South Common, Thorndike-Dutton Corridor, Lord Overpass, Etc

People are discussing what’s going to happen with transportation improvements on the Thorndike-Dutton streets corridor because of what they will mean for access to and from the Gallagher transit terminal, around South Common, over to Cambodia Town and Western Avenue Studios, through the Hamilton Canal District, and into the core of downtown. While we wait for the South Common upgrade, based on a completed design (2009) supervised by the City planning office, here’s a mid-1950s photograph of the South Common from the air that shows what a fine large expanse of public open space Lowellians had before a large section was designated for school construction. This view is before the Rogers School and before the Lord Overpass were built. Towards the bottom left you can see St Peter Church, now gone. In the top right of the photo a portion of the North Common off Fletcher Street in the Acre is visible. A large piece of this public park was given over to school property not that long ago. We must be diligent stewards of green space in an old city. These vast tracts of open land will not appear again in the dense street grid of the inner city. Click on the the photo to see the image larger.

Steve Conant, co-founder of the Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust, yesterday posted a comment on a Facebook discussion thread that included the vintage photo of the South Common, remembering a short poem that had been given to him by community activist Mary Noon when Steve was trying to prevent City officials from decreasing the size of North Common to make space for a new school. Mary Noon herself had tried to prevent the construction of the Rogers School on the South Common, one time throwing her arms around a tree to stop a bulldozer from knocking down the large tree. She and others also tried to save St Peter Church from being demolished. Here’s the 17th-century rhyme that came out of protests to the enclosure movement in England, which led to the conversion of much land held in common to private property:

The law locks up both man and woman

Who steals the goose off the common

But lets the greater felon loose

Who steals the common from the goose.

Common 10001

6 Responses to South Common, Thorndike-Dutton Corridor, Lord Overpass, Etc

  1. Marie Sweeney says:

    The image of Mary Noon throwing her arms around a tree at the South Common (her lifelong “neighbor”) to save it from a bulldozer is priceless. It is a story I’ve often told to describe Mary’s commitment and fervor as a volunteer and as an environmentalist and preservationist. The poem says it all!

  2. Brian says:

    Great pic Paul. Comparing this to the pic that Dick posted on 2/1 is telling.

    There are 7 or 8 significant buildings that were demolished near the old train station. Wasn’t the 5 story building across from the station on Middlesex St a hotel? Was that done to make room for parking or in anticipation of Eisenhower’s Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. The Lowell Connector opened in 1962.

    I can imagine city officials at the time scrambling to tear down tax generating buildings to get a piece of the pie from Washington. In hindsight we now know highways are great at linking 2 great places but when highways cut through a city or neighborhood the place instantly becomes less than great.

  3. Brian says:

    @eloucraft Whoever put that there understood the inverse relationship between vehicular speeds and pedestrian safety. Speeds go up – safety goes down.

    Drivers would naturally break when seeing the monument and would also stay in their respective lanes. Over the years the engineering profession has optimized our streets for smooth traffic flow at the expense of our most vulnerable(pedestrians and cyclists). Bring back the rock!

  4. Jim Peters says:

    The fact remains that placing a new high school on the South Common would ruin one of the last great expanses of park land that we have. The ruination of the corridor by way of the tearing down of historic buildings like the old train station, and the elimination of entire neighborhoods to make room for industrial sites is well-known. We have an obligation to keep the high school where it is, and make it work. We do not have a lot of buildings outside of the National Park area to play with. Mary Noon deserves alot of credit for having identified that this is really a tree-hugging project. Leave the South Common alone in the rebuilding of the new corridor.
    Jim Peters

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