History of the Holy Acre New Bedford neighborhood

NEW BEDFORD – Long before there were any commercial buildings across the freeway from Clasky Common Park, there was a small, culturally rich neighborhood populated first by Irish and later by Irish Italian immigrants.

It was called Holy Acre.

It was anything but.

Evening Standard Newspapers from the late 1890s called the neighborhood “a hotbed of diseases like typhoid fever and infant cholera”, a place with “not the best sanitation” and “one of the worst localities from the city”.

Bounded by Wamsutta Street to the north and Pearl Street to the south, the small neighborhood today would be difficult to recognize on a map. In the mid-1800s there was a large lagoon just south of the Wamsutta Mill Complex, and to the south of that were the homes and businesses of that little parcel. The lagoon has since been filled in and the rest of the homes and businesses washed away by the construction of Route 18 in the 1960s and 1970s.

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A boy grows up in Holy Acre

“The area wasn’t considered a very nice place to live at the time, but I loved it,” said Don Preston, who lived in Holy Acre in the 1950s and 60s. He recalled the culture of the neighborhood and said it was a “very diverse community with a varied ethnic mix, English, Italian, German and Polish. I remember last names like Ashley, Vogel, Crivinno, Pokilianac and DeBotelli.

Don Preston looks at photos of his childhood home in the Holy Acre neighborhood, which disappeared after Highway 18 was built in 1969.

As a boy growing up in the small neighborhood, Preston recalls a childhood filled with classic outdoor games.

“We had a great time playing hide-and-seek, hopscotch, baseball and, of course, doing what our parents always forbid us to do – playing around the train tracks, including climbing on them,” said said Preston.

This whole game came to a halt when the highway construction plans came closer to the horizon and families were forced out of their homes.

“The whole area was taken over by eminent domain so Highway 18 could be built,” Preston said and although he remembers his parents trying to find another home in town, they ended up moving out. at Fairhaven.

Don Preston, 65, grew up in Holy Acre in New Bedford and remembers playing on the train tracks.

“I believe my parents were disgusted with New Bedford and the feds for confiscating our property in exchange for a very small amount of money,” he said. “I hated moving.

The Terror of Saint Acre

Her name was Mary Corcoran, and she was called the Terror of Holy Acre in the New Bedford Evening Journal in 1891. The report said she had called the police to arrest her husband, but the police told her she could not without a warrant. The police also noticed that her husband’s shirt had been ripped off. Corcoran began to “abuse the officers and also attacked a woman she encountered, punching her in the mouth”. She was arrested for drunkenness and disturbing public order.

The neighborhood at the time had a reputation for fighting over beer, fighting over card games, and fighting over women.

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A haunting

Adam Dexter lived in Holy Acre with his disabled wife in 1905 on the second floor of the house that once stood at the foot of Merrimac Street. He thought the house was haunted, saying almost every window in the house had been smashed by “missiles of all kinds”. One Sunday evening, some 200 curious residents gathered to see if they could catch a glimpse of the haunting, but nothing happened. Then at 4 a.m. Dexter was awakened by another of his windows smashed. This time he found a knife stuck in the floor at the head of his bed. He packed up that day with his wife and left.

This 1870 map shows Holy Acre in the foreground and Wamsutta Mills to the right (north on the map).

Companies and boarding houses

Holy Acre had a few boarding houses which gained a reputation in the 1890s and early 1900s for fights, domestic mishaps and even mentions of murder.

In 1901, John Mowbray, also known as “Jimmy the Rag”, was stabbed to death during drunken debauchery. Newspaper accounts said the investigation centered on a bloody knife hidden in his wife’s skirts.

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The whole question now is whether or not Mowbray was killed by his wife, the journalist wrote. The article said she would be charged with the crime.

Preston remembers MacKenzie Grain Mill and the Langis Plumbing Company in Holy Acre when he grew up in the neighborhood in the 1950s and 60s. He also remembered Kirby Paint and ARDE Tile and Flooring.

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Bad drainage and bad odors

In the late 1890s, the city board of health condemned part of the neighborhood and some 21 families were ordered out of their homes. The council said the land was under tidal water and action would be taken to raise the land to further stop the flooded cellars.

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What used to be the Holy Acre area south of Wamsutta Mills is made up of industrial and commercial businesses.

In response to a newspaper article about the sentencing, one reader wrote, “Be thankful. It was for years a hotbed of plague and a breeding ground for disease but now that the board of health have their eyes on the place and have started the much needed clean up work hopefully Holy Acre will be better soon able to lay claim to his title. »

The odors are believed to have been caused by sewer overflows near ‘Angel Alley’ causing a ‘stink in heaven and other unhealthy conditions’.

Don Preston overlooks Route 18 which was the Holy Acre neighborhood where he lived in New Bedford.  The neighborhood disappeared after the construction of Route 18.

A highway destroys all traces of Holy Acre

In the 1970s, urban renewal was the name of the game in New Bedford and that meant tearing down every home, business and neighborhood in the way of Route 18 as it creaked like a whip along the waterfront. residents and businesses complain that Route 18 has cut off the waterfront from the rest of the city.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation is review the route 18 corridor and seeks to transform the highway into a boulevard with lanes and sidewalks suitable for cyclists and pedestrians.

Standard-Times digital producer Linda Roy can be reached at mailto:[email protected] You can follow her on Twitter at @LindaRoy_TBS. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to the Standard-Times.

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