Today, Downtown Lowell’s Memorial Hall is mostly known for the Pollard Memorial Library it houses, named for the city’s late mayor Samuel S. Pollard. For its first 90 years, until its renaming in 1981, Lowell residents and visitors knew it as the Lowell City Library.
The library’s building, Memorial Hall, was built to remember the sacrifices of Lowell’s Civil War dead. Local surviving members of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) expected that the Hall would provide them a meeting place, at least for special occasions, if not on a regular basis.
As early as 1887, veterans and citizens of Lowell were considering a memorial to the city’s Civil War dead. At that point, Lowell residents and the memorial committee of the G.A.R. hadn’t yet decided whether the memorial would be a monument or a building. The idea of a memorial hall soon gained traction, as the members of the local Grand Army posts needed a place to meet. The Lowell Sun wrote: ”"The veterans are growing old; they are paying heavy rent for halls, and now that a memorial building is erected, they expect to be made in some respects the beneficiaries of the city’s good will.”
Several different proposals emerged. One involved constructing a building with an observatory that would overlook the city from
Fort Hill. (This option was eventually dismissed as Fort Hill was seen as too remote for veterans, and was the location most likely to attract loafers and vacationers, rather than the veterans it was meant to serve.) Another option would have created a municipal building with the upper floors dedicated to G.A.R. meetings. (This option eventually morphed into Lowell’s City Hall building, which was completed a few months after Memorial Hall.) The last, and winning, proposal called for the building of a new city library that included space for G.A.R. meetings. All agreed that the Memorial Hall should be a ‘grand and imposing edifice’, to adequately recall the men and deeds that they hoped to commemorate.
The history of Memorial Hall is firmly intertwined with the City Hall building next to it. (Its tower can be seen in the postcard view, above.) Their cornerstones were laid on the same day: October 11, 1890, and both took nearly three years to complete. The Memorial Building opened to much fanfare on June 3, 1893.
A procession marched through Highland, Elm, Central, Merrimack, Moody, and Colburn streets, ending at the new Memorial Building. Prayers were offered by Rev. Dr. Chambre. An American quartet sang songs, and the keys to the building were presented to Mayor Pickman. Speeches were delivered by the Mayor, members of the local posts of the G.A.R., and former mayor and future governor Frederic T. Greenhalge.
A bust of Gen. Benjamin F. Butler was next presented to the people of Lowell by a group of African-American Bostonians who wished to see it placed in the new hall. In a speech by their spokesman, they said the bust would be “dedicated to the memory of those who gave their lives that the union might be preserved, and all men made free and equal under the law.”
The Hon. F. T. Greenhalge closed the ceremony by saying: “Long may this Memorial Library stand. May the sun shed its brightest and softest radiance upon it. And while one stone remains upon another, may it stand as a witness of valor and patriotic devotion – of liberty and wisdom – of the loyalty of your fathers and the love and gratitude of their children.”
As the exercises concluded, the officials opened the new building for public inspection while the quartet played “”Soldier’s Farewell”.