21 Branch Street

Neighborhood: Lower Highlands
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Photograph of 21 Branch Street

21 Branch Street

This two-story brick house is located at the intersection of Middlesex Street and Branch Street. It is the earliest public school building in Lowell and features a Greek revival design commonly used for public buildings in the middle and late 19th century. Since construction, it has had several reincarnations that reflect the changing demographics of the neighborhood. It has been a public school and home to a variety of small businesses in the busy Highlands neighborhood. The building’s history dates back to 1845 when what was described as “a large and elegant house” – the Franklin School—was erected on the land owned by the City of Lowell at a cost of $8954.05.


Nason H. Morse, the school’s first principal had two female assistants and a writing master at what quickly became overcrowded Grammar School No. 4 and two primary schools. The grammar school merged into the new Highland Grammar School in 1883. From the sporadic annual reports of the Lowell School Committee it is reasonable to infer that four primary schools remained at the site.


In September 1940, the Lowell School Committee agreed to rent the Franklin School to Notre Dame de Lourdes Parish for $5.00 per year, in exchange for the city’s purchase of the unfinished parish school on nearby Smith Street. Five years later, the parish bought the Franklin School building for $1,500.00 and it became the Notre Dame de Lourdes School. The parochial school had opened in the early 1900s with approximately 200 students and had an enrollment of 3,590 in 1965.


Enrollments in the school fell in the late 1960s and after 1971 the school housed only grades one through six. Declining enrollments and increased maintenance costs forced the parish to close the school in 1975, continuing to use a small portion of the space for religious instruction for children and a Parish Center.
In 1982 Notre Dame de Lourdes Parish sold the house to the Greater Lowell Mental Health Association, a private non-profit corporation organized in 1953, for $100,000. The building housed a recovery program for residents of greater Lowell recovering from mental illnesses.


Fifteen years later, 1997, the property was sold for $160,000 to a Cambodian husband and wife Huot Seng Ea and Y Nhu Ea, who lived in North Chelmsford. They sold it in 2001 to a Lowell couple (likely relatives), Seng An Ea and Sivpak Ea, for $180,000. (At the same time Huot Seng and Y Nhu also sold them the three buildings on the two adjacent lots on Middlesex Street and Branch Street.) Seng An Ea is the president of the Phnom Penh Supermarket on Chelmsford Street in Lowell, established in 1999. In 2006, Seng An Ea sold 21 Branch Street to Asian Center Management Co. for $1.00 (transferring control to a holding company located at his current home in Andover). The ownerships changes reflected the demographic shifts taking place in the neighborhood, with many Southeast Asian families moving into the city and making their first homes in the Highlands.


In 2004 the building had been redesigned to house several small businesses including World Language Services, 1KK Travel Agency, and Peter’s Abatement Inc. . At present the building contains a travel agency, beauty salon, and insurance, realty and mortgage services, with staff able to speak the various languages of the Southeast Asian community residing in the Highlands.


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