Lowell Week in Review: June 14, 2015

Lowell Walks

At Pawtucket Prism along the Concord River

Thanks to Paul Marion and Rosemary Noon for the lively and insightful stories they shared during yesterday’s Lowell Walk.  Thanks also to the 110+ people who participated which is up substantially from the 81 who attended last week’s inaugural walk on historic preservation.  Today’s tour was on Lowell’s Public Art Collection which is a series of seven outdoor sculptures that were installed from 1984 to 1990 with Paul Tsongas having been their foremost advocate.  The sculptures are familiar figures to anyone who spends time in downtown, but such people rarely stop and contemplate them and their settings.  Today’s tour allowed everyone to do that while also hearing the story behind the story of each piece.

Next week should draw a good crowd, too.  The tour name is “Inside Lowell High School” and it is led by high school headmaster Brian Martin.  The tour begins at 10am at the National Park Visitor Center.  From there, Brian will lead us to the high school for 90 minutes of history and stories.  This tour will have some contemporary timeliness since the evaluation process for whether Lowell needs a new high school and if it does, where should it be located, is underway.  Anyone interested in that issue would be wise to join us on this walk.


Reverend JJ & the Casual Sinners

Congratulations to everyone who made yesterday’s Acrefest on the North Common such a great success.  Dave Ouellette of ACTION has an amazing ability to find incredibly talented musical acts from within the Acre.  Last year it was a duo named Take Two; this year it was a quartet called Reverend JJ and the Casual Sinners.  After spending nearly an hour roaming around the various vendor and organization booths set up around the Common, I was ready to leave (I stopped there after the Lowell Walks tour and lunch at a downtown restaurant) but then I caught the sound of the music and stayed for another thirty minutes just for that.

Another neighborhood group, the Friends of Tyler Park, has its 2015 kick-off concert this coming Thursday, June 18, beginning at the park which is on Westford Street as you head towards Drum Hill.  The concert begins at 6pm and will feature the music of Jen Kearney and the Lost Onion.  It’s free, so break out your lawn chair and stop by one of the most beautiful (and historic) parks in the city on Thursday night.

City Council Meeting

The council is now on its summer meeting schedule which means regular meetings every other week.  There’s not meeting this coming week but last week’s meeting had plenty of important votes but not a lot of overt controversy or raised voices.  I went to the council meeting and spoke about Lowell Walks so I didn’t get to see the meeting until Thursday on a replay.  I posted my notes that night and here are the big issues that the council addressed:

Create a Department of Health and Human Services for the city

Remove the Fire Chief selection process from Civil Service

Vote to authorize a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement between the city and Enel, a key component of the city’s efforts to take ownership of eight Enel-owned bridges.

Councilor Belanger had an important motion requesting updates on two obstacles that have hindered the forward-progress of the Hamilton Canal District.  They are the land swap with the National Park and the proposed tour bus parking arrangement with the Lowell Regional Transit Authority.  Both are related in their importance to the development.  The land to be obtained from the National Park – its surface parking lot on Dutton Street across from Broadway – is to be the site of a parking garage to service the Hamilton Development.

Visitor buses parked at existing NPS lot

One of the conditions of the Park Service in making the swap is for the city to provide parking accommodations for the large tour buses that bring visitors to the park.  The preferred option is to hold the buses on the grounds of the LRTA maintenance facility a half-mile away on Hale Street.  The LRTA seems to be dragging its feet on this, however, so the city might have to adopt the less desirable option of making the ground floor of the new parking garage capable of holding the large buses.  The reason this is less desirable is that the city would prefer using the ground floor of the garage for retail space that could provide a revenue stream of tenant rental payments to help finance the garage.  Plus, a stretch of vibrant business storefronts would make the new structure a much better neighbor than would a plain parking garage wall.

Follow the Red Line

Red line connecting historic sites in Salem, Mass

Council Leahy had an important motion – to paint a line on the sidewalk in downtown connecting together the various historical and cultural attractions.  This is modeled on a similar red line in Salem, Massachusetts, that connects the National Park Visitor Center in the heart of downtown Salem with some other NPS attractions on the waterfront.  It’s a roundabout one-third of a mile walk but the red line ensures that visitors can find their way between the two sites without getting lost.

I think the main intent of Leahy’s motion is to connect the Lowell National Park Visitor Center on Market Street with the Boott Cotton Mill Museum at the Foot of John Street.  Seems pretty simple.  In fact it’s so simple that Leahy, himself a professional house painter, could probably have snagged a couple of volunteers who just painted the line early some morning and got it done.  I suspect this project will get bogged down by “over thinking” and will turn into a debate over which entities get connected.  Just paint the line between Market Street and the Boott Museum and see how it works.  Keep it simple.

Pedestrian Safety

The non-working WALK light at Middlesex and Central

Market Street at Central seems to have become dangerous territory for pedestrians.  I’ve heard of at least two people who have been struck and several other who have nearly been struck, all while crossing with the pedestrian crossing light.  Vehicles on Central Street have a green light at the same time pedestrians get the white light to cross Market.  The problem occurs when the cars on Central turn onto Market.  The law requires them to wait until the pedestrians have passed, but that is a totally incomprehensible concept to many drivers around here.  Hopefully the police will apply devote some traffic enforcement resources to that intersection before someone gets seriously injured there.

That’s not a problem further up Central at Middlesex, but that’s only because the pedestrian crossing light at that intersection doesn’t work.  Press the button to get a signal to walk across Middlesex and you better have brought a lawn chair and your lunch because if you wait for the light to signal you across, you’ll be on the sidewalk for a long time because that light has not worked for more than a month now.

Ladd and Whitney Monument

Ladd & Whitney Monument

Although Robert E. Lee surrendered his army in April 1865, other Confederate forces continued fighting into May and June of that year.  By June 17, 1865, however, I do believe that all of the fighting had ended.  The end of combat gave an otherwise somber event held in Lowell that day added significance.  That event was the dedication of the Ladd and Whitney Monument that sits in front of Lowell City Hall (although today’s city hall wasn’t constructed until the 1890s so the monument was originally adjacent to some mill-owned properties).

The monument is dedicated to Luther Ladd and Addison Whitney, two young soldiers from Lowell who were killed in the Baltimore riot on April 19, 1861 as their unit, the Sixth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, rushed to Washington, DC in the days after Fort Sumter and the start of the war.  Ladd, Whitney and two other men, Sumner Needham from Lawrence and Charles Taylor who was a transient, were considered to be the first soldiers killed by hostile fire in the American Civil War.  Which is why people at the time chose to honor them with a monument even though nearly 500 other men from Lowell died during the war.

Originally, the monument was to be dedicated on the anniversary of the riot – April 19, 1865 – but President Lincoln was assassinated just a few days earlier and the country plunged into mourning.  The dedication ceremony was postponed until Bunker Hill Day (June 17, 1865) which back then was a much bigger holiday than it is today.

This coming Wednesday, June 17, 2015, is the 150th anniversary of the monument dedication.  Although there is no official ceremony scheduled this year, a group of people interested in Lowell history do plan to gather at the monument Wednesday evening at 6:30 pm to talk about the monument, about Ladd, Whitney and their comrades, and about Lowell history.  Everyone is welcome to attend.

3 Responses to Lowell Week in Review: June 14, 2015

  1. Kathleen Marcin says:

    The HCD plan (and zoning passed by CC) called for the garage to be located on parcel 14 which is the current “snow field”. This is approx. 51 feet from building and would run parallel to my building. The plan had office buildings being built on the current NPS parking areas. Would you know if those plans have changed to place the garage directly on the current parking area?

  2. Kevin Fahy says:

    I lived at Bishop Markham village for 5 years. The light at Central and Middlesex did not, work the whole time I lived there. Its been a few years since I moved out. I can not recall the pedestrian light ever working. Despite numerous calls to city hall/departments.

  3. DickH says:

    Kathleen – I don’t know that anything has changed about the proposed placement of buildings. You probably have a better understanding of that than I do. I may have misunderstood some of the discussion at the council meeting. The proposed parking garage, wherever it is sited, is directly tied to the existing NPS lot because to reuse the existing lot for something else, you have to first have a place to park the buses. Maybe that’s where I got confused.