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Untold Lowell Stories : Black History

Downtown Lowell – Anti-Slavery and Underground Railroad District – 33 Sites

The Downtown Lowell Anti-Slavery and Underground Railroad District is located at the Pawtucket Falls on the Merrimack River. These 32 Sites are presented with brief descriptions and links to the Lowell Cultural Resources Inventory Reports, Related Stories and Web Maps. Guided by these maps, one can take a walk through the City while learning our history.

In the 1840s and 1850s, Lowell seemed an unlikely community for freedom seekers, assistants, and safe-places on the Underground Railroad. However, this busy northern textile center with its small black community dominating the local barber shops and hairdressing salons, three anti-slavery societies, half a dozen anti-slavery churches, a couple of abolition newspapers, and established railroads and stage routes to Canada provided a good location.

The number of slaves that passed through Lowell on their way to freedom will never be fully known. Although, the stories of some freedom seekers are known including Nathaniel Booth, Weston Fisher, and Edwin Moore who stopped and settled in Lowell. Many of the pre-Civil War commercial buildings and churches in the Downtown Lowell District affiliated with Lowell’s Underground Railroad have survived.

Map 1 Begins on Market Street at the site of the Lowell Manufacturing Company which produced high-end broadloom carpets. The route moves on to stories of Freedom Seekers and their assistants, black owned local businesses, anti-slavery newspapers and churches.

Map 2 Takes us through the Boott Manufacturing complex, whose female textile workers, managers, and investors supported the anti-slavery movement, meeting halls where pleas for support from leading abolitionists were heard, and on to Ladd and Whitney Monument and Memorial Hall, reminders of the terrible conflict of the Civil War.

Map 1. Downtown Lowell Anti-Slavery and Underground Railroad District, Sites 1-15, overlaid on the City atlas of Lowell, Massachusetts, 1879, by Griffith Morgan Hopkins Jr., (Publisher) (Cartographer), F. Bourquin (Frederick), b. 1808 (Lithographer). Plates D. UMass Lowell Libraries, Center for Lowell History, Atlas Collection.

#1 Lowell Carpet Company. Initial Owners: Investors. Location: 246 Market Street. Royal and Direxa Southwick, Superintendent, Freedom Seekers assistants. Lowell Cultural Inventory Report
#2 Second Universalist Church (Demolished). Initial Owners: Congregation. Location: 207 Market Street. Rev. Abel Thomas, white, supporter Anti-Slavery Movement. Lowell Cultural Inventory Report
#3 Old City Hall. Initial Owner: City of Lowell. Location: 222 Merrimack Street. Upper Hall: Anti-Slavery Fairs raising money to help Freedom Seekers. 1834 George Thompson, white, Anti-Slavery speaker. 1840s Frederick Douglass, Charles Lennox Remond, black, Anti-Slavery speakers. Lowell Cultural Inventory Report
#4 Church of the First Unitarian Society. Initial Owners: Congregation. Location: 72 Merrimack Street, 1833-1836 Rand (Asa) Bookstore, white, 1st President, Lowell Anti-Slavery Society. Lowell Cultural Inventory Report
#5 Old Market House and Police Court. Initial Owner: City of Lowell. Location: 40 Market Street. 1840s-1860s. Nathan Crosby, Police Court Judge, white, supporter Anti-Slavery Movement (Chairman, Torrey Committee), President, Lowell Freedman’s Aid Society. Lowell Cultural Inventory Report
#6 French Block (Demolished). Initial Owner: Amos French. Location: 16 Middle Street. 1841-1868 “Vox Populi” Office, editor Harriot F. Curtis (1844) Founded 1841 by Benjamin F. Butler and others, “embarked in a sensational enterprise combining journalism, politics and reform.” Lowell Cultural Inventory ReportTwirling Jennies: A History of Social Dance in the City of Spindles. A Tale of Two Ballrooms 
#7 Ithamar Warren Beard Law Office. Initial Owner: Aaron Mansur (father-in-law). Location: 101 Central Street (now: Hondros Jewlery). 1844-1855 Ithamar Warren Beard, lawyer, Freedom Seeker assistant, contributed $25 toward the $700 raised in Lowell to purchase Nathaniel Booth’s freedom. Lowell Cultural Inventory Report
#8 Washington House (Demolished). Built: 1829 - Location: 290 Central Street. (now Dunkin’ Donuts). 1846 Booth (Nathaniel) Hairdresser Shop, black, hairdresser, Freedom Seeker. Lowell Cultural Inventory Report 
#9 Reed and Mansur Building. Initial Owners: Ransom Reed and Alvah Mansur Location: 321 Central Street. 1836-1842 John Levy, black, barber, Freedom Seeker assistant, Amistad Africans (raising money to go back to Africa) Lowell Cultural Inventory Report
#10 First United Baptist Church. Owner: Congregation. Location: 99 Church Street. 1830s-1840s Abel and Catherine Rugg, Freedom Seekers assistants. Lowell Cultural Inventory Report
#11 Middlesex Company (Demolished). Initial Owners: Investors. Location: 50 Warren Street. 1851 Investor: Benjamin F. Butler, Freedom Seekers assistant and declared Civil War “1861 Contraband of War.” Lowell Cultural Inventory Report 
#12 St. Paul’s Methodist Church. Initial Owner: Congregation. Location: 35 Warren Street. Rev Thomas Thayer, white, Freedom Seekers assistant to Amistad Africans (raising money to go back to Africa). Lowell Cultural Inventory Report 

#13 Brooks (Artemas) Planing Company (Demolished). Location: 19 Hurd Street (Business and Home). 1834-1846 First Planing Mill in Lowell. Artemas Brooks was an abolitionist, member of the Free Soiler Party and the Torrey Committee, and Freedom Seekers assistant - providing a safe-place at his home. Lowell Cultural Inventory Report

#14 Appleton Block (Demolished. Location: 174 Central Street. 1842 “True Wesleyan” (anti-slavery) Office, publisher Rev. Orange Scott 1844-1851. “Lowell Offering" and “New England Offering” Office, editor Harriet Farley (Torrey Committee) 1849-1853. “Lowell American” Office, editor William Stevens Robinson (wife: Harriet Hanson), one of the most radical Massachusetts anti-slavery journalists. Lowell Cultural Inventory Report

#15 Spaulding Row. Initial Owner: Sidney Spaulding. Location: Central Street opposite Market Street. 1834 Sidney Spaulding, supporter Abolitionist Movement, organizer Free Soiler Party. Lowell Female Anti-Slavery Society Office, founder Direxa (Claflin) Southwick and Secretary Sarah Clay. Lowell Cultural Inventory Report

#16 Coburn Block. Initial Owner: Josiah Colburn. Location: 24-28 Merrimack Street. 1851-1853 Lew (Peter B.) Hairdresser Shop, black, hairdresser, father’s Home, Mt. Hope Street, safe-place on the Underground Railroad. Lowell Cultural Inventory Report

 

Map 2. Downtown Lowell Anti-Slavery and Underground Railroad District Sites, 16-32, overlaid on the City atlas of Lowell, Massachusetts, 1879, by Griffith Morgan Hopkins Jr., (Publisher) (Cartographer), F. Bourquin (Frederick), b. 1808 (Lithographer). Plate B with detail from Plate A lower right. UMass Lowell Libraries, Center for Lowell History, Atlas Collection.

 

#17 Simpson Block. Initial Owner: Dr. Benjamin F. Simpson. Location: 1-7 Merrimack Street. 1843-1847 Levy (John) Barber Shop, black, Freedom Seeker assistant. Lowell Cultural Inventory Report 
#18 Nesmith Block. Initial Owner: John Nesmith. Location: 83 Merrimack Street. 1844 “Middlesex Standard” Office, editor John Greenleaf Whittier, Freedom Seeker assistant. Lowell Cultural Inventory Report 
#19 John Street Congregational Church (Demolished). Initial Owners: Congregation (now: Lowell Five Bank). Location: 34 John Street. Rev. Eben Foster, minister, abolition speaker. Lowell Cultural Inventory Report
#20 Morris Block (Demolished). Location: 29 John Street. Lew Family Square Sign (Dedicated 2008 Removed by The City). 1883-1926 Lew Family Dry Cleaning Business. Profiles In Courage Brochure  
#21 Boott Cotton Mills. Initial Owners: Investors. Location: Foot of John Street. Supporters of Anti-Slavery from the Lowell City Atlas, 1879. Lowell Cultural Inventory Report 
#22 Boott Cotton Mill Boardinghouses. Location: 40 French Street. (now: Mogan Cultural Center) Working Women members Lowell Female Anti-Slavery Society Lowell Cultural Inventory Report
#23 Boott Cotton Mills Agent’s House. Location: 67 Kirk Street (now: LNHP Headquarters) Linus Child, Freedom Seeker assistant Nathaniel Booth, Freedom Seeker Lowell Cultural Inventory Report
#24 Lowell High School (Original Demolished) Owner: City of Lowell Location: 30 Kirk Street. Always Integrated Education. 1843 Caroline Van Vronker, first high school graduate in the country. Lowell Cultural Inventory Report
#25 St. Anne’s Church Rectory. Initial Owner: Merrimack Company. Location: 8 Kirk Street. 1839 Rev. Theodore Edson, minister, Freedom Seeker assistant. Report.
#26 St. Anne’s Church. Initial Owner: Merrimack Company. Location: 8 Kirk Street 1830s-1850s. Lewis Family members, black, Freedom Seeker assistants. Report 
#27 Welles Block. Initial Owners: John Welles. Location: 175 Merrimack Street. 1858 Sarah Parker Remond, black, anti-slavery lecturer, Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Convention held in Lowell. Report
#28 City Huntington Hall and Boston & Lowell Railroad Station (Demolished). Join Owners: City of Lowell and Boston and Lowell Railroad Company. Location: Corner of Merrimack and Dutton Streets. 1865 William Lloyd Garrison and George Thompson speakers, Lowell Freedman’s Aid Society. Report 
#29 Merrimack House (Demolished). Initial Owners: Investors - Proprietors of Locks and Canals on Merrimack River. Location: 141 Dutton Street 1840-1850. Lewis (Walker) Hairdresser Shop, black, hairdresser, Freedom Seeker assistant Report
#30 Ladd and Whitney Monument. Owner: City of Lowell. Location: Monument Square. 1865. Tribute to the first Fallen in the Civil War 1861. "Ladd & Whitney of the Civil War by Paul Marion"
#31 Memorial Hall, Pollard Library. Owner: City of Lowell. Location: 401 Merrimack Street. Civil War Colored Troops Tribute to Benjamin F, Butler. "The Butler Bust" by Richard Howe Jr. Lowell Cultural Inventory Report
#32 Worthen Street Methodist Episcopal Church. Initial Owners: Congregation. Location: 200 Worthen Street. 1843-1921 Worthen Street Methodist Episcopal 1922-1928 African Methodist Episcopal Church. 1928-1945 Church of All Nations - Methodist, Greek, Syrian. Lowell Cultural Inventory Report
#33 Middlesex Mechanic Association Building. Initial Owners: Middlesex Mechanic Association. Location: 167 Dutton Street. 1844-1850 Booth. (Nathaniel) and Moore (Edwin) Hairdresser Shop. Nathaniel Booth, black, hairdresser, Freedom Seeker; Edwin Moore, black, hairdresser, Freedom Seeker. Lowell Cultural Inventory Report