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Lowell Week in Review: July 24, 2016

Art along Pawtucket Canal

Local artist Barbara Poole, working with a grant from the Lowell Cultural Council and with support from other community partners, recently received permission from the city council to install colored fabric in the openings of a brick wall remnant that lines the Pawtucket Canal in the Hamilton Canal District. The installation is up and looks terrific.

 

With the every-other-week summer schedule, there was no council meeting last Tuesday, but there will be one next week, and the agenda reveals a couple of interesting items.

Hamilton Canal Parking Garage

One is an update on the parking garage for the Hamilton Canal District. There’s no major news, but the project is grinding along. The bus parking lot, which will be on land adjacent to YMCA Drive, still seems to be a holdup. The LRTA and the MBTA, which hold a long term lease on the property hoped to be used for bus parking, have agreed in principle to the tour bus parking, but their respective legal teams are reviewing “acquisition agreements.” And in a new wrinkle, a small parcel in the middle of the expected bus parking lot turns out to be owned by National Grid, so the city is negotiating with that company for the use of the land.

As for the acquisition of the National Park’s surface parking lot off Dutton Street, the city, Lowell National Historical Park, and Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, are all working with the “federal Office of Valuation Services” which is reviewing the proposed deal. The essence of that deal, I believe, is that the National Park will be allocated spaces in a new parking garage to be constructed by the city not far from the current surface parking lot in exchange for the city gaining ownership of that current NPS surface parking lot which is expected to become the site of a major new building in the Hamilton Canal District.

City Manager Murphy, in the memo to the council, says that design work on the new garage will begin this fall, and he expects the land swap to be completed by the end of next summer. As soon as the swap is completed, construction of the garage should begin.

(Alexander) Hamilton Mills & Canal

Our Hamilton is that Hamilton

I’ve led several tours through the Hamilton Canal District this year and have discovered that most people don’t realize that the Hamilton Canal and the Hamilton Mills were named for Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury and the inspiration for the current Broadway mega-hit named for him. In the years right after the American Revolution, Hamilton was the foremost advocate of American industrialization and was consequently seen as a heroic leader by the men who founded Lowell. It seems a shame that we can’t find a way to take advantage of the worldwide excitement over the Hamilton Musical to draw attention to our city’s connection to Mr. Hamilton. Any ideas?

In case you were wondering, Jackson Street is named for Patrick Tracy Jackson, one of the founders of Lowell, and not for President Andrew Jackson (although Jackson did visit Lowell in 1834 during a presidential tour of New England).

Smith Baker Center

Smith Baker Update

The council agenda also contains a memo updating councilors on the progress of the rehabilitation of the Smith Baker Center by its new owner, the Coalition for a Better Acre (the report responds to an earlier motion by Councilor Corey Belanger).

CBA Executive Director Yun-Ju Choi reports that the organization has done a number of things related to Smith Baker including:

Submitted a grant proposal to the Theodore Edson Parker Foundation to fund a Capital Fundraiser’s position for the next two years;

Partnered with Lowell Celebrates Kerouac for a benefit concert on October 7, 2016;

Is creating an Advisory Board, many of the members of which served on the Smith Baker Reuse Blue Ribbon Committee that was formed by Mayor Rodney Elliott;

Started conversations with several foundations to explore the possibility of large matching fund donations;

Has identified and has begun applying for various funding sources including new market tax credits; federal/state historic tax credits; a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council facilities fund; and a number of other state and private funds and foundations.

Crime and Drug Abuse in Lowell

The council will also receive a report for police superintendent Bill Taylor. The first part of the report discloses crime statistics from April 2016. Compared to the same month, previous year, overall criminal incidents were down 31%; major offenses were down 26%; and lesser offenses were down 47%. For the first quarter of 2016 compared to the same time last year, overall criminal incidents were down 13%, with major crimes down 8% and lesser offenses down 31%.

The second part of the report deals with opioid overdoses and deaths. Some of the findings: The number of computer-aided dispatch (CAD) calls to the police in the first six months of 2016 was up 16% compared to the same time last year (and up 77% compared to the first six months of 2012). In the first six months of 2016, there were 40 opioid-related deaths in Lowell, which was double the number from the same period last year and a 344% increase from 2012. The report goes on to say that the majority of those who died in 2016 “had a history” with the Lowell Police and that half of those who died from overdoses had previously overdosed and survived.

Council Motions

There are five motions on the agenda. Here they are:

By Councilor Milinazzo, request City Manager have the Human Resources Department prepare a report highlighting the changes in health care benefits between 2011 to 2016, i.e., co-payment amounts, referral requirements, generic prescriptions.

By Councilor Belanger, request City Manager have Police Superintendent update council on status of charges brought against the 22 individuals arrested for drug distribution offenses in Operation Triple Play.

By Councilor Belanger, request City Manager have Police Superintendent provide a report on enforcement procedures for vehicles with out of state plates stored on local property.

By Councilor Leahy and Mayor Kennedy, request City Manager provide an update regarding traffic control and corsswalks on Andover Street.

By Mayor Kennedy, request City Manager instruct Traffic Engineer to develop a traffic scheme for the Mammoth Road/Pawtucket Blvd intersection, that will relieve morning traffic congestion.

Lowell Votes fundraiser

Lowell Votes, a nonpartisan, grassroots organization that encourages all Lowellians to vote, especially those who face barriers to voting or have had historically low turnout rates, is having a fundraiser this coming Tuesday, July 26, 2016, at UnchARTed Gallery at 103 Market Street. Doors open at 5:45 pm and a speaking program begins at 6:30 pm. Spaghetti, salad, and dessert will be served and there will be live music. The suggested donation is $10.

Nesmith St along Kittredge Park

Public Hearing on MassDOT Plan for Nesmith St

This coming Thursday, July 28, 2016, at 7 pm at the Pollard Memorial Library, The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) will hold a public hearing on a proposed “intersection improvement project along Route 38.” MassDOT describes the work as follows:

The project will upgrade signals and intersection geometry to address crash potential at four intersections along the Route 38 corridor: Rogers Street (Route 38) at Phoenix Avenue and Douglas Road, Rogers Street (Route 38) at Boylston Street, Nesmith Street (Route 38) at Andover Street (Route 133/110), and Nesmith Street (Route 38) at East Merrimack Street. Roadway widening will occur along Route 38 between Andover Street and East Merrimack Street to accommodate two travel lanes in each direction. Some improvements at Nesmith Street and Stackpole Street will also be included for interconnection. Sidewalk accessibility improvements will be provided in accordance with applicable design guides.

The project also calls for the removal of the many trees that line Nesmith Street from Andover to East Merrimack. A number of people are opposed to this project, especially the removal of these trees. Yesterday, a group gathered at Kittredge Park to discuss the proposal and the reasons for opposing it. Organizers invited me to speak to the group about the history of the neighborhood of Kittredge Park. I posed my remarks online last night.

Lowell Walks – Downtown Fires

Yesterday morning 98 people gathered for this week’s Lowell Walk. Tour guide Jason Strunk, a captain in the Lowell Fire Department, did a fantastic job leading the group past the sites of major fires of which there were many. As Jason put it, if you see a building not as tall as its neighbors, or a parking lot in the midst of a row of buildings, there’s a good chance it was the scene of a major fire. Despite all of these major fires, Lowell has avoided a major conflagration that destroyed large portions of downtown, a tragedy that befell many other American cities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I was also struck by the number of major fires that occurred during the 1970s and early 1980s, most of which were set in vacant and rundown buildings on the periphery of downtown.

Because of the popularity of this subject and the large volume of material, Jason has already agreed to lead another Lowell Walk next summer. In the meantime, if you wish to learn more about historic fires in Lowell, check out Jason’s Lowell Firefighting page on Facebook or his books, Lowell Firefighting, from Arcadia’s Images of Modern America series, and A25: Stories from Lowell’s First Arson Squad, which he co-authored with Harold Waterhouse.

Lowell Walks takes a break next weekend for the Lowell Folk Festival but will resume on August 6, 2016, with Paul Marion and Rosemary Noon leading a tour on Lowell’s public art collection.

Kittredge Park: Some History

 

Nesmith St with Kittredge Park to right

 A proposal by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to widen Nesmith Street (Rte 38) at several places calls for the removal of a number of trees that line the sidewalk alongside Kittredge Park. Citizens will have the opportunity to hear more about this plan and to share their thought on it to representatives of MassDOT this coming Thursday, July 28, 2016, at 7 pm at a public hearing at the Pollard Memorial Library. Yesterday, some people gathered at Kittredge Park to discuss the MassDOT plans. I spoke to them about this history of the park and the neighborhood. Here are my remarks:

In 1831, brothers John and Thomas Nesmith purchased 150 acres in Tewksbury from Judge Edward Livermore for $25,000. The following year, the brothers hired Alexander Wadsworth, a landscape architect from Boston who was the cousin of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and also the designer of Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, to design a subdivision for a portion of their land.

1832 subdivision plan for John & Thomas Nesmith

Wadsworth’s plan, dated May 1832, and entitled “Plan of a part of an Estate in Belvidere Village belonging to Thomas and John Nesmith” Wadsworth created a subdivision plan of 120 building lots and half a dozen streets, with a green space called Washington Square in the middle. A notable feature of this plan is the number of trees that Wadsworth drew on it. There are hundreds of them, all lining the streets with a double row of trees around Washington Square.

Two years later, on March 29, 1834, the Massachusetts legislature annexed 384 acres of Tewksbury to Lowell. This slice of land, extending from the Concord River to today’s Fairmount Street, included the Nesmith development, making it Lowell’s first residential subdivision. When John and Thomas built substantial homes of their own on either side of Andover Street, this became the most desirable neighborhood in the city.

On April 10, 1860, after the area had been fully developed, John and Thomas conveyed Washington Square to the city for $2100 and “in consideration of our desire to ornament the city in which we reside.” The conveyance included an express condition that:

“Said premises shall forever be kept open and unbuilt upon, as an open square or common, and that the same shall be kept by said city suitably fenced so that said premises may ever remain for the improvement and ornament of said city, for the comfort and benefit of those residing near the same, and for the health and resort of the citizens generally.”

A young couple who lived nearby, Edward and Effie Kittredge, were not members of Lowell’s elite; they were just ordinary working people. He was a machinist who became an electrician when that was a novel occupation, she took care of their two young sons, Paul, who was born in 1890, and Guy, who was born in 1898. Tragically, Edward died at a young age, leaving Effie with two teenage sons. She worked as a dressmaker and Paul took a number of jobs, including a driver for a bottling company (according to the 1910 census), and then as a painter and a printer.

On September 30, 1914, Paul married Sarah Hemmersley at the Immaculate Conception Church. They were both 24 years old. Paul also became an officer in the Ninth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, a National Guard unit with a record stretching back to the Civil War. He was mobilized in 1916 and served on the Mexican Border. When the United States entered World War One in 1917, the Massachusetts National Guard was federalized and reorganized. The Ninth became the 101st Infantry Regiment of the 26th Yankee Division, an organization made up entirely of National Guard units from New England.

The 101st Infantry Regiment was the first National Guard unit to land in France and the first to enter combat. If fought almost continuously from the spring of 1918 until the end of the war. The 101st was part of the 1.2 million man American army that launched the Argonne Offensive in late September, 1918. Lasting 47 days, the Argonne Offensive caused 120,000 American casualties, including more than 26,000 killed in action, making it the deadliest battle in American history. Among those killed was Paul Kittredge, who had just been promoted to captain. He was killed by German artillery fire on October 23, 1918.

Paul Kittredge was buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France. In the 1920s, the city of Lowell renamed the park Captain Paul Kittredge Square. In the late 1980s, between serving in the U.S. Senate and running for President, Paul Tsongas, who lived just a few blocks away on Mansur Street, led a neighborhood effort to beautify and restore Kittredge Park to help perpetuate the wishes of Thomas and John Nesmith that this park would remain, in perpetuity, a place for the “health and resort” of the people of Lowell.

Lowell Reflections

Photo by Tony Sampas

Lowell Real Estate: Week of July 18, 2016

The following real estate sales took place in Lowell last week:

July 18, 2016 – Monday
394 High St for $312,000. Prior sale in 2005 for $325,000
74 Wollaston St for $361,000. Prior sale in 2011 for $250,100
11 Holyrood St for $448,000. Prior sale in 1997 for $180,000
75 Liberty St for $190,000. Prior sale in 2008 for $195,000
210 Smith St Unit 12 for $83,000. Prior sale 2016 foreclosure

July 19, 2016 – Tuesday
100-102 Hollis St for $380,000. Prior sale in 2015 for $329,900

July 20, 2016 – Wednesday
97 Whitney Ave for $216,000. Prior sale in 1954
83-85 Billings St for $153,000. Prior sale in 1989 for $89,000

July 21, 2016 – Thursday
150 Nesmith St for $359,900. Prior sale in 2007 for $310,000
1461 Pawtucket Blvd Unit D2 for $125,000. Prior sale in 1985 for $70,000

July 22, 2016 – Friday
97 Butterfield St for $131,000. Prior sale in 1980
131 Baldwin St for $245,000. Prior sale in 2011 for $154,900
150 Remington St for $280,000. Prior sale in 1961
175 Willard St Unit 23 for $57,000. Prior sale 2008 foreclosure
30 Gershom Ave for $215,000. Prior sale in 2007 for $189m500
74-76 Ecklund Dr for $319,900. New construction
82-84 Thayer St for $225,000. Prior sale in 1997 for $82,000
459 Beacon St for $290,000. Prior sale in 2013 for $249,900
61 Branch St for $250,000. Prior sale in 2009 for $230,000

Upcoming foreclosure auctions advertised this week:

Lowell:
50 Whitney Ave on July 29
25 Juniper St Unit 5 on July 29
81 Thayer St on July 29
56 Whitney Ave on August 1
21 Hillside St on August 11
110 Boylston Ln on August 12
31 South Wilder St on August 12
64 South Loring St on August 12
96 Boulevard St on August 17

Dracut
28 Pinckney St on August 2
40 Willow Ave on August 2
110 Wimbleton Crossing on August 5
1316 Hildreth St on August 5
645 Robbins Ave on August 12
108 Autumn Rd on August 12

Tyngsborough
47 Cypress Ln on August 1

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Lowell Reflections

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