Meeting a United States Senator in person is rare for most people, me included, so yesterday was an unusual experience for me because I spent some time with our junior senator, Ed Markey, not once but twice: first in the morning here in Lowell and then in the evening at Faneuil Hall in Boston where I attended his ceremonial swearing-in.
For several weeks I’ve been assisting Mayor Murphy in his early efforts to create a walking/biking trail along Hale’s Brook (also known as River Meadow Brook) that would link the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail that ends at Cross Point with the Concord River Greenway which begins on Lawrence Street, right next to Lowell Cemetery. A number of the parcels needed for such a trail have titles best described as murky so I’ve spent some time digging into the ownership history of a few.
Beyond its current natural beauty, Hale’s Brook has a fascinating and under-appreciated history (a status I hope to help change in the coming months and years). Long before the date set by historians for the onset of the Industrial Revolution in America and decades before the associates of Francis Cabot Lowell had any interested in this part of the Commonwealth, Moses Hale was operating a complex manufacturing enterprise of saw mills, grist mills, and the early components of large scale textile manufacturing along the brook that now bears his name. Once the great mills along the Merrimack were established in the 1820s, the importance of Hale’s operation was diminished, but then this neighborhood became home to the Lowell Bleachery, a huge manufacturing enterprise related to the manufacture of textiles which also gave that sub-neighborhood it’s name (“The Bleachery”). By the start of the 20th century, the neighborhood was also home to the U.S. Cartridge Company which, during World War One, was the largest producer of small arms ammunition in America.
I’m not sure how Senator Markey’s visit to Lowell came about other than he’s been visiting cities across Massachusetts all week now that the Senate is in recess, but since the Hale’s Brook area was going to be a topic of discussion, I believe I was invited along because of my knowledge of the area (which admittedly pales in comparison to that of John Quealey and many others who have lived there all their lives). Besides, as an early and active supporter of Markey’s Senate candidacy, it was good to see him again here in Lowell which he won by 16 points. The Senator’s first stop was the Mayor’s Office at City Hall for a discussion of some of the issues involving the Federal government that now confront the city (cutbacks in Community Development Block Grants, requirements of combined sewer overflow regulations, Federal housing policy, – see the blog post written by Jen Myers for a more complete account of the discussions). Next, the group drove the short distance up Dutton-Thorndike-Gorham Street to Chambers Street and Hale’s Brook for a closer view of that waterway. Senator Markey, who has throughout his career in Congress been a leader on environmental issues had plenty of questions about the quality of the water, the story of the Silresim hazardous waste superfund site, and the above mentioned history of the neighborhood. The Senator departed shortly after noon, thanking all for the information shared and promising to return to Lowell soon.
Seven hours later I had the pleasure to be at Faneuil Hall to attend Senator Markey’s ceremonial oath of office event. It was ceremonial because he was sworn in as a Senator shortly after the June 25 election but has been in Washington since and had not had the opportunity to have a parallel event here in the Commonwealth. The event was dignified and concise with Boston Mayor Tom Menino serving as Master of Ceremonies and administering the oath. That was followed by a rousing speech by Senator Markey and adjournment. While the speeches were good, just being in historic Faneuil Hall and seeing the artifacts and paintings on display there is better than visiting many museums.