By Edith Morgan
I came to live in the Brittan Square Neighborhood in November 1967 –bought one of the wonderfully gracious old houses (built in 1890) for a song, and settled in . Of course, it needed some work, but it was well worth it ; with its beautiful woodwork, nine-foot ceilings, and spacious rooms, we soon had it looking nearly palatial.
And as I got to know the area better, I realized that we had here the best of all possible worlds in a small area, with birth-to-death facilities and all things in between.
Once upon a time the Nipmuc Indians roamed here, fishing and hunting. Then settlers came and in 1674-1675 established the first settlement of what eventually became Quinsigamond, later renamed Worcester. Driving down the streets of the neighborhood we still see the names of the early arrivals – Henchman, Green , Chadwick, McKinley – and so many others…and the two-room structures became Greek Revival Cottages and then Queen Anne-style homes, replaced by the three-deckers still to be seen all around, especially on Paine Street. Now of course the trolley cars that went to Lincoln Square are gone, and the trains are just trying a comeback, while the canal that connected Worcester with Providence still flows above ground here and there.
But change continues, and in the 45 years I have been here much has happened: while the boundaries of our neighborhood still extend from Green Hill Park to the Expressway, and to Green Hill Parkway, stores and homes and roads have changed hand and appearance. Yet this is still a microcosm of the larger world. I have often said that if all the rest of the world disappeared tomorrow, we still would have a whole world here to fulfill our needs from birth to death:
Take a trip with me, and see what we have here: coming up Lincoln Street from Lincoln Square, traveling steeply uphill on one of Worcester’s longest and most varied streets, we cross Greenhill Parkway, which leads straight uphill to the city’s largest park with over 500 original acres, containing our 120-acre municipal golf course, the State’s Vietnam Memorial, and some reminders of the city’s past neglect and misuse of this treasure ( two huge water towers, and an abandoned quarry that the Green family had left for the use of all the public). Then there is the “Farm” with its greenhouse, community gardens, and petting zoo; and miles of trails, wooded and wild areas, , playgrounds and athletic fields – the Air National Guard base, now shared by the Parks and Recreation Department – and our newest achievement: the best and newest technical high school in the State, right at the entrance to the Park on the other side from our neighborhood.
Many small and large businesses make their home between the Parkway and the Expressway: We have lawyers, doctors, Brazilian and Spanish food, small clothing stores, a dollar store, karate studio, insurance, liquor store, Pub, barber shop, pizza parlor, gas station, Laundromat, and an ever-changing array of store-front enterprises who come and try their luck at running a small business. Storefront religious groups rent a space for a time, and either move on or quietly fade away.
We no longer have a family-owned ”drug store”, but CVS supplies us with our prescriptions; Counihan’s hardware store is gone, but the building houses several other small businesses. And perhaps the only old-time watch repairman ,Norman Robert finally succumbed a few short years ago, not replaced in this age of digital watches and clocks. But you can still go around the corner at McKinley and Lincoln and get tee shirts stenciled at Cocoon Graphics.
The two “anchors” in the Brittan Square district are Riley’s and the North End Market. The Rileys are legend in our neighborhood; Paul started out on the other side of Lincoln Street, making hamburgers at Louie’s, and then opened up his own restaurant across the street when Louie left for Florida. And so many years later, there is always at least one Riley working there, in a wonderfully homey and friendly place where so many neighbors and friends get together. There were Rileys here when I came, and I imagine they will be here when I am gone -. Still so much part of the fabric of this place.
The North End Market has changed hands several times, but it is a testament to the vitality of our neighborhood that it is still going well, providing the goods and services that we want, right here.
When I moved here, I was surrounded by Irish Catholic families, with six or seven children; St.Bernard’s Catholic Church, rising high above the corner of Harlow and Lincoln, was the center of much activity. On my street, there were also several Armenian families, and a few more on Uxbridge, and in triple deckers on Woodland Street, which is now a parking lot for Hahnemann Hospital – which was then a full-service hospital. I used to say that with the emergency room , pediatric ward, and other medical services, and the Nordgren Funeral Chapel and services right there at the corner of my street, I truly ad biarth-to-death service immediately available.
There have always been three churches here: in addition to St Bernard’s Catholic Church, further down near the beginning of Burncoat Street, stands Adams Square Congregational, and right across Gilman Street from Riley’s, stands one of the oldest Worcester Baptist churches, still active.
Our neighborhood is also home to the second largest concentration of social services (Main South is first). Yet we have coexisted with little friction, few people wandering through would be aware that we serve so many different kinds of needs in this small area. We are home to one of the better known and innovative services, Genesis Club, celebrating their 25th year here, and occupying a large, well-refurbished home right on Lincoln Street, but also offering training to groups from all around the world who want to emulate the successful model used here. All ages and all levels of problems are addressed by the various agencies here in Lincoln, from SMOC to You, Inc., all integrated into the community.
Let’s go down Harlow Street, past what was once our community school, grades 1 to 6, and stop at the factory building a the end, just before the street becomes “Crescent”. Housed there are numerous artist studios, potters on the first floor, a “Stitchers’ Gallery, and a large exhibit and performance hall on the top floor where we can see and hear artistic works by our own artists. Take a right off Harlow into New Street, past all the new homes there, and you will eventually reach a hidden treasure: the only glass-blowing studio around here – where I once took a workshop and made a lovely glass bowl… And if this kind of art is not what you want, come up back onto Lincoln Street, past Nordgren’s, past the home of the Little
Sisters of the Assumption, and turn into Gorham Street, where the Joy of Music Program makes its home, in what was once a nursing home, then briefly the temporary home of the
ALL Schooi, and now houses a wonderful music school, where we who live here can attend great concerts by faculty, students, and guest performers of top quality.
But by far the greatest thing about this neighborhood is its diversity: side by side, in home and business, are not only the original Irish and Armenians, but Albanians, Azerbaizhanis, Iraqis, Russians, Dominicans, Bhutanese, Egyptians, Moroccans, Vietnamese, Ethiopians – and perhaps others whose origins I have not yet discovered. But we all say hello to each other if we live on the same street, or have seen each other around. We exchange bulbs in the spring, we clean up together, and share the same concern that our homes will be safe, comfortable, and attractive.
for over 20 years we have had a neighborhood association, and recently we also have a business association. Our harlow safe streets crime watch meets once a month, at 292 lincoln, in the offices of one of our newer businesses, currie management, who restored the wonderful building at the corner of Norton and lincoln, and saved it from becoming yet another parking lot.
Right next to nordgen’s is our own fire station with engine #8 always on the ready– and we are only .2 of a mile from the entrance to 290, so we can get anywhere east or west quickly and safely. and now that lincoln plaza has really taken off, we have so many choices for shopping, eating, browsing, doing crafts, etc…What more could we want?
Many years ago, Jan Evers started the yearly block party in their yard. When we established ourseslves as a neighborhood association, we took over the yearly block party. Now I am looking for the next generation to take it over,so that I can pursue my next goals. already we have had much help from Nordgren’s, whose landscaper takes care of the grass and bushes at the World war II monument that adorns Brittan square. for years, Nancy JOhnson hAs seen to it that Lincoln street is properly picked up and it bushes manicured – and on Earth day each year we get together and do our “spring cleaning.”
It’s a great place to live, work, play – and with everyone’s help, it will continue to be.