LHS Presentation: “J.C. Ayer & Co. and the Civil War”

This is a cross-post from RH.com on yesterday’s excellent presentation by Lowell Historical Society President Cliff Hoyt on “J.C. Ayer & C. and the Civil War.”

October 24th, 2011

J C Ayer & Company

by DickH

Yesterday I attended an outstanding program presented by Cliff Hoyt and the Lowell Historical Society on “J. C. Ayer and Company during the Civil War.” The Lowell-based Ayer company was one of America’s most prominent producers of patent medicine during the nineteenth century. Its founder was James Cook Ayer who lived in the “stone house” on Pawtucket Street (opposite Fletcher) who quickly brought in his brother, Frederick Ayer (whose house is now the Franco-American School) into the business. Both brothers and their families are buried in the Lowell Cemetery and are prominent stops on the tours I give during the year. It was wonderful to learn more about the company that made these brothers famous from an expert such as Cliff Hoyt (shown below). Here are some of the highlights:

Ayer’s medicines were all natural, made from plants and minerals. Ayer’s medicines were made the same way as medicine from doctors of the time.

Ayer’s first medicine was Cherry Pectoral in 1843. It was advertised as treatment for throat and lung diseases but it was basically a cough medicine. It was given a lot more credit than it warranted. Collectively, the medical field back then didn’t understand or treat bacteria or viruses but treated the symptoms. Patients tended to get better because by treating the symptoms, the patients were able to sleep better, eat better because the symptoms were suppressed and they tended to recover.

In 1853, Ayer brought out his second medicine, known as Ayer’s Cathartic Pills. This was a laxative but it was very strong, much stronger than the comparable product now. Ayer made claims for the pills that were greater than they deserved, but everyone else did the same and it wasn’t meant to be deceptive: they all thought their claims were accurate.

In 1858, Ayer brought out his third medicine, Ayer’s Sarsaparilla which was a “blood medicine” that was intended to remove “poisons” from the blood. It purportedly treated things such as syphilis, consumption and skin diseases. Sarsaparilla did not work.

Also in 1858, Ayer brought out his fourth medicine, Ayer’s Ague Cure. Ague was a fever that reoccurs and later became known as malaria. Ayer made this medicine from the bark of the cinchona tree. The resulting substance later became known as quinine and it was very effective in treating malaria. Besides the quinine, Ague Cure also contained alcohol and flavoring.

Those were Ayer’s earliest products. Mr. Hoyt then discussed the term “patent medicine” which he claimed was a misnomer because none of these medicines received actual patents. [Note: I’ve read that the term “patent” has nothing to do with the US patent system but refers to the English practice of the king designating an “official product” of the monarchy which then allowed the product maker to claim that it was the “patent” product). Hoyt believes that the “patent” label was actually a negative connotation placed on these products by doctors who opposed their use. Why did doctors dislike Ayer’s medicines and other like products? Hoyt suggested several reasons: (1) The “off-the-shelf” nature of Ayer’s product took doctors out of the equation, costing them money, credit, and led to patient self-diagnosis); (2) The medicines appeared to be cure-alls meaning they could cure many things while doctors believed slightly different ingredients were needed for different diseases; (3) although Ayer always disclosed his ingredients to doctors and pharmacists, many patent medicine makers kept their ingredient list secret and may have included harmful substances in the products; (4) Ayer and his competitors advertised heavily which doctors found to be unseemly.

Ayer’s original manufacturing facility was on Jackson Street. During the Civil War, he also began operating on Market Street and finally opened an adjoining building on Middle Street (the current Ayer Lofts).

As for the ingredients, Ayer’s Cherry Pectoral contained 3 grams of morphine but this was a smaller quantity than most doctors prescribed. Most of Ayer’s medicines also included alcohol but there was a practical reason for this: the main ingredients were vegetative and the alcohol acted as a preservative. According to Cliff, however, you could not consume enough of the medicine to feel the effects of the alcohol without first becoming sick from the other ingredients.

Lowell Historical Society Presents “J.C. Ayer & Co, and the Civil War” Today!

This is a cross post from the blog – richardhowe.com:

Today ~ Lowell Historical Society Presents “J.C. Ayer Co. and the Civil War”

BY MARIE

The Lowell Historical Society is sponsoring a program today – Sunday October 24, 2011 – on the activities of J.C. Ayer & Co during the Civil War. The presentation will begin at1 p.m. at Middlesex Community College – in the  Federal Building, 50 Kearney Square and is open to the public with free parking in the MCC lot.

James Cook Ayer started his medicine manufacturing empire in Lowell in 1841. J.C. Ayer & Co. remained in business in Lowell until 1943. J.C. Ayer’s tribute to Victory resides in front of City Hall.

Interview About Lowell Historical Society for Lowell Association for the Blind’s Talking Information Network

An oversize panoramic view of Lowell and the Merrimack River reprinted from the 1850′s.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk about the Lowell Historical Society and the history of Lowell for the Lowell Association for the Blind’s “Talking Information Center.” Host Jim Barrett invited me to participate in this important LAB program. The Talking Information Center is an award winning radio reading service that broadcasts the reading of printed material over an extensive network of commercial and noncommercial radio and cable TV outlets in Massachusetts. The LAB outlet has just undergone an upgrade of the studio and installed state-of-the-art technology for the use and training of clients, volunteers and staff in their efforts to reach out and connect with the visually-impaired and print-handicapped population of Greater-Lowell and Massachusetts – keeping them more informed.

I was particularly interested in seeing the facilities since the upgrade was enabled by a grant from the Greater Lowell Community Foundation where I am a founding and active member of the grants Distribution Committee. The money was well-granted! Executive Directive Elizabeth Cannon runs a great operation.

In the interview I talked about my own history and roots in the Lowell community, how I got involved in the Lowell Historical Society and what the Society means to Lowell and the study and preservation of Lowell History. Never shy about this subject, I found the time just flew by and as with interviews of this nature – lots of stories were told! I hope that the listeners will come away with a better understanding of the Lowell Historical Society and its important place in the community when the interview airs in early November.

Thanks again to Jim and Elizabeth for the opportunity.

Learn more about the Lowell Association for the Blind here at their website:http://www.lowellassociationfortheblind.org/

The Pawtucket Canal

This is a cross-post from www.richardhowe.com. Local historian and Register of Deeds Dick Howe will be posting a series of articles on the Lowell canals.
October 13th, 2011

The Pawtucket Canal

by DickH

Guard Locks, Lowell Mass

The following is the first of a series of posts about the history of the canals of Lowell.

Throughout the 18th century, world demand for lumber from the upper Merrimack River continued to grow. By the end of the American Revolution, lumbermen would routinely cut down trees along the river banks, bind the logs into rafts, and float them down the river to Newburyport’s markets and the Atlantic Ocean. The passage of the Pawtucket Falls at East Chelmsford was treacherous for the rafts, however, and so for many years people had considered the benefits that a canal that circumvented the falls would bring. In 1792, Dudley Tyng, William Coombs and others formed a corporation called “The Proprietors of the Locks and Canals on the Merrimack River” and proceeded to dig a canal. Sweeping in a great arc from the banks of the Merrimack above the falls to the Concord River near its confluence with the Merrimack, the Pawtucket Canal took five years and cost $50,000 to construct. The canal was one and one-half miles long and used four locks to accommodate the 32 foot difference in elevation between the upper Merrimack and the Concord. One of the four locks was eventually deconstructed leaving the three we have today: The Guard Locks near Broadway – shown above – which are co-located with the Francis Gate; the Swamp Locks off Dutton Street – shown below – and the Lower Locks which are right next to the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center which is where the Pawtucket Canal enters the Concord River. The Pawtucket Canal commenced operations in 1797, but it proved to be unprofitable once the competing Middlesex Canal opened the following year.

Swamp Locks, Lowell Mass

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Tewksbury Cemetery Tours – October 21st and 23rd

The Tewksbury Advocate tells us that our friends in the Tewksbury Historical Society are all set for their Annual Cemetery Tour. It will be guided by our own Lowell Historical Society board member and Assistant Administrator of the Lowell Historic Board – Kim Zunino. Tewksbury Civil War history and other cemetery lore will highlight the tour.

There is Friday night tour and a Sunday afternoon tour accepting a limit of 25 participants in each group. The Tewksbury Historical Society charges a small fee and for the Friday night tour urges you to bring your own flashlight! Please make a reservation. Here are the details from The Advocate:

Tewksbury

The Tewksbury Historical Society is planning its annual Cemetery Tour on Oct. 21 at 6 p.m. and Oct. 23, 3:30 p.m., at the East Street Cemetery.

This is an evening event so bring your flashlight. Kim Zunino, the leader of the tour is hoping for good weather this year. You will learn some Tewksbury Civil War history along with explanations of cemetery lore from our resident expert. It will be a night to honor the people who came before. Their Civil War stories will be told at where they lay at rest.

Children under 12 should come on Sunday. Reservations may be made by email to tewksburyhistoricalsociety@MSN.com or tickets are sold at the Tewksbury Public Library in the Local History Room on Tuesdays, 3:30-5:30 p.m.

Park your car in the Tewksbury Cemetery, parallel to East Street. Look for entrance and you will be directed to parking. You may also park downtown and take a short walk up East Street to the cemetery. Bring your flashlight on Friday night.

The cemetery is located on East Street in Tewksbury. The society will sell no more than 25 tickets per tour. E-mail reservations are advised at tewksburyhistoricalsociety@mns.com. Payment and reservations can also be made at the Tewksbury Library every Tuesday, 3:30-5:30 p.m., in the Local History Room on the second floor. Send payment by check to Tewksbury Historical Society, P.O. Box 522, Tewksbury MA 01876.

A small fee will be charged for the tour – $6 for members, and $8 for non-members. Any reservations not claimed by tour time will be transferred to anyone waiting at the cemetery that would like to go on the tour.

Read more: Tewksbury Historical Society hosts cemetery tours – Tewksbury, MA – Tewksbury Advocate http://www.wickedlocal.com/tewksbury/archive/x1581987142/Tewksbury-Historical-Society-hosts-cemetery-tours#ixzz1aP92GAgl

WLLH Radio Origins Date Back to October 10, 1934

I came across this newsworthy historical tidbit today. The first radio station of note in Lowell was known as WLLH radio. Wikipedia and other sources tell us the story of the origins of WLLH and its current status.

On this day – October 10, 1934:

WLEY was a radio station operating in Lexington, Massachusetts until 1933 when it was purchased by Alfred Moffat, who moved the station to Lowell on October 10, 1934 and changed the call letters to WLLH. Moffat boosted the station’s daytime power to 250 watts from a transmitter and studio location at the Rex Center in downtown Lowell and then affiliated it with the Yankee Network. In 1936, the station also began an affiliation with the Mutual-affiliated Colonial Network. He also began efforts to establish a second transmitter in Lawrence, which signed on the air temporarily with 100 watts on December 1, 1937 – a license for the Lawrence transmitter was issued on March 4, 1941. WLLH moved to 1400 kHz on March 29, 1941 under the North American Radio Broadcasting Agreement.

Johnny Carson’s well-known side-kick Ed McMahon – a Lowell High School graduate – began his career in 1942 as an announcer for WLLH. Local sports coverage was popular with listeners – from high school football to the Lowell Spinners in later days. Many will remember another popular radio figure – Tom Clayton and then in later years the late Paul Sullivan and his Morning Magazine show. Sullivan – also affiliated with the Lowell Sun – later starred on nighttime radio at WBZ-1030 AM in Boston.

The station that now operates as WLLH-1400 AM is quite different from its original format and is owned by Gois Broadcasting, LLC. The station airs in the Spanish language in a tropical music format.

 

Lowell Historic Board Publishes 2011 Fall Newsletter

The Lowell Historic Board has resumed publication of a quarterly newsletter –  “Presence from the Past” – with its just issued 2011 Fall Edition. News from the commission is always of interest to Lowell Historical Society members and those interested in preservation. The Society does have a member-seat on the Commission currently filled by LHS board member and Director of the UML/Center for Lowell History Martha Mayo and Commission Assistant Director Kim Zunino is also on the board.

While many topics are covered in this newsletter scholars and interested buffs of the many Lowell cemeteries should check out Kim’s article: The Value of Historic Cemeteries and  information on a November 20 tour she’ll conduct on the Old English Cemetery on Gorham Street.

The Newsletter is chock full of interesting article and suggestion of how to research the history of your house, the newly designated historic neighborhood – the Livingston-Harvard Neighborhood District – in the Highlands, how historic buildings in Lowell are going solar… and much more. There is a calendar of events too!

 77 Livingston Avenue in the new historic district

If you aren’t on the LHB Newlettter list, check it out by posting this link information in your browser : http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?llr=jcl44pbab&v=0012ndadPBmR-KpKCbOQHSebsDdYZZIYpPc6BkVbsq9NuNlPdZnR9v3K-wOdKA1ihGwCCkvLgByXdx4-0iabuBs5q2aFCbhxZiohlUyfnmwklg%3D