Can anyone actually name all of Lowell’s neighborhoods? Even with a map of Lowell, it gets hard once you get past the “expected eight.” Any Lowellian worth their salt can recite those: Downtown, the Acre, Back Central, the Highlands, South Lowell, Belvidere, Centralville, and Pawtucketville.
But, what about those smaller neighborhoods, the ones our grandparents talked about when they were telling stories about what went down in Lowell’s neighborhoods long ago? Some of the names of Lowell’s smaller neighborhoods might even seem familiar:
- There’s an Oakland section of Belvidere whose name survives in the former fire station across the street from Shedd Park.
- There’s also Ayers City, a neighborhood name that used to be painted onto the sign at the end of the Lowell Connector’s Exit 4.
- South Lowell once contained the Bleachery, the Grove, Riverside Park, Swede Village and Wigginville.
In fact, Lowell has more than 30 neighborhoods, according to a map drawn up by Mehmed Ali. Most of Lowell’s lesser-known neighborhood names have been forgotten for a really long time. But they once ignited some epic battles among the Lowell of our ancestors.
One of these battles over Lowell’s neighborhood names took place in 1908 when someone suggested trying to change the name of Lowell’s Wigginville neighborhood.
You know you’re from Wigginville when …
In South Lowell, Wigginville lies roughly south of Shedd Park and Lowell Cemetery and north of Lawrence Street, with the Sacred Heart neighborhood to the west and the Tewksbury line to the east.
If that sounds confusing, it’s because it probably is. Wigginville just sort of evolved; it never had formal boundaries.
Perhaps better known than its boundaries are its local landmarks:
- the Six Arch bridge,
- Riverside School,
- the Spaghettiville bridge, and
- the Dizzy Bridge – that ancient footbridge (deathtrap) running roughly parallel to Lawrence Street near the Lowell Cemetery.
Wigginville is one of those places where–even if you grew up there–you might not have even realized it. I heard passing references to it, growing up in South Lowell. People would call it “Wigginsville” and point in the general direction of Jerry’s Food Store on Lawrence Street. The subject would then shift and I never learned that wasn’t actually the right pronunciation.
William H Wiggin – Local Hero
For a neighborhood name that’s been largely forgotten, Wigginville sure created quite a stir in city politics when Councilman Wilde proposed changing its name in 1908. That was just two years after it had been annexed from the neighboring town of Tewksbury.
Echoing the general feeling at the time, he argued that anything annexed to Lowell from a surrounding town had to be upgraded so that it met the city’s standards and didn’t embarrass the citizenry. Wigginville, according to Councilman Wilde, did just that.
First and foremost among his concerns, there was the matter of its name. Wigginville had landed upon its name as a sort of dedication to its largest developer, William H Wiggin.
Wiggin had been a well-known builder in the Lowell area, contributing his efforts to such lofty and well-respected edifices as the Savings Bank Building, the Boston & Maine depot on Central Street, and the Armory on Westford Street.
In the nineteenth century psyche, he was a valued and solid member of society. He had been born in Epping, NH in 1823, went on to graduate from Dracut Academy, and had even had the time to trace his ancestry to the pilgrims. And Wiggin had, in the words of his supporters, developed the “beautiful suburban village” of Wigginville.
A Wilde Opposition to the Wigginville Name
Councilman Wilde was not among his supporters. Councilman Wilde also didn’t have the best sense of timing. He chose 1908 to change Wigginville’s name.
That was about two years after the neighborhood had become part of Lowell, but it was also just after William H Wiggin had died. Many in Wigginville, and in Lowell, had grown up appreciating Wiggin’s contributions to the city. Their children may have even attended the Riverside School he had funded and helped build. The Wiggin loyalists felt that the neighborhood should not be stripped of the Wigginville name.
In fact, they said, Wigginville should retain Wiggin’s name, as a memorial to his good deeds. Wiggin’s supporters found their champion in Richard Sykes, ‘the man with the Mountain Lion’s voice’ from Wigginville.
The Case to Change Wigginville’s Name
Councilman Wilde had his supporters too. There wasn’t even a proper way into Wigginville, they said, scoffing. Lowell city councilmen looked at the Lawrence Street bridge spanning the Concord River as a ramshackle pathway, dangerous even to foot traffic, let alone horses.
Now that the bridge was part of the city, it had to be dealt with, they claimed. And, this, of course, took the conversation back to its name, Wigginville. Who would want to enter a neighborhood named Wigginville?, they asked.
“Drop Me Off at the Bleachery,” They’d Say
A 1908 Lowell Sun article purported to ask a resident of Wigginville, unnamed, what he thought of his neighborhood’s name. He claimed that he thought the name should be changed, so that electric car riders would no longer be embarrassed to board cars bound for “Wigginville” – if riders could even hear the conductor’s destination announcements over the snickers.
The name should be changed, this unnamed man (or woman) on the street claimed. He went on to say that he had found that this opinion was shared by a three-to-one margin among his fellow Wigginvillians.
Wigginvillians were so ashamed of the Wigginville name that they had been seen clandestinely boarding electric cars to the nearby Bleachery station, just to escape the snickers meant for the Wigginville car. And, then there were the comedians too, the man on the street continued. They were ‘always’ cracking jokes at the cost of the poor Wigginvillians.
Too Many Neighborhoods!
With all the land that Lowell had annexed from Tewksbury two years earlier, Lowell’s residents couldn’t keep the names of these new Lowell neighborhoods straight.
It was all a web of arbitrary, vaguely defined and unfamiliar neighborhood names, they said, based on the many developers who had built up the area in the last couple of decades.
There was not just Wigginville, but also places called Lee Village, Gilman Hill, and Riverside Park. It just made sense to unite this new section of Lowell under one suitable, nicely sounding name, supporters of the name change claimed.
What Wilde Wanted
Councilman Wilde proposed changing the name of Wigginville to Concord Heights, after the name of the nearby Concord River. This name would calm the bruised egos of Wigginvillians, and even begin to rehabilitate this poor no-man’s-land into a proper city neighborhood.
Lowell would, finally, be able to hold its head high with Concord Heights, its newest neighborhood. It was hoped, he said, that the name change would even encourage the Boston & Maine to improve its station stop in Wigginville (near the present-day park off Commonwealth Avenue) and help the Primitive Methodist Church being constructed on Lawrence Street to finish its construction without having to wonder how to name itself around the unfortunate Wigginville neighborhood.
How They Stopped Concord Heights from Replacing Wigginville
Councilman Wilde seemed to have all of his supporters in lock-step. All that was left to do was put the Wigginville renaming proposal in front of the Board of Aldermen. And he did, in July 1908.
On that night, Richard Sykes, the Mountain Lion’s Voice from Wigginville, came, ready to argue his neighborhood’s stance that the name not be changed. He had prepared a speech in defense of a memorial to the neighborhood’s benefactor, William H Wiggin.
Local press came too, ready for the show. They quipped amongst themselves that he would present his argument there in the chamber, and would have his “janitors around with baskets picking up his dropped h’s.” He must have had a distinctive way of speaking.
Wilde started by presenting a petition, said to be signed by some 100 Wigginvillians, to change their village’s name to Concord Heights.
The aldermen listened. Chairman Wilder spoke first. He wondered why all the fuss was even worth their time. The name will die out, Wilder told Wilde, since it came from Tewksbury, and Wigginville was clearly now a part of Lowell.
His fellow aldermen listened, and joked that perhaps Wigginville should be renamed Wildeville. Another alderman claimed that Wild Wigginville might be even more appropriate.
Richard Sykes prepared to speak, in defense of his friend, William H Wiggin. But, he never had to utter a word.
Aldermen Brennan and Gray disposed of it almost immediately, telling Wilde, whose smile must have been fading by then, that the Council had no role in naming, or re-naming Wigginville, since the name had never actually been assigned. The fact was, they said, that the residents themselves had just decided that that was how they wanted to name their neighborhood, and the Council was just fine with that. They then moved the topic of discussion to appropriating funds to fix that Concord River bridge so badly in need of repairs.
The Proud Village of Wigginville
And the proposal to change the village’s name from Wigginville to Concord Heights seems to have died right there, on the chamber floor, because, as they moved on to the matter of that Wigginville bridge, not one voice was raised in protest, because the people of Wigginville were just fine with their neighborhood’s name, and didn’t want someone with very little connection to Wigginville renaming their community.
In the weeks following the decision, the Wigginvillians took the momentum from their victory and formed the Wigginville Improvement Club, and elected Richard Sykes as its president. The objective of the club? To improve the village’s streets, and to perpetuate the proud, newly vindicated name of Wigginville.
Originally published in June 2013, this post was updated in October 2020 to improve flow and to add some new historical details.