Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Lowell's First Irish Mayor

I've spent 11 days walking the yards of the cemetery.  As soon as I think I see an end in sight, even more questions arise.  We started out with a list of 600 names hoping that we would find each location.  I get to the cemetery about 8 am hoping to avoid the heat (ya right).  Then I walk each range of each yard.  There are literally dozens and dozens of missing markers.  Why?  After all the research I've done over the years, you'd think I would have realized the answer.  Lawn mowers.  Every time the lawn mowers pass over a monument they leave behind the clippings.  If the grass is cut weekly each year, you can imagine the amount of thatch that has accumulated.  That means many of the "missing" markers are there, just buried under multiple inches of thatch.  The other surprise is the number of markers that have been found that are NOT on the list.  Where did they come from?  Why weren't they recorded?

If you're like me when I boot up the computer to search for something, an hour later I'm on a site I have no idea how I got there.  As I walk the cemetery the same thing happens.  I've uncovered slate markers I never knew existed in yards where they should not be.  BUT that must be another project.  Then I uncover names that ring a bell and have nothing to do with the Irish in the Civil War.  That's where I get myself into trouble getting myself off topic.  Like today's topic- John J Donovan.  I came across his stone right at the main entrance and knew I had heard of him before.  A great Lowell researcher and co-tour guide for our Nat'l Park workshops, Gray Fitzsimons, had written a great article on Donovan.  With his permission I include the following-

John J. Donovan

In 1846, at age thirteen, John J. Donovan came to Lowell, Massachusetts from Yonkers, New York. His widowed mother, who was born in Ireland, worked hard in Lowell to support him while he attended public schools. As a young boy he saw many poor and hungry Irish people coming to Lowell, escaping the horrific famine in their homeland. He went to Lowell High School, which was somewhat unusual but not impossible for an Irish lad, and after graduation, worked in a grocery store on Central Street. The store's owner, David Gove, was an old Yankee from New Hampshire. In the late 1860s, Gove took Donovan in as a partner. A few years later he owned the entire business. In 1873, he built a new grocery store on Central Street. This 3 1/2 story brick building was one of the fanciest stores in the neighborhood. Eventually, he invested in other businesses, including a paper mill in nearby Dracut.

Donovan became active in city politics in the early 1880s, serving as a board member for Lowell's overseers of the poor. In 1882 he ran for mayor on the Democratic ticket. He won a close election, becoming Lowell's first Irish-American mayor. He was re-elected by an even larger vote the following year. With his wife, Mary E. Seede, he settled in a home on Branch Street. They had a son and three daughters. Two of their girls graduated from Smith College.

In the 1890s he devoted time to new business ventures, as president of the Washington Bank and manager of the Coburn Bobbin & Shuttle Company. Some said of him, "Look what has become of this once-poor Irish boy from Lowell."

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