It was just announced that the National Trust for Historic Preservation added the Pawtucket Dam to their list of structures that must be saved. I hope that this means that the bladder dam idea is going the way of the dodo. For those of you who do not know, the dodo was a bird on an island that had no fear of man. In fact, the bird would search out a man, who would kill him for his meat. Boy, did we show those guys who to trust. There are none left. They are extinct. Let us hope that the bladder dam will suffer a similiar fate.
I continually try to convince the Board of Directors at the Lowell Motor Boat Club that the bladder dam is a bad idea. They argue back that the current use of plywood to build up the water level for the electric power plant is arcane, and not historically correct because the original owners of the canals and walkways were used to using sheets of unprocessed wood. Thus, they maintain, the bladder dam is not any less historically correct than using plywood instead of sheets of oak. It does not quite work out in practice. The view of the dam from the Pawtucket Bridge will be soured by balloon-like devices that inflate and deflate according to the dictates of the needs of the electric (hydroelectric), plant at the end of the Northern Canal. It might be the Western Canal, but it is late and I cannot access the information as to which canal I may be referiing to in this case. In any case, it is a large and fast canal which lets water flow to the hydroelectric turbines at the end of the canal.
The members of the Board of Directors are blatantly wrong in supporting this change. The balloons will hold up the metal panels on the dam and look like a lot of balloons holding up metal panels on a dam that is so well built that it is still without a rift or breakaway since its construction close to two hundred years ago. The actions of the city to get the notice of the National Trust for Historic Preservation is to be commended. I trust that Stephen Stowell, our Historic Board Administrator and his crew had something to do with this. What you may not know is that, buried in Lowell’s first City Cemetery on School Street is a man who fell off of the dam and died of complications from the fall. His name and his fall are recorded on his gravestone. Given his demise, he might want bladder dams, but I personally doubt it.
Lowell is history. The dam is history. We are, according to the vile character in the Indiana Jones’ movie on the Ark of the Covenant, simply passing through history. It is our job to not do too much damage while we are here. Some damage has been perpetrated by the building of the various buildings in and on the land owned by the University of Massachusetts. But, that is not a strong argument. Basically, those buildings are fine and they blend into the rest of the more recent structures built by past Chancellors and Presidents of the Lowell Technological Institute and the Lowell State College. Where would the legacy of Dr. O’Leary or Mary McGauvran be without the newer buildings named after them. And Marty Meehan has had ample opportunity to build something and name it after himself. This is something he has not done yet.
But, we are in danger of improving ourselves to the point that we no longer have our eye on the historical ball. There is a condomnium complex on School Street that has named itself after the Round House without any of the aesthetic beauty of the house it is named after and that is not necessarily a good thing. It does not do any harm, and it points in the direction of the Round House, but it does not have any of the historical value of the Round House. There is an entire condominium complex on the Lowell-Chelmsford line called the “Millview Condominiums.” The thing is that they tore down the mill that once stood on the property. They did not put condominiums in the mill, they just tore it down. There is no “Mill View” to be had. Just condominiums.
The dam is cited in a number of places. It is on the National Register of Historic Places. It needs to be protected and each citizen should write a letter, email, postcard or some sort of message to tell the owners of the waterflow to drop the bladder dam “improvement.” It is not an improvement, it is a desecration. Steven Stowell, keep up the good work.