Lowell Politics: June 23, 2024

There was no Lowell City Council meeting this week, so I’ll use today’s newsletter to share some political history that remains relevant today. During its May 6, 2024, meeting, the Lowell Planning Board spent considerable time discussing a section of Lowell Forward, the draft master plan that asserted that housing in Lowell is segregated by race. City Planner Francesca Cigliano maintained that the data showed exactly that. Board members didn’t necessarily dispute that fact; their concern was whether the plan should expressly state it.

In her remarks, Cigliano spoke of the ongoing impact of “redlining” which was the countrywide practice of denying mortgages and other financial services to residents of certain neighborhoods based on their race or ethnicity. In my newsletter of June 2, 2024, which gave my account of the planning board meeting, I stated “redlining was a thing in Lowell” and referred to a 1936 report by the federal Home Owners’ Loan Corporation that graded the neighborhoods of Lowell based on the desirability of granting mortgages to the residents of each area. I’ve reproduced the full text of that report below. The least desirable neighborhoods for lenders were shaded in red, hence the term “redlining.”

The report was accompanied by a map with color-coded neighborhoods, but the text of the report is most interesting. The map is available online, but I’ve also inserted at the start of each neighborhood section of the report a narrative description of the area covered by naming the streets that create the approximate boundary of the section as shown on the map.

Here’s the full text of the report:



Prepared by:

Harry S. O’Neill, Field Agent


Hereford N. Elliott – Senior Partner, T. H. Elliott Realtors

John C. Percival – Senior Partner, John C. Percival & Company, Realtors

George Burns – Realtor, President, R.E. Board, Lowell, Mass.

Sherwood G. Coggins – Associated with R.M. Humphrey & Company Realtors; VP, R.E. Board, Lowell, Mass.

John H. Dwyer – Chairman, Board of Assessors, Lowell, Mass.

Chester M. Runels – Real Estate Consultant – Manager, R.E. Department of City Institution for Savings, Lowell, Mass.



  1. – [green] – BEST
  2. – [blue] – STILL DESIRABLE
  4. – [red] – HAZARDOUS
  5. – [hatched] – BUSINESS

Total H.O.L.C. loans (585) as of January 31, 1936.

Section #1

Belvidere – Green/BestEverything east of Nesmith and Rogers Streets except small section at Tewksbury line (see Section 8).

This is the best section of Lowell, principally built up with one-family homes. Average cost $10,000 to $12,000 with some large homes costing $25,000 to $35,000. A number of very old families reside here of the well-to-do type. Homes are kept in good repair. Predominating nationalities – Irish, English and American. The valuation shrinkage from 1929 to 1936 averages 25% to 30%.

Section #2

Pawtucketville – Blue/Still Desirable Almost all of Pawtucketville; area bounded in east by Beaver Brook, south by Merrimack River, west by Boulevard Street, west and north by Tyngsborough.

French Canadians (the better type) predominate in this section, and there are some Irish and English. Industrial and store workers occupy this area almost exclusively. This is one of the oldest sections, built up principally with one family cottages having a market value today of from $900 to $1,200. These same cottages sold in 1923 for around $2,500. Valuations have shrunk 30% to 50% from 1929 to 1936.

Section #3

Highlands – Blue/Still DesirableArea bounded in east by Chelmsford Street; south and west by Chelmsford town line; in north by Middlesex Street and Merrimack River.

This is the second best section of Lowell. One part of this area, known as Middlesex Village, is principally occupied with tenements, row houses and single homes. Some of these buildings need repair. Irish predominate. The Middlesex Village section has shrunk 50% from the values existing in 1929. Industrial workers occupy this area. The balance of section #3 is built up mostly with one family homes occupied by better type Irish Americans. This area has shrunk 25% to 35% of 1929 values.

Section #4

South Lowell/Sacred Heart – Blue/Still DesirableArea bounded in east by Concord River; south by Chelmsford line; west by Gorham Street; north by River Meadow Brook.

This section is commonly known as “Swedish Village”, occupied principally by Swedish people. Small cottage type of homes fill this area, averaging in value from $900 to $1,200. There is now an oversupply of these homes in this section. In 1923-4 these same cottages sold for around $2,500. Industrial workers occupy this area. Values have shrunk here 50% from 1929 values.

Section #5

South Lowell/Oaklands – Blue/Still DesirableArea bounded in east and south by Tewksbury and Billerica lines; in west by Concord River; in north and northeast by Rogers Street.

This section is principally occupied by French and English, mostly industrial and store workers. Single homes predominate. A majority of the homes are 35 to 50 years old. Values have shrunk 50% of 1929 levels.

Section #6

Lower Belvidere (portion) – Blue/Still DesirableArea bounded in east by Nesmith Street; south by Fort Hill; west by Concord River; and north by Church and Andover Sreets.

There are a number of one to two family homes here, also a number of six to twelve family row tenements in this section. The one to two family homes have shrunk on average 25% to 35% while some of the tenements in the lower part of this section have shrunk 50% from 1929 values. (These tenements need repair.) Industrial and store workers reside here.

Section #7

Centralville (portion) – Blue/Still DesirableEverything east of Bridge Street.

Irish predominate in this section. The one and two family homes are the most popular. These homes are valued around $2,000 to $4,500. They are the older types of 35 to 40 years ago. Industrial and store workers live in this area. Values have shrunk here from 25% to 50% since 1929.

Section #8

Outer Belvidere (small portion) – Blue/Still DesirableArea is north of Andover Street from Harland Ave to the Tewksbury line.

This section is occupied by American families of moderate circumstances. Single homes predominate. Average value $4,000. About 90% of these homes have been built within the last 12 years. Principally store workers live here. It is considered a good medium grade location.

Section #9

Outer Pawtucketville (small portion) – Yellow/Definitely DecliningFrom Boulevard Street, north and west to Tyngsborough line.

Greeks predominate in this section. Most homes are single family with market gardens. Poor class of industrial workers. Homes have a market value of $1,200 to $1,500. Values have shrunk 50% to 70% from 1929.

Section #10

Acre (part) – Yellow/Definitely Declining Area bounded in east by Fletcher Street; in south and west by Middlesex Street; and in north by Merrimack River, however, the area from Western Ave to Broadway within this zone is rated red (see section 13).

The northeast part of this section consists of large old homes now occupied by Irish Americans, but Greeks and French are slowly moving into this section. The shrinkage here from 1929 values ia bout 30% to 50%. In the northwest part of this section, one to two family houses predominate. Irish Americans live here. The southern part of this section contains a number of tenements, housing twelve and more families. Houses in all three parts of this section are 40 to 60 years of age. The shrinkage is about 35% to 40% in the last two parts of this section from 1929 values.

Section #11

Ayers City – Yellow/Definitely DecliningArea bounded in east by Back Central then Gorham Streets; in south by Chelmsford line; in west by Chelmsford Street; and in north by Appleton Street.

Irish predominate in this area. This is a very old section. The northern part has mixed types of buildings, some row tenements, commercial business, some single and multi tenements. The slum section of Lowell is in this area on Winder and Summer Streets (Armenian and French extraction). This area shrunk 50% from 1929 values. The Central and southern part of this area is largely occupied with one to four family homes and some row tenements. The shrinkage here is 35% of 1929 values. This area inhabited by industrial and store workers.

Section #12

Centralville (portion) – Yellow/Definitely DecliningArea bounded in east by Bridge Street; in south by Merrimack River; in west by Aiken Ave; in north by Dracut line, however, a portion of lower Bridge Street within this zone is rated red (See section 16).

French, Polish, English and Irish occupy this area. The northeastern part has fairly good one and two family homes; also some row tenements 35 to 60 years old. Mostly industrial workers live in this section. Average shrinkage 35% from 1929 values. The textile mills closing down in this section affected values.

Section #13

Acre (portion) – Red/HazardousThis section is shaped like a backwards “L” that curves around the North Common. The upper part of the “L” is between Fletcher and Salem Streets; the lower portion of the “L” is from Western Ave to Broadway (vicinity of Stoklosa School).

French, Greek and Irish predominate in this section. The types of houses consist of single, multi family and row tenements. Most of these buildings are in poor condition needing extensive alterations. A great many industrial workers reside here. There is a 35% shrinkage from 1929 on single and multi family homes; 70% shrinkage from 1929 on row tenements. A large number of these buildings owned by the banks by foreclosure should be torn down. The textile mills in this section employed upwards of 40,000 in 1918 with a payroll of $38,000,000, and in 1932 the workers dropped to 12,000 with a payroll of $9,000,000.

Section #14

Little Canada and Downtown – Red/Hazardous Area bounded in east by Bridge Street, south by Merrimack Street; west and north by Merrimack River, basically from Boott Mills to Lelacheur Park.

This section is made up of mixed nationalities – Greeks, Poles, Armenians and numerous other races, mostly foreign born. Largely row tenements. The large mills formerly located in this area attracted these industrial workers. A number of these plants now are closed down. Formerly employed 18,000 workers where today the employed are 6,000. Low grade business section along Moody Street. Merrimack Street, which divides this area, is considered the best business section in the city. Shrinkage has been 40% to 60% in the residential part of this area.

Section #15

Centralville (portion) – Red/HazardousArea bounded in east by Aiken Ave; in south by Merrimack River; in west by Beaver Brook; and in north by Dracut line. (NOTE: I’m not sure why the report calls this section “Little Canada” because that name was affixed to a neighborhood on the south side of the river.)

This area is called “Little Canada” on account of the great number of French-Canadians of the poorer class who reside here. Industrial workers predominate. Single, multi family and row tenements are scattered throughout this section. Average of properties is about 40 years. Values have shrunk more than 40% since 1929.

Section #16

Centralville (portion) – Red/HazardousArea bounded in east by Bridge Street; in south by Merrimack River; in west by West Street; and in north by Hildreth Street.

Polish section. One, multi family and row tenements. Bridge Street is the community shopping area. The Lake View Avenue section good for slum clearance. Single homes are valued at $1,500 to $2,500. Row tenements rent for $2.50 to $3.50 weekly. This section has had a shrinkage of 50% from 1929.

Section #17

Lower Belvidere (portion) – Red/HazardousArea bounded in east by Nesmith Street; in south by Church Street; in west by Concord River; and in north by Merrimack River.

Polish and Irish-American live here. Mostly industrial workers. Single, multi family and row tenements of the poorer type. Very old buildings – a hazardous area. Part of this section is commercial and used for light manufacturing. Shrinkage 50% from 1929 values.

Section #18

Back Central – Red/HazardousArea bounded in east by Concord River; in south by River Meadow Brook; in west by Back Central Street; and in north by Church Street.

Mostly Armenians in the northern part of this area. Irish predominate in the southern part. There is a mixed population throughout – single, multi family and row tenements. Some of the oldest buildings in town are in this section, averaging 40 to 75 years of age. Property has shrunk about 40% in this area since 1929.


As I’ve mentioned previously, I will use the city council’s every-other-week summer meeting schedule to cover political topics from Lowell’s past that are still relevant today in the weeks without council meetings.


Lowell Events Newsletter – please check out Belinda Juran’s biweekly Lowell Events newsletter which I reposted on richardhowe.com yesterday. If you wish to subscribe to the Lowell Events newsletter, just send an email to Belinda at belinda@bjuran.com.


Little Canada Walking tour – On Saturday, June 29, 2024, at 10am, Charlie Gargiulo and Richard Howe will lead a free, 90-minute-long walking tour of the former Little Canada neighborhood. This once-vibrant home of many of Lowell’s French-Canadian residents was demolished in the mid-1960s in a federally funded Urban Renewal Program. Intended to “eliminate slums,” Urban Renewal instead displaced and scattered longtime residents causing unmeasurable trauma. As a young teenager, Charlie Gargiulo experienced this firsthand. His 2023 memoir of the experience, Legends of Little Canada, will form the basis of this tour which will visit many of the places mentioned in the book and will give the broader history of that part of Lowell. The tour will be conducted rain or shine, and no advance registration is necessary. Curbside parking is available on Moody Street and throughout the neighborhood.

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