Lowell Week in Review: September 13, 2015

Inside St Jeanne Baptiste Church

Lowell Walks

Thanks to Dave Ouellette for a great tour yesterday in the final Summertime Lowell Walk of 2015. He led the 105 people in attendance up Moody Street, to the Armand Mercier Center on Salem Street, to Decatur Way, and finished inside St. Jeanne Baptiste Church. Along the way, he shared the kind of inside stories that have helped make these walks to popular.

Dave Ouellette on Decatur Way

Here’s a review of the tours and the number of people who attended each:

• June 25 – Preservation Success Stories with Fred Faust (81)
• June 13 – Lowell Public Art Collection with Paul Marion & Rosemary Noon (107)
• June 20 – Inside Lowell High with Brian Martin (86)
• June 27 – Literary Lowell & the Pollard Library with Sean Thibodeau (76)
• July 11 – The Irish and the Acre with Dave McKean (125)
• July 18 – Green Lowell with Jay Mason (43)
• Aug 1 – Abolitionists in Lowell with Bob Forrant (119)
• Aug 8 – Hamilton Canal District with Allison Lamey (129)
• Aug 15 – Natural Lowell with Jane Calvin (75)
• Aug 22 – Lowell Artists with Jim Dyment (86)
• Aug 29 – Lowell Monuments with Dick Howe (167)
• Sept 5 – Trains & Trolleys with Chris Hayes (120)
• Sept 12 – Renewing the Acre with Dave Ouellette (105)

So that’s 1319 people total for an average of 101 per tour. Today I gave out “perfect attendance” awards to six people who attended all 13 tours. One thing that contributed to the large turnouts was the fantastic weather. July 18 was the only Saturday on which we had rain. Another thing that contributed was the attractiveness of downtown Lowell. When you get out of your car and walk around with your eyes open, you really do see the payoff of all the preservation work that’s been done over the past forty years. Finally, the volunteer tour guides were fantastic. Each brought great stories to the walks.

We’re already planning next summer’s tours. On Monday, October 26, 2015 at 6:30 pm at the Pollard Memorial Library’s Community Room we will have a 2015 Lowell Walks Retrospective that will start with a slide show of this summer’s tours and then will have a public discussion of the program and ways to improve it. Everyone is invited but I especially hope the tour guides and especially those who participated in the tours are able to attend.

But Lowell Walks tours are not over for 2015; they are going on the road. In just two weeks, the fall tours of Lowell Cemetery begin (Friday, Sept 25 at 1pm; Saturday, Sept 26 at 10am; Friday, Oct 16 at 1pm; Saturday, Oct 17 at 10am; all starting at the Knapp Avenue entrance to Lowell Cemetery.

In three weeks, we’ll have our first Lowell Walks neighborhood tour. On October 3, 2015 at 10 am, we’ll gather at Clemente Field for a tour of Cambodia Town and the lower Highlands. The tour will be led by Paul Ratha Yem, Sengly Kong, and me. I’ll cover the 19th and early 20th century history of the neighborhood and Paul and Sengly will talk about the area’s recent history.

City Council Meeting

The City Council met last Tuesday. I wrote a report about the meeting which was a relatively short one and (almost) free of controversy. The one thing that raised passions was a motion that the council make known its support for a bill now pending in the state legislature that would have governmental entities cease investing in fossil fuel companies. A number of residents spoke passionately in favor of the matter as did the motion’s two sponsors, Rita Mercier and Bill Samaras. There was some opposition to this, partly because some councilors feel that if the council begin debating national issues, city issues will take a back seat. Councilor Bill Martin also opposed this measure on substantive grounds, calling it a “feel good” measure that was unlikely to accomplish its goals.

I was pleased with the council’s vote although I can understand the concerns about council meetings becoming a forum for issues that only tangentially relate to city government. This is nothing new. I remember back in the early 1970s, City Councilor Gail Dunfey filed a motion that the council go on record as opposing the war in Vietnam. That ignited quite a rhetorical battle on the council floor. I have the minutes of that meeting somewhere. When I find them, I’ll post them on this site. They make great reading.

Federal Firefighter Grant

Great news for public safety in Lowell came on Wednesday night when Congresswoman Niki Tsongas announced that she had obtained a $1.9 million grant for the city of Lowell to hire new firefighters. This two year grant comes from the Federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Program.

Along with a new group of firefighters recently hired, the additional staffing from this grant should greatly reduce the number of times fire equipment experiences a “brownout” due to a lack of staffing. While it is only a two year grant, it is certainly better than not getting it.

Working Cities Challenge Grant

On Wednesday I attended a meeting of the city’s Working Cities Challenge group. Led by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the Working Cities Challenge is

The Working Cities Challenge is a groundbreaking effort to support leaders who are reaching across sectors to ensure that smaller cities in Massachusetts are places of opportunity and prosperity for all their residents. The competition is led by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, with funding and strategic partners from the public, private and non-profit sectors. The Challenge provides grants to promising efforts that exemplify and advance cross-sector collaboration and create deep and lasting change in their communities.

The meeting took place at the Jeanne d’Arc Credit Union headquarters at Tremont Place. About forty people from all different sectors attended. The city’s application in this round of the Working Cities Challenge focuses on Upper Merrimack Street so entities such as Jeanne d’Arc, the Coalition for a Better Acre, the Lowell Housing Authority, UMass Lowell, and others will play important roles in formulating the city’s proposal.

Boott Cotton Mills Museum

President Obama Gives a Shout to Lowell

President Obama traveled to Boston on Monday to speak at the Greater Boston Labor Council Labor Day Breakfast at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. Towards the end of his remarks, he spoke of the importance of paid medical leave and cited examples from around the country where progress is being made. Then he said this:

And here in Massachusetts, you’re already ahead of the game. Last fall, folks easily approved paid sick leave throughout the commonwealth. In May, Mayor Walsh signed an ordinance allowing for up to six weeks of paid parental leave for city employees. (Applause.) You all should be proud of what you’re doing for working families in this state.

But that’s not a new story here in Massachusetts. You all have always been a little ahead of the curve. Almost two centuries ago, there were the “Mill Girls” up in Lowell — the nation’s first union of working women. Folks in Boston helped lead the way to an eight-hour workday. Generation by generation, from the textile and trolley workers to the hotel and parking workers of today, hardworking men and women like all of you in this commonwealth have stood up for working families.

And what’s been true in Massachusetts has been true all across the country. You understand that we’re stronger together than we’re apart. When we are together, we carry each other up to heights we can’t reach on our own. And that’s what we honor every day on Labor Day. And whenever I’m with you, I’m optimistic about America — because while I know that it’s not going to happen in one day or one month, won’t even be completed under two terms of one president, I know working together we’re going to build a better future for ourselves and our kids, and for working families all across the country. I have seen it. You have seen it. And now we’ve just got to keep working to make it a reality for every single working person in America.

Boott Cotton Mills

Quite by coincidence, at about the same time the President spoke those words, I made a visit to the Boott Cotton Mills Museum at Lowell National Historical Park. The museum illustrates the process of producing cotton cloth, but it also shows the long struggle between those who owned the mills and those who worked in the mills. Given that the Lowell mills all closed and that those who worked in them struggled to find other employment, the story of labor in Lowell lacks an uplifting ending. In fact, because of the changing nature of labor in America today, that strand of the story told at the Boott Mill lacks any ending at all. Sounds like a good topic for a conference in Lowell.

Winter is Coming?

I stopped at Cracker Barrel in Tewksbury this week. They have their Christmas display up.

Christmas display in early September

One Response to Lowell Week in Review: September 13, 2015

  1. Jim Pecora says:

    Awesome article Richard, what great success of the Lowell Walks program. For those of us who did not make it in person the summary slide show at the Pollard Library will be a good evening recap. Thanks for all you do to educate folks on the richness and wonders of our great city, you lead the way in bringing a new sense of pride to us that follow your posts. Please keep up the goid works, it’s apprecuated.