Recollections of M. Brendan Fleming (1994)

Following is an excerpt of a 1994 interview (oral history) of M. Brendan Fleming, professor emeritus of UMass Lowell and former mayor and city councilor of Lowell. The interviewer was Maryrose Lane. The full transcription of the oral history is available on the website of the UMass Lowell Center for Lowell History at the Patrick J. Mogan Cultural Center on French Street downtown.—PM


“B: I’m from the City of Lowell. I’ve always lived in Lowell. I’m sixty-eight years old. I’ve spent the sixty-eight years, except for time when I was in the service during World War Two,  I spent my time here in Lowell.
M: I understand that you were involved in a lot of politics….
B: Well, back in 1963, I was appointed to the Lowell Redevelopment Authority. That was the name of it. And that’s the time when Urban Renewal started to really get busy in Lowell. And we had the Northern Canal Project, which is the area that we’re talking about here. And when we talk about the Merrimack Mills, one of the buildings we tried hard to keep was the row houses on Dutton Street. [They were] beautiful buildings . . . that you could be proud to have in the City of Lowell, especially as, I won’t say a monument of what went on in the past, but at least it would give people at the present time, give them an idea of how the individuals lived who worked in the mills back in the 1840’s, 1850’s, 1860’s. We didn’t get anywhere. We tried. And if I remember correctly, at the time that we were trying to save the row houses, there was also a project going on up in Portsmouth, New Hampshire . . . called Strawberry Bank. . . . I understand they use [the buildings] now for historic purposes. I understand people are living in them. But again, I haven’t been up there for quite awhile, so I don’t know what the current status is. But all I know is that the row houses here in Lowell are gone, and that’s too bad, but the land was part of the Northern Canal Project, and the decision was made to take the buildings down. That’s the way it stands today. That’s where the new, new high school is.  

M: How did you get to be involved with the Lowell Redevelopment Authority? How did you get appointed?
B: I was appointed by the City Manager. The City Manager at the time was Connie Desmond. And he wanted to fill a position that was vacant, and he knew of my activity in the city. And at that particular point in time, I was not actively involved in any politics, but that was 1963. And when I saw the way things went with Urban Renewal, I began to really take a very close interest in what was going on. I have always been interested in the city of Lowell. I was telling you the other day how many times back then when I was in Boston, I’d go to some of the older bookstores. And I would find books on Lowell, and I would be able to buy the books for practically a pittance. Nobody wanted them. Now those same books, if you went to the same bookstores, they’d cost a lot more, because of the change in the, shall I say, the historical culture of the city and recognizing the value of the history of the city. I went before the City Council around 1966. And I requested that the City Council consider establishing an Historic District, especially in and around the downtown area where we had the canals. And at that time I was told that the history of Lowell best be forgotten. I’ll never forget that statement being made. And I thought it was just so lacking in knowledge of the history of Lowell that that particular statement would be made. I said at that particular point in time that I was going to try to do something about it. If I couldn’t do it from outside the City Council, I’d try and see if I could do something within the City Council. So in 1967 I ran for the City Council, and I came in 10th, if I remember correctly. But I ran again for the 1970 Council. I got on the Council in 1970. One of the first things I did was to propose that we have an Historic District, and it went through. And since that time, I have found that the history of Lowell has been recognized much more so than it was long before that. There were individuals like Joe Kopycinsky, who was over at the library at Lowell Tech at the time, and Joe was very much interested in the history of the city of Lowell. And there was Arthur Eno. And he still is. Arthur is still around. He’s very much interested in the history of the city of Lowell. And it’s just that at that particular point in time, people were not that much interested in Lowell’s history. Now it’s a different story. The history of Lowell is something that people like to study. In fact, just by way of conversation, there’s one thing about the history of Lowell, is the labor movement, if you studied the history of the labor movement in the country, you really can’t study that history without including Lowell, because you not only had the men who were involved, but you had the women who are involved in the labor movement. And of course you have the child labor laws, and so on. That part’s very interesting also. But that, that was, that shall I say, that’s indirectly related to the row houses.”

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3 Responses to Recollections of M. Brendan Fleming (1994)

  1. Marie says:

    Thanks for posting this Paul… M. Brendan Fleming was also a longtime and stalwart member of the Sacred Heart Parish and resident of the Grove… a sign of the times – the SHC is closed and could soon be condos and in today’s Sun there was notice of a real estate transaction – the Fleming home at 100 Agawam Street has been sold!

  2. John Quealey says:

    Brendan lived in Swede Village until he married Bernice in 1952 when they made their home in the Grove.

  3. Brenda Early Cronin says:

    Love reading comments about The Sacred Parish, The Grove and especially Swede Village where I spent 61 years of my life until last November. Funny how all our little nooks an crannies of neighborhoods seemed to get clumped into South Lowell over the years. A lot of us had the times of our lives growing up in The Sacred Heart Parish.