Friday, May 23, 2014

Strange Happenings at Barnes’ Folly

Barnes' Folly

Lowell’s newest physician, Dr. John H Barnes, had big plans literally.  Having just finished his apprenticeship with Dr. J. W. Graves, Dr Barnes purchased a plot of land in 1832 on the edge of the Acre on Merrimack Street near the corner of Lewis Street.  He contracted with Osgood Pingrey to do the carpentry work on a building he was having built from canal rubble for the bottom floors and brick for the upper stories. The plans called for a series of dry goods stores at the basement and street levels and a number of halls to be rented out on the remaining floors.  Where the term Barnes’ Folly comes from is rather unsure.  According to the Lowell Cutural Resource Inventory, where the previous information can be found, it could be from the large size of the building or because the property changed hands so many times.  Whatever the reason, Dr Barnes’ hope for such a venture soon dissipated.  The building was sold, foreclosed, returned to the bank for nonpayment of taxes and sold yet again.  And yet it still stands there today with its original canal rubble foundation.
One of the first uses of the new building was space to teach Irish students.  The venture was not very successful perhaps because the school was probably paid for by parents who were hiring their own teachers rather than attend the public schools.  Attendance was not mandatory and even a few cents to pay the rent might be more than the pioneer Irish could afford.  The rooms in Barnes’ Folly were often rented out for offices or as venues for plays and musical presentations such as Damon and Pythias.  The area’s reputation quickly declined and soon the site is mentioned in a number of police reports.  A certain William Marston was arrested with a certain “Sal Sprague” for fornication at the Folly.  Each was fined $10.  In 1857 George Dane, the blacksmith who lived on Dane Street, had the misfortune of falling down a flight of stairs at the Folly and breaking his leg so badly amputation was a possibility. 
Liquor was often involved with the goings on at Barnes’ Folly.  The St. Nicolas Saloon in the building was cited for being the cause of a number of disturbances.  The saloon itself was known to sell liquor on the Sabbath!  A sad case happened in 1862.  Catherine Mullen was found dead on the floor in one of the rooms at Barnes’ Folly.  It was apparent that she died of alcoholism.  Her husband was away at war and Mrs. Mullen had taken $12 from the city and spent it all on liquor.  Barely a stick of furniture was found, just some straw ticking and a few clothes.  She was buried in a pauper’s grave. 

Another sad case was a 17 year old girl whose mother and  sisters resided at Barnes' Folly with her.  She was found murdered in the Pawtucket canal.  Screams were heard in the neighborhood, but no one responded.  She was known to be in the company of "rowdy young Irishmen."
Conditions got so bad that in 1864 complaints against the building were lodged before the Board of Aldermen.  The owner, Alanson Folsom, met with the Board at the building to discuss matters.  He was ordered to improve conditions.  Being so close to the Western Canal, it happened that residents of the Folly occasionally met their end by accident or design in the canal.  Also being one of the tallest buildings in the area the mention of someone falling out a window was not unknown. 
A final mention of Barnes’ Folly was when the city tried out their new fire steamers on the building.  The sheer size of the building made it a great target for the fire hoses.  The curse of the building began to fade towards the 20th century when a new owner bought the building and adapted it to new uses.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

St Patrick Goes to the World's Fair - 1893

St. Patrick tapestry, St Patrick Church
February, 1893- Early in February, preparation was made for the exhibition of the children’s work at the “World’s Fair” held in Chicago.  The higher classes of the Parochial School and Academy of Lowell sent several elegantly bound volumes of specimens of class work- both written and illustrated.  Needlework and drawings were also a particular feature of our contribution.
The exhibit of the Sisters of Notre Dame was highly commended and at the close of the “Fair,” which lasted six months, a diploma and medal were awarded to fifteen of our houses in Massachusetts, Lowell’s parish and day schools being among the favored.     From the Annals of the Sisters of Notre Dame, Lowell, MA, 1893.

The whole country was abuzz about the news that Chicago would host a World’s Fair, also called the Columbian Exhibition, in order of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas.  The city prepared by building over 200 buildings that would house the exhibits that would show the best of America.  As soon as news of the Fair was announced, Catholics around the country rallied that they should play an active role.  There was much being discussed about Columbus being Catholic and how Catholics helped build the foundation of the country.  This was also the period of massive European immigration and many of them being Catholic.  There was growing fear that Catholics educating their children in parochial schools was not American enough and possibly a plot for a Catholic takeover.  The goal of hosting a Catholic Educational Exhibit was one way of showing what was going on in the Catholic schools and how students were being prepared to be future citizens.  Even Pope Leo XIII gave his blessing to the venture.

The exhibit was shown in the massive Manufacturers and Liberal Arts building.  Catholics were given 10,000 sq. ft. to show the work of all the Catholic schools of the entire country who wished to send in materials.  Tables filled the area and every square inch of wall space was covered with artwork, illustrated manuscripts, needlework, vestments, musical pieces, and anything else that could demonstrate the viability of Catholic education.  Pieces of religious artwork were kept behind wire in fear of anti-Catholic vandalism.  To balance the religious entries, bunting and American flags filled any empty space.  A Chicago newspaper reported that the Catholic schools looked more American than the public schools.

As stated in the Sisters’ journal the girls of the academy at Lowell sent examples of their art and
written work.  A newspaper account stated that a certificate was received by the girls with much excitement at the close of the exhibit.  It showed a tell engraving and was signed by many Catholic dignitaries.  The Lowell community was accorded an extra commendation for their fine work.

Photos taken during the Chicago exhibition show one of the tapestries produced by the Lowell academy.  It is of St. Patrick shown as a bishop with crosier and miter banning the snakes from Ireland.  That tapestry is still in possession of the church.  At one time it hung in the rectory.  Hints of the scarlet red of his cope and emerald green of the landscape are still present.  Years of priests’

Photo from Fair, showing the St Pat's tapestry.
(SND Archives)
smoking and being open to sunlight have taken some wear.  The family of a former pastor thought it wise to reframe it with glass, not the best archival treatment for a tapestry.  It is one of the myriad of projects that awaits a benefactor to come to its aid.  A good cleaning and a new backing, and Patrick would be in fine shape.  Still he looks pretty good for being about a hundred thirty years old and having traveled to Chicago to see the World’s Fair!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Genealogy Genie

See description below
One mission of LowellIrish is to collect your stories.  How many have been lost because no one has written them down?  Every tour I lead ,or talk I give, inevitably one or two people tell me a great story of a relative's experience.  Some of the stories are humorous accounts of Catholic school education.  Others are stories of loss and pain.  And some are about success amidst adverse conditions.  If we are to succeed with our task, we need you.  Share your family's story.  We thank a reader, Pat Coleman, for this week's entry about discovering your past.

I am Patrick L Coleman, great great grandson of James and Margaret Coleman. I have fathered the next generation of Colemans and grandfathered the one after that. I am a retired research biochemist, a gardener, and in the midst of writing both a family history (not Coleman, but Melloys from Donegal) and a mystery story where the protagonist is a biochemist. I live in Minneapolis where, even as I write this on April 30th, there is still snow falling, not enough to shovel, unless one shovels the lawn, annoying nonetheless.

My Coleman ancestor, James, lived in and near Lowell from the late 1830s until about 1850.  While I knew his wife's maiden name, Margaret Walsh, and where each came from in Ireland, I knew nothing about their siblings or parents.  This is how the story stood through thirty years of genealogy research.  Then the Genie of Genealogy granted me three wishes in my search for my Coleman ancestors, based on the “Missing Friends” columns of the Boston Pilot.  But first some context.

My immigrant ancestor James Coleman made his appearance in American rather early, as Irishmen go.  He traveled from Ireland to St Andrew, New Brunswick, thence through Passamaquoddy, Maine, arriving in America on October 1, 1835.  He was single and listed himself as a farmer.  However, when I found traces of him in the Northeast over the next fifteen years, he was always a laborer working with other Irish to build the infrastructure for the first wave of American industrialization—canals, bridges, factories.

He met Margaret Walsh/Welch, also born in Cork, and they married in Hallowell, Maine in 1837.  Judging from the birthplaces of their children they traveled between Lowell, Mass., Maine, and Canada over the course of the next decade.  Margaret indicated on their marriage documents that she was a resident of Lowell at that time, and they returned there during 1845-48, and probably at other times, too.

They left Lowell and the Eastern seaboard in 1851, stopping in Sandusky, Ohio, for the winter as well as for the birth of son James in November that year.  Now with four children, they arrived in Dubuque, Iowa in 1852, where James became a naturalized citizen, and, for the next several years the family resided, while James commuted to a hilly farm in Allamakee county, Iowa.  His place was six miles from the Minnesota border and thirty-some from the Mississippi River.  He continued working as a laborer in Dubuque, one summer as a gardener, while periodically visiting his farm putting in crops in the spring and harvesting them in the fall.

This was the status of the Coleman story when the Genie appeared.  With respect to “wishes” there was a caveat: isn't that always the way?.  I don't get to make the wishes (a small detail about Irish Genies that they never talk about).  Rather my ancestors planted clues more than a century ago which I had to find.  It was akin to the TV quiz Jeopardy, guessing the question that gave the discovered answer.

I was to learn that the first question the Great Green Genie wanted me to ask was about Margaret's voyage to America.

From Missing Friends, 23 July 1842:
Of MARGARET WALSH, who is married to a man named James Coleman, a native of Spring Hill, parish of Glanmire, county of Cork, Ireland, who sailed for America in March 1840, and landed in St. Andrews.  Any information respecting her, will be most gratefully received by her father, Edmund Walsh, who is now living in the city of Lowell, Mass., by letter in care of Richard Walsh.

It seems that her father Edmund, later called Edward, had now come to America and couldn't find his daughter.  She and James and family (one month old John Patrick) were in Canada or Maine, judging by the various birthplaces John P. listed for himself over the next 70 years.  In the years since their marriage record, shipping and census records showed that James had been living in Maine twice, Canada, and Massachusetts in the intervening years; sometimes with Margaret and the growing family, sometimes not.

A puzzling element in that ad is the father claiming the daughter had left only two years before when she had been married five years ago.  You would think he knew.  Or is that pointing to more story than we imagine?

Not two years ago I stumbled upon the Genie again, but only through the serendipity of doing a search on the digital version of Missing Friends.  I searched “Allamakee” rather than “Coleman” or, heaven forbid, “Welch/Walsh/Welsh (and sometimes Walch).”  By using the county name I managed to by-pass the typo that was made more than 130 years ago, where the typesetter wrote “Cleman” instead of “Coleman.”  Margaret Coleman, now over sixty and with an empty nest, had time to consider the past and wonder about her siblings.  She wrote:

From Missing Friends, 13 Mar 1880
OF JOHN, WILLIAM, PATRICK, EDWARD, CORNELIUS, also MARY, ELLEN, HANNAH, and SUSAN WALSH, sons and daughters of Ellen and Edward Walsh.  Information of all, or any of the above named will be received by their sister. Address James Cleman, Quandahl P. O., Allamakee county, Iowa.

What a goldmine!  Mom and Dad and all the siblings.  Still the problem was they were cloaked in the surname Walsh, a problem even if the name had but one spelling.  The best tool I had from this clue was “Cornelius,” but, even though it provided many candidates in the US during the last half of the 19th century (but not too many), none had a tell-tale attribute that I could pin to the scantily defined Ed & Ellen Walsh family.

However, as unlikely as it might be, I have made some progress through the Ann Walsh connection, despite her marrying a man with a surname as popular as her own, William Fitzgerald.  So now I know that Ann Walsh married William Fitzgerald, a butcher in Troy, NY, (later Coxsackie, NY) and that they had ten children from 1870-1885, all with the standard-issue Irish names (Thomas, Michael, William, Anna (aka Hannah), Nellie, Ellen, Mamie, James, Mary, Frank), not even one Cornelius, Fergus, or Deirdre.

At this point the story-teller should have the readers in the palm of his hand waiting for the voila of the third wish.  Alas, I'm still trying to figure out the question I'm supposed to ask.  This is not to say I've made no progress, just that I'm still waiting for the great leap forward that the first two wishes provided.

Maybe this blog post will provide a clue to help me ask the correct question for the answer the Genie has in mind.

PHOTO CAPTION: The fellow with the hat and the watch chain is John P Coleman, the first born of James and Margaret. He was a prosperous businessman in Dubuque, Iowa in the second half of the 19th century. He owned a saloon, restaurant, and hotel on the levee of the Mississippi River.