163 Merrimack Street

Business Types
  English, Irish,
  Scottish, Syrian
More data

After thirty years with a Yankee owner, this location had ten immigrant proprietors over the next thirty years. None stayed longer than six years but their careers before and after this location, especially their connections to other immigrants, are extensive.

The building

This 3-1/2-story, wood-frame building was erected about 1860 and was later expanded with wood-frame additions. It later acquired a store on the first floor with an entrance located on the corner of East Merrimack and Fayette streets. The entrances on Fayette in the early days were alternate entrances to the store. Most proprietors of the stores in the building lived above the store, through the door on the left.

The building  had addresses initially numbered as 93, 99, and 101 East Merrimack Street until the street renumbering of 1895 when it became 163, 165, and 167. At the same time, the multiple entrances on Fayette Street were renumbered to 100 to 112.


Photograph of 163 East Merrimack Street

William E. Somes 1866-1894, Yankee

William E. Somes, a Yankee, was in the bakery business in Lowell as early as 1850 and was running his own business at this property by at least 1866.  The bakery was initially located at the 1 Fayette Street entrance to the building, with his residence and store at the East Merrimack entrance; by 1880 he used the East Merrimack street address consistently.  After about forty-five years in the bakery business, Somes died in 1894, owning four buildings fronting E. Merrimack and Fayette.

Thomas F. Brennan 1895-1899, Irish

Somes was succeeded in the bakery business by Thomas F. Brennan, who arrived in the US from Ireland in 1886 at age 19. He was working as a baker by 1890 and it’s possible that he worked for Somes in 1894 since he lived with his family in a house at 245 Concord Street, four blocks away from the bakery. In any case, in 1895, Brennan took over the business after Somes died. Shortly afterward, like most of his successors, he moved into 167 East Merrimack, the upstairs of the bakery building. Business must have been good at first for he stayed for five years but failure was in the wind the last year – he moved back to 237 Concord Street in 1899 while still running the bakery. He left 163 East Merrimack the next year, 1900. He and his wife, Delia started a grocery store in their residence that year and then Delia’s name was on the store in 1901 while Thomas worked as a baker at the City Farm in 1901-1902, his last years in that profession.

In 1903 Brennan became a clerk at the Elias A. McQuade Liquor Store on Market Street. We can speculate that Brennan made contact with Elias through his next door neighbor on Concord Street, James A. McQuade. James was a policeman in the station across the street from Elias’ liquor store on Market Street, and was likely a relative of Elias. After learning the liquor trade, in 1906, Brennan joined with a man by the name of O’Connell and opened his own liquor store at 224 Middlesex Street, a respectable distance away from his former employer, taking over from James H. Doyle.In 1908 he bought out O’Connell and ran the store himself until he died in 1910. His wife, Delia, having had experience in retail with their grocery store, took over the liquor store but was not publicly acknowledged as proprietor in the City Directory; it was probably considered unseemly for a woman to run a liquor store. Her son, John S. Brennan, was a clerk at the store and the other children probably also served as clerks. She ran it until her death in 1921.


Patrick McCartin 1900-1902, Irish

Another Irish-born baker, Patrick McCartin, was the proprietor of 163 East Merrimack from 1900-1902.  Patrick was the eldest of three brothers (the other two being Michael and Frank) who immigrated successively when they each reached about 21 years of age.

The two older brothers initially got jobs in the mills. Patrick arrived in 1876 and we first find him at his marriage in 1883 to Irish-born Delia Doherty, working as a moulder. They had five children: Francis P, Anne J, James Joseph, Mary Etta (or Marietta), and Catherine A.  Patrick escaped the mills to become a horse car driver for the Lowell Street Railroad (the city trolleys) from 1889-1892. Michael arrived in 1883 and we get our first sight of him working as an operative at the time of his marriage to Irish-born Cecilia Woods. They had six children between 1887 and 1899: Mary Elizabeth, Anna S, Joseph Patrick, James Bartholomew, Cecilia Frances, and Vincent Michael.

Picture from Lowell Sun March 17, 1898, labeled "Frank McCartin, the Popular Baker who Died in Savannah, Ga."Frank, the youngest brother, was the primary entrepreneur of the three. He apparently didn’t like the idea of mill work and stopped in Gloucester upon arrival in this country in 1888. There he found a job as a baker, two years later opened his own shop, and then came to Lowell to live with Patrick in 1892. He had done well in Gloucester and immediately opened two bakeries, at 169 Chapel Street and 107 Gorham Street. In 1894 he married Kate Morrow, daughter of Irish immigrants Hugh and Catherine. Due to Frank’s success, it was a society wedding. The Lowell Sun described it in the typical society style that hasn’t changed in over a century: “The bride was attired in a beautiful dress of white silk trimmed in duchesse lace and carried a bought of bridal roses, the bridesmaid in pink silk with a corsage bouquet of roses.” They moved into a large new house at 71 Dover Street, in the Highlands neighborhood, far (in those days) from the downtown area and almost a mile and a half from the stores: “Mr. McCartin’s new home is elegantly furnished and is fitted up with all the modern conveniences of a first class dwelling.”

Patrick went to work for Frank a year after Frank’s arrival in Lowell (1893) but Michael had just left for Australia in 1892. Upon returning in 1896, Michael joined his brothers, becoming the third McCartin baker. Michael worked at 107 Gorham and Frank added a third bakery that year at 26 Concord Street, where Patrick became the manager. Frank was successful enough by 1897 to close the Chapel Street store and sell Patrick the 26 Concord Street bakery, leaving Frank with just the Gorham store, helped there by Michael. Sadly, Frank died the next year, 1898, only thirty-three years old.  Frank’s wife, Kate, took over proprietorship of the bakery. Michael continued at the Gorham Street store, working for Kate. He was later joined by a son, Joseph Patrick, in 1910-1912.  We don’t know if Kate was just the owner in name or whether she took active part in the store, but when Michael’s son was working there, it’s unlikely the single store needed three bakers. In 1913, Michael started his own bakery at 22 Concord Street, in the same building Frank had expanded to fifteen years earlier. Kate continued by herself for two years but closed the Gorham Street store when she remarried in late 1914.

Michael showed that slow and steady wins the day. His shop on Concord Street continued almost twenty years until he retired about 1931.  Daughter Cecilia worked as a cashier in the store for fifteen years after graduating from high school and Joseph stayed as a baker until 1924, when he moved Syracuse, NY, married, traveled further to Indianapolis, where he became the superintendent of a large bakery. Vincent probably worked in the bakery but it was never full time. He went to college and become a teacher in the Lowell Public Schools. He made his parents extremely proud in 1934 when he became Superintendant of schools in Lowell, the very same school system he had grown up with. Even more to the glory of an Irish family, the other of Michael’s sons became a priest and just as gloriously, Patrick also had a son who became a priest. In the tradition of the day, both these sons had been named after their grandfather, James Bartholomew and James Joseph. Not coincidentally, the priests became assistant pastors of Immaculate Conception parish, diagonally across the corner from 163 East Merrimack Street and served together for many years. The parish was run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a missionary society. In later years, the cousins served as missionaries in the not-so-wild west – Gary, Indiana, during World War II – before returning to Lowell.

We now return our focus to Patrick and 163 East Merrimack. When it became available in 1900, just two blocks away from his shop at 26 Concord, he grabbed it immediately, running both for a year.  He dropped the Concord Street store in 1901 but lasted only one more year on his own. After ten years as a baker, five as his own boss, Patrick quit in 1903.

Lowell electrical trolley (restored)Patrick returned to his last pre-bakery job, the trolleys of Lowell’s Street Railway Company where he had been a horse car driver – but alas, they had converted to electricity by then. Nonetheless, he remained a conductor there until he retired in the mid-1920s.

Patrick’s son, Francis P, or Frank P, as he quickly became known, was the immigrant family’s greatest entrepreneurial success. He started at age 18 in 1905 as a helper and then as an electrician working for Derby & Morse Electrical Contractors (both owners were Yankees) at 64 Middle Street. He started work in Boston in 1911 as an electrician and the next year went into sales. In 1912, he married Margaret P. Walsh, born in North Dakota of a Vermont father and Irish mother. They had fourteen children from 1914 to 1929, one of whom became an Oblate priest and one an Oblate Brother.

Logo for the Frank P. McCartin Co.After five years in sales, in 1917 Frank P became vice-president of R. V. Pettingell Electric Supply Company in Boston, still living in Lowell. After ten years there, in 1927 he started the Frank P. McCartin Company for wholesale electrical supplies in Lowell. It was originally located at 183 Market Street, one block away from where he started as an electrician on Middle Street. For a long time it remained very much a family company. In 1956, five of his children worked for him at the company, three as vice-presidents, one as an accountant, and one as a salesman. The company remains successful, continuing to this day at 149 Congress Street in Lowell, just about a mile from where it started, with son John Peter McCartin still the CEO.


George Watson 1903, Scottish

George Watson ran the bakery at 163 East Merrimack Street for only one year but was a baker in Lowell from 1891 to 1932.

The name Watson was common in Lowell, seventy-seven being found in the 1900 Census in sixteen households, of whom seven were named George. We can, however, distinguish three as the family of our George (we’ll call him George II, born in 1862); his father was George (call him George I, born 1839) and his son was George (George III, 1887).  The father of George I was also a George but he appears to have stayed in Scotland.

The older two Georges came to the US from Scotland in April of 1888, followed in August by George I’s wife Agnes and daughters, Phyllis, Kate, and Marion.  George II’s wife, Agnes (Heap), followed shortly afterwards with their children, George III and Agnes Orr. Once in the US, George II and Agnes had one more child, Jessie A.

The older two Georges were bakers in Scotland and set up their own bakery almost immediately; in 1891, they were in business at 240 Market Street.  Over the years they were quite successful, opening several stores. In 1901, the year George I died at age 62, there were George Watson bakeries at four locations: George I at 553 Gorham and 374 Market, and George II at 186 Lakeview and 353 Bridge. George II inherited his father’s two and added one more in 1902 at 187 Broadway for a very respectable five store chain.

In those days women didn’t inherit from a father when there were sons, but George II was a good guy (or, more likely, managing all those bakeries was too much). A year later, 1903, sister Phyllis, who had been working as a clerk for her father and then her brother, became the proprietor of two of the stores in her own name (Market and Gorham). George II kept the Lakeview store and added our favorite bakery at 163 East Merrimack. Ad for George Watson, Jr, Bakery from 1902 Lowell City Directory

The siblings dropped the Broadway and Bridge stores in 1903 and the East Merrimack store in 1904, leaving George with one store and Phyllis with two for a couple years. George retrieved the Bridge Street store in 1906 for two years and then in 1908, Phyllis dropped her two but took over Bridge Street, leaving them with one store each, George II on Lakeview and Phyllis on Bridge. Phyllis lived just couple blocks away from her store with her sister Marion in houses on Fifth Street, then Seventh Street. George lived on Jewett Street, about five blocks north of his store. Brother, sisters, and both stores were all in five minutes walking distance.

It’s unclear why George II kept the East Merrimack store for only a year since the Watsons continued running multiple bakeries with family help. All three of George’s children worked full time at the stores for a time, the daughters leaving when they got married, Jessie in 1913 and Agnes in 1915. George III worked alternately at his father and aunt’s stores until 1915. Phyllis ran her stores with her sister Marion’s help until 1917. After giving up the bakery, both Phyllis and Marion worked for a while in department stores. Phyllis returned to work for her brother from 1922 until 1928, at which time she stayed home to care for Marion until Marion died and then trained to become a nurse, a major career change at age 45. George retired in 1933. The next year, Phyllis moved in with George and his wife while continuing to work as a nurse at least until 1938.

George III worked in the bakeries of his father and his Aunt Phyllis but was restless. In 1909, at 22, he tried his luck in California but returned the next year, putting in another six years as a baker for his father and aunt. The year 1915 found him painting signs for a company on Middle Street. 

In 1916 he married Annie Ferguson. Annie’s father, Hugh Ferguson came to the US from England in 1886 and worked in Fitchburg as a cook, manager of a pool hall, and proprietor of a hotel/boarding house in Fitchburg.  Her mother worked as a spinner in a Fitchburg mill.  Hugh moved the family to Boston around 1910 and then to Lowell in 1911, where he became the proprietor of the St. James Hotel at 533 Middlesex Street.  Hugh must have made out pretty well with the hotel since he was able to live in the seashore village of Willowdale in the town of Ipswich, Massachusetts.  After the marriage in 1916, George III became co-proprietor with Hugh for the new Cecil Hotel at 532 Middlesex Street, in direct competition to the St. James across the street.  Shortly after, Hugh moved to Florida but George continued as co-proprietor of the hotel with his brother-in-law, William Ferguson.  In 1926 George moved to Florida to be with his mother-in-law after Hugh died in 1923. He was unemployed (or perhaps, rich and didn’t need to work) at the time of the Census of 1930, at the beginning of the Great Depression.


Simon A. Cavanagh 1904-1906, Irish

Simon A. Cavanagh was the next baker at 163 East Merrimack from 1904-1906. His parents, Edward and Mary (Flanigan) were both born in Ireland but had moved to Scotland after marriage in 1869 and had six children there (two boys and four girls). In the early 1870s they immigrated to Lowell, where Edward worked as a fireman in the mills starting in 1874 until he died in January 1902.

Simon was born about 1872 in Scotland and, coming to adulthood in Lowell, never moved away from the house his parents bought in 1880 at 98 Andover Street. After they died, Simon and two sisters continued living there.

Simon worked for a furniture retailer until 1902 when he became a partner in a real estate firm, Smith & Cavanagh, located in the Donovan Building at 265 Central Street.  We don’t know where he got the know-how for a bakery but the next year he started the bakery as well. Being in real estate, he probably saw the property come on the market, purchased it as an investment, and hired others to do the work. He gave up the bakery after 1906, but kept on with the real estate business, going entirely on his own in 1910. He died unmarried at age 38 the very next year.


Thomas F. Booth 1907-1912, English2-Irish2

Baker Thomas F. Booth succeeded Cavanagh, remaining at 163 Merrimack Street for six years, the most for a non-Yankee.  His parents were Samuel, an immigrant from England, and Mary Welch, an immigrant from Ireland. They met and married in New Bedford in while Samuel was a mill worker in the mid 1860s and had six children. When Thomas was born in 1876 in Boston, Samuel was working as a pipefitter but was reported to be a simple laborer at other events. By 1900, Samuel had died and Thomas was living with his mother and sister Genevieve in Cambridge, MA, where we first see him at age 24, working as a baker.

Thomas came to Lowell in 1907 to take over the bakery at 163 East Merrimack. For the first three years he lived five blocks away at 179 Stackpole Street. This must have been a desirable address, with no industry nearby and directly overlooking the Merrimack River to a lightly built residential area on the other side. Today the site is in the middle of a new road built for a bridge across that river. In 1910, he moved to 69 High Street, on the corner of East Merrimack on the same block as the bakery; he still lived with his mother and his sister Genevieve. They all left Lowell after 1912, showing up in 1918 living in Belmont, MA, Thomas still a baker. He and his mother were living with his sister Genevieve but now also with Genevieve’s new husband, Irishman John F. Fitzgerald, who was working in a print shop. They stayed in Belmont until at least 1922 and then headed west. 

In 1930, Thomas, Genevieve, and John were living together in Los Angeles. Thomas was still a baker and John still worked in printing. Thomas died in Los Angeles in 1948.


Mrs. Mary J. Carroll 1913, Irish

The tenure of Mrs. Mary J. Carroll was not the shortest of the bakers of 163 East Merrimack Street (there were four others who stayed only one year) but she is the only woman. She became the proprietor, as was often the case in those days, when her husband died. The story of the family is filled with bakers.

William A. Carroll was born in Ireland in 1861, as was Mary J. in 1872. They married in 1888 when she was only 16 and had one child a year for the next three years. William departed for Manchester, New Hampshire in 1891 and Mary followed two years later. There they had four more children before moving to Lowell, where they had another two.

There are two reasons to believe that William had been a baker in Ireland:  he worked as a baker as soon as he got to Manchester in 1892; and his father, who joined him in 1895, was a baker.  In Lowell in 1905, William had a shop at 131 Gorham Street, at the corner of Winter Street, and lived upstairs with his still increasing family.

As is usual in a family business, William’s children helped in the baker but there were too many of them for a single store, especially when they could be earning money from the outside to help the family. In 1909, the two oldest children were at other bakeries, not as bakers, but as clerks who knew the bakery business; Margaret J., 19, worked at the Dudley L. Page Bakery on Merrimack and Mary E., 18, worked at the Anthony Lavery Bakery on Bridge. That same year, William’s father, who had been helping in the family bakery, died, so more help was needed. In 1910, Mary E. returned to her father’s store and the next younger daughter, Elizabeth, now 19, also clerked there. Margaret still worked for Page’s Bakery and the next in line, Patrick, at only 15, worked at Mary’s previous employer, Anthony Lavery, but at his other bakery on Broadway. Interestingly, Patrick was listed as a baker, not a clerk – perhaps it was a male prerogative to be a baker at that time.

Line drawing graphic of where the Carrolls moved from year to year.In 1911, the employment shuffling continued. You may wish to refer to the figure on the right as a scorecard. (t's not that useful but almost seems intelligible if you're sleepy at this point of story.) Patrick came back to his father’s store and Mary E. went to work for Thomas F. Booth at, of all places, 163 East Merrimack Street! Things continued changing in 1912 with Patrick trying to get away from the bakery business by working as a cigar maker. William died late in the year (at 50) and, in 1913, Mary J. became the proprietor of the Gorham Street store. She also took over our East Merrimack bakery when Thomas Booth left that same year, likely to save Mary E.’s workplace. Margaret left Lavery’s to help out at the family store, and Patrick returned to baking (in 1915 he was at the Friend Brothers Bakery at 2 Westford Street, one of the largest in the city).

Mary J. and Mary E. gave up the East Merrimack Street store after one year but kept the Gorham Street store until 1915 with the help of Elizabeth. After that, Mary E. clerked and Patrick baked for a grocery store down the street (James Smith Provisions) in 1916 but that didn’t work. Mary E. and younger sister Catherine tried their hands at dressmaking in 1917. Catherine continued in the mills for a couple years but Mary E. married in 1917 and disappeared from the commercial workforce. Margaret married in 1920, ending her bakery career.

Patrick returned to baking at a Page bakery on Merrimack Street (same owner as the one Margaret had worked at). From 1922 to 1930, he ran his own bakery, first on Broadway then on Gorham (many blocks down from the old family store). Sister Louise apparently helped in 1920 but went to work in the mills after that until she married in 1931. Patrick settled down as a baker working for others from at least 1932 until 1956.

Mary J. moved to 37 Walnut Street in 1916 after giving up baking and most of the family joined her there.  The address was one that further shows the interconnectedness of the baking fraternity. The house was owned by Charles F. Devno, a long-time grocer on Central Street. (He and his son, Charles D. are discussed in the story of 557 Central.) Frederick L. Devno was a son of Charles F. and worked at the Friends Bakery at 2 Westford Street from 1910 to 1916, a span that included the years that Patrick Carroll worked there. The Devnos moved to a much larger house and then rented their old house to a co-worker’s family, the Carrolls.


Patrick J. Cronin 1914, Irish

In 1914, Irish-born Patrick J. Cronin was the owner of the bakery at this location.

Patrick came to the U.S. in 1891 at age 23 and his soon-to-be, Anna C. McMahon, came before December, 1898 since that was when they were married in Lowell. Patrick worked as a baker as soon as he arrived: an unknown place in 1891, the John J. Henley Bakery on Suffolk Street in 1892, and the Louis G. Moss Bakery in 1893. After the marriage, the couple returned to Cork, Ireland to start a family. They had twins a year later, 1899, Patrick John and Thomas Augustus (named after his paternal grandfather), followed by Daniel C. in 1902 (named after the other grandfather), then Josephine W. in 1904 (who was called Mary early in life, likely after her paternal grandmother).  It’s possible the family traveled back and forth between Cork and Lowell, returning to have the children born in the home country. Patrick was in the US in 1902 but after that lived in Cork, working as a baker. He returned for good in May, 1906, followed by Anna and the kids in August, 1908. They had their last child in Lowell, Francis M., born in 1909.

Back in Lowell, Patrick continued baking, getting a job at the D.L. Page Bakery on Merrimack Street, one of the largest in town, while living at three different locations over the next four years. We don’t know what prompted him to try running his own store at 163 East Merrimack Street, but the urge lasted only one year. In 1916 he worked at the James McMahon Bakery at 876 Gorham Street. (It would be surprising if James wasn’t a cousin of Patrick’s wife, Anna.) In 1922, he worked at the George Cornock’s Bakery on Bridge Street and in 1932 he was again running his own bakery at 96 Branch Street until he retired a year later.

Domestically, Patrick and Anna had problems. After 1920, they no longer lived together, although they put up a formal front at first with information published in the City Directory.  After five years residence at 175 Charles Street, the transition year was probably 1917 when none of the family showed up in the directory and in 1918 the family was listed at 34 Gorham Street. However, when the twin boys registered for the World War I draft in 1918, they stated their nearest kin was Anna, not Patrick. More telling is that the twin Patrick John registered under the name John F. and used that name the rest of his life, perhaps indicating some desire to disassociate himself from his father.  By the 1920 Census, the separation was formal. Patrick was living with his sister Nora and her husband Charles Welcome at 5 James Street; his brother, Dennis Cronin, also lived there. Anna and the children were living at 34 Gorham, with Anna listed as head of household. In 1922, Anna was in the City Directory as head of the house on Gorham, working as a housekeeper at a private residence. At the same time, keeping up pretenses, Patrick was also listed as head of the house on Gorham, working at the Cornock Bakery on Bridge Street. However, he was also listed living on John Street, just two short blocks from the bakery.  From 1930 on, there was no pretense -- he was listed as living at the Robitaille lodging house on Central Street.

None of Patrick’s children followed their father’s trade. Josephine worked for a short time as an operative in the mills. Thomas became an electrician and Daniel worked as a machinist. John Cronin (formerly Patrick John) went into retail and opened his own store by 1930, first with cigars and then with liquors; Francis worked as a clerk in his brother’s stores.


John J. Carney 1917, Irish

After languishing vacant for two years, the shop at 163 East Merrimack gained yet another Irish baker, John J. Carney in 1917.  John was born in Ireland in 1865 as was his wife Alice McPartland in 1868.  They married in 1887 and had two children, Catherine in 1888 and Mary A. in 1891. Little Mary was only five months old when they immigrated to the US in July, 1891. Steamships were becoming faster in those days but a seven day voyage on a crowded immigrant ship in “Lower Steerage” at the beginning of July must not have been very pleasant, even before adding a five month old.  The couple had three more children in Lowell: Alice D. in 1893, Bernard J. in 1898, and Robert E. in 1900.

John had been a baker in Ireland and immediately found work as a baker in Lowell. From 1893 the family lived in Belvidere, just across the Concord River from downtown, on Laughlin’s Court, half a block from 163 East Merrimack.  They spent a few years at 122 Fayette, a building originally owned by William Somes, adjacent to his much larger building on the corner at 163 East Merrimack, where Somes had operated his bakery.  For at least three years, 1896-98, John Carney worked next door to where he lived, for the Thomas F. Brennan Bakery (see above) at 163 East Merrimack. The next year, 1899, Carney moved on to bake at the City Farm, a job to which he was followed by Brennan in 1901. In 1904, Carney worked at the Annie T. Gormley Bakery at 876 Gorham Street; this same address became the James McMahon Bakery that Patrick Cronin (see above) worked in for a year in 1916.

In 1909, John opened his own bakery at 243 Fayette Street, just two blocks off East Merrimack. He moved the shop to 28 Pleasant Street, a block further south, for 1910 to 1912.  In 1913, he decided that a grocer’s life was more attractive than a baker’s (didn’t have to get up at 4AM to make the doughnuts) and he opened a grocery across the Merrimack River in the Centralville neighborhood at 152 West Street. A year later he moved it about six buildings down to 204 Coburn Street and lived upstairs at 202.

It might have been pure nostalgia to run a bakery in 1917 at 163 East Merrimack Street where he had worked before.  The Centralville grocery store was clearly doing well – it lasted till at least 1920.  Perhaps he took it over just to liquidate the bakery equipment – this was the last year the location hosted a bakery.  For whatever reason, he had the bakery only one year.

He ran his grocery until 1920 and must have been fairly prosperous since he retired at 55 years old and moved about eight blocks east to the more prestigious Chestnut Hill neighborhood. Like many of his generation, he found retirement boring and at age 59 he went back to work at a bakery until he died in 1929, just under 65 years old. None of his children worked at the stores after becoming adults. All three daughters worked in the mills, first as operatives but by 1930 Alice and Mary were bookkeepers and the Catherine became a housekeeper. His only son who lived, Robert, became a printer for the Lowell Courier-Citizen newspaper; all four were unmarried in 1932, with ages ranging from 32 to 44.


George L. Perham 1919-1921 Yankee

After the 163 East Merrimack store sat idle in 1918, George L. Perham was the next proprietor, turning the place into a grocery store, a role it would play for at least the next thirty-seven years.

George was born in Lowell, his father (Foster Perham) was born in Massachusetts, and his mother (Margaret A Burbank) was born in New Hampshire. Both parents’ parents were also born in New Hampshire and Massachusetts so George’s Yankee credentials are solid. His father was a bookkeeper at a liquor store for over thirty years (working for an Irishman, Patrick Lynch) so there wasn’t a family business to follow. After high school, George worked at the grocery store of Clarence G. Coburn at 11 Mammoth Road, just two blocks away from his childhood home at 100 Riverside Street. In 1899 George married a Yankee girl, Stella Wright and, after a year living on Fourth Street, three blocks from the Riverside home, they moved to 53 Lamb Street, another five blocks away but still in Pawtucketville (the neighborhood across the river and west of downtown Lowell). They lived there the rest of their lives.

George worked for Coburn, a fellow Yankee, for ten years, gaining experience in groceries, meats, and provisions, and then tried opening his own grocery on Pleasant Street in 1909. It was a slightly odd choice for a location, about three miles from home, across the river on the other side of downtown, but Lowell had had an extensive trolley system for years, first horse-drawn, then motorized. That lasted only a year and George returned to working in the provisions business for a while and then tried a totally new occupation in 1912, an insurance agent. Again, that lasted only a year and he went back to working in other people’s grocery stores, both north and south of the river. In 1919 he once again tried his own business at the 163 East Merrimack location and ran it until 1921. We don’t know exactly what happened then, but it appears Stella became sick and George quit to take care of her. He didn’t work for two years (at least he didn’t show up the in City Directory).

After Stella died in 1923 George returned to work as a clerk for the Frank R. Strout Provisions store at 329 Bridge Street, a few blocks from home (Strout was another Yankee). He kept his eye on his old store’s neighborhood and when 195 East Merrimack Street (at the other end of the block from the 163 store) became available in 1926, he seized the opportunity. In partnership with Mrs. Georgia B. Quimby, he opened a meat market under the name G.B. Quimby & Co.  Georgia was married to an electrician (Henry) and ran a lodging house at 90 Chestnut Street (also their home). This was apparently her only fling at retail business. Things went well for three years but it the partnership dissolved in 1929. George had moved to Tyngsboro, just west of Lowell at the same time as opening the Quimby store and he remained there until he died in 1931.


Andrew E. Saba 1922-1923 Syrian

In 1922 Andrew Esper Saba, born October 18, 1892 in Syria, ran a provisions store at 163 East Merrimack Street from 1922 to 1923, apparently the only years he spent in Lowell.  We don’t why he came to town for just that time but there are many family connections to consider before focusing on Andrew.

Shaka Saba may have used a fruit cart like this in modern Marrakech Souk, Morocco. From the Seton Hall Library Gallery, photo by Tamara Hill.There were Saba families in Lowell starting in 1897, and they continue to this day.  Shaka Saba, born in Syria in 1881, operated a fruit market at 335 Middlesex, his third year in Lowell. (In an interesting exercise in anglicizing foreign names, Shaka later was known as Shakra G, then George after 1903.)  In 1900, Shaka’s mother, Mankra, and sister, Manoi, lived with him on Farson’s Court (the side door to the Middlesex store).  He operated the market at that location for three years and then became a peddler and an operative for several years, apparently hawking his fruits on the streets in good weather and working in the mills in the bad. In 1909, Shaka/George re-established a confectionery store at 183 Appleton Street, one street over and two blocks closer to the downtown area. (In those days, fruit and confectionery stores often sold the same kinds of goods, namely, something sweet.)

Esper (or Asber or Esber, as he was called at various times) Saba was born in 1864 in Syria. He immigrated in the 1890s and worked in the mills in Lawrence in 1901-1903. In 1909 Esper came to live with George on Middlesex Street and to work in the Lowell mills. The next year, Esper took over the Appleton store, calling it “A. Saba & Sons” Fruits, declaring the proprietors to be Asber, George, and John Saba (although John was not otherwise listed in the City Directory). George Saba, one of the “sons,” was delisted as a proprietor after 1912 (he disappears from sight) and Peter Saba was added.

Actually, the family relations are a bit confused. There had been another George Saba family in Lowell since 1903, George and Rose, with sons Peter and John Asper Saba (along with others). Given that Esper advertised Peter and John as “sons”, there is a strong possibility that this George was Esper’s brother (Esper was born in 1864, George in 1867), making Peter (born 1887) and John A (born 1890) nephews.  To make it more complicated, Peter and John came to live with Esper.  The wording “and Sons” in the company name would simply indicate that it was a family business (although Shaka/George may well have been Esper’s son).

In any case, Asber ran the store until 1915 and then left Lowell. Peter ran the store for another year, worked in the mills for a while until he married a widow, and then operated her grocery store for several years. John also worked in the mills until starting another confectionary store which he ran for about ten years before opening a restaurant and a liquor store, which he ran for many years. One of John’s sons, George Washington Saba, born February 22, 1926, was an example of the patriotism of children of immigrants during World War II. In a newspaper article "George Washington Saba Wants To Join Navy At 17 [sic]”. The article stated “[He] celebrated Washington's birthday and his own too yesterday by volunteering for service in the navy…. Son of Mr. and Mrs. John A. Saba … [said] 'I have always admired my famous namesake,' he told recruiting officers. 'I don't how any better way to celebrate his birthday and mine than by giving my services to the nation he played such an important part in founding.'"

Returning to Andrew, he is not provably Esper Saba’s son, but there is reason to consider it. There is only one person in the entire 1920 Census (out of 892 Sabas) with a given name of Esper/Esber/Asber.  Esper gave his name to a younger, documented daughter, Naifey Esper Saba, so it seemed to be a family tradition. Andrew would be merely another child to have that same middle name. In any case, Esper is a strong presence in Lowell and in another location in Andrew’s life.

Sistersville at the height of second West Virginia oil boom in the 1890s.Andrew immigrated about 1905 and in 1917, at age 25, was in Sistersville, West Virginia (on the Ohio River, bordering Ohio), living with Ace Cassis and working in a store for Joseph Cassis, who lived next door to Ace. Ace and Joseph were co-owners of the store (wholesale groceries) and two other Cassis family members also worked there.  Since Cassis was Andrew’s mother’s maiden name and both these Cassis men were born in Syria, there is a good chance that Ace (born in 1855) was an uncle and Joseph (born in 1878) was a cousin or another uncle.  (There were also family connections in Lowell: George Saba and Simon Cassis shared a building at 64 Adams Street in 1920.)  After Esper left Lowell, he went to West Virginia. In 1920, both Andrew and Esper were working in the West Virginia oil fields and living in Sistersville, although boarding in separate houses.Esper was still in Sistersville, working the oil fields, in the 1930 Census.

Esper had bought news of the Saba’s Lowell entrepreneurial activity when he moved to Sistersville and Andrew eventually decided it was an attractive place to try business on his own.  He married a second-generation Syrian, Hazel, in 1921 and they had twins in Lowell in February, 1922, at the same time he took over the East Merrimack provisions shop. He ran the shop in 1922 and 1923 then, for some unknown reason, left Lowell. He returned to West Virginia where he ran a tobacco shop in 1930 and worked in a retail store in Charleston during the Second World War. After Hazel died in 1982 he moved to California, where he died in 1986.


Ephraim Favreau 1924 French-Canadian*

Ephraim Favreau ran the grocery store after Saba left but his story is even more of a mystery than Saba’s. All we know for certain is that in 1924 he ran the store, that he lived next door at 120 Fayette Street with his wife Melina, and that a Rose Favreau and a Raoul Favreau also lived there (no occupations given and no indication of relation). It’s only on the basis of his name that we guess a French-Canadian background; three of four Favreau families in the 1920 Lowell Census were of French-Canadian background.

There were several families named Favreau in Lowell at the time, notably one running an electrical contracting firm, but Ephraim has no known connection to them. Neither he, Rose, nor Raoul appear in the city directory before 1924 and they are not in the Census for Massachusetts, New Hampshire, or Rhode Island in 1920 or 1930. Ephraim and Raoul disappeared from Lowell after 1924. Rose stayed on, working as an accountant in a furniture store for a couple years until she married a second generation French-Canadian in 1926.


The Chain Stores 1925-1945 (Some Irish)

In 1925 the grocery store was run by the Co-operative Grocery Stores Company. The company started in Lowell in 1916 with a single store and by 1925 owned eleven. It is unknown whether this company was associated with others of a similar name and goal in several other states or whether it was a Massachusetts-only corporation. There were many stores by this name in Massachusetts.

Photo of a wood box contain "Finast Choice Boneless Salt Codfish"In 1926 several of those stores in Lowell were taken over by the Michael O’Keeffe Grocery Company, headquartered in Boston. O’Keeffe, an Irish immigrant born in 1867, immigrated in 1886. By the age of 37 he owned forty-two stores in Boston alone and continued expanding. He had purchased his first store in Lowell in 1905 at 54 Middlesex Street. When he took over the 163 East Merrimack store in 1925, it was his tenth in Lowell. He never lived in Lowell.

In 1925 and 1926, O’Keeffe and two other large northeast grocery chains merged to form the First National Stores Company with 1,644 locations. First National operated the store at least until 1945. It became known as Finast until bought by a Netherlands food conglomerate in the 1990s. O’Keeffe himself retired in 1930, a rich man.



Recently (1955- )

In the mid 1950s, a local French-Canadian grocer, Victor P. Beaudette, moved into the shop vacated by First National Stores.  Beaudette and his wife Claire lived in Dracut and commuted to their grocery in Lowell.  The Beaudettes remained at 163 East Merrimack until the early 1960s.  In 1963, the shop was vacant.  In the mid 1970s, a Spanish-speaking (largely Puerto Rican) Pentecostal group opened a “storefront” church called Iglesia Pentecostal Universal and stayed more than 25 years. It is now a brightly lighted computer showroom for SM Computing.

Thoughts about locations

The ten first or second generation immigrants discussed here (those with headings above, less Somes and Perham, who were Yankees) are summarized in Figure 4. There were six Irish, one second generation son of an English-Irish marriage, one Scot, one Syrian, and one French-Canadian. Some of them worked in the mills before starting their own business, some worked for other bakers, grocers, or furniture dealers, and some immediately open their own shops. Few of them succeeded in the sense of continuing to own their own shops for the rest of their life; indeed, several lasted only one year as an owner.

They worked all over the city. Where they worked before and after their stint at 163 East Merrimack Street is plotted in the figure below. Red dots are locations at which they owned their own businesses; blue are locations at which they worked for other people. (This plots only their retail experience; that is, not mills jobs or the civil service.) We don’t have data on every year for them but more data could only show an even wider distribution. There is a reasonable amount of clumping, given that these locations are all on commercial streets. The only noticeable absences in commercial areas are the Highlands, in the southwest of the city and Pawtucketville, in the northwest.

Booth, Thomas F English2-Irish2
Brennan, Thomas F Irish
Carney, John J Irish
Carroll, Mary J, Mrs. Irish
Cavanagh, Simon A Irish
Cronin, Patrick J Irish
Favreau, Ephraim French-Canadian
McCartin, Patrick Irish
Saba, Andrew E Syrian
Watson, George, II Scottish
Immigrants in business at 163 East Merrimack and their nationalities

Graphic showing locations that proprietors of 163 East Merrimack worked before and after their time there.