Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Broadway Social & Athletic Club

Happy Kelly
It made the front page of the Lowell Sun in June of 1915.  The Broadway Social and Athletic Club held what would become the first of its annual banquets.  The club was formed the year before by a group of Acre neighbors who wanted a place to get together talk politics and have a game of baseball.  Originally the club was on Broadway Street itself, near where the White Electric building used to be.  The club soon relocated to what many will be remembered as the Marine Club or the Firefighter’s Club at the intersection of Fletcher, Cross, and Willie.

The club, though only a year old in 1915, grew quickly gathering athletes and politicians alike in its ranks.  Though located in not the most prestigious neighborhood of the city, some of Lowell’s most well-known movers and shakers sought membership cards.  Being a member not only gave individuals a chance to make contacts with city councilors or job potentials, but it also mixed different classes.  Most of its members resided in the Acre, but there were many others who lived elsewhere and whose roots began in the Acre.  Reading a list of members and attendees to that banquet in 1915 reads like a page from the Dublin white pages.  There were: the McCanns, O’Sullivans, Murphys, and Caseys; There were the Feeneys, Scanalls, Hessians, and Dohertys too.

Of that night the Sun said it “to be one of the most successful affairs of its kind ever held in this city,” and would be the talk of the town for many years.  The rooms on “upper Broadway” were festooned with streamers of red, white, and blue on the outside with a large welcome sign.  Inside potted palms and flowering plants filled the hall.  The evening started off with the grand procession by its members into the hall followed by a turkey dinner.  Mayor Dennis J. Murphy was in attendance while Rep. When It’s Moonlight in Mayo.  Francis Connor sang, Ireland, I Love You.  When Frank Clough finished his musical number the audience requested 5 more encores from him, perhaps to curtail the speeches.  It’s interesting to note how the speakers encouraged its younger members to seek education by attending Lowell Textile School.  Another speaker encouraged all to embody, especially the younger members, the goals of the club; “friendship, fidelity, and community.”  There was much talk of citizenship, love of country, the growth of bigotry in the country and believing in and spreading of false rumors in the news.  Little did these men know that in a few years many would be called to defend these rights and liberties in the Great War.
Walter H Hickey
Dennis A. Murphy, an Acre man himself, was toastmaster.  The speeches continued with club President McCann recounting the group’s mission to provide social events for a few friends, and how it had expanded, and even just purchased a summer camp exclusive for its members.  In between the speeches were a number of musical numbers.  James Dowling sang

Let’s not forget the other title in club’s name- athletics.  The North Common had been hosting ball games probably since the first days of Abner Doubleday invented baseball.  In the late 1800s the Columbians of St. Patrick’s Boys School was one of the first teams playing there.  Then the Emeralds and the Sanctuary Team from St. Pat’s.   As the Sun said in 1916, the Broadway Club boys, many from old St. Pat’s “is going to uphold the traditional valor of the Acre lads on the baseball diamond.”  The traditional rivals of the Acre teams were those from the South Common.  In the beginning crowds up to 3000 people would come to watch the games.  Soon those numbers triples.  The rivalry between the North and South Commons had been going on for 50 years.  A writer commented that those not wanting to watch the game could observe the 101 arguments that were going on amongst the spectators as to who had the better team.  Baseball wasn’t the only sport the club engaged in.  They sponsored boxing matches as well.

The competition got so bad that in 1916 it was commented that the North Common supporters should “learn to be good losers as well as good winners.”  It seems that spectators from the Club were interfering with the other team’s players.  They were warned that other teams would not want to come to the North Common if such activity continued.  It cautioned them to, “curb (your) over demonstrative partisans and insist on fair play.”  They were later described as “the Broadways, whose habitat is the North Common, are a fighting bunch willing to take on anything.”
For many decades the group sponsored dances (tickets cost 35 cents), political rallies, minstrel shows, and were active in wider community events.  They were regular marchers during 4th of July festivities.  Members marched wearing dark suits, and straw hats while carrying gold canes with American flags attached. 

Patrick Kearns, "Big Jack's Bartender"
By the 1940s the mission of the Broadway Social and Athletic Club had been reached. Its members were now among Lowell’s educated, political, and business leaders.  Soon the only mention of the club was in its aged members obituaries.  After World War II the club was sold and turned into the Marine Club.

The Photos: almost 30 years ago someone handed me a group of aged photos and said if I didn’t give them a home they were being thrown out.  That’s how a lot of things have come my way.  The photos are 3x4 inches in sepia tone, probably 30-40 of them.  In rough penmanship each is identified.  They are all of members of the Broadway Social and Athletic Club.  Probably the only artifacts remaining from a time long ago.