Inside Stories

Lew Family “Three” – Historic Pawtucketville Sites

Latest in a series by Author Chris Boucher on Lowell’s Basketball pioneer, Harry “Bucky” Lew, focusing on three historic Mill City sites

Southwick Hall
1 University Avenue

Home of the Lowell Textile School basketball team led by Harry “Bucky” Lew in 1922. Textile, of course, was the predecessor of today’s Division 1 University of Massachusetts at Lowell.

Lew may have become the first Black head coach of a college basketball team that year. Unless he already achieved that honor in 1906—when he coached Lowell’s Commercial College with his old YMCA friend Skip Field. It’s unclear whether Bucky or Skip was the head coach of that team.

The Textile team finished with a 7-7 record and the highlight of the season involved their sweep of Boston College, avenging their two losses to BC the year prior.

The Lowell Sun seemed to attribute their success to Lew’s leadership: “Bucky Lew’s Textile team [was] ready for its game with Boston College” it reported. “Textile was in much better condition than its opponent and kept up a furious pace throughout the game. The fast floor work of the Lowell team was a revelation to the packed gymnasium…If the local team fails to win another contest this season, it can consider the schedule a success, for it achieved what it set out to do at the first of the season—give Boston College a trimming.”

The low point of the season came on a three-game trip to Vermont when Textile went winless. Lew did not travel with the team, nor did many bench players, likely for economic reasons. The school’s penny-pinching probably cost them some wins. Besides missing their coach, one of the six players to make the trip dislocated a shoulder and another fell ill with the flu.

Bucky used the extra time to add a city championship to his resume. Lew’s “Lowell Five” defeated the Catholic Young Men’s Lyceum, an Irish version of the YMCA located near Saint Patrick church. Lew’s squad won three of five games and took home the $200 pot, which according to Ian Webster’s inflation calculator, amounts to roughly $3500 today.

Coaching college and playing professionally wasn’t unusual for the times. Hall of Famers Ed Wachter and Nat Holman coached Harvard College and the City College of New York respectively without taking a break from their pro careers. In those days, little coaching could be done during the course of the game and coaches were known to arrange things so that they could leave after their halftime speech to make the start of their own game.

Woodbine Cemetery
541 West Meadow Road

Bucky Lew’s grandmother Elizabeth, father William, sister Teresa, and daughter Margaret are buried at this cemetery near the intersection of Varnum Avenue and West Meadow Road.

Elizabeth Lew and her husband Adrastus built the still-standing house on 89 Mount Hope Street in the days before the Civil War and made it a stop on the Underground Railroad. Elizabeth would take charge of her freedom-seeking guests during the day, providing food, shelter, a sympathetic ear, and likely some entertainment as well. Then at nightfall Adrastus would then take them via horse and buggy to the New Hampshire border where they could continue their quest for a better life.

According to Martha Mayo, William was a delegate to the 1891 Equal Rights Convention in Boston, which was the predecessor to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). William owned and operated Lew’s Dye Works, an establishment that did dye jobs for the textile factories as well as dry cleaning for consumers. His wife Isabel and later son Bucky worked alongside him at the corner of John and Paige streets and the site of the current Lew Family Square.

Mayo also says his sister Teresa was a salutatorian at Lowell High School in 1912 and later became a teacher and a lawyer. Her legal skills proved invaluable to her grandmother Elizabeth, who successfully fought to keep the house on Mount Hope after she divorced Adrastus for unfaithfulness.

Bucky’s daughter Margaret, his first child, died at four years of age during an outbreak of scarlet fever. She was one of many children in the city to die from the highly-contagious disease spread by unpasteurized milk and playmates.

Old Zeal Road
Currently known as Totman Road

The first Lew to settle in Pawtucketville was Revolutionary War veteran Barzillai Lew. According to the National Park Service, he “lived on what is now called Totman Street…for nearly a century known as the Old Zeal Road…where he owned a farm.”

Pronounced “BAR-zeal-ya,” Barzillai appeared at the battles of Bunker Hill and Ticonderoga, serving as a fifer. He used the shrill instrument to relay orders from commanders to troops. The piercing sound effectively cut through battlefields made disorienting by the crack of cannons and smoke of musket fire.

After the war, Old Zeal and his wife Dinah started a band and performed with their children at the Pawtucket Congregational Church on Mammoth Road and many other places. The National Park Service said the family members “all possessed a natural talent for music, and most of them could play any kind of wind or stringed instrument—the girls as well as the boys. They formed a complete band, and furnished music on all first-class occasions in this vicinity, and were called frequently to Boston and even as far away as Portland.”

Barzillai was reportedly the model for the famous “A Flutist” portrait often attributed to Gilbert Stuart that hangs in the State Department’s diplomatic reception rooms. He is buried in Clay Pit Cemetery near the new Market Basket plaza on Old Ferry Road. No visible marker is present.

His musical ability was passed through the generations down to Bucky. Family tradition maintains that it was his skill with the violin, not a basketball, that won him the heart of his future wife Florence.

Chris Boucher is the author of “The Original Bucky Lew: Basketball’s First Black Professional.” He will be hosting an author’s table at the Lowell Book Company from 12 to 2 on June 17. Come by for a personally inscribed copy of this groundbreaking sports biography—which might just make a perfect Father’s Day gift!


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