Why Lowell’s story matters

Some places are emblematic of the Pacific Northwest, only more so.

Hemmed by the Snohomish River, Everett’s Lowell neighborhood is a tapestry of rural and urban, of heritage and promise. Imagine a living diorama of the post-colonial Northwest — the worker homes, the barns and outbuildings, even the interstate highway. A ribbon of old Maine along a river bend, founder E.D. Smith’s home state, with the serrated backdrop of Mount Pilchuck, Whitehorse, Liberty, and Three Fingers.

Lowell was settled in 1863, 150 years ago this summer, and nearly 30 years before the city of Everett was slapped together. As historian Margaret Riddle writes in a HistoryLink essay, Smith sold 500 acres – what quickly became Everett and Marysville — to a group of investors that included Henry Hewitt and John D. Rockefeller. Between 1890 and 1893, Everett swelled to 5,000, a boomtown-to-be (which went bust before booming again) while Lowell beat on, a fiercely self-reliant community. The neighborhood reflected its namesake, Lowell, Mass., the hometown of writer Jack Kerouac and a place of industry, of real work.

Lowell began as a logging camp, with its own timber-planked railroad, Riddle writes, and a 2,000-foot chute hydroplaning logs to the river. And there were the mainstays, the Lowell Paper Mill and Sumner Iron Works. Veterans of the mill bragged that the stink migrated up to the Canadian border, Everett historian David Dilgard says. Here was a point of pride. The smell of jobs, of true wealth. Sumner, which manufactured the saws and machinery for the mills, changed names a few times and is now Acrowood, Everett’s oldest, still-thriving business.

The 1960s and 70s were less kind, with the shuttering of the mill and the home-razing construction of the Berlin Wall known as Interstate 5. Yet the community produced the arresting Lowell Park, the Riverfront Trail and Lowell Civic Association’s kinetic leaders such as Gail Chism. They’re akin to writer Emmett Watson of “Lesser Seattle” fame, extraordinarily proud but equally hopeful that no Californians ever settle in. As historian Jack O’Donnell notes, “Although it was incorporated into Everett over 50 years ago, Lowell doesn’t seem to have ever lost its independence.”

Events to mark Lowell’s 150th birthday include a June 29 Home and Garden Tour and the annual Lowell Days celebration and parade on Aug. 10. A new history of Lowell still requires corporate and individual sponsors — as well as personal stories. Those interested in helping should email be@lowellwa.org or contact the Lowell Civic Association.

History matters. No place has a sense of place like this place.

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