Part 1 –1897 to 1972
In November of 1972 Le Club Social de Pawtucketville celebrated its 75th anniversary. We quote here the history of the club, written by Richard Santerre, as it appeared in the 75th anniversary souvenir program. Ed.
Seventy-five years of community spirit
Le Club Social de Pawtucketville
1897 – 1972
by Richard Santerre
Pawtucketville, the section of Lowell, Massachusetts, bounded by Beaver Brook, the Merrimack river and the town lines of Dracut and Tyngsboro, is one of the oldest and yet newer sections of the city. Oldest in that its history precedes the founding of the nation, newer in that it was annexed to Lowell only in 1874.
The word “Pawtucket,” meaning “at the falls” was used by the Indians to designate a tract of land extending from Beaver brook to Tyngs island and then to the farther shore of Lake Mascuppic. Long before the arrival of the white man, the area where now stands Lowell Technological Institute [Which later became University of Massachusetts – Lowell. Ed.] was the chief meeting place for the Indians of Merrimack valley, and capitol seat of the great sagamore Passaconaway and later his son Wannalancit, last of the great chiefs.
With the arrival of the colonists, Pawtucketville became a part of Dracut and during the Revolutionary War, the area furnished two companies of minutemen. In 1972, with the completion of the Pawtucket bridge, the first toll bridge in operation over the Merrimack, Mammoth Road became the main route from Canada to Boston.
The beginning of the nineteenth century was a period of industrial expansion. Lowell, founded as the nation’s first planned industrial community, came into existence as a town in 1826 and ten years later became a city. It was inevitable that, as an ever growing industrial city, it would soon need room for expansion. Therefore, in 1874, Pawtucketville was annexed to Lowell. Efforts immediately began to develop the educational and social potential of the area. The Pawtucked school was built in 1884, the Lowell Textile school was opened in 1895 and the Lowell General Hospital was founded on Varnum Avenue. The vast tracts of land made available in Pawtucketville also filled an important need of the city’s growing population.
From 1880 to 1895, the population of Lowell increased from 59,485 to 84,359 and by 1900 reached 94,969. With this rapid increase and the consequent growth of the business district in the heart of the city, many families moved to the outlying sections. From 1886 to 1896, the total population increased 31 percent while the increase in dwelling houses was 41 percent. This increase in dwellings was in large part made possible by the extension of the street railway system which had led people to go towards the suburbs and own their own homes. This is particularly true in Pawtucketville. In 1890, the electric trolleys came to Pawtucketville, and by 1893, the contractor Henry Emery began subdividing lots for house construction. At that time, the land west of Textile (then called Moody Street and later to become University Avenue) was nothing but an empty field and there were only about 25 Franco-American families in all Pawtucketville.
The building boom in Pawtucketville was on and every year more and more houses and lots were sold. The area was particularly attractive to the Franco-Americans. Living in crowded conditions in large tenement blocks in “Little Canada’” many dreamed of owning their own home with a small garden in Pawtucketville or of living in the country away from the noise and smoke of the mills. With the opening of the Moody Street bridge in September 1896, the building boom took on greater proportions. One of the large contractors, Vital Robert took regular advertisements in L’Etoile, Lowell’s French daily newspaper, announcing his houses and lots, and soon the area around Textile came to be called “le Haut Canada” because of its northerly direction from “le Petit Canada.”
By November 1897, the city had paved Textile Avenue from the bridge to Riverside Street and had installed sidewalks along Textile Avenue up to Fourth Avenue. Eugene Perrault had just completed two three story houses corner of Textile and Gershom, Fred McKercher had completed a three story house on Crawford Street and began another next to it. The summer before he had built two apartment houses on Gershom Avenue. On Phoebe Avenue, Arthur Genest finishes his third two story house to be built in a year. A. J. Ryan had completed three eight room houses on Textile Avenue and three others on Seventh Avenue, while in the space of two months, A. J. Dunphy built eight single family houses. Also Rodrick Descheneaux finished two houses on Textile Avenue and Vital Robert was completing eight cottages on Fifth Avenue. Everywhere houses seemed to spring out of the ground.
The population of Pawtucketville was increasing at such a rapid rate that in September 1898, the city opened a new grammar school on Textile Avenue. Meanwhile the Franco-Americans of Pawtucketville were becoming more and more numerous and it was inevitable that they form an association. The occasion was the municipal election of 1897.
For the leaders of the Franco-American community at the end of the nineteenth century, elections were always a source of major activity and concern. They knew that for the Franco-Americans to be recognized and to hold their rightful place in the community, they had not only to vote but also to become naturalized citizens. In 1896, in a French population of almost 20,000, only 1,289 were citizens. From the pulpit, the Oblates exhorted their parishioners to become citizens, business and professional men made speeches urging those eligible to vote to register, and the French press spread the cry, “Encourageons la naturalization. L’Union fait la force. Votez.”
Therefore, every election was the occasion to present French candidates and especially to launch naturalization and voter registration drives. The organizational end of the movement was concentrated in L’Union Franco-Americaine founded in 1895. It supplied the information, money, lawyer and papers necessary to become a citizen and coordinated the movement. Usually, during the yearly municipal elections various short lived clubs were formed to stir enthusiasm and distribute first citizen papers. The fall of 1897 was no different.
Thursday night, September 16, 1897, William Drapeau and Atty. Jean Baptiste D. Jacques called a meeting to found the Club des Jeunes Républicains. Sunday afternoon, September 19, president Louis P. Turcotte called a meeting of L’Union Franco-Américaine at which 53 persons submitted applications for citizenship. Wednesday the 22nd, the Club Democratique Canado-Américain was formed. It was therefore no surprise when on Monday, September 20, 1897, L’Etoile published:
POUR LA NATURALISATION
Les Canadiens de Pawtucketville s’en mêlent
Il y aura Mardi soir, le 21 septembre courant, une grande Assemblée de tous les Canadiens de Pawtucketville dans la boulangerie de M. Henri Alexander, édifice Délisle, avenue Gershom. Que tous s’y rendent.
The meeting was held as announced but in Léon Gélinas’ empty grocery store on Textile Avenue near Gardner Avenue instead. J. W. Alexander presided and made a speech urging naturalization. He was elected president of the meeting and C. R. Daoust, secretary. Ten persons present took their final papers while several others asked for their first papers. A vigilance committee composed of A. E. Columbe, N. Grandchamp, Aimé Drainville, L. C. Gélinas, Octave Page was formed to seek out those Franco-Americans of Pawtucketville eligible to become citizens. Meeting was adjourned to the following Tuesday. Fifty men attended the next meeting in Henri Alexander’s bakery. L. P. Turcotte, Louis Lamy, Ernest Genest, C. R. Daoust, Vital Robert, N. Grandchamp, J. Laliberté, N. Milhot, Léon Gélinas and Henri Alexander spoke and Charles Daoust, author and former editor of Le National of Lowell, offered to give free English lessons to anyone who didn’t know enough English to register
At the next regular meeting October 12, presided by J.W. Alexander, after a speech by Atty. Joseph Monette and other distinguished guests, the members decided to form a permanent club. By October 19, the members were already thinking as a community organization and named committees to see the proper authorities to have a light installed at the corner of Textile and Gershom and to have a policeman assigned to the district.
The Club is Established
At the next meeting November 9 in the blacksmith shop of A.E. Columbe at the corner of Textile and Gershom Avenues where now stands the club, L.P. Turcotte and Calixte Dozois explained one of the ideas which led to the formation of the club, “les nombreux besoins du nouveau district et la manière pratique d’arriver à les satisfaire.” Pawtucketville had grown faster than the municipal services. There were no streetlights, very few sidewalks, unpaved and undrained streets and no crosswalks. An effective organization was needed to press for the betterment of the area. Committees were named to ask the city to install street drains and cinder crossings, and, a month later, a committee would be sent to the city’s express companies asking them to deliver the belongings addressed to Pawtucketville residents. L.P. Turcotte, Napoleon Grandchamp and Isidore Turcotte began preparing the constitution.
November 16, 1897, the temporary organization was declared permanent and the club named Club Social des Canadiens de Pawtucketville et des Environs. November 23, Coulumbe hall was decorated and before fifty assembled members, the constitution adopted. The new club had 65 members. Fifteen new members were admitted November 30 and the first permanent officers elected: president J.W. Alexander; vice president Vital Robert; secretary Charles R. Daoust; assistant secretary Jesse Alexander; treasurer L.N. Milot; and assistant treasurer Napoléon Grandchamp. With the club firmly established, the other purpose behind its founding was implemented, “la récréation sociale, l’avancement intellectuel et politique de ses members. Afin de promouvoir l’avancement politique, toutes discussions politiques seront premises pendant les reunions du club.” December 7, two weeks before the elections, two hundred persons assembled in Columbe hall for a Democrat candidates night. One week later a Republican night was held.
At the February 22, 1898 meeting, the club inaugurated a series of weeklylectures. J.S. Lapierre, president of L’Union Saint-Joseph, began the series with a talk on the history and progress of the Franco-Americans of Lowell. He was followed on March 1 by city assessor Avila Bourbonniere who spoke on civil service, March 8 author Charles Daoust on the history of America from the Revolution to John Adams, March 15 journalist Edouard Vincelette on Thomas Jefferson, March 22 Alberic Daigle, president of the knitters union spoke on the local labor situation, March 29 Aime Gauthier, publisher of L’Etoile on home economy, April 5 J.E. Venne, businessman, on the duty of the Canadians in the United States during the present crisis with Spain, and on April 19 Dr. S. Bellehumeur on the faculties of the brain. The series ended April 26, 1898 with the much awaited oratorical debate between club secretary Charles Daoust and Atty. J.B.D. Jacques of the C.M.A.C. literary club, Le Cercle Garin, discussing the pros and cons of the “emancipation of women.” The debate was held in two sessions, one at the club, and the other at the C.M.A.C. Of course, apart from the lectures and the politics, petitions were still being sent to the city for various improvements – the continuation of Textile Avenue to Fifth Avenue and the continuation of Robert Street from Fifth to Fourth Avenue.
The club was now firmly established. Its community spirit and fraternal consciousness were well anchored. The members took pride in their club and in Pawtucketville. The first demonstration of this pride took place on May 10, 1898. The Spanish American War was at its peak and Admiral Dewey’s fleet had just captured Manilla. Among Lowell’s Franco-American community patriotism and loyalty to the adopted country ran high.
The night of May 10, 3,000 persons gathered on Textile Avenue in front of the club. The façade had been decorated with flags and the names Dewey and Cuba, and a platform erected near the door. Ernest Genest’s block in front of the club had also been decorated and on the second story balcony a group of French girls united their voices with the club’s chorus in singing patriotic songs. Alfred Pare’s orchestra provided the music. During the music and the raising of the flag, the air was filled with roman candles and fireworks. On the platform, before the city and state dignitaries, J.W. Alexander explained the spirit of the celebration:
Notre patrie est les Etats-Unis et notre Drapeau est la bannière étoilée. Nous sommes prêts à défender les deux jusqu’à la dernière goutte de notre sang. Plusieurs des nôtres sont déjà enrolés dans l’armée et dans la marine et si le pays en à besoin d’autres, des milliers de Canado-Américains sont prêts à répondre: Présent! Nous avons aboré notre Drapeau ce soir pour célébrer la grande victoire de l’amiral Dewey dans ce port de Manille et il flottera sur nos salles tant que la victoire des Etats-Unis n’aura pas été complète et décisive!
The demonstration ended with the singing of “O Canada” and the “Chanson Patriotique Américaine” composed by Lowell’s Casimir Michel.
With one success behind, eight days later May 18, the club presented at the Music Hall, its first attempt at dramatics. In front of a packed house which included delegations from all the French societies, the club amateurs presented Moliere’s three act comedy Les Fourberies de Scapin followed by musical selections and song solos. The profits of course went to naturalization.
During the summer of 1898, word reached Lowell that Georges Charette, Lowell sailor and a resident of Gershom Avenue, a stone’s throw from the club, had been proclaimed a national hero for his bravery in sinking the Merrimac in the straits of Santiago de Cuba. As a general wave of patriotic fervor engulfed the city at the news, the club mobilized all its efforts to honor the young French hero from Pawtucketville. Wednesday, September 7, 1898, following the young sailor’s triumphant return to Lowell, the club organized a grand civic reception in his honor at Associate Hall. In the presence of Mayor Bennett, Congressman Knox, Senator Putnam, Judge Pickman and General Dimon, the officers vied with each other in oratorical skill raising French eloquence to new heights. Finally, at a solemn moment, the members presented Georges Charette with a gold ceremonial sword purchased by popular subscription.
As these activities prove, the popularity of the club was increasing, with new members signing up at every meeting. The hall in A. Columbe’s blacksmith shop had become too small, so in January 1899, construction began on its enlargement. Enthusiasm however, does not always go with good construction. Consequently, at the debate January 8, 1899 between author Georges Crepeau of the club and journalist Arthur Beaucage of the Cercle Garin, the floor of the unfinished hall began to sag and sink. As the debate roared on, committeemen rushed to the cellar to shore up the floor. In March 1899, the club endorsed the candidacy of Avila Bourbonniere as chairman of the Lowell Board of Assessors, the inauguration of a long tradition of political action.
By October 1900, there were 1,390 Franco-Americans in Pawtucketville and the club had become one of the more influential French organizations in the city. Large delegations took part in the golden jubilees of Père Joseph Mangin, O.M.I. in October 1903 and Père Joseph Lefebvre, O.M.I. in 1908, both pastors of Saint Joseph parish. Under the chairmanship of Louis N. Milot, A. Hamel and Arthur Genest, the club mounted in the mammoth Saint Jean Baptiste day parade of 1906, a float showing Cornwallis’ surrender to Washington and Lafayette at the battle of Yorktown. The Club Social’s prestige was undisputed as it organized on December 31, 1912 with the C.M.A.C., the C.C.A. and the Club Social de Centralville, the testimonial banquet in honor of Xavier Delisle, congressman John Jacob Rogers’ secretary and future postmaster of Lowell from 1822-1935. Euclide Cinq-Mars, Henri Allard, Joseph Harvey and Olivia Poirier represented the club on the committee.
In 1909, The Franco-American population of Pawtucketville had increased to 2,593 persons of which 365 children attended parochial schools and 250 public schools. The parish authorities began seeking a solution to the problem of the long distance which the children had to walk to Saint Joseph’s school on Moody Street. For a while, classes were taught in the Club Social’s hall by Miss Ernestine Alexander and Miss Sawyer. In October 1910, however, Père Henri Wattelle, O.M.I. blessed three classes of the little schoolhouse, Notre-Dame du Sacré-Coeur, he had built on Fourth Avenue. The first day, 130 students, 50 boys and 80 girls enrolled. The growth of the area was such that in December 1910, Cardinal O’Connell created St. Rita’s parish (then called St. Columban) for Pawtucketville’s English speaking residents. The pastor Fr. Deegan, not having a church, celebrated the first Masses in the club’s hall.
The club was prospering to such an extent that when the opportunity presented itself to buy the building containing the club’s rooms at the corner of Gershom and Textile Avenues, it was decided to take the final step in organizing an association. Many of the members were distinguished and important businessmen in the community, for example, grocer W. Thibodeau and contractor Arthur Genest were the first persons in Pawtucketville to own automobiles. It was decided to incorporate as the Social Club of Pawtucketville. The signers of the charter of incorporation dated April 17, 1914 were: Joseph Payette, Josephat Sawyer, Olivia Brunelle, Arthur Genest, Louis Descheneaux, Euclide Cinq-Mars, Albert Lemay, Frederick Theriault, Damase Ledoux, Urcis Larue, William Thibodeau, Rodrick Descheneaux, Avila Sawyer, Omer Smith, Ulric Morin, Wilbrod Sawyer, Oliva Poirier and Rosaire Tourangeau. Two weeks later on April 29, 1914, Avila Sawyer and Arthur Genest bought for the club the land and buildings at the corner of Gershom and Textile Avenues for $3,500 from William Chaffee.
Although the club was prosperous in the devotion of its members, it was not rich, in money. Members paid 15cents dues per month, the roof leaked and sometimes members had to buy their own coal or wood to put in the pot bellied stove. The members however had a strong sense of harmony and club spirit. Men came every night after work to play whist, checkers or pool with their friends and whoever left last locked the door. In the summer, there were so many members assembled on the sidewalk in front of the building that it was suggested that a porch be built in back of the club to get them off the street.
To finance the purchase of the building, shares were sold to members and a mortgage taken at the Caisse Populaire Jeanne d’Arc. In 1920, a second mortgage was taken from Oliva Poirier to buy back the shares. Steady revenue was provided by the dues and by the rent from the two stores in front of the club. In 1920 they were occupied by the bakery of J.B. Boudreau and Joseph Bouchard’s shoe repair. Over the years, there were various tenants – Stoddard’s bakery, a Chinese laundry, etc. The last tenant was Joseph Payette’s tailor shop which he rented after the fire in June 1928 and relinquished in 1949 when the club was enlarged. The most important sources of revenue for the club were the various activities organized throughout the year. Whist tournaments, smokers, dances, ladies nights, raffles, turkey nights, checker contests, Christmas and New Years parties, all added money to the club’s budget.
The single most important event however was the annual Mardi Gras celebration. The Mardi Gras celebrations which began shortly after World War I, were held throughout the twenties and thirties. Held first in Associate Hall, they were then held in the C.C.A.’s hall on Middle Street and finally after 1928 in the club’s own hall. Grandiose affairs, the Mardi Gras usually took the form of a costume ball with the officers leading the grand march. The annual profits from this affair paid the club’s municipal tax bills. The ball of 1924 showed a profit of $300! By the mid 1920’s the dues were up to 40cents a month and on December 4, 1924, the mortgage was burned.
Lest we get the impression that the club forgot its political, community and ethnic origin, let us examine some of the other activities of this period. After the demise of L’Union Franco-Américaine at the turn of the century, the Comité Permanent de Naturalisation was formed. Composed of delegates from all the associations and clubs, it continued the work of its predecessor. The Club Social de Pawtucketville sent annually three delegates to the Comite Permanent until its demise in 1942. The club consistently played an active role in the citizenship movement and financially supported the Comite Permanent. Club members organized voter registration drives and canvassed the area for Franco-Americans eligible to become citizens.
It was also very active politically, ever faithful to the ideas of its founders that for the Franco-Americans to be recognized, they have to hold their share of elective offices. The Club had actively supported the candidacy of John B. Boudreau, ward 7 councilor from 1907 to 1909. In 1921 unlimited free use of the club hall was granted to club member and former ward 7 councilor Arthur Genest for his bid for election. August 23, 1923 a special meeting was held to endorse the candidacy of E. J. Larochelle to the position of deputy sheriff of Middlesex County, and in 1924, at the specific request of the Comite Permanent that a French candidate be found for the School Committee election, club secretary Arthur Giroux was elected to the position in 1925 and held it until 1927. In 1928, the club voted $25 to its president Victor Picard to help in his school committee campaign.
As several members noted in 1922, “il serait bon de parler de politique de temps a autre.” The members kept informed of the latest political changes. Also, the most powerful Franco-American politicians belonged to the club, Joseph Légaré, first F. -A. postmaster of Lowell, Atty. Xavier Delisle, Rep. Henri Achin, City Solicitor Henri Charbonneau, Councilor and later senator Joseph Montminy. The membership was actively courted by city hall, but, conscious of its strength, it remained independent. In October 1921, the members invited James B. Casey to come and explain the new city charter, while in the same year, they refused Mayor Thompson’s request to come and speak before them.
Pawtucketville had progressed over the years but there was still a lot of room for improvement. In 1920, a delegation was sent to complain about the inadequate trolley service on Textile Avenue; in 1921, a petition containing 175 names requested that all of Textile Avenue be paved; in 1924, a joint committee was named with the Club Social de Centralville to have a bridge built over Beaver brook; and in 1925 a delegation from the club has the directors of Lowell Textile School remove the trees and bushes at the corner of Riverside Street and Textile Avenue, a dangerous traffic hazard, etc.
Père Charles Denizot, O.M.I. attended the December 16,1920 meeting to urge the Club Social to officially protest against the Smith-Tower federal education bill, which proposed the government control of all the nation’s schools, especially the parochial schools. The club secretary sent letters to Congressman Rogers and Senators Lodge and Walsh urging defeat of the bill. Convinced Franco-Americans, the members knew what sacrifices they had made to build and maintain their separate schools and parishes and how important they were to ethnic survival, Even now there was a movement to establish a French parish in Pawtucketville.
In January 1923, there were about 4,085 Franco-Americans in this section of the city and by 1924 the number had risen to 5,505. As early as January 1913, the residents of the area had held meetings in the club to discuss the formation of a parish. By October 1915, a request for a new parish was sent to Cardinal O’Connell and a permanent committee composed of Joseph Payette, Josephat Sawyer and Oliva Brunelle named to follow through on the request. Finally the Cardinal agreed and in 1921 the little schoolhouse on Fourth Avenue became Ste. Jeanne d’Arc mission. Newly elected president Joseph Payette declared on January 6, 1921, “Comme le mouvement est parti du Club pour demander à Cardinal O’Connell l’établissement d’une nouvelle Paroisse canadienne dans Pawtucketville, nous devons faire tous nos efforts maintenant pour venir en aide à payer les dépenses pour bâtir une place pour dire la messe.” A dramatic soiree presented January 23 netted $95 for the new church. In March 1921, the officers presented Pere Eugene Turcotte, O.M.I., Oblate vice-provincial, with $100 to be used towards the purchase of a rectory, and later donated another $50 for the furniture. The club lent its chairs for the first Mass April 17, 1921. The members’ generosity toward the parish and its works manifested itself early, for example, when they offered their hall and a donation in March 1924 to help found the Garde Ste. Jeanne d’Arc. Yearly prizes were also given to the parish schools and youth organizations, a practice which continues today. The club’s generosity did not limit itself solely to Franco-American causes. The profits of a smoker in April 1923 were donated to the striking Boston and Maine workers, and in 1921, money was given to help build a Negro Protestant church in Lowell.
With the mortgage paid off in 1924, with a new parish formed and with Pawtucketville expanding at an ever rapid rate, membership began to rise sharply, and it was decided to enlarge the club at a cost of $2,446.14. Two mortgages, one from Omer Deziel and the other from Oliva Poirier were taken out in March 1925. By 1926, the club was worth $9,000.00, the furniture $1,390.30, and the mortgage was down to $1,900. The whist and cribbage tournaments between the Lowell clubs were at a high and a new fund raising item had been added, the annual picnic. Originally held in conjunction with the C.C.A. and the Comite Permanent, the picnics in the twenties were held in June at Allardvale in Dracut. Later they would move to Red Pine Grove in Tyngsboro and then to the Tyngsboro Country Club where it has been held for the past 25 years.
Fortune seemed to smile on the organization until Saturday June 9, 1928 when the club’s building was severely damaged by fire at a loss of $4,512. A new construction committee composed of Arthur Genest, Donat Genest and Euclide Cinq-Mars was immediately named and Avila Sawyer drew up the plans. Arthur Genest took out the mortgage for $7,500. The reconstruction included four bowling alleys in the cellar. Prior to the fire, the rules stated that a candidate had to be 21 for admission. Oftentimes, a birth certificate was required since many men falsified their age in order to be admitted. The French population of Pawtucketville was growing and the club was the only neighborhood club in Pawtucketville. This fact plus the addition of the bowling alleys prompted the officers in August 1928 to lower the admission age to 17. The only other condition was that he speak French. The change was a windfall. September 20, 24 new members, 19 under 21, were admitted and September 27, 38 more, and so it continued for weeks. Many of the older members disliked the new rules since they feared the changes the younger members would bring, but everything went well. November 14, the club officially re-opened with a concert and a dance. Bowling leagues were formed and multiplied. Weekly contests with neighboring clubs were held and in general everything went well, even the mortgage was down $500 in 1929.
Suddenly the depression struck. Members fell in arrears and the officers had to exercise extreme prudence in the club’s expenses. Dues were lowered back to 25 cents a month and some members were allowed to do work in the club in exchange for their dues. A new category of associate member was created at 25 cents per year with $1 to be reinstated. Yet, despite these measures, many fell from the roster. November 1930, at Mayor Branden’s request, Arthur Giroux, Pierre Leblanc and Adolphe Brassard were appointed a committee to find work for unemployed members. During this period, Alex Mailloux took over the mortgage from Arthur Genest and in 1934, Omer Lambert bought it from Alex Mailloux. Revenues were always just ahead of expenses and depended greatly on the members’ dedication and ingenuity in organizing fund raising events.
The financial stability of the organization was reestablished with the amending of the constitution in April 1933 to permit the sale of beer and then in December to permit the sale of liquor. The license cost $250, $150 of which had to be borrowed. Obviously, it was not the first time that liquor appeared on the club’s premises. There had always been suspicions that the club librarian had more bottles than books in some of his bookcases, and during Prohibition, the automobile of the club’s semi-official bootlegger Henri Duval could be often seen parked in front of the club. At first, the older members did not want to admit liquor. Liquor licenses had never been granted in Pawtucketville and if the club had one, it would draw all the bums and drunks. But the younger members were persistent and showed that on the contrary, the club could control those who had access to the bar and it wasn’t open to the public. Also it would provide a steady revenue. A delegation was sent to Pere Leon Lamothe, O.M.I., pastor of Ste. Jeanne d’Arc, for his opinion. He had no objection provided that women were not admitted to the club. The motion passed and gradually the financial situation brightened and the mortgage was burned. The admission age was changed to 21 again.
At the end of the thirties, naturalization and citizenship ceased to be an issue since by now most of the Franco-American population was native born and in December 1942, the Comite Permanent closed its books. The Club Social de Pawtucketville had been a member to the end. Political activities at the club were unabated however. The hall was regularly given to the Republican City Committee meetings, since if you were Franco-American you were Republican. Candidate’s nights drew crowds and during fellow member Dewey Archambault’s mayoral campaign in 1933 and 1935, activity was at a fever pitch. The club officially campaigned in his favor and when he became in 1936 Lowell’s first – and only – popularly elected Franco-American mayor, members ran out of the club to join the spontaneous city wide victory parade as it passed by.
In 1925, the section of Pawtucketville from Beaver brook to Mammoth Road became Ward 6 and, for the first time, Pawtucketville became a separate political division. From 1925 until Plan E in 1944, ward 6 regularly elected a Franco-American as its ward councilor, all of whom were club members of course. Joseph Montminy represented ward 6 from1926 to 1937, before becoming state senator in 1939. Leo Roy, who had been club president from 1930 to 1935, was elected ward councilor from 1938 to 1943.
With the change to Plan E and the elimination of ward councilors, the political importance of the club diminished, since all councilors were elected at large. Most of the Plan E Franco-American councilors and school committeemen were members of the club. Pawtucketville, along with Centralville, is one of the strongest, most homogeneous Franco-American sections of Lowell, and theoretically a solid block of votes. All of the Plan E Franco-American mayors were club members, and when Leo Roy became mayor in 1946, the Club Social organized a gala banquet reception in his honor at C.M.A.C. hall on February 27, 1946.
When Plan E was adopted reorganizing the city’s political structure, the leading Franco-Americans formed L’Union Franco-Americaine in 1943, composed of delegations from all of Lowell’s French associations. L’Union’s purpose was to organize and marshal the Franco-Americans political force and activities in line with the new system to insure that there would be adequate French representation in the city’s elective offices. The Club Social was a sustaining member until L’Union’s demise in 1957.
Gradually, however, the club’s interest in politics waned. One of its last official acts in this domain took place in October 1952 when, at the suggestion of William Patenaude, member of the school committee, a letter was sent to the mayor and each school committeeman recommending that club member Gerald Leblanc be named principal of the Oakland School. By the time that the constitution was revised in 1966, the wind had so turned that politics were outlawed from the club and the president authorized to ban all political discussion! Autre temps, autres moeurs!
A Neighborhood Organization
Proud of its past and of its accomplishments, the members organized on Wednesday, November 19, 1937 at C.M.A.C. hall a banquet to celebrate the club’s 40th anniversary. Under the able direction of toastmaster Joseph Montminy, mayor Archambault presented the city’s greetings, Pere Gaston LeHouiller, O.M.I. represented the parish, Atty. Alphee Achin toasted “les dames,” Antoine Clement, editor of L’Etoile spoke for the press and Arthur Giroux reminisced about the club. Joseph Payette was president of the banquet. Anniversary year officers were: president Joseph Payette, vice-president Armand Dupont, treasurer Arthur Giroux, assistant treasurer Georges Blazon, secretary Maurice Drouin, assistant secretary, Armand Desloges, librarian Raymond Caron, hall attendant Alphonse Banville; finance committee Pierre Leblanc, Josaphat Sawyer, Leo Bilodeau; hall committee Charles Geoffroy, Georges Perreault, Alfred Chandonnet; liquor committee Alexandre Bolduc, Arthur Giroux, Rodolphe Beauchesne and Origene Descoteaux.
The unique spirit of harmony and cooperation which exists in the club is in large part due to its character as a neighborhood organization. As a neighborhood club for Franco-Americans, this means that most of the members probably grew up together, went to school together and go to church together. Every one knows everyone else aside from club meetings. It is this community spirit which enabled the club to endure seventy-five years and it is this spirit which was manifested on December 5, 1946 at the mammoth reception to the club’s returning WWII veterans.
In 1919, the club had joined with all of the other Franco-American organizations in the general committee to welcome back the Franco-American war veterans. This time however it organized its own celebration. Four hundred persons gathered at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium to honor the club’s veterans. Forty-one veterans held membership when the war began while 200 other veterans became members after joining the armed services. The “charter veterans”, as they were known, were each presented a billfold, suitably engraved, by committee chairman Alfred Lacourse while committee secretary Tancrede Blanchette read the list. These veterans occupied special tables on the stage. All 241 veterans were guests of the club at the banquet. Lucien Brunelle, national vice-president of the 40 and 8 organization was toastmaster of the affair. A special tribute was paid at the banquet to the memory of Arthur Descheneaux, the only club member to die in action and grandson of club founder Rodrick Descheneaux. In February 1949, a portrait of Arthur Descheneaux was placed in memoriam in the club’s hall. An honor roll of all the veterans still hangs in the club also.
Community spirit was still high. Recommendations were still being made for the betterment of Pawtucketville and in January 1956 a letter was sent to City Manager Frank Barrett asking for a traffic survey of Textile Avenue. On November 11, 1957, councilors Ayotte and Lord, city manager Barrett and traffic superintendent Goudouras met at the club for a hearing on the question of a municipal parking lot on Textile Avenue and installing parking meters. The refurbishing of Fels playground next to the club as a volleyball court was also a result of the club’s urging of the municipal authorities. Many of the matters concerning the betterment of Pawtucketville are now handled however by the Pawtucketville Businessmen’s Association founded in 1956.
The club has never forgotten its origin and that it is Franco-American. Apart from the social side of the French temperament-zest of life, joviality and spontaneity manifested in the Mardi Gras celebrations, the New Years eve parties and the annual picnic in August, the club has always encouraged Franco-American activities and institutions. Since its opening in 1910, Ste. Jeanne d’Arc school has benefited yearly from the club’s generosity in end of the year prizes, $100 in 1947 and $50 yearly ever since. A $500 stained glass window was given to Ste. Jeanne d’Arc church in 1945, almost $4,000 was contributed to the construction of the parish school and sizeable contributions were made to the convent and rectory building funds. Particularly interested in youth, the club made yearly contributions to the C.Y.O., the Boy Scouts and in the 1940’s and 1950’s to the Garde Ste. Jeanne d’Arc. Thousands of dollars were also donated over the years to l’Orphelinat Franco-Américain, St. Joseph’s Hospital and the Marist Brothers, who once taught at Ste. Jeanne d’Arc and St. Joseph grammar schools.
The members being for the most part parishioners of Ste. Jeanne d’Arc, in August 1955, the tradition of the annual communion breakfast in honor of deceased members was inaugurated. The march to the church from the club quarters began at 6:45 a.m. under the direction of Lucien Brunelle with Donald Brunelle and Gustave Mineau as aides. Color bearers were Walter Lajeunesse and Armand Desmarais. Armand Geoffroy, Armand Dupont, Leo Déry and Roger Desrochers were altar boys. Following taps and a flag raising, everyone adjoined to the parish hall for a “conférence illustrée” on Europe by Judge Arthur L. Eno.
At its inception in 1929 to its demise in 1957, the club was an annual subscriber to Lowell’s Alliance Française, Franco-American cultural organization par excellence. From the 1920’s to the 1940’s the members and the officers made it a duty to celebrate and participate in the annual St. Jean Baptiste day picnics and banquets, and in 1971 and 1972 actively participated in the organization of the huge Franco-American week programmes in June. In 1967 the club also sponsored the Concours d’Histoire Franco-Americaine organized in Lowell’s parochial schools in conjunction with the centenary of St. Jean Baptiste parish in 1968. Although in August 1966, the club became officially bilingual with members free to speak either in French or English at the meetings, it is still a requirement for admission that one of the applicant’s parents be Franco-American.
Sports activities over the years have been numerous but most of the outdoor sports began in the 1930’s. From its inception, whist, cribbage, pool and checker tournaments were club mainstays, with the first whist contests between the Club Social and the Association Catholique held in 1899. As late as 1949 and 1950, a mammoth pool, card and bowling tournament was organized with the Club Duvernay in Manchester, N.H.
In the 1920’s, tug of war teams were springing up all over the city and in 1928 the club organized its own and bought the necessary belts and sweaters. Under Ulric Turgeon as captain from 1928-1929, the team won a silver trophy from the Dracut Naturalization Club in July 1928. Alexis Morin succeeded Turgeon as captain in 1929 and kept the team going a few years more until its disbandment.
By then the new bowling alleys, installed in 1928 had everyone’s attention. Bowling leagues multiplied and outside competition was invited. The club’s bowling league remains active and still holds its bowling awards night. In October 1949, when, due to expansion, the four alleys were removed and sold to the C.M.A.C of Lawrence for $300, the league transferred its activities to the C.M.A.C. lanes.
Baseball as an organized activity appeared on the scene in January 1931 when a committee composed of William Dupont, Joseph Payette, Léo Lippé, Léon Vallée, and Armand Dupont organized a league. The first attempt was more or less informal and short lived. Therefore, in March 1947, Edouard Ayotte, Wilde Chaput, Leon Fontaine, Albert Lemay and Arthur Roberge organized another baseball league. Admitted to the Lowell Twilight League, the club league became rather renowned and played all over New England. In 1949, the league officially ceased its activities and reorganized itself into a softball league in April 1951 headed by a committee of Léon Fontaine, Roger Ducharme, Robert Ayotte, Gerard Vallerand, and Paul Thibodeau. The softball league reached notoriety in 1952 under the direction of Albert “Skippy” Roberge.
A lifelong member of the club and a WWII veteran, he starred in three sports at Keith Academy during the early 1930’s and went on to play professional baseball with Bradford, Evansville and Hartford before being called up to the Boston Braves in 1941. He played in 177 major league games with the Braves as an infielder under such managers as Casey Stengel and Billy Southworth, through the 1946 season and continued his baseball career with Milwaukee, Toronto and Little Rock, retiring in 1952. he returned to Lowell and eventually became one of the finest semi-fast pitch softballer in the Pawtucketville Social Club League, in addition to being the unit’s leader. In the 1970 season, at the age of 53, he turned in an unforgettable performance when he pitched the first perfect game in the history of the club circuit. It was his farewell season and at the end of October 1970, upon his retirement as an active player, the club members organized a banquet in his honor at the Club Fleur de Lys.
In the mid 1960’s the club also had an active volleyball league which lasted until about 1966 and played in Fels playground, renovated by the city for the purpose. Special mention should be made also of the hunting instinct. Many club members were avid woodsmen and in the 1930’s, the annual venison stew was eagerly awaited. Usually, Peter Beauchesne went hunting with friends and the members partook of his expertise. The venison supper, Tuesday, November 21, 1939 cost 25 cents per ticket!
In 1947, the club had 500 members and $40,371.06 in the bank. Many returning veterans had joined the club and membership was on the rise again. In October 1947 alone, 52 new members were admitted. The question of enlarging the club by adding a new wing on the back of the building had often been discussed, but the finances were inadequate. Instead of building, the bowling lanes were removed and Joseph Payette vacated his store. Finally in November 1949, a construction committee composed of Armand Dupont, Leon Fontaine, Arthur Roux, Alex Mailloux, William Michel and Albert Vallée was formed and at the beginning of 1950, the decision to build a brick addition to the building was taken.
The new hall was officially inaugurated February 4, 1951 at a smoker in honor of the living past presidents. Master of ceremonies George Ayotte introduced the presidents and delegates from the other Franco-American clubs and associations and club member Senator Paul Achin. During the speaking programme, special tribute was paid to J. Alphonse Fortier president from 1923 to 1924 and secretary from 1937 to 1952, and to Arthur H. R. Groux, secretary from 1923 to 1932 and treasurer from 1932 to 1953. The following presidents were honored at the celebration: Joseph Payette, J. Alphonse Fortier, Alex Mailloux, Leo Roy, Emilien Leblanc, Pierre Leblanc, Armand Dupont, Gerard Vallerand, Charles Geoffroy, Alfred Lacourse, Camille Thibodeau, and Damien Descoteaux.
Membership constantly increased, 103 members admitted in March 1956, and the club prospered. A new brick façade was added to the building in 1958. The Franco-American population of Pawtucketville began to rise again as the Northern Canal Urban Renewal project got under way. In 1959, there were about 5,000 Franco-Americans in Pawtucketville, and now in 1972 they number about 5,800. In anticipation of eventual further expansion, land was purchased on Riverside Avenue in 1958 and a building fund established in 1960.
Today the Pawtucketville Social Club has close to one thousand members and looks to the future confident in its continued spirit of service to the community and fidelity to the Franco-American ideals laid down by its founders 75 years ago.
~~~ Here ends Richard Santerre’s historical narrative ~~~
Part II — 1972 to Present
In July 1997 the Pawtucketville Social Club celebrated its 100th anniversary without fanfare at the club quarters. The one-day event included a cookout, dancing to live music and a catered dinner.
Today, in March of 2004, the club is situated in the shadows of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, north campus, a neighborhood plagued with a lack of parking. As a result members must either walk or face the aggravation of trying to find a precious parking space.
Membership today stands at almost 200.