July 29, 2009

History of Lawrence, MA Immigrant Communities

Ste-Anne Parish Church, Lawrence, Massachusetts

Ste-Anne Church was located at the corner of Haverhill and Franklin Streets - the chapel was on Haverhill Street. This  is where my family as well as all French-Canadian immigrants  worshiped when they migrated to Lawrence from Quebec.   The church on the right of the street is where the parish began.  It was soon too small to accommodate the growing French-Canadian population.

Once the larger church was built under the leadership of  Father Forestier s.m.,  who was pastor at the time, the original parish church became a chapel for daily mass on the lower level and the upper lever was converted into a parish hall with stage and all where the parish school would hold its plays, graduations and all its events.

In yet later years, as the parish population began to purchase homes in the suburbs, the number of parishioners began to dwindle and Ste Anne Chapel was dismantled and became a second "hall" where parish meetings as well as other activities were conducted.   Eventually and many years later, the Marist Fathers who had ministered since the early 1900's no longer  had enough priests to continue on.  Ste Anne Parish would come to and end as would eventually Our Lady of Mount Carmel, St. Theresa and more recently Sacred Heart.  The Augustian Fathers took over ministry at St. Theresa's merging it with St. Augustine's of Lawrence renaming it Our Lady of Good Consel.   Most recently, Diocesan priest have assumed its ministry.

Anyhow, that big beautiful church that was Ste Anne still stands empty today.  The Archdiocese in recent years finally removed all of the beautiful stained glass windows parishioners had sacrificed to obtain for their beautiful house of worship and those a now in storage.  There was a magnificent weather vane on top of the church and family oral history is that my grandfather and his brother climbed to the very top of that huge building to install it.  I have not been able to verify whether or not this is true.

Ever since I can remember, Lawrence was known as the  "Immigrant City."  Starting with the Irish in the 1840's, it has been home to numerous different immigrant communities, mostly arriving  during the great European immigration to America that ended in the 1920's. Since early 1970s, Lawrence has become home to a sizable Hispanic population, reaching over 68% of the population of Lawrence by 2006.

Immigrant communities, 1845–1920

Lawrence became home to large groups of immigrants from Europe, beginning with the Irish in 1845, Germans after the social upheaval in Germany in 1848, and French Canadians seeking to escape hard northern farm life from the 1850s onward. A second wave began arriving after 1900, as part of the great mass of Italian and Eastern European immigrants, including Jews from Russia, Poland, Lithuania and neighboring regions. Immigration to the United States was severely curtailed in the 1920's with the Immigration Act of 1924, when foreign born immigration to Lawrence virtually ceased for over 40 years. In 1890, the foreign-born population of 28,577 was comprised as follows, with the significant remainder of the population being children of foreign born residents: 7,058 Irish; 6,999 French Canadians; 5,131 English; 2,465 German; 1,683 English Canadian. In 1920, towards the end of the first wave of immigration, most ethnic groups had numerous social clubs in the city. The Portuguese had 2; the English had 2; the Jews had 3; the Armenians, 5; the Lebanese and Syrians, 6; the Irish, 8; the Polish, 9; the French Canadians and Belgian-French, 14; the Lithuanians, 18; the Italians, 32; and the Germans, 47.  However, the center of social life, even more than clubs or fraternal organizations, was churches. Lawrence is dotted with churches, many now closed, torn down or converted into other uses. These churches signify, more than any other artifacts, the immigrant communities that once lived within walking distance of each church.

The French Canadians

French Canadians were the second major immigrant group to settle in Lawrence. In 1872, they erected their first church, St. Anne’s, at the corner of Haverhill and Franklin Streets. Within decades, St. Anne’s established a “missionary church”, Sacred Heart on South Broadway, to serve the burgeoning Québécois community in South Lawrence. Later it would also establish the "missionary" parishes in Methuen: Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Theresa's (Notre-Dame du Mont Carmel et St-Thérèse). The French-Canadians arrived from various farming areas of Quebec where farms had grown arrid for lack of knowledge that crops needed to be rotated after a time. Others who integrated themselves into these French-Canadian communities were actually Acadians who had left the Canadian Maritimes of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia also in search of work.

The Irish

Irish immigrants arrived in Lawrence at its birth, which nearly coincided with the Great Potato Famine of 1842, the event that drove great numbers of Irish out of Ireland. The Great Stone Dam, constructed in from 1845–1848 to power the nascent textile mills, was largely built by Irish laborers. The first Irish immigrants settled in the area south of the Merrimack River near the intersection of Kingston Street and South Broadway. Their shantytown settlement put them close to the dam being constructed, but away from the Essex Corporation row houses built north of the river to attract New England farm girls as mill workers. The religious needs of the Irish were initially met by the Immaculate Conception church, originally erected near the corner of Chestnut and White Street in 1846, the first Roman Catholic church in Lawrence. By 1847, observers counted over ninety shanties in the Irish shantytown. In 1869, the Irish were able to collect sufficient funds form their own church, St. Patrick’s, on South Broadway.

The Germans

The first sizable German community arrived following the revolutions of 1848. However, a larger German community was formed after 1871, when industrial workers from Saxony were displaced by economic competition from new industrial areas like the Ruhr. The German community was characterized by numerous school clubs, shooting clubs, national and regional clubs, as well as men’s choirs and mutual aid societies, many of which were clustered around the Turn Verein, a major social club on Park Street.

The Italians

Some Italian immigrants celebrated Mass in the basement chapel of the largely Irish St. Laurence O’Toole Church, at the intersection of East Haverhill Street and Newbury Street, until they had collected sufficient funds to erect the Holy Rosary Church in 1909 nearby at the intersection of Union Street and Essex Street. Immigrants from Lentini (a city in the Sicilian province of Syracuse) and from the Sicilian province of Catania maintained a particular devotion to three Catholic martyrs, Saint Alfio, Saint Filadelfo and Saint Cirino, and in 1923 began celebrating a procession on their feast day.  Although most of the participants live in neighboring towns, the Feast of Three Saints festival continues in Lawrence today.  My husband's Consentino family came from Mistretta, Italy.  They lived next door to St. Lawrence O'Toole Church but eventually became parishioners of Holy Rosary since it was the Italian ethnic parish of the neighborhood just a few blocks away from where they lived.  This parish was ministered to by the Augustinian Fathers but Diocesan priest have taken the helm and the parish was merged and renamed Corpus Christi Parish.

The Lebanese

Lawrence residents frequently referred to their Arabic-speaking Middle Eastern community as "Syrian". In fact, most so-called Syrians in Lawrence were from present-day Lebanon, and were largely Maronite Christian. Lebanese immigrants organized St. Anthony’s Maronite Church in 1903 .  Pictured here is  St. George’s Orthodox Church, the oldest Greek Orthodox-rite Church in the United States.


The Jews

Jewish merchants became increasingly numerous in Lawrence and specialized in dry goods and retail shops. The fanciest men's clothing store in Lawrence, Kap's, established in 1902 and closed in the early 1990s, was founded by Elias Kapelson, born in Lithuania. Jacob Sandler and two brothers also immigrated from Lithuania in approximately 1900 and established Sandlers Department Store, which continued in business until 1978. In the 1880s, the first Jewish arrivals established a community around Common, Valley, Concord and Lowell Streets. In the 1920s, the Jews of Lawrence began congregating further up Tower Hill, where they erected two synagogues on Lowell Street above Milton Street, as well as a Jewish Community Center on nearby Haverhill Street. All three institutions had closed their doors by 1990 as the remaining elderly members of the community died out or moved away.

The Polish

The Polish community of Lawrence was estimated to be only 600–800 persons in 1900. However by 1905, the community had expanded sufficiently to fund the construction of the Holy Trinity Church at the corner of Avon and Trinity Streets.  Their numbers grew to 2,100 Poles in 1910. Like many of their immigrant brethren from other nations, most of the Poles were employed in woolen and worsted goods manufacturing.


The English

A sizable English community, comprised mainly of unskilled laborers that arrived after 1880, sought work in the textile mills where they were given choice jobs by the Yankee overseers on account of their shared linguistic heritage and close cultural links.

Yankee farmers

Not all immigrants to Lawrence were foreign-born or their children. Yankee farmers, unable to compete against the cheaper farmlands of the Midwest that had been linked to the East coast by rail, settled in corners of Lawrence. Congregationalists were the first Protestant denomination to begin worship in South Lawrence, with the erection in 1852 of the first South Congregational Church on South Broadway, near the corner of Andover  Street.

First Settlers

Of  course, the very first settlers were the English who pioneered our villages back in the 1600's and early 1700's.  In 1776 the American Revolution ensued - the rest is history!

Sources:  Personal notes and experiences and Wikipedia.   I have been unable to find photos of all the churches but I am still searching.  We knew where all of these communities were when I was growing up and there were postcards of all the churches and my sister took many photos as well.

Lucie's Legacy
Lucie LeBlanc Consentino


No comments: