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Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts

Lawrence, Lowell and Haverhill are the towns of the Merrimack Valley, especially famous for its textile mills ~1900. The textile mills attracted many Lithuanians, making the area especially rich in historic Lithuanian sites.

Among the most unique Lithuanian sites in the area are the Lithuanian national cemetery (non-Roman-Catholic) and a district of Lithuanian-named streets. There are numerous Lithuanian monuments, Lithuanian churches (all closed) and Lithuanian cemeteries.

The flags over the Haverhill Lithuanian cemetery

The flags over the Haverhill Lithuanian cemetery, surrounding the memorial to Lithuanian immigrants.

The massive red-brick factories themselves are an impressive sight in many Merrimack valley towns. A sight that was unavailable in Lithuania itself of the era: it was precisely the Russian czar‘s decision to leave Lithuania an agricultural hinterland that made the Lithuanians who sought for industrial jobs to migrate away to places such as the Merrimack Valley.

A former textile factory in Lawrence

A former textile factory in Lawrence

Lawrence, the Lithuanian heart of Merrimack Valley

At the center of the Merrimack Valley stands its most Lithuanian city Lawrence (pop. 70 000). It is known as the "immigrant city" for the numerous early 20th-century European migrant communities.

Nearly every ethnicity built its own church in Lawrence (giving it an alias of „city of churches“). Lithuanians constructed two churches (both now closed).

The first one was the usual Roman Catholic St. Francis (94 Bradford Street), currently used as a Christian Belessini Academy (Lithuanian mass was transferred to Corpus Christi parish in 35 Essex street). Nothing outside reminds of its Lithuanian past, although a Lithuanian stained-glass window and a plaque with church history remain inside (which is closed to visitors).

St. Francis Lithuanian church of Lawrence

St. Francis Lithuanian church of Lawrence

The second Lithuanian church of Lawrence, constructed in 1855 (Garden Street 150), used to be owned by an independent Lithuanian National Catholic Church of Sacred Heart which has acquired it in 1917. This has been a unique denomination established in the early 20th century by Lithuanians which considered itself Catholic but denounced the authority of Roman Pope (thus they are not Roman Catholics). Lithuanian National Catholics had their cathedral in Scranton, Pennsylvania (still operational) and Lawrence was its only other longer-lasting parish. The former National Catholic church has been sold again in 2001 (to the Haiti Baptists), however, the plaque „Lithuanian National Catholic Church“ still remains near the top of the building‘s front facade (it is bleached in the sun and barely legible).

Lawrence National Catholic church

Lawrence National Catholic church

Lawrence's Methuen suburb still has a Lithuanian National Catholic Cemetery (est. 1917), the final resting place of the parish. They could have been buried neither in the unsanctified Protestant cemetery ground nor together with the papal followers, that's why they established their own cemetery. Some graves are especially old with prie-modern Lithuanian words, as well as Anglicized or Polonized Lithuanian surnames (as was common in the early 20th century when US migration specialists would set the orthography of an immigrant‘s surname). The National Catholic cemetery has received a nice arch in ~1997 and a memorial to Lithuanians who fought for the USA in 2016 (with both Lithuanian and English inscriptions). ~100 Lithuanian US forces veterans are buried in the cemetery, their graves marked by the small US flags. A free-standing plaque explains the cemetery history, adorned in the Lithuanian flag motif.

Entrance arch of the Lithuanian national cemetery

Entrance arch of the Lithuanian national cemetery

World War 2 memorial for Lithuanian National Catholics war veterans of Lawrence area

World War 2 memorial for Lithuanian National Catholics war veterans of Lawrence area

The cemetery is supported and beautified by the money received from selling the church. At the center of the cemetery stands a Lithuanian National Catholic altar at which the National Catholic holy masses used to be held, followed by picnics. The altar consists of Jesus Christ statue; it has no Lithuanian inscriptions. Today the cemetery also accepts Ukrainian interments and Lithuanians given them some ground.

Lithuanian National Catholic altar at the Methuen Lithuanian National Catholic cemetery

Lithuanian National Catholic altar at the Methuen Lithuanian National Catholic cemetery

Methuen suburb also has a unique-in-America area where, near Forrest lake, entire district has its streets named in Lithuanian. There are Palanga, Varniai, Kaunas, Luoke streets (all named after Lithuanian cities), as well as Birute street (named after a Duchess of Lithuania) and Vytis street (Vytis being the Lithuanian Coat of Arms). This was the former resort area owned by the St. Francis church, which the Roman Catholic church had swiftly sold for residential construction after disestablishing the parish. Varniai, Palanga, and Birute streets are the largest ones, their names appearing on numerous plaques, postboxes, etc.

Postboxes with Birute and Palanga street names

Postboxes with Birute and Palanga street names

Lawrence is also famous as the first US city to recognize Lithuanian independence in 1990 04 03. A plaque commemorating this has been installed in 2000 inside the pretty Lawrence City Hall in the downtown (first floor; accessible to all visitors during the working days).

Plaque commemorating the independence recognition in Lawrence city hall

Plaque commemorating the independence recognition in Lawrence city hall

In a park on the other side of the street from the Lawrence City Hall stands the Bread and Roses Strike memorial which commemorates the 1912 strike of Lawrence textile workers that famous for successfully achieving some of its goals. Among the strikers were Lithuanians; one of their names, Jonas Smolskas, is inscribed on the monument because he was one of three victims of the strike, beaten to death by the strike opponents for wearing a symbol associated with the strikers.

Bread and Roses strike memorial in Lawrence

Bread and Roses strike memorial in Lawrence

Both the Lawrence recognition of Lithuanian independence (including the plaque commemorating it) and the memorial for the strikers were inspired or funded by the local Lithuanian historian Jonas Stundžia, famous within the Lithuanian-American community, who has worked much to further the Lithuanian goals in the USA (his name is also engraved on the strikers memorial).

Plaque on the strike memorial with Jonas Smolskas and Jonas Stundžia mentioned

Plaque on the strike memorial with Jonas Smolskas and Jonas Stundžia mentioned

Lowell Lithuanian memorial, church and club

10 km further west from Lawrence along the Merrimack river lies the town of Lowell (pop. 100 000), a kind of Lawrence's twin in terms of its size, number of factories and number of Lithuanians.

In 2012 a commemorative stone to local Lithuanians has been unveiled near Lowell municipal building. It includes a Lithuanian coat of arms, the Lithuanian word for Lithuania (Lietuva) and the engraving of an ethnic strip. It has joined numerous other such stones erected by other Lowell immigrant communities. A square there is surrounded by the flags of every nation from where a significant part of the Lowell population came, including Lithuania.

Memorial stone for Lithuanians near Lowell City Hall

Memorial stone for Lithuanians near Lowell City Hall

Lowell Lithuanians also had their church (dedicated to St. Joseph 151 Rogers Street). Built on 1911 it has been closed on 2003 and transformed into apartments. The cornerstone retains an inscription „St. Joseph‘s Lithuanian R. Cath. Church 1911“, however.

Lowell Lithuanian church

Lowell Lithuanian church

Cornerstone of the Lowell church

Cornerstone of the Lowell church. Cornerstones like that are often the final reminder of building's original purpose

Until 2017 Lowell had a Grand Duke of Lithuania Vytautas club named after the famous Lithuanian leader under whose rule Lithuania was the largest medieval European state. Opened in 1920 the club moved to its current location at 447 Central Street in 1966 and its entrance is still adorned by a Lithuanian flag and a pre-modern Lithuanian abbreviation of its name DLKV (it is unclear for how long as the building will become a laundry). The club was established by the leftists as an alternative to the Lithuanian parishes (after all, the parishes themselves were like ethnic clubs to Lithuanians, as they had many secular activities). However, over the time such clubs would start cooperating with parishes, as the Soviet occupation of Lithuania and the Soviet genocide there discredited the Marxist ideas among the Lithuanian-Americans. It was sold due to high costs (~14000 USD / year) becoming unbearable for a senescent community.

Grand Duke Vytautas Club in Lowell

Grand Duke Vytautas Club in Lowell

Haverhill Lithuanian sites

Haverhill east of Lawrence is the smallest of the „Lithuanian“ Merrimack Valley towns.

Its best-surviving Lithuanian site is the Haverhill Lithuanian cemetery (est. 1921).

Old entrance stone to the Haverhill Lithuanian cemetery

Old entrance stone to the Haverhill Lithuanian cemetery

A Lithuanian flag perpetually waves above the cemetery together with the US flag. A Memorial for Lithuanian imigrants stands at their feet, erected in 2000 by the Gedymino club („Gedyminas“ being an old spelling of the Lithuanian Grand Duke‘s name today spelled as Gediminas). The cemetery itself is owned by the club and is notable by large land lots next to the graves, due to which there is little land for new burials.

Gedymino club memorial to the Lithuanian immigrants in Haverhill cemetery

Gedymino club memorial to the Lithuanian immigrants in Haverhill cemetery

Haverhill Lithuanians also had their own Lithuanian church. However, the district where the church stood became a ghetto and the church is now abandoned and derelict. It is possible to look inside through the broken windows and still see some surviving stained glass windows, but nothing else reminds the church‘s Lithuanian history.

Haverhill Lithuanian church

Haverhill Lithuanian church

The ravaged interior of the Haverhill Lithuanian church

The ravaged interior of the Haverhill Lithuanian church

The church building was constructed in 1892, however, it was acquired by Lithuanians ~1910.

Other Merrimack valley

A little north Nashua, New Hampshire is also considered a part of the Merrimack valley. That textile town has its own Lithuanian heritage (described at the New Hampshire article).

Map of the Lithuanian sites

All the Lithuanian locations, described in this article, are marked on this interactive map, made by the "Destination - America" expedition:

Map of Merrimack Valley Lithuanian sites

 


Destination America 2017 expedition diary

We have explored the Merrimack Valley, the mills of which provided jobs to many thousand of Lithuanians. Small cities of Lowell, Lawrence, and Haverhill supported entire Lithuanian clubs and churches. Lithuanians were important in the wider American history too, with one of them killed due to an infamous strike. The are also has many Lithuanian-named streets: Palanga, Varniai, Birutė...

Augustinas Žemaitis, 2017 09 23.

Destination - America team together with Jonas Stundžia at the Lawrence Lithuanian cemetery

Destination - America team together with a local Lithuanian historian Jonas Stundžia (right) and Mary Ann Kaslow (left) at the Lawrence Lithuanian cemetery

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  1. my mother was born in Lowell and was baptized in the St Joseph’s Lithuanian Church in 1926 . I was wondering if you have any information about the church during that time. My mother is 92 yrs old and she has dementia but she is remembering a lot about her youth. She had mentioned to me that her father or her brother had sold their house in North Chelmsford to the church. My mothers name is Lena Stanekwicz which is not the correct spelling . I do have her birth announcement but it is so old hard to read the Lithuania names. I would live to have some history on this for her. Thank you A. Vaughan (daughter)

    • I don’t know much more than what is written here, however, one could perhaps contact bishopric for more info, including info on where the records are kept. Also, maybe some former parishioners would reply here.

  2. I am so happy to see the photo of the church on 94 Bradford St in Lawrence. My grandmother was very active in that church (which I believe was called St Mary’s Lithuanian Church in the early 1900s till ?) Her name was Mary (Pankauski or Pankauskas).) Golobski, and her parents had been married there in 1907. Her sister Amelia Pankauski was also active in the Church. Though I never attended Mass with them, my cousins did at holiday time. I have very fond memories of volunteering in two Thanksgiving dinners for the Lithuanian community in the late 1970s to possibly the very early 80s. They were held in the basement of the church, which was a large room where the seating tables were arranged. A kitchen in the back had very old stoves, possibly still wood, and an old icebox that needed a chunk of ice! I would go early in the morning with my grandmother and her sister and we would spend the day with other ladies cooking, setting the tables, decorating. At night, people arrived and the room was full with Lithuanians of all ages ,but especially the elderly, enjoying an evening out, seeing old friends and relatives, and having a good meal. I especially loved the raffles and won a prize one year- a homemade cake in the shape of a lady with a dress frosted in colors of the Lithuanian flag, and holding a small homemade Lith. paper flag on a toothpick. I still have the flag, and could not bear to cut the cake, but took a photo of it which I still have. The walls were lined with framed old pictures of groups of Lithuanians- I hope someone still has the pictures. My grandmother’s funeral was also held at this church. As a kid, it seemed huge to me, with dark stone stairwells. My grandmother regularly not only attended church but also cooked and volunteered for most of the activities. I also remember asking her for coins for candles to light near the altar. I wish I could go back in time and go back with her and Amelia again.

  3. The Lithuanian National Catholic Cemetery in Methuen Massachusetts is very precious in my memories and has several of my Lithuanian relatives buried there, and more distant relatives. I well remember in the 1960s and 1970s, on Memorial Day, my grandfather Albin Golobski would drive down the street to pick up his sister-in-law, my great aunt, Amelia Pankauski. He had a lawn mower loaded in the back of the car, and Amelia would bring hand tools. I would often go along for their yearly cemetery cleanup of graves, with my grandfather mowing the grass and Amelia trimming around the headstones and cleaning up. Some may remember a small path at the back corner of the cemetery through the trees that led to the Lithuanian community picnic grounds. There was a large wood dance pavilion which the men had built, and an outbuilding where food was prepared for sale at low prices for special summer parties. As a kid, I volunteered for a couple of these events in the late 70s. I remember cooking the usual summer food, serving it, and piling cans of Genessee beer in big tubs of ice. The dance pavilion was not used for dances at that point as it was getting somewhat run down, but the young kids loved running around in it and screaming to hear their voices echo. Unfortunately the picnic grounds were sold in later years and the dance pavilion pulled down. I am not sure what group owned the grounds.

    • As a child would have large extended Lithuanian family gatherings at the picnic area….I remember them with much love…my maternal was full Lithuanian and it was through her and her family that I learned about Lithuanian culture. My mother and most of her mothers family are buried in The Lithuanian National Cemetery…the Tomulaitis, Sabutis, Marcinonis surnames…..so many memories…thank you Les for allowing me to remember….

  4. I am working on Lithuanian genealogies, and thought I would add that in the 1906 Lawrence Massachusetts Directory, the pastor of St Mary’s Lithuanian Church (later the St Francis Lithuanian Church) on 94 Bradford St was Rev A Yusaitis, who lived in the rectory there.

  5. Sorry, Rev Antony Jusaitis Of St Mary’s Lithuanian Church in Lawrence Mass (later St Francis)

  6. My grandparents, Antanas Burba and Marijona Talackiute came to Larence in early 1900s, from Lithuania, uncertain of location. I am looking for where to find records, any information! Any help will be greatly appreciated! Kathleen.
    l

  7. My grandparents immigrated from Lithuania about 2928 would love to learn mor e about them. My grandfather Julius palubinskas. My grandmother named Monica.

    • If you are interested, we (True Lithuania) may search for the information about them in the Lithuanian archives. We can send you a proposal by e-mail.

  8. My maternal grandparents, John Riemitis and Pauline Mumsia were married at St. Francis in 1916. My grandfather built the bakery on Exchange Street in 1924. They are buried in the Immaculate Conception Cemetery in Lawrence where the greater number of Lithuanians are buried in this multi-ethnic Roman Catholic Cemetery. At the time of the closing of St Francis Church, I was responsible for the removal and shipping of the statues and other religious artifacts to Lithuania. This was accomplished with the help of Sister Helen Ivanauskas of the Sisters of Jesus Crucified in Brockton and the financial support from a number of former members of the parish. The last Lithuanian pastor was Father Albin Janiunas.

  9. I married to the Kirmil’s and we visited the cemetery yesterday. It was such a happy feeling to see my the root of my husband’s family.


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