ASME-Landmark:Lowell Power Canal System and Pawtucket Gatehouse


In 1792, shipbuilders and merchants from Newburyport, Massachusetts, incorporated as the Proprietors of Locks and Canals on Merrimack River. This was one of the nation's earliest corporations. It immediately began work on the Pawtucket Canal, which was completed in 1796. This canal bypassed Pawtucket Falls and increased the flow of timber and agricultural products from New Hampshire to the sea—but shipbuilding soon waned, and was replaced by textile mills.

Lowell, Massachusetts, became America's first great industrial city because of the power of the Pawtucket Falls and the efforts of the engineers, industrialists, and workers. It began with the construction of a complex canal system to harness the power of the falls and the nearby rivers. The 1796 Pawtucket Canal became the feeder for the system begun in 1822.

In 1837, British born James B. Francis became chief engineer, Proprietors of Locks and Canals, a position he held for forty years. He invented and designed the Francis Turbine, which went on to become the most widely used water turbine in situations involving medium-head and large-flow rates. The Francis turbine in Lowell was the first placed in service and the oldest in existence; it was designed to lift, by means of a belt drive, the ten head gates in the Pawtucket Gatehouse, which control the flow of water from the Merrimack River into the northern canal of the Lowell Hydraulic Canal System. It was used until 1923, when it was superseded by electric-motor drive. See ASME website for more information