Thursday, August 15, 2013

Lawrence, Mass. A thing of beauty

If you like urban things, as I do, you'll love Lawrence, Massachusetts.  The buildings that line the Merrimack River are of brick and stone, once great big belching machines of production fed by water power and human power and for many years devourers of the raw materials of the American south, cotton grown by slaves.

Thousands of people arrived here every morning
The architecture of these cathedrals of mechanization is no less than majestic, grand in scale but delicate in detail, showing a care for small things in large things that has largely departed us in the intervening century.
A clock tower for the workers, or perhaps for the burghers

An 1848 factory, as beautiful as any building
Towers to the sky

The city was a planned city, created by our first industrialists for efficiency of production.  Its plan is simple and obvious.  Technology beckoned a new way of thinking about work.  Land was found, and wealth responded.  This is one of the first instances of the American spirit expressed in the industrial age.

Of course, all of that is gone now. 

A lonely, boarded up diner amidst the empty buildings -- a final remnant from a century of activity

The economics that made Lawrence possible has all changed. The New England farm girls that worked the mills and the looms, later to be replaced by immigrant men and women who filled these factories by the thousands and created the labor movement -- they are things of the American past.  What's left isn't even their memory, since so few actually remember.

The 1912 Bread and Roses strike started here

But on the banks of the Merrimack River sit empty buildings that seem to call out for some new use, hoping to be rediscovered not just for their beauty but for their value in this post-industrial American age. 

New tenants fill this old building -- these people work on laptops instead

And then of course, there are the windows.

I see a sea of glass, as beautiful as any