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North of Boston: The Portuguese American Experience Beyond the Hub

Opening remarks at the 2023 Saab Center colloquium

Earlier today I traveled to UMass Lowell’s South Campus for a program presented by the school’s Saab Center for Portuguese Studies. “North of Boston: The Portugues American Experience Beyond the Hub”, included presentations by academics and researchers from Lowell, Somerville, and Portugal. I was among the speakers. I promoted the use of registry of deeds records for historical research.

41 Chapel St, Lowell

To illustrate the value of land records, I selected a property in the Back Central neighborhood and traced its ownership history over time. The property was 41 Chapel Street which is pictured above.

Records indicate that the house was built in 1826 and was first occupied by Cyril French and his wife Sally. They had come to Lowell from Waltham so he could work as a machinist in the newly created Lowell Machine Shop (which was where the Lowell Justice Center is now located). French was very successful in his professional life, but also served as an alderman, a state representative, and as a bank trustee. Cyril died in 1864 but Sally continued to live there until her death in 1880.

In 1883, Sally’s two surviving children – she had three others who predeceased her – sold the property to Peter H. Donohoe, who immediately conveyed it to his father James. James P. Donohoe was born in Ireland in 1826. He married Alice Cassidy in Lowell in 1854. She had been born in Ireland in 1832. Together they had six sons: Charles, James, John, Joseph, Owen and Peter. All but Peter went into the family business as wine and liquor dealers. Peter went into banking. His 1933 obituary identified him as “a prominent banker and philanthropist.”

James died in 1893 at age 66. His widow Alice and four of their five sons continued to live in the house although the boys gradually married and moved to their own houses except for Charles who continued living with his mother until her death in 1913. Neither the 1916 nor the 1922 city directories list anyone named Donohoe living in the house, so presumably it was rented. In 1916, the brothers all transferred ownership to Peter who held it until 1925 when he sold the house to Angelo and Antonio Solazzo.

Angelo and Antonio Solazzo departed from Naples in their native Italy and ended up in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where they both married, Antonio to Lina and Angelo to Mary. Both women were from Italy, too. The families moved to Lowell in 1925 when they purchased 41 Chapel Street from Peter Donohoe. It’s unclear what they paid for the property, but they financed the sale with a $5500 mortgage from the Washington Savings Bank.

Although city directories and the federal census identify Angelo and Antonio as landscape gardeners, they were also real estate developers. On March 20, 1925, they recorded a subdivision plan at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in which they created 11 building lots from a large parcel of land they had purchased in Belvidere between Pentucket and Wentworth Avenues.

As was common for men who were self-employed in that era, Antonio and Angelo transferred ownership of 41 Chapel Street to their spouses, Lina and Mary. In 1934, the two women executed a mortgage to the Home Owners Loan Corporation of Washington, DC, a New Deal era federal agency created to assist homeowners. The Solazzo’s borrowed $6,702 at 5% interest. However, in 1943, the lender foreclosed on the mortgage and took possession of the property. The Solazzo’s vacated the home but they remained in Lowell, renting a home on nearby Central Street.

Just weeks after the 1943 foreclosure, Home Owners sold the house to Frank and Mary Santos. According to the 1950 census, Frank had been born in Hawaii and Mary in Portugal. Both worked as “silk weavers in a silk and rayon mill” as did their 19-year-old son, Frank Jr., who worked as a stock boy in the same mill. The same census shows that Frank Sr., Mary, and Frank Jr. lived in one unit of 41 Chapel while their other son, 27-year-old Augustine, lived in the other unit along with his wife Lydia and their daughters Diana, age 4, and Linda, age 2. Augustine worked as a carpenter in a wire factory; Lydia operated a stitching machine in a ladies’ lingerie factory.

Sometime prior to 1970, both Frank Sr and Mary passed away. Augustine conveyed his interest in the property to his brother Frank Jr. and to a sister named Mary Teixeira. In 1977, Mary Teixeira conveyed her interest to Frank Jr., making him the sole owner of the property. In 1996, Frank Jr. conveyed the house to himself and his wife, Doris, making her a co-owner. Frank Jr., who had worked as a draftsman at Wang Labs in Tewksbury, died in 2015 at age 84.

Shortly after her husband’s death in 2015, Doris Santos sold the property to Sophorn Meas and Phally Malm, a married couple, who continue to occupy the home today.

As is evident from the above, the ownership and occupancy history of this one house says much about Lowell. In collaboration with researchers from the Saab Center, we hope to do this for a significant chunk of the Back Central neighborhood. Collectively, the output of that research will disclose much about the history of the neighborhood and especially of the Portuguese community in Lowell.

Lowell’s 2023 Franco-American Festival Week Schedule

  • Sunday, June 18: 12:00 pm Mass in French honoring St. Jean Baptiste. (French/English worship aid provided.) At Immaculate Conception Church, 144 E. Merrimack St., Lowell, MA. Light refreshments and naming of the Greater-Lowell Franco-American of the Year will follow in downstairs church hall. (Stair-free access on Fayette St. for upper-church handicap drop-off. Downstairs lift accessible from the church parking lot, using door closest to E. Merrimack St.)
  • Tuesday, June 20: 6:30-8:30 pm Québec, St. Jean Baptiste, and Poutine: A Free Slide Presentation and Talk by Marie-Josée Duquette of the Québec Office in Boston at the Dracut Public Library, 28 Arlington St, Dracut, MA. There’ll be history, humor, and light refreshments for anyone interested in learning about a holiday celebrated by Québec folks everywhere — and the ultimate comfort food created in Québec and taking the world by storm.
  • Thursday, June 22: 6:30-8:30 pm Family Bingo in French and English, St. at Rita’s Church Hall, 158 Mammoth Rd, Lowell, MA. Bingo cards $2 each or three for $5. Snacks and beverages provided.
  • Friday, June 23: 6:30 pm Vesper Service honoring St. Jean Baptiste at the Lourdes Grotto, 357 Pawtucket St., Lowell, MA, behind the Franco Residences. (Bring your own chair!) Wine and Cheese Social to follow in the Community Room of the Residences.
  • Saturday, June 24: 10:00 AM Flag Raising at Lowell City Hall, followed by coffee and donuts. (Outdoors if weather is favorable; in City Hall if rainy.)
  • Saturday, June 24, 6:00-10:00 pm French Quadrilles and Contra Dances at the Mt. Pleasant Golf Club, 141 Staples St., Lowell, MA. Free admission! Live music from Don and Cindy Roy of Maine! No partner or experience needed! Free snacks and beverages! Cash bar!

For more information:

Rachael Rollins mucks up more than her promising career by Marjorie Arons-Barron

The entry below is being cross posted from Marjorie Arons-Barron’s own blog.

Rachael Rollins seemed to have such promise. She was a gutsy woman, highly articulate in a no-nonsense way. Willing to stand up to hardened criminals. Eager to challenge a cookie-cutter system of justice with an ingrained preference for incarceration for low-level crimes when diversion and other alternative punishments could work even better. The rate of recidivism when she was Suffolk County District Attorney attests to the promise of her philosophy. It’s no surprise that she ruffled the feathers of tough-on-crime politicians and prosecutors, many of them Republicans.

But it’s pretty hard for her progressive supporters, including Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth, who championed her nomination for U.S. Attorney in the face of harsh opposition, to stand by her today. Two federal corruption probes make clear her ethical problems. Notwithstanding her credentials and her track record as D.A., she is accused of multiple transgressions and announced her intention to resign.

Her attendance at a July 14 Democratic National Committee fundraiser featuring Jill Biden, even showing up in a government car driven by a government employee, all in violation of the Hatch Act, was not a simple misstep. She high-handedly dismissed repeated staff warnings not to go. The office of US Inspector General Michael Horowitz found other ethical lapses at a similar level.

But that was the least of what seems to have been a pattern. She also solicited and accepted tickets for a Celtics game, some of which were for charitable purposes and two of which were for her personal use. (Think popular former MA House Speaker Charlie Flaherty.) Questions were also raised about Rollins’ handling of privately funded travel and lodging expenses.

Worst of all, it seems clear Rollins tried to influence the outcome of the election to fill the D.A. position she was vacating, counseling Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo’s bid for the office and leaking non-public DOJ information to the press in order to destroy the reputation of his opponent, then interim-D.A. Kevin Hayden. Allegedly she lied under oath to federal investigators, denying she was the source of the damaging information. This is behavior worthy of a Trump insider! Just consider the politicization of the DOJ under Trump administration Attorney General William Barr. The public has a right to expect a higher standard of behavior from those entrusted with enforcement of the law.

Sometimes information is leaked to the press for the greater good. Think the Pentagon Papers. But this leak was to advance her personal political agenda. Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner, author of one of the reports, said “Ms. Rollins’s conduct in leaking non‐public DOJ information constitutes an extraordinary abuse of her authority.”

She’s too smart to just not get it. It’s both sad and outrageous if she thought the erstwhile success of her combative outlier style placed her above acceptable norms. Is it too much to expect that leaders, especially those with great promise, will demonstrate behavior above reproach? It’s hard to chalk this up as just another example of an institution in which the public has lost trust. This is personal. Supporters of Rachael Rollins, the first black woman to be named to one of the preeminent prosecutorial positions, are angry and disappointed. This is an unfair but real blow to the Black community, and Black women are especially let down. To be sure, the Biden administration was responsible for vetting her candidacy, but Markey and Warren have egg on their faces. And Rollins’ enemies on the right and opponents of criminal justice reform sanctimoniously bellow, “We told you so.” We are all ill-served by this turn of events.

Boarding School Blues: Ch. 58

Boarding School Blues: Ch. 58

By Louise Peloquin

Ch. 58: Peeps & Twinkies

“Spit it out PF, not your teeth, but what happened at home. We missed ya. Weird past couple of days around here. Got extra recreation time, got to blab in study hall and, to top it all off, got a Saturday night movie, ‘Polyana’. (1) For kids but hey, anythin’s better than the same ole routine right?”

Titi was obviously excited to see Blanche while Andy, sporting her impatient look, snapped. “Don’t waste time talkin’ ‘bout that stupid flick Titi. Let PF talk, will ya?”

She continued. “Yeah, you look better PF. Maybe you won’t have to sing ‘all I want for Christmas is my two front teeth’ after all, eh? (2) Titi’s right though. Over the weekend, the nuns were way less strict than usual. They all talked about how you were gonna help your father and that was a good deed cuz he takes care of a lot of people around town for free, including a lot of nuns and priests. And Sister Gerald said bein’ jealous of you for goin’ home is a sin. Even Sister Roger said it. And she never talks about sins when we fib to get outa gym class.”

Andy paused and Blanche suspected that her exercise-allergic friend was thinking about the many times she had managed to be excused from physical activity. Then she resumed her account.

“Best thing about the weekend was the ice cream for dessert. Strawberry, strawberry and strawberry. Same flavour three times don’t bother me. I’ll take any ice cream any time. So PF, can ya talk now or what? Not that you ever have anything mind boggling to say. But we missed ya.”

Andy stopped to catch her breath while Titi held hers with those piercing dark eyes now topped by circumflex eyebrows.

Blanche understood that a rundown on the weekend was unavoidable.

Speaking was uncomfortable so she whittled the compute rendu down to the core. “Saw dentist. Front teeth root canals. Holes in the back to drain puss. No more crunchin’.”

“Does that mean no more eatin’ stuff like candy apples? Woah, big time bummer” exclaimed Andy. “Is life even worth living without sticky sweeties? How ‘bout roasted marshmallows? I’ll make you a list of non-crunchy goodies. It’ll make you feel better.” Andy’s eyes twinkled as she conjured up appropriate tidbits for her friend.

“Did it hurt?” Titi asked. “Did ya get novocaine needles? Yucko! You’re a tough cookie PF. I hate dentists. Thank goodness mine told me I got horse teeth. So now ya got holes in your teeth? Food’s gonna get stuck in there and you’ll have a permanent case of ‘the Zaks’ and maybe your teeth’ll rot.”

Andy shouted “Good old Titi. Sure knows how to cheer people up. What a moron you are. A root canal is a procedure where the dentist drills a hole in the tooth, sticks a wire into the root and yanks the nerve out. After that, the tooth is dead. It’s kinda like an amputation. No more nerve, no more pain. Puss oozes out. Holes get filled. Infection and extraction avoided. And now PF, you gotta go on with a candy-apple-free life. Titi, what’s ‘Zaks’” ? Never heard of it.”

Titi’s definition was succinct. “ ‘The Zaks’ is a condition when your mouth smells zakly like your derrière. Not good.”

Andy and Titi performed a giggle duet in front of their injured friend.

“Already infected” specified Blanche. “Puss comin’ out. Dentist again on Saturday.”

“Oh, so Mademoiselle is gonna have another weekend outa this place?” Andy barked. “Well, oh my! I may consider gettin’ into an accident myself just to have the same privileges.”

“So who’s the moron now Andy?” retorted Titi. “Do you really think PF went through all that pain for a coupla weekends home? I don’t think so.”

Turning to Blanche she added “I’m glad the dentist helped. You must have horse teeth too. Forget about candy apples and think of Peeps and Twinkies. I’ll add to Andy’s list of soft treats.”

A high-pitched whistle interrupted the powwow.

“What was that?” asked Andy. “No one’s around.”

The airy, wafting sound repeated.

“Stop breathin’ for a sec’ guys. This is freakin’ me out” ordered Titi.

A third blast cut through the silence and Blanche broke out in a laughing fit that shook her so hard it made her cry. In a now-automatic gesture, she covered her mouth to stifle the hee-haws. But the irresistible whoops made her bend over. It took her three minutes to get a grip. She removed her hand from her face and, with barely separated lips, inhaled. The exhale produced the mysterious whistle.

“Whistle with mouth closed.” Blanche announced.

“Far out! Holy moly, is this permanent? I can think of a million ways to put your new skill to very good use.”

“Whistle through holes” Blanche explained.

The girls spotted Sister Gerald trotting down the hall, immediately wiped the mischief off of their faces and adopted a docile, dignified demeanor.

“Good Lord, don’t let that woman head over here please” Andy mumbled.

Her prayer was not answered. From several yards away, the nun exclaimed “How nice to see Andrea and Yvette evaluating their classmate’s wellbeing. Blanche is looking quite well isn’t she? And her father was so happy to see her. A boost for his recovery. Would you girls like to have a frappe before study hall, a merci for last week’s devotion to your friend? Afterwards, I need to speak to Blanche alone.”

Before her friends could accept the offer, Blanche blurted “Thank you Sister but don’t want to spoil dinner. We were heading for the bathroom. I’ll come back right away if you want to speak to me.”

Without waiting for the response, Blanche nudged her friends and the threesome trooped off.

Once inside the narrow space in front of the toilet stalls, Andy seethed. “What a lousy hypocrite you are PF. Here we get an outa sight offer and you have the gall to tell her we don’t wanna spoil our supper? You got holes in your head bigger than the ones in your lousy horse teeth!”

“Well, I kinda agree with Andy” Titi added. “We woulda enjoyed a frappe cuz Sunday dinner is usually mystery meat or leftover sandwiches.”

“Sorry but another frappe’ll make me puke” Blanche justified herself.

Manoeuvring her tongue, cheeks and jaw to avoid discomfort, she gradually became more verbose.

“Dentist showed me how to whistle. He blasted crazy music while takin’ care of me. It covered up the drillin’ noise. Some weird song with the words like –

Matty told Hatty
About a thing she saw
Had two bog horns
And a wooly jaw

Wooly bully
Wooly bully (3)

While Blanche was trying to imitate Sam the Sham, Sister Gerald popped into the ladies room. “You’re taking quite a long time aren’t you, les filles? Blanche, I need to talk with you immediately.” The squeak in her voice indicated displeasure.

Andy and Titi about faced and stomped towards study hall. Their rolling eyes and upturned fingers twirling the air said “PF, you’ve gone bonkers.”

Blanche pretended to ignore the sign language. She turned to Sister Gerald who, with a voice full of faux charm, commented on the weekend home. “Yes, a couple of days with family does a world of good. Indeed it does. Good for your father, your brothers and sister, for your mother of course, for you naturally. All good, nice family time together. A blessing.”

Blanche noticed that Sister’s verbal meandering was leading nowhere. She was glad to have forgotten the box of Mrs. Nelson’s fruit slices in the car. Someone else would enjoy them rather than this woman who ignored the toboggan accident aftermath.

Hearing the nun’s obvious discomfort filled Blanche with satisfaction. “Seeing Sister Gerald cringe isn’t supposed to feel good but it does” she thought. “I should just ask to be excused but it’s a thrill to hear her talk for nothin’ and look so uncomfortable. I guess wipin’ out on my face turned me into a bad person.”

Sister finally concluded with her new buzzword. “Never forget, ma chère Blanche, SFA always promotes student wellbeing. Your weekend home is the proof of that. Run along now, only twenty minutes in study hall before dinner. Bon appétit ma fille.” With the slightest inclination, almost a bow, Sister took her leave. Blanche felt very strange, as if their roles had been switched.

After Titi’s predicted leftover sandwiches, stale but soft enough for Blanche to swallow without too much trouble, the girls went outside for recreation. The cold wind whipped their faces and colored their cheeks bright pink. Blanche walked cautiously, prospecting the ground, avoiding icy booby traps to pull her down.

Apparently, Madeleine was not afraid of taking a spill on the slick pavement. Blanche saw her zipping down the drive towards Andy, Titi and her.

“Hey guys, wait up” she yelled. “Stuff to tell ya. Phew! Lemme catch my breath a sec’. Cold is freezin’ my windpipes.”

As Madeleine’s breath formed miniature clouds, Titi inquired about Gary and the move to Florida.

Madeleine’s titters made vapor puffs in the frosty air. “Oh him? Outa sight, outa mind. Gary’s a goner, a distant memory, a past without a blast. Waste of breath to talk about that dude. Got my mind set on another. Name’s Tom. Lives in my neighborhood. Known him since I was a kid. Never really thought much of him but my Mom says he’s been askin’ ‘bout me so, worth explorin’. Tom’s the nice kind of goofy. Know what I mean?”

Andy smirked. “So you went through all that pain and expense gettin’ a tattoo for nothin’? Guys ain’t worth it, I tell ya.”

Madeleine retorted “I beg to differ kiddo. My tattoo has no name or initial so it’s ready for a newbie. And I figured out how to put it to good use.”

The words “put to good use” inspired Blanche to display her whistling skills. The clearest “wee eee eee” set the tempo for tiny breath fairies to pirouette out of her mouth. Andy immediately informed a bemused Madeleine about the origin of the ethereal sound. Blanche gave an encore and the four girls shared a good laugh before Madeleine resumed her story.

“I have a great idea for my tattoo. If Tommy turns out to be my next forever love, I’ll have a navy blue ’T’ set right smack dab in the middle of the red heart. I was thinkin’ of black but that’s kinda dreary. Bright royal blue is better, don’t you think? But here’s what I really wanted to tell you guys. Listen up.”

Madeleine huddled the three freshmen around her. “I had kitchen duty with the novices today. Washin’ pots ’n pans and all. They’re not supposed to talk about stuff in front of us students but Marieanne knows me and said I was OK to trust. So here’s the scoop. Marieanne heard the nuns shootin’ the breeze about changin’ SFA policy. One of them used the word ’evolution’ and another said it was ‘revolution’ instead, whatever that means around here.”

Blanche was wondering where the story was going. Madeleine continued.

“Well, first I should say there was a lot of talk about your accident PF. I guess your father called the headmistress and wasn’t very happy and talked about legitimate legal action in cases of negligence, underestimating the consequences of accidents, and stuff like that. I can’t remember all the boring words but it sure sounded serious. Your Dad didn’t beat around the bush. And then your Mom picked up the phone because he was getting really upset and that’s not good for the heart. And then…”

Ever impatient Andy butt in “OK that’s all fine and dandy Mad, but what’s the big revolution? Parents gettin’ all riled up when their kid gets hurt is one thing but what’s the big deal?”

Madeleine justified herself. “Dude, don’t you want the juicy details about nuns eavesdropping on Sister Théophile’s telephone conversations? A little suspense is way more the fun. Wanna know what the big deal is?”

  1. Walt Disney’s “Polyana” starring Haley Mills, Jane Wyman and Karl Malden was released on May 19, 1960.
  2. “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth”, originally recorded for RCA Victor by Spike Jones and His City Slickers on December 6, 1947.
  3. “Wooly Bully”, by Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs, was released on March 12, 1965.


Read Chapter 1: The Announcement

Read Chapter 2: Facing the Inevitable

Read Chapter 3: Readying

Read Chapter 4: Au revoir!

Read Chapter 5: Arrival

Read Chapter 6: Settling In

Read Chapter 7: Beginning to Belong

Read Chapter 8: Quick Showers

Read Chapter 9: Inside & Outside Study Hall

Read Chapter 10: Math Manoeuvres

Read Chapter 11: Cinephiles

Read Chapter 12: Camera, Action, Lights

Read Chapter 13: Reconnecting

Read Chapter 14: Back to the Fold

Read Chapter 15: In the Night

Read Chapter 16: Parlez-vous?

Read Chapter 17: On the Agenda

Read Chapter 18: Dress up, sit up, chin up

Read Chapter 19: Post Conference Assessment

Read Chapter 20: Orderliness

Read Chapter 21: Inspection

Read Chapter 22: The Inner Sanctum

Read Chapter 23: Going Home

Read Chapter 24: Merci Mon Oncle

Read Chapter 25: The Food Fairy

Read Chapter 26: Bon appetit!

Read Chapter 27: Friends

Read Chapter 28: A Grocery Stop

Read Chapter 29: Tempus Fugit

Read Chapter 30: The Chapel

Read Chapter 31: A Nice Kind of Weird

Read Chapter 32: Mnemonic Device

Read Chapter 33: Cuisses de grenouille

Read Chapter 34: Run along now

Read Chapter 35: Consequences of playing hooky

Read Chapter 36: Good Vibes

Read Chapter 37: Never too many, never too much

Read chapter 38: Dust Bunnies

Read Chapter 39: I’m into something good

Read Chapter 40: Wistful and Admiring

Read Chapter 41: “Anywhere Out of the World”

Read Chapter 42: “If you really want to hear about it

Read Chapter 43: “Why don’t they go and create something”

Read Chapter 44: Squiggles, snowmen and angels

Read Chapter 45: A Measure of Mirth

Read Chapter 46: Advienne que pourra

Read Chapter 47: Smile upon our joys

Read Chapter 48: “Venez, venez, venez!”

Read Chapter 49: “C’est si bon”

Read Chapter 50: Naughty or nice

Read Chapter 51: We all fall down

Read Chapter 52: The Eve of Destruction

Read Chapter 53: A turtle’s heart

Read Chapter 54: Airlock

Read Chapter 55: Here Lies . . .

Read Ch. 56: An elixir and a frappe

Read Chapter 57: We can work it out.

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