Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
City of Lowell > Planning and Development > Development Services > Historic Board > Historic Board Overview and Preservation in Lowell
Historic Board Overview and Preservation in Lowell
Historic Board Overview and Preservation In Lowell

In 1931, the first historic preservation review board in the United Stated was created in Charleston, South Carolina to preserve and protect the historic resources of the Old and Historic Charleston District.  Other early efforts included the establishment of the Vieux Carre Commission in New Orleans' French Quarter in 1937 and the creation of preservation ordinances in San Antonio, Texas in 1939.  Today, more than 2,300 communities across the nation have created historic preservation commissions to protect their historic resources and are a critical component of community planning and environmental efforts.
Lowell is similar to many communities across the country that have sought to identify, protect, and preserve their historic resources.  Prior to the establishment of the Lowell National Historical Park in 1978, community planning efforts had already been focused for several years on and preservation of historic resources in reaction to failed urban renewal programs of the 1950’s and 1960’s.
In 1971, the City Council authorized the creation of an historic district commission study that resulted two years later in the creation of the City’s first Historic Commission and two local design review districts under Massachusetts’ historic district enabling act, Chapter 40C.  The City Hall Historic District encompassed a small portion of downtown and included a variety of commercial, residential, religious, and public buildings.  The Locks and Canals Historic District included the city’s 5.6 mile canal system, millyards, and other industrial related resources.
Strengthening and expanding historic preservation review and regulations in Lowell was a requirement that Congress placed on Lowell when creating the Lowell National Historical Park in 1978 in order to ensure that community actions and development activity would be consistent with the establishment of the National Park, the federal investment in Lowell, and preservation goals.  The Lowell Historic Board and the Downtown Lowell Historic District (DLHD) were created by Special Act of the Massachusetts Legislature in 1983 (Lowell Historic District Act, Chapter 566 of the Acts of 1983), satisfying the federal requirement placed upon Lowell.  As part of this action, the original historic district commission was abolished and the two design districts consolidated and expanded as part of the DLHD.
The Board is the City’s historic preservation agency and serves as advisor to the City Council, City Manager, other City departments and boards, public agencies, and the general public in matters related to historic structures, sites, areas, and assets of historic, architectural, or archaeological interest in the city.  The Board consists of nine volunteer members from the public and private sectors, each serving two year terms, their backgrounds defined by the state law that established the agency.
The state law creating the Board grants the agency broad powers and abilities in order to meet its mandate of the preservation, protection, and enhancement of Lowell’s historic resources.  Central to its responsibilities is its design review, permitting, and enforcement authority in the DLHD.  Since its creation in 1983, the Board and its staff have reviewed and approved proposals within the district which have resulted in over 2,400 permits being issued. 
A second design review district also overseen by the Board, the Acre Neighborhood District, was created in 1999 to assist in the implementation of the Acre Neighborhood Revitalization & Development Plan. Eight other review districts were created in 2005 in several areas using previously existing National Register of Historic Places boundaries while in 2011, a ninth district was created. In these nine neighborhood districts, the Board has review and approval authority only in terms of proposed demolition, partial demolition, and/or new construction.
In addition to its design review, permitting, and enforcement responsibilities in 11 districts, the Board also:
  • Maintains a comprehensive architectural and historic resource survey of Lowell which contains information on over 2,500 resources including inventory forms and National Register of Historic Places registrations.

  • Provides citywide technical assistance to property owners, agencies, and the general public relevant to historic preservation, design, history, signage, building materials, and other related topics and issues.

  • Works with property owners, agencies, and the general public citywide to incorporate preservation into everyday planning and community development efforts.

  • Serves as the local entity representing the Massachusetts Historical Commission and the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation, assisting in reviewing federal and state assisted City projects for their impacts on historic resources.

  • Maintains an active education and outreach program including online newsletter, Facebook page, house marker program, and the annual Doors Open Lowell event which was the first such event in the United States when it debuted in 2002.