Ever walk on the South Campus quad and wonder what used to be there?
You might ask, “The old dining hall?” Well, technically yes. What used to be a dining hall was razed to the ground in 2015 to make space for the quad, and food-related activity moved to the newly-made McGauvran Center.
But the dining hall was not the only building to occupy that space. Before the school was even the University of Lowell, there was the Lowell Normal School which trained teachers. Coburn Hall, named for the Normal School’s first principal, was the only academic building that belonged to the school.
Rows and rows of houses concentrated the entirety of what is now South Campus. Everything else surrounding the area was all residential. Lowell atlas records indicate that the area spanning between Solomont Way (then Rolfe Street) and Wilder Street contained several housing units owned by families such as the Lovejoys, Gages and Robinsons. These houses, now lost to history, can be seen in some old photographs of Lowell Normal School graduation ceremonies.
According to UMass Lowell art history professor Marie Frank who extensively studied the history of the school, the placement of Coburn Hall on the outskirts of a small neighborhood was entirely intentional; they wanted the school to be placed in a more rural area.
The only house in the area from this period that survives is the Allen House, which has been owned by the university since 1957.
So, what happened?
“Eminent domain,” Frank said with a chuckle. This refers to when private property is bought out so it may be re-appropriated for public use. The little neighborhood was bought up and torn down as the University of Lowell built up its campus.
“The big building campaign, when all of the neighborhood was taken out, is in the 60s going into the 70s,” said Frank.
This means that 50 years ago, the very quad that we all pass by on our way to class was once home to scores of houses and families going about their daily lives, not knowing what was to become of the area around them.