Old Group Photos: Someone Else’s Ancestors

Maybe you love to stare into the faces of those captured in long-ago photographs and search for a lost image of a long-dead ancestor.  Maybe you just like old photos.

In our family, we’ve had an old group photograph from 1924 for … well, since it was taken in 1924.  The story behind the photograph goes something like this: My aunt’s mother, Kathleen McNamara Foisy, worked in the food industry her whole life.  One of her earliest jobs was at Fairburn’s, best remembered today in the name of Lowell’s Fairburn building, and to an earlier generation’s elderly minds as one of the city’s popular Depression-era grocery stores.  Maybe you too remember a story or two about someone’s mother buying a chicken and a five-pound bag of potatoes to make a week’s worth of meals.  Those stories were coined in places like Fairburns.


Fairburn’s Market treated its employees well.  Each July, Fairburn’s closed for a day while its 75 clerks travelled in a long train of automobiles (15-20) to Thompson’s Grove, which once sat on Route 38 near Wilmington’s Silver Lake.  Page Catering Company catered dinner at the employee outing, served at 12 noon, while a five-piece orchestra played the day’s greatest hits.  Following the meal, the employees played games for prizes.

Fairburn’s Market, a downtown Lowell staple for decades, got its start on East Merrimack Street in 1892, before buying the Runels Building in Kearney Square and renovating it into the Fairburn Building in 1921.  The Fairburn family ran the grocery store out of the building until 1926 when the Brockelman Brothers bought the store, giving it their name.  Today, the Fairburn building still stands in Kearney Square and houses lower-story commercial property with condos on its upper floors.

Today, Fairburn’s Market is long-gone, and I’d guess that all of the people in this 1924 employee outing photo are gone too.  (The youngest in the photo would be well over 110 years old today.) But, it’s still fascinating to study their faces, and see if we might know someone in the photo, captured on that day long ago, on a day off from work at Wilmington’s Silver Lake.

4 thoughts on “Old Group Photos: Someone Else’s Ancestors

  1. I tend to look at photos like these and imagine being their myself….I’d be the guy with suspenders standing behind the third woman to the right of the Fairburns sign… Grinning my huge mustachioed smile, while i held her neck with both my hands!! The backstory being that she was probably a constant talker and a non stop fidgitter during the taking of this photo, and he was just lovingly helping her stay still !

  2. You found my aunt and her husband! They’re kind of a focal point in the photo, which is why it’s one of my favorites. He was twenty years her senior and a divorcé – quite the scandal in the mid-20s. They had a great marriage, and she was the quite the chatterer; I’ve heard.

  3. Thanks for the post! The Fairburn Building was one of several downtown buildings that came up when I was researching dancing during Lowell’s first century (Prescott Hall on the top floor was a popular dance spot) but I never looked past 1920 so it’s great to hear more of the building’s story. If you’re into some more untold history of the area, I put several months into researching someone else’s ancestors last year just because their story fascinated me: http://www.twirlingjennies.com/taleof2ballrooms/. I always love a chance to learn about the real people who lived and loved and died here before us and your photo is a delight!

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