mills and its workers.
And while the mills are important to the history of the region, they represent only one of many facets of a richly diverse area that offers an exceptional quality of life. The Lowell area boasts the University of Massachusetts Lowell and two major healthcare facilities, as well as professional baseball and ice hockey and the Merrimack Repertory Theater. Andover is home to Phillips Academy, one of the most prominent prep schools in the country. Recreational and cultural opportunities abound throughout the region.
In addition, Boston is next door, with easy access by highway and by train. The Merrimack Valley offers the best of both worlds, with comfortable suburban living within easy reach of all the amenities of a major metropolitan area.
University of Massachusetts Lowell
Merrimack Repertory Theater
• Billerica MA
• Burlington MA
• Dracut MA
• Dunstable MA
• Haverhill MA
• Lawrence MA
• Lowell MA
• Westford MA
With an estimated 2006 population of just over 203,000, the City of Lowell, a planned urban community built around the Merrimack River, is the fourth largest city in Massachusetts and is considered by many to be the jewel of the Merrimack Valley.
Originally a farming community called East Chelmsford, the city started to grow in the early 1800's when the textile industry, attracted by the prospect of waterpower, effectively gave birth to the Industrial Revolution in America.
After about a hundred years of industrial prominence, Lowell began a decline when the textile industry moved south. But the city continues to experience a Renaissance that began in the 1970's, built around education and high-tech industries. Lowell has also become a tourist destination and cultural center, incubated by the Lowell National Historical Park. The restoration of the mill buildings within the Park has spawned other rehabilitation projects for housing and other uses.
Educational and cultural opportunities abound in Lowell. The city is home to the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and Middlesex Community College is nearby. The University houses the Merrimack Repertory Theater and the Lowell Memorial Auditorium hosts a number of concerts each year.
In the summer months, the Park produces the Lowell Summer Music Festival, and the Lowell Folk Festival typically draws over 200,000 attendees. In addition, the city enjoys the rich tradition of ethnic diversity that began over 100 years ago, offering residents a special opportunity to experience cultures from around the world. Lowell is also the home of two professional sports teams, the AHL Lowell Devils and a rookie-league farm team of the Boston Red Sox, the Lowell Spinners.
A new master plan has recently been implemented, designed to foster planned growth for the next two decades and to establish Lowell as a "lifetime city," where a resident can enjoy a rich full life through every stage of life. In addition, the school district has recently completed nine new schools and completely rehabbed five others. These improvements, plus Lowell's easy access to Boston both by rail and automobile, make the city a most desirable location for anyone desiring an urban lifestyle.
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Situated between Lowell and the New Hampshire border, the Town of Dracut has experienced substantial growth from its early industrial roots. While some rural areas survive on the town's outskirts, Dracut has become a residential suburb with commuter access to the major highways and metropolitan areas in the Merrimack Valley and beyond.
In the 1600s, Dracut was founded as part of the Wamiset Praying Town, one of the areas set aside by European colonists for Christianized Native Americans. Once established as a town in 1701, Dracut's main industry became lumbering and lumber milling. By the mid-1800s, the milling industry expanded to produce cotton textiles and paper. As residents spread out from the nearby city of Lowell and the Merrimack Valley's commuter population increased, Dracut saw rapid housing development in the 20th century. Now the town's current population sits around 29,500, and commuters enjoy easy access to Routes 495, 93, 3 and 38.
As Dracut has grown, so has the school district. Dracut Public Schools consist of 4 elementary schools (preK-4), one intermediate school (5-6), one junior high (7-8), and one high school (9-12).
With a modern suburban feel, Dracut also retains some of its historic charm and provides a variety of recreational activities year-round. Several historic homes still exist, including the Coburn/Cutter House that dates from 1700 and now is used as the site of annual crafts fairs. Recently the town began celebrating Dracut Old Home Day and Firefighters' Activity Day each September, which brings together crafts, food, and a variety of family activities. Dracut supports an active recreation department that sponsors many sports teams and youth activities including skiing and day camp. Only a few miles from downtown Lowell, Dracut residents can easily take advantage of the cultural opportunities and sporting events Lowell has to offer.
Several state forests and parks lie within 15 miles of Dracut, including the 1,140 acre Lowell-Dracut-Tyngsborough State Forest. The forest, a probable site of a Native American village before colonial settlement, has 180 acres of protected ponds, swamps, and wetlands and six miles of trails offering hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling. The Lowell Heritage State Park, situated along the network of canals and mill buildings that remain from Lowell's 19th century industrial boom, combines recreational opportunities with historical exhibits and canal rides.
Dracut Public Schools
Bordering Lowell and only 20 miles northwest of Boston, Billerica is a thriving middle and working-class suburban community of almost 40,000 residents. Featured in a March 2007 Boston Globe Magazine article as one of the "Hot Five" most affordable first-time buyer opportunities in desirable commuter locations, Billerica offers a variety of housing options, easy access to major highways, and well-established community and recreational programs.
Billerica was incorporated in 1655 and remained predominately agricultural until the Industrial Revolution, when nearby Lowell and Lawrence became major industrial centers and mills sprang up all over the area. Both the Concord and Shawsheen Rivers pass through town, allowing for North Billerica to support a mill complex on the Concord River beginning in the mid 19th century. The remnants of the historic Middlesex Canal, used for transport, still crosses Billerica north to south.
Billerica is now undergoing a revitalization as many younger families have found it a convenient and affordable location. The town is within minutes of Routes 3 and 495 and has bus and train service provided by the Lowell Regional Transit Authority and the MBTA at North Billerica. The town common now has a library and senior center, and there are several very popular restaurants and pubs near the town center.
Recreational opportunities, especially well-supported youth sports leagues, abound in Billerica.
The Billerica recreation department also provides several summer camp opportunities and a summer concert series. The Warren Manning State Park with Micozzi Beach in town offers swimming, fishing, hiking, and canoeing. Finally, residents can take advantage of their proximity to Lowell, which offers a host of cultural activities and sporting events, including the Lowell Heritage State Park, the Lowell Folk Festival, and Lowell Spinners independent league baseball.
Billerica Public Schools serves it's students with 6 elementary schools (grades K-5), 2 middle schools (grades 6-8), and 1 high school (grades 9-12). Also in town are the Shawsheen Valley Regional Technical School, offering day and evening vocational courses to students in Billerica and 4 surrounding towns, and the NE Pediatric School, providing Special Education programs K-12.
City of Billerica
True to its motto "where technology goes to work," Burlington pairs quiet residential neighborhoods with a thriving business district of cutting-edge technology companies. With a residential population of nearly 23,000 and a daytime population around 150,000, Burlington provides the best of both worlds - the residential feel of a small town combined with the shopping, dining, and business opportunities of a much larger city.
Burlington is one of the few towns of its size in the area where many residents live and work in the same community, but it is also attractive to commuters within the Route 128 corridor. Burlington has access within town borders to Routes 95/128, 3, 3A and 62, MBTA service to Alewife Station, an airport shuttle to Logan Airport, a 10 minute trip to commuter rail in Woburn, and a town operated bus service. Residents and workers in town can enjoy a wide array of local and chain restaurants, a 10-screen movie theater, several large shopping centers, and the popular upscale Burlington Mall.
Once an active agricultural community originally called the Shawshine area of Woburn, Burlington was incorporated as a separate town in 1799. It became a popular stop on the stage coach line between Concord, NH and Boston, but when the railroad was built through neighboring Woburn instead of Burlington, the town remained primarily a farming community until the 1950s. Burlington once supported several large dairy farms, piggeries, shoe factories, and a well-know ham-curing plant. The completion of Route 128 in 1954, however, propelled Burlington into the forefront of industrial expansion, and its status as a center for technology solidified by the 1970s. The population grew from around 3,000 in 1950 to 24,000 by the 1970s and has since stabilized. The cultural diversity of Burlington has increased as technology jobs have drawn skilled workers from around the world. Currently, over 10% of the population is of Asian decent.
Burlington supports several large parks, a community center with a gym, and a variety of cultural and recreational activities for residents. Simonds Park includes lighted little league and major baseball fields, two lighted tennis courts and basketball courts, a wading pool, playground, skate park with half-pipe, street hockey court, picnic area, and concession stand. Two other parks have multiple playing fields; tennis, volleyball and basketball courts; and playgrounds. An active historical society runs a museum, sponsors a yearly art show, and provides mapped tours of the Burlington Historic Trail of homes, taverns, and the meetinghouse.
Burlington Public Schools 7 schools serve grades K-12.
Westford, a suburb of Lowell, is a town whose residents enjoy an excellent quality of life and a rich agricultural history. With a population hovering around 21,000, Westford serves primarily as a bedroom community about 30 miles northwest of Boston. Westford has retained its rural charm in a beautiful setting of green hillsides, plentiful apple orchards, and clear streams, yet commuters have easy access to several metropolitan areas.
Incorporated as a town in 1729, Westford began as an agricultural community, and dairy farming continued to support the economy well into the 20th century. During the Industrial Revolution, Westford became known for its woolen mills, most notably for The Abbot Worsted Company that produced worsted yarn at two town sites from 1855 to 1956. Today, many local orchards still produced apples and peaches, and farms grow strawberries in season. To celebrate the town's agricultural past, each year the town hosts two festivals: an Apple Blossom Festival in May with a parade and the crowning of an apple blossom queen, and a Strawberry Festival in June with a craft fair and plenty of strawberry shortcake.
Newer housing developments in Westford spread outward from the Center Historic District. With five of the town's original villages listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the town center prides itself on the many well-preserved homes from the colonial period onward. To serve its residents, Westford offers an active community center and recreation department, an excellent library, and two beaches on spring-fed ponds. The Nashoba Valley Ski Area is also in town, providing downhill skiing and snow tubing in winter and swimming lessons and children's camps in summer.
Westford Public Schools, consisting of 5120 students, is a strong district preK-12. The system has three primary elementary schools (K-2), three upper elementary schools (3-5), two middle schools, and the high school, Westford Academy. Westford Academy was originally founded in 1794 and has built new facilities several times as it expanded.
Westford also hosts East Boston Camps, a program on town land originally founded in the 1930s as an opportunity for children from Boston to experience a rural camp environment. Now the program provides both day and overnight camps for a diverse group of close to 350 boys and girls, ages 6-14. The Camps also hosts a weeklong Senior Picnic and Senior Camp and each year invites Westford's 5th graders free of charge for a weeklong nature day camp in thanks to the Westford community.