- James Abbott Whistler was born in Lowell on July 11, 1834. He was christened at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church on Merrimack Street. He later included his mother’s maiden name, McNeill, in his signature. He attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point for several years before leaving the army for a life dedicated to art. The artist spent most of his creative years in Paris and London.
- When James was only nine, the Scottish painter Sir William Allen took an interest in the boy’s painting, and he was enrolled in the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg at the time his father was involved in building the railroad in Russia.
- Whistler is considered an early modernist painter, cultivating a delicate art of suggestion in his oils and etchings, approaching the effects of French impressionism.
- His painting, “Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1: Portrait of the Artist’s Mother”, quickly became controversial for the unusual placement of the sitter shown in profile and the objects rendered in strong simple shapes. The French government purchased the painting for the Musee du Luxembourg in 1891. It was the first work included in a Parisian museum by an American-born artist!
- For this reason, it became wildly popular in the United States, and is now considered one of the four most recognizable American paintings (along with Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” 1930, Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” 1942, Andy Warhol’s “Campbell Soup Can” 1961) (Sources: Wikipedia, Columbia Encyclopedia)
- Whistler is also acknowledged as the finest etcher since Rembrandt.
Paul Moody (1779 - July 5, 1831)
Paul Moody was a U.S. textile machinery inventor born in Byfield, Massachusetts. Working with Francis Cabot Lowell, he created America’s first functional power loom, a revolutionary device that could turn cotton threads into finished fabric at a fast speed. Lowell and Moody conceived of a new way of manufacturing textiles in America by amassing hundreds of power looms that were connected by water-powered line shafts and leather belts. These looms were operated almost entirely by young female laborers as part of the paternalistic Lowell system of employment. Paul Moody was later honored by having streets in Waltham and Lowell, Massachusetts named after him (Source: Wikipedia). In 1828, Lowell master mechanic Paul Moody devised a leather belt and pulley system. A drive pulley or flywheel to transferred power from a main shaft to smaller line shafts, and then to the machines. The use of belts and pulleys allowed for a smoother and more efficient transfer of power with fewer breakdown periods. Soon, drive pulleys and leather belting became standard in mills throughout the United States. (source:http://www.nps.gov/lowe/planyourvisit/upload/suffolk.pdf)
George Washington Whistler (1800-1849)
Major Whistler was born in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and, in his day, was one of the most famous engineers in America. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1819, partnering with his West Point friend William Gibbs McNeill, to work on some of the first major railroad projects in America, including establishing the route for the Baltimore and Ohio. In 1833, Whistler resigned from the Army to work at the Locks and Canals Company in Lowell, Massachusetts, where he designed canals and aqueducts and built locomotives. He designed the first American locomotive equipped with a steam whistle. Whistler also laid out the route for the Western Railroad linking Boston and Albany, a route so difficult it was said that it would be like laying “a railroad to the moon.” But Whistler completed the project, constructing what was at the time the longest and highest railroad in the world. He constructed the first keystone arch railroad bridges in America, which are not only still intact, but several remain in use. In 1842, George Whistler accepted an invitation from Russian Tsar Nicholas I to build a railroad between St. Petersburg and Moscow, and moved his family to Russia.Anna Whistler (1804-1881)Anna McNeill was born in Wilmington, NC. She married George Washington Whistler, a widower with three children, and gave birth to two sons, James and William, who survived (as well as two who did not). She went with her husband to Russia where he worked as a railway engineer. When her husband died in 1849 from cholera, Anna returned to the US, to live in Connecticut. Like many other families at the time, the Whistlers were divided by the Civil War. In 1863, Anna crossed the lines to help care for William (a surgeon in the Confederate Army), and then moved to London to live with her other son, James, who had become an artist. It was during this period that James painted the famous ‘Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1 Portrait of the Artist’s Mother” commonly referred to as “Whistler’s Mother.”James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)
George Brownell (1793-1872)
Authored “Journal on a Voyage to England” in 1839, while a resident in the house. (The original manuscript is at the Lowell Historical Society at Center for Lowell History, University of Massachusetts Lowell.) Because of Britain’s pre-eminence in matters industrial, especially in the early 19th century, visitors came from far and wide to see and learn from the English model. One such, who crossed the Atlantic, was George Brownell, the Superintendent of the Lowell Machine Shops. Brownell saw England, Wales (and Scotland) and spent two months in 1839 traveling the country north, south, east and west. Brownell landed in Liverpool on Friday 15 March 1839 and sailed from Bristol on Saturday 18 May. During his visit he examined industrial premises, ordered machinery for use in Lowell and, it seems, enjoyed himself (“A little unwell, drank some Whiskey last night - probably too much.” Weds. 27 March). He was one of a number of informed visitors who came to learn from the first industrial country in the world and he was, in essence, an “industrial spy”.
James Bicheno Francis (1815-1892)
An English-born engineer involved in locomotive design in Lowell MA, Francis was later called “the father of modern hydraulic engineering”. In 1837, Francis became chief engineer of the company that owned and operated Lowell’s waterpower system. Francis sought more precise methods of measuring water used by the mills, but also undertook studies to find more efficient “hydraulic motors” for harnessing waterpower.In the 1840s, he and Boston-based consulting engineer Uriah Boyden began experimenting with a new kind of waterwheel, called a turbine that originated from the work of French engineers and Boyden. The original waterwheels, known as breastwheels, that powered Lowell’s mills rotated when water poured onto them and filled their buckets. The weight of the falling water on the buckets thus drove the wheels. By contrast, turbines rotated as the falling water was conducted into them, striking the metal veins that spiraled around a central shaft. Whereas breastwheels achieved efficiencies of at most 65%, the turbines tested by Francis and Boyden reached an efficiency of 88%. Francis continued experimenting with turbines, refining the design of an inward-flow turbine developed by an American named Samuel Howd in 1838. Francis’ experiments on turbines led to the mixed-flow reaction turbine, which became the American standard. The widely used “Francis turbine” was named in his honor. To international acclaim, Francis published his important work on hydraulic engineering in The Lowell Hydraulic Experiments in 1855. (source:http://www.nps.gov/lowe/planyourvisit/upload/suffolk.pdf)
- An L-shaped plan, with three floors, 14 rooms and 10 fireplaces.
- A main rectangular block five bays wide and four bays deep, with a frame addition to the rear which appears to be original.
- Granite used for the front steps as well as for the foundation; double wall construction for insulation.
- The front façade’s fenestration is rigidly symmetrical. Pairs of windows flank a central entrance.
- Four tall chimneys are located at the corners of the house.
- Palladian motif, Greek Revival cornice returns.
ArchitectureThe historic home at 243 Worthen Street was built in 1823. Incorporating both Federal and Greek Revival characteristics, the home’s main features include:
Residents (with dates of residency)From 1823 to 1869, the WHMA was home to many of the leaders of Lowell’s and America’s Industrial Revolution. James McNeill Whistler was born in the house and his mother, Anna Whistler, is the subject of one of America’s most famous paintings, “Whistler’s Mother” (Arrangement in Black and Grey).
Paul Moody (1823-1831)
Major George Washington Whistler (1834-1837)
Anna Whistler (1834-1837)
James McNeill Whistler (1834-1837)
George Brownell (1837-1845)
James Bicheno Francis (1866-1869)