547 Central Street

Neighborhood: Upper Highlands
Ethnicities
English  
French-Canadian  
Italian  
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Photograph of 547 Central Street

547 Central Street

Lowell’s nineteenth century transformation from an agricultural community to the antebellum manufacturing heart of the United States occurred along the Merrimack and Concord Rivers and beside its various canals. Mills and associated boarding houses sprang up in the late 1820s and the city grew at a rapid pace for the next fifty years. A building at what is now 547 Central Street, in the Back Central neighborhood, appeared there in 1826. Thereafter, for nearly 120 years a neighborhood bakery operated on the site.

 

John Mead and Matthias Parkhurst were the first to establish a bakery on the site in 1826. It stayed in the family when Isaac Scripture took over 2 years later with his wife Lydia Mead, John Mead’s sister. When Isaac Scripture died in 1852 his sons took over the bakery and forty years later Scripture’s Bakery was one of Lowell’s oldest businesses. Around 1900, Friends Brothers Company operated a bakery at 547 Central. When Friends Brothers moved to Westford in 1912 William Scally operated a bakery on the site along with other bakeries at 5 Davis Square and 743 Moody Street. Edward Scally took over the business from William in 1920.

 

A horse stable operated behind 547 Central Street well into the twentieth century. In 1930 the Ry Ex Co Stable succeeded the Charles S. Little stable, a ‘livery, sale and boarding stable.’ At 549 Central Street general contractor Victor Perreault operated his business while he lived with his wife Anna at 17 Third Avenue. The Perreaults were born in Quebec and came as children to the United States.

 

In 1930 an auspicious event took place in Lowell that soon shaped the trajectory of 547 Central Street: the Italian American Citizens Club was founded. Founding member Carmelo Ianuzzo defined the club’s mission in a first anniversary speech: “We reaffirm our intentions to assist our brothers of Italian extraction in their endeavors to secure for themselves the rights and privileges peculiar to a citizen of these glorious United States.” The club focused on achieving American citizenship for Lowell’s Italians.

 

Scally’s Bakery closed at 547 Central Street in 1940. Edward Scally passed away in February, 1978. His obituary in the Lowell Sun on February 28, 1978 told the story of a man born in Lancashire, England who lived in Lowell for 75 years. A graduate of Lowell High School, he attended Lowell Textile Institute and Northeastern Law. The bakery property remained unused in 1941 and most of 1942 when the Italian American Citizens Club moved into 547 and 549 Central Street. Victor Bernardini, a textile machine operator at Imperial Upholstery Co. who lived with his wife Lillian at 38 Liberty St., was the Club’s recording secretary.

 

Lowell’s Italian-American community grew slowly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries unlike the waves of Irish and French-Canadian immigrants that preceded them. An Italian neighborhood grew in the Back Central area as individuals and families from Sicily, Tuscany, and Campania made their way through Ellis Island and eventually to the Mill City, possibly after a stopover in New York’s Little Italy or Boston’s North End.

 

A series of local officers ran the IACC over the years. Paul J. Perocchi, the recording secretary in 1950, maintained law office in Lawrence and lived at 194 Nesmith Street in Lowell’s Belvedere neighborhood with his wife Eleanor, a stenographer in the Soldiers Benefit Department in City Hall. Richard Beati, a salesman at Towers Motor Parts, was IACC President in 1970. Beati’s neighborhood was residential, with a mix of homeowners and renters. Neighborhood occupations included a gas company employee, a Royal Theater manager, an industrial inspector and a high school teacher. Pictures of club members in action are available at http://ecommunity.uml.edu/Italian/work_biz/index.htm.

 

Vito DePrenda, the Club’s treasurer in 1960, links the IACC’s story to another major Italian institution in Lowell, Prince Macaroni. DePrenda lived with his wife Doris at 149 Pleasant Street and operated machinery at Prince Macaroni in Lowell. Prince, founded in Boston, became the nation’s second-largest pasta company. In 1940 the company opened a plant in Lowell at a time when Italians were moving from Lowell to Boston and cities and towns around Lowell and the city’s mills had already started to head South for cheaper labor. In 1972 Prince acquired the Viva Macaroni Company based in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Lawrence, a little over ten miles down the Merrimack River from Lowell, contributed to the mix of Italian culture in the Merrimack Valley and was home to a larger Italian immigrant population than Lowell. Prince was purchased by the conglomerate Borden, Inc. in the 1980s and Italian immigrants and Italian-Americans along with Southeast Asian and Portuguese newcomers worked in the Prince plant until it closed in 1997.

 

UMass Lowell graduate Francine Corbin wrote her Master’s thesis for the Regional Economic and Social Development Department on the history of Prince Spaghetti in Lowell. She determined that Joseph Pelligrino, the long-time owner, had maintained a Lowell-based approach to manufacturing and marketing. He operated a restaurant at the manufacturing plant to promote the pasta, donated food and trees to Lowell, and maintained a paternalistic relationship with the in-house union. Unfortunately, the international conglomerate Borden Company bought the operation in the late 1980s and after a few years they sold it to the New York City-based investment firm KKR in 1994. KKR sold off the company’s productive assets and closed the Lowell factory in 1997.

 

The Italian community’s growth and stability were blunted by two urban planning moves in the 1980s. First, a large part of the Italian neighborhood around Gorham Street was demolished to make way for the Bishop Markham Housing Project, named for the leader of St. Peter’s Italian Catholic Church on Gorham Street. Second, the construction of the Lowell connector split apart the immediate neighborhood around the Italian American Citizens Club. In 1995 St. Peter’s church was demolished. As one historian noted, “Only [a] few of the residents remained in the neighborhood surrounding the Italian American Citizens Club, among them Joseph Priori who kept his house on Gorham Street by refusing to accept the $3,000.00 that the Commonwealth was willing to give him.”

 

In the 1980s the IACC worked with the Lowell National Historic Park and the State Park on the Regatta Committee and the Lowell Folk Festival Committee. But as club members passed away, the organization stagnated and in 1988 the eighteen remaining members voted to close the Club’s doors and sell the property. When the building was finally sold in 1993, the Club’s president Mario Aste noted, “This action brought the closure of a chapter in the existence of an organized Italian American Community.” By the time the IACC closed its doors Back Central was a largely Portuguese community. It remains so in 2009. For a more in depth look at how the neighborhood changed see the story of “594 Central Street.” In 2004, the Europa Café opened at 547 Central Street and continued to operate in 2008.

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