The industrial past of Lowell  is celebrated at the Lowell National Historical Park (246 Market St., 978/970-5000, www.nps.gov/lowe , visitors center 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m. daily Aug. 24–Sep. 7; 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily Sept. 8–Oct. 12), which centers around the most prosperous mills of the 19th century. The centerpiece of the park is the Bootts Cotton Mill Museum, which includes a working weave room of 88 power looms, along with the squalid boarding houses of the “mill girls.”
A more moving evocation of the lives of immigrant workers is displayed in the Mill Girls and Immigrants Exhibit (40 French St., 978/970-5000, www.nps.gov/lowe , 1–5 p.m. daily June 24–Sept. 7; 1:30–5 p.m. daily Sept. 8–Oct. 12, free), affiliated with the University of Massachusetts –Lowell , which explores the lives of immigrants over the years. Among the exhibits there, don’t miss a small case that incongruously displays the backpack and typewriter of Beat writer Jack Kerouac , one of Lowell’s  native sons.
Another native son, James McNeil Whistler, is honored by the Whistler House Museum of Art (243 Worthen St., 978/452-7641, www.whistlerhouse.org , 11 a.m.–4 p.m. Wed.–Sat., $5 adults, $4 seniors and students, free children). Located in the home where the painter was born, the collection does not, unfortunately, include the famous Whistler’s Mother (which hangs in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris)—though it does contain a copy done by the artist’s cousin. The galleries also contain etchings by Whistler, who was among the most celebrated American artists of the 19th century, alongside works of other artists of the period.
The modern artistic community of Lowell  can be found at the Revolving Museum (122 Western Ave., 978/937-2787, www.revolvingmuseum.org , 11 a.m.–4 p.m. Tues.–Sun., free), an art and performance space that relocated here from Boston  several years ago. The city has actively encouraged the arts scene by helping build the Ayer Lofts Art Gallery (172 Middle St., 978/970-3556, www.ayerlofts.com ), in a building inhabited by working artists.