Monday, April 6, 2020

Do Lowell’s Subsections still Exist?

I haven’t posted in six years, but, covid-19 has us all indoors and on the internet!

I ran into a few disagreements over the names of parts of South Lowell on Facebook recently, and was curious as to what people thought different parts of the city are called. My view is skewed by my role on the Historical Society and growing up suburban, more getting my geography from my parents and their friends and parents than my own peers. When I did move to the city (I’ve been gone three years, I need to update my blog!), I befriended a large number of blow-ins who also had a different, one may say academic, understanding of the city

So, I was curious what a broader group of people thought. I posted a survey to a few different Facebook groups and my personal page with a series of maps and a request for identification and left it up over a weekend. The questions were screenshots of neighborhoods in Google Maps of various sections of Lowell at varying scales. The final question asked what years, if any, the respondent lived in Lowell. The survey was done in Google Forms.

I received 67 Responses in 48 hours.

There were 56 people who gave a move-in year I can work with (note many said they lived nearby for years before, I should’ve asked this question better...). Unsurprisingly, most people posting on the Lowell groups where I shared out this poll are currently tied to Lowell in some way. Normalized the time column to be the earliest date.

Removed one of those that didn’t give a single serious answer and one that gave personal references (apparently implying doesn’t use neighborhood names?)

Remove those that didn’t answer at least 7 of the 13 questions.

I didn’t include the 11 responses without years in the full analysis. If I had, 5 didn’t answer at least 7 questions and one contained about half unserious answers and another quit after question 7.

Working data set: 50 responses.

Earliest move-in year: 1939
Latest: 2017
Mean: 1980
Median: 1981

Number in parenthesis is number before discarded responses
1936-1945: 2
1946-1955:  3 (6)
1956-1965: 11 (12)
1966-1975: 7 (8)
1976-1985: 5
1986-1995: 9
1996-2005: 8 (9)
2006-2015: 4 (5)
2016-2020: 1

The results being bimodal is interesting. The demographics of Lowell history groups on Facebook leaning heavily towards the Baby Boom generation is not surprising. My personal Facebook friend groups and the Urbanist group I posted this to are likely to skew towards Milennials and others who may have moved to Lowell in the decade ahead of the Great Recession.


Case normalized
Mispellings generally corrected
“The” removed
I removed “I don’t know” but left a number of joke answers. As mentioned, results with very few “real” answers were removed.

If multiple answers were given, the most specific was used. E.G. If Oaklands/Belvidere is given “Oaklands” is picked.


Frequency of answers will be given for responses that made it over 10% (5 answers) in general as well as the year of birth/moving to Lowell.

Note: years are usually given for Blank and Other, but the number of responses may be too low to be meaningful.

Middlesex Village

Responses are split between slightly older residents who use Middlesex Village and newer residents who use the more generic Highlands

18 for Middlesex Village - 1975
19 for Highlands – 1980

4 Blanks - 1982
All others (Includes two upper highlands and 1 lower highlands)- 1988


Like Middlesex Village, but with a much wider age split, Oaklands is more familiar with the smaller group of older residents.

15 Oaklands – 1972
20 Belvidere – 1987

1 Blanks - 1957

All others - 1979
4 South Lowell
4 Shedd Park
3 Lower Belvidere
2 South Belvidere

South Lowell

“Riverside” would be the Edwardian name for this section, long forgotten in most contexts. The neighborhood is now universally known as South Lowell

37 South Lowell - 1979
2 Wigginsville
5 Blanks - 1981
Others - 1988

Fort Hill

In general, a three-way split between Belvidere, Fort Hill, and Lower Belvidere, with the group that uses Lower Belvidere being about a decade less tenured. South Lowell is used by Google Maps for the neighborhood south of Rogers Street.

13 Belvidere - 1976
10 Fort Hill - 1979
15 Lower Belvidere – 1987
6 South Lowell – 1983

3 Blanks – 1965
Others – 1978


People had trouble with this’s a very small section. Those that identified it as Wigginsville tend towards having lived in Lowell for a very long time. I think people also misplaced it as Back Central because it’s along Lawrence Street.

7 – Wigginsville – 1955
25 South Lowell – 1980

5 blanks - 1987
13 – Others – 1989
4 for Back Central (one for Wayback Central!) - 1989

Christian Hill

Unsurprisingly, many people had both Christian Hill and Centralville combined. As mentioned before, in that case the more specific name (Christian Hill) is tallied. The Boston accent I think makes it hard to figure out how to actually spell this place. We had two people who have lived in Lowell for 60 years go with Centerville, and another two longtime Lowellians go with Centaville and Centraville. Furthermore, if there was any confusion, the name of the Res is right on the map!

Interesting that people who do not refer to it as Christian Hill tend older.

15 for variants on only Centralville – 1975
34 Christian Hill alone or with Centralville – 1981

1 blank – 1987
No other answers!

Cupples Square

This one was well split. I picked one of Lowell’s few squares with a very well-known name, and likely the only one that may refer to the whole neighborhood. Three respondents romanticized it to “Couples” Square. Exactly where in the Highlands it is is ... an open question. Although, as I suspected, the average person who uses “Lower” is likely a bit younger. Interestingly, only one person even mentioned Upper Highlands.

16 - Cupples Square (and variants) - 1973
17 – Highlands - 1981
12 - Lower Highlands – 1986

5 Others - 1982
No blanks!


Another complex screenshot in a part of the city that’s gone through enough iterations to have a complex set of names.

I preferred Sacred Heart and South Lowell the least if there were multiple answers given as those are the “big” neighborhood names the city uses.

6 Grove – 1964
12 South Lowell - 1975
9 Sacred Heart – 1979
1 mentions Back Central.
6 Back Central – 2000 Again, seems people seem to say if it’s Lawrence Street, it’s Back Central.

9 Blanks! – 1979

8 Others, ranging from from “I don’t acknowledge it” to Spaghettiville. Maps definitely labeled this “The Bleachery” at one point, although the answer was uncommon. Google Maps recognizes it as such - 1984

Ayer’s City

I thought Ayer’s City was coherent enough section to not get such a broad range of answers! The train tracks that only allow Lincoln to go through bisects the modern neighborhood across Lower Highlands and South Lowell.

Interestingly, those with the longest tenure slightly prefer the broader neighborhood terms.

6 Lower Highlands – 1973
9 South Lowell – 1978
11 Ayer’s City – 1979
4 Spaghettiville (one also says Sacred Heart, Bleachery “nobody uses Ayer’s city”) – 1980

6 Blanks – 1983
13 Others – 1982 (these are all over the place. Flats, Grove, Sacred Heart, “Wrong part of town”, “Your Mom...”)

Swede Village

Unsurprising, two dominant answers with an unsurprising age gap. Also unsurprising, lot’s of blanks!

15 Swede Village - 1969
17 South Lowell – 1987

8 Blank – 1981
10 Other - 1982

West Centralville

Personally, I’ve always been impressed with the urban character of this pocket of the city and think it deserves a name to differentiate it from Bridge Street. Most people disagree. There is a wide gap in tenure between those who use more specific names and those who use Centralville.

3 Lower Centralville – 1961
6 – West Centralville – 1971
Lower or West - 1968
34 Centralville (variants as discussed under Christian Hill) – 1983

5 other (one vote for Jersey, apparently a very old name) - 1975
2 blanks


This one was picked because it’s obviously “Belvidere” but the neighborhood is strangely to the north of Andover Street (East of Duck Island!) and much more recent than a lot of Belvidere proper. Overwhelmingly, “Belvidere” was the choice, but somebody said its name is most specifically “Merrimack Meadows”

Little surprised “Upper Belvidere” is that uncommon. Since no other questions were in this part of town, unsure if few people use Upper Belvidere or if this decidedly low-lying, but well away from downtown part of town doesn’t make the cut.

4 Outer Belvidere – 1970
1 also had used “Outer Middlesex Street” for Middlesex Village, which is a term I grew up using.
37 Belvidere – 1980
1 Upper Belvidere


This was a bizarre and very tightly cropped image I used because it would be awkward. I was looking for Grove and Flats on opposite sides of the brook, but based on how many answers for “Grove” I got for Bleachery, my understanding of the neighborhood boundaries down there are likely poor.

I’m going to have to do this one based on how many people mentioned the section which will add up to over 50:

3 Flats - 1951
5 Mentions Flats – 1961
11 Mention South Lowell - 1978
9 Just South Lowell – 1979
15 Just back Central – 1981
19 Mention Back Central – 1982
4 Mention Spaghettiville – 1983

6 Blank – 1987
11 Other – 1980


Nothing here really surprises me. Neighborhoods are generational and often cultural in addition to physical. For example, the Lowell Irish blog ( says that it was a certain generation of Irish-American who called the neighborhood around Sacred Heart (itself an Irish-American Parish) The Grove. Similarly, it seems that The Flats and Back Central, while having some geographic separation are more ethnically a split between Irish and Portuguese. St. Anthony’s Church, which it would seem is a center of Portuguese presence in Lowell, is on the very southern end of Back Central Street, right against The Flats.

Speaking of churches, has the loss of religiosity and social clubs contributed to the increased perceived size of neighborhoods? Is it the introduction of the automobile? And the loss of the corner store and neighborhood employer? Or, are these old borders, etched in the city’s memory around ethnicities long-blended into general whiteness and dispersed throughout Greater Lowell, meaningless today? What do modern immigrants call these sections? I had one response mention Cupples Square as part of “Little Cambodia”.

Using this tool, it’s obvious, for better or worse, that Lowell is a more ethnically integrated city that we believe it was in the past. This seems to be the most single-nationality tract in the city, and it’s just over a third. No neighborhood is 20% Puerto Rican. The Portuguese still are concentrated in Back Central with the Brazilians, but, combined, they barely make 20%. OK, Belvidere is 30% “Irish” but that’s insanity in 2020. Every white person in Middlesex is part Irish!

Here are the broad-category races in that Census tract:

How French Canadian was Little Canada at its peak? Beats me. In my head, in our cultural mythology behind these places, 50% seems low. Unfortunately, this tool is unable to generate data at even the city level by language, which, of course, is another huge component.

Either way, I’m glad I did this, if only to prove my suspicions were correct, that these names are dying. And I’m not convinced that’s a problem. But, it is kinda sad in a way...

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