Lowell Week in Review: August 30, 2015

With the eleventh installment of Lowell Walks completed yesterday, we’ve surpassed the 1000 mark – 1097 to be exact. That’s how many people have participated in these Saturday morning walking tours of downtown Lowell. Blogging colleague Paul Marion speculates that the collective good will of all these participants has influenced even the climate since we have had superb weather on all of these walks but one which has certainly helped attendance.

167 attendees at yesterday’s Lowell Walk

Here’s a quick recap of the Lowell Walks topics and attendance numbers thus far: Preservation Success Stories (81 participants); Lowell Public Art Collection (107 participants); Inside Lowell High School (86); Literary Lowell and the Pollard Memorial Library (76); The Irish and the Acre (125); Green Lowell (43); Abolitionists in Lowell (119); Hamilton Canal District (129); Natural Lowell (75); Lowell Artists, Past and Present (86); and Lowell Monuments (167).

If you’ve missed out on the Lowell Walks experience thus far, don’t despair. There are two left this summer and more to come in the fall. The two summertime walks are:

September 5, 2015 – Trains and Trolleys in Lowell with Chris Hayes
September 12, 2015 – Renewing the Acre with Dave Ouellette

Both of these walks begin at 10 am at Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center on Market Street. The walks are free, last about 90 minutes, and involve a moderate amount of walking.

UMass Lowell students taking notes during yesterday’s Lowell Walk

Among the 167 people on yesterday’s tour were two groups of college students. One group was from Germany here on an exchange program; the other was from UMass Lowell. Several in the latter group were busy taking notes throughout the tour, suggesting that their participation may have been part of an early academic assignment. Whatever their reasons for participating, it was great to see the students downtown and interested in Lowell and its history beyond the strict geographic confines of university properties. Hopefully we will see more of them and their colleagues in the coming months.

Because of the obvious interest in local history demonstrated by the participation in Lowell Walks – we’re averaging 99 people per Saturday walk – we’re expanding the program to a year-round activity. It will include unique walks and talks but will also stretch its umbrella over events organized and conducted by other organizations. This is all about promoting Lowell and fulfilling what appears to be an insatiable appetite for local history among residents and those who live in neighboring communities.

With that in mind, here are a couple of upcoming events:

Lowell Cemetery Tours – Each fall I offer a free walking tour of historic Lowell Cemetery which is located at 77 Knapp Avenue which is just off of Rogers Street and right behind Shedd Park. The tour is conducted on four different days although it’s the same tour each time (there’s an entirely different Lowell Cemetery tour in the spring). The Lowell Cemetery tours are free, require no advance registration, and there is plenty of parking inside the cemetery. The dates for this fall’s Lowell Cemetery tours are:

  • Friday, September 24, 2015 at 1 pm
  • Saturday, September 25, 2015 at 10 am
  • Friday, October 17, 2015 at 1 pm
  • Saturday, October 18, 2015 at 10 am

We also have scheduled our first (of many, hopefully) non-summer Lowell Walks neighborhood tours. This one will be held on Saturday, October 3, 2015 at 10 am. The topic will be Cambodia Town and the History of the Lower Highlands. We are still planning the tour so details about where it will start and where you should park will be forthcoming. Please save the date for now.

To promote these and other local history events, I’m creating an email list that I will use to send out periodic notices (probably one every two weeks) about Lowell history events. If you would like to be included in that list (which will be used solely by me, solely for this purpose), just send me an email at DickHoweJr[at]gmail.com.

Lowell Bibliophiles Rejoice

Lowell has several places that sell books but no real bookstore (at least none that I’m aware of). That’s about to change with not one, but two bookstores setting up operations in the city.

Congratulations to Serpentine Books and Collectibles which will open in Mill No. 5 next Saturday (September 5). Owned and operated by Lowell resident Ken Welch, Serpentine Books has existed as an online source of vintage and used books for some time now. On several first Saturdays of the month, Ken would bring a sampling of his inventory to Mill No. 5 and set up a sales table amongst the other vendors. That’s where I first met him, because I can’t pass by a table of books, especially older ones, without checking them out. Serpentine Books has a page on the online sales site Etsy and also a Facebook page. If you’re on Facebook yourself, please visit and like Serpentine’s page.

Here’s what Ken posted on Facebook about his decision to open an actual retail bookstore site:

I am finally able to announce the upcoming news! Serpentine Books is finally going to be an actual bookstore! While the main focus will be on vintage used books, I will also have other vintage goodies mixed in. After the dust settles, I will also feature newer books written by local authors!

Moving into Mill no 5, the soft opening will occur on September 5th at the Little Bazaar Marketplace, the Flea 2! A grand opening will occur at a later date, which will be announced here. Final hours will also be announced at a later date after more gets finalized / sorted. Share the news, Lowell is getting its independent bookstore!

Thank you all who have supported me in this, and helped me along the way. I am very excited to take this next giant step. I can now share my love of old books with you on a weekly basis! Stay tuned for more updates as they come. Hope to see you all very soon.

The second piece of Lowell bookstore news comes from a sign that just appeared in the window of the building at the corner of Merrimack and John Streets. Known as Cherry & Webb or Chantilly Place, depending on how long you’ve lived in Lowell, the sign reads “HyperText Café Books, coming fall 2015.” Several months ago City Manager Kevin Murphy announced that a bookstore café was in negotiations for that site but he couldn’t disclose its name. Now we know the name, although we don’t know any more than that. A bookstore café right on Merrimack Street would be a great addition to downtown Lowell, so let’s hope the plans stay on track.

Cherry & Webb building at Merrimack and John Streets

City Council Meeting

The city council met on Tuesday night. Much of the 150 minutes of the meeting were devoted to double telephone poles and better ways to schedule the paving of city streets. If either of those topics interest you, I urge you to go the LTC website and catch a replay of the meeting. Aside from the comic relief these interludes occasionally provide, if you compare the amount of time the council collectively spends discussing things like double telephone poles and street paving schedules to something like how do we create more good-paying jobs for Lowell residents (which is hardly any time at all), you are left wondering about the city’s strategic direction and priorities.

A couple of other items caught my attention. First, Councilor Jim Milinazzo announced that the Transportation Subcommittee will meet on October 6, 2015 at 5:30 pm in the City Council chambers to receive a briefing on the Lord Overpass renovation project. Many residents interested in making that whole area more walkable (me included) testified at a prior transportation subcommittee meeting on this issue and councilors seemed to take note of the issue as one important to many. The October 6 meeting will offer a good opportunity to reinforce those views.

Another item of interest was the council’s unanimous vote to authorize the borrowing of $2 million to conduct a feasibility study on the future of the Lowell High School facility. The city has received preliminary approval from the state’s school building assistance bureau to move to the next step in the “new” high school project. That step is to conduct the feasibility study. My sense is that the state, through the SBAB, controls the process and selects the company to do the study, but that the city pays for it. If the city is ultimately awarded the project, 80% of the cost of the study will be reimbursed by the state (which is the same rate of reimbursement for the construction of the entire project).

I thought the vote might generate some debate but it did not (which is just fine with me at this stage). Three people spoke in favor of the proposal at the public hearing (School Committee member Steve Gendron, High School Headmaster Brian Martin, and a citizen/parent). No one spoke in opposition. After some very brief comments by a couple of their colleagues, the council voted unanimously for the loan order.

Whether this project should be undertaken and if it is, where a new or renovated high school should be located (on the current site or elsewhere), will be issues in the coming campaign, both for council and school committee candidates. Between the politics and the money involved in this, the future of Lowell High School should be a big issue in the coming campaign.

A third item worth mentioning was a City Manager response to a motion that the city invite Verizon to install its FiOS network throughout the city. I don’t remember which councilor had made this motion, but the intent was to create some competition for Comcast (the sole cable provider currently in the city) in the hope that prices for cable TV might drop. Verizon had been asked about this before and their answer this time was the same as it was previously: NO. When Manager Murphy communicated this to the council, several councilors suggested that the city investigate installing its own cable network as other cities have done.

It was at that point that I realized that Councilor Dan Rourke must be an expert in self-calming meditation techniques. More than a year ago, he proposed doing this very same thing. Back then, his colleagues cast perfunctory votes in favor of Rourke’s motion but no one else latched onto the issue as a matter of considerable importance for the city. With only one councilor sincerely advocating the measure, it slid to the bottom of the priority pile.

When this past Tuesday night other councilors began proclaiming the wisdom of the city creating its own cable network, Rourke would have been fully justified in taking the floor and asking “where were you last year when I proposed this?” but in a show of self-discipline and good strategic sense, he remained silent. He did not get bogged down in a short-term battle for credit but stayed focused on the big picture, silently welcoming the late-arriving support for what could become a very important issue for Lowell and its residents.

Making Middlesex and Central Safer

Working pedestrian light at Middlesex & Central

I was pleased to discover that the pedestrian crossing light at Middlesex and Central Street. It’s a very wide intersection with cars coming from all directions so a working light is essential to pedestrian safety.

They’re Back

Students in the Lowell public schools return to class this Tuesday morning. Plan your morning commute accordingly.

6 Responses to Lowell Week in Review: August 30, 2015

  1. Judy says:

    Very excited about the bookstore/cafe on Merrimack St!. Perfect for the location. Hope UMLkids discover it.
    Also, scheduling a couple of walking tours for UML students to get to know our city better would be a terric idea. Thoughts on that?

  2. DickH says:

    I think it would be great to create opportunities to expose UMass Lowell students to more of the city’s history. It might be best to work with the University or some department within it to find a way that would get the students to participate. We have plenty of content; we just need an audience. I’ll contact some folks at the university to see what they suggest.

  3. Joe says:

    Does anyone know if Umass Lowell has any credited classes about Lowell? That might be a great way to help merge the city and the university.

  4. DickH says:

    The students in the UMass Lowell freshman honors program all have a required course called “City as Text” which is intended to introduce them to Lowell. There are something like 22 sections this year (there are a lot of smart kids going to UMass Lowell) with almost as many instructors who each choose their own content. A big component is field trips into Lowell. I know that because for the past few years one instructor has asked me to lead a walking tour for the instructor’s students around downtown. I’ve done it and it’s been very enjoyable for me and seems to be informative for the students. So there is some good Lowell-stuff going on at the University, but I’m sure we and they would like that to increase.

  5. Joe says:

    That’s great. For decades the city has been trying to tap into the cultural and economic power of Umass Lowell but for some reason these two entities have never fully clicked. This feels different. The tsongas arena was a great idea but it will never realize its full potential until the city and the university are truly on the same page. Walking tours with students,blue bird bus stops downtown, bookstores in between the dorms and the campus. The city manager and this council are doing an excellent job of building a solid foundation that will change Lowell for the better. As always thanks for the weekly update and the follow up information.

  6. Kevin says:

    I am glad the city is considering its own cable network. I have given up on Comcast. If I had a good customer service experience. I do not recall it.