Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Scab on the Common

Postcard 1900s: The South Common
By 1845 the sprawling red brick mill complexes that were making Lowell an international industrial city were overtaking much of what used to be wide open spaces.  The city fathers recognized the need for green space and thus the idea began to build the North and South Commons.  When one drives down Thorndike Street today and looks over to the rolling green lawns and winding paths, the park’s rocky past is hard to imagine.
Our story begins with Patrick Manice, a native of County Fermanagh born about the year 1799.  He arrived in Lowell about 1829 and took on jobs as a laborer and a fisherman.  At one point he bought a plot of land from the Corporation.  Little did he know what he was getting himself into.  He built a house on the property which would eventually become part of the South Common, where he lived with his wife, Ellen, and his son, Patrick.  In the early 20th century stones from the house’s foundation were still visible.  He must have been doing quite well in his labors as he listed $8,000 in real estate holdings in 1850.  We also get a glimpse into his personality by a couple of other details that arose.  At one point he is fined for striking a woman, no other facts survive about the how or why.  We also know he owned other property around the city since there was a roof fire on property he owned in the Acre.
One story exists that when the “Angel Gabriel,” the evangelist John Orr, who spread his doctrine of hate against foreigners and Catholics, visited Lowell in 1854. Patrick Manice played a role in his visit.  Orr would arrive with a tin trumpet and get crowds riled up with his inflammatory remarks.  It is said when Orr gathered his crowd on the South Common he stood on a fish barrel so the crowds could hear him.  As Orr was preaching the fish barrel was pushed over and the Angel Gabriel fell.  Rumor had it that Manice happened to help the barrel on its way. Another report claims that 1 year later Know-Nothings burnt down his barn.  Knowing this much about our subject makes the next incident even more believable. 
Manice family stone, Yard 3,
St Patrick Cemetery
Manice purchased a small plot of land from the Locks and Canals in 1839 for $660.  He erected his home and moved in with his family.  When news began to spread about the city wanting to buy land to make the commons, some lot owners started speculating about how much profit they could make from the city.  Manice was one of them.  The city bought up all the land around him.  Still he would not sell.  It got to the point where the city built a stockade around Manice’s property and the only way the family was fed was by the generosity of friends passing food through the slats of the fence.  The Courier referred to him as “the scab on the common.”  The disputed property was called “Manice’s Spite.”  Some say this “occupation” went on for 10 years!  Finally, in 1856 the city and Manice settled on the terms of $3,500 for his land.
The family moved nearby to Middlesex Street.  Patrick died in 1859 and is buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery where his large marble obelisk is inscribed with-
“Verses on Graves are Vainly Spent.  Their Best Deeds Are Their Monuments.”
Credit must be given to Walter Hickey and the late Ed Harley for early research on Patrick Manice.

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