A Lowell Cracker Remembered

The array of crackers available to today’s consumers from Market Basket to Trader Joe’s and beyond is stunning. I’m a cracker lover who enjoys eating them plain or with butter, “spread” or hard cheese, peanut butter (sometime with a touch of Fluff), jelly, a dip or crumbled in soup. Ritz crackers with melted butter make a elegant dressing/stuffing for scallops or lobster. But if you have a stomach that needs settling a plain saltine does the trick. This cross-post from Dave McKeon at LowellIrish reminds us of the wonderful, tasty, versatile Lowell Bradt’s Soda cracker – once a staple in so many homes. Take a trip down Memory Lane ~

Bradt’s Crackers- a Lowell original

Thursday nights were food shopping nights when I was growing up in the Acre.  We’d get in our 55 Ford and head down Broadway to the Giant Store.  It had a big ramp that led up to the food store, or you could take the stairs and go down to look at the toys.  When you were done grocery shopping, they’d put your brown paper bags in a metal bin and send it down a long set of rollers, which led outside in order to load at your car.  I always wanted to take a ride along that conveyor, but I digress. 
One of the items that was on our weekly shopping list was a box of Bradt’s crackers.  They came in a long, white rectangular box with blue lettering that said “Bradt’s Soda Crackers.”  The crackers were snow white with little air pockets that made them “crispy, but not brittle” as was advertised on the box.  I remember they were on a shelf near the ice cream, and I’d have to climb up on the freezer to reach them to put in the shopping cart.  There was always the warning of not dropping the box and breaking them before we got them home.  There was always a little anxiety to pull out that perfect cracker without breaking it, and then snapping it along the little perforations that would divide the square into quarters. 
The company was a Lowell original being manufactured on Whiting Street (between Fletcher and Salem Streets).  Today the parking lot for the new UMass buildings completely covers where the small wood and stone factory once stood.  My friend, David, lived just steps away from the factory.  You could smell the crackers baking in the oven as we played in back of his house.  The white-aproned men would often keep the doors and windows open to escape the heat or sneak outside for a smoke.  From time to time they’d give us a few of the broken crackers.   The wooden floors of the factory were almost snow white with crackers that didn’t meet quality control.  Occasionally, farmers would pull up to haul away the sacks of broken pieces to feed their hogs.
 City Directory – 1890
Since my dad had ulcers they were a staple of his diet whenever they flared up.  My Mother used them in her stuffing, as I think every Lowell mother did.  They were great on meatless Fridays with butter or peanut butter.  Probably every family in the area had a box of Bradt’s in their pantry. 
The company had deep Lowell roots.  It was started by David, Gerrit J(Garrett), and David Bradt in 1833.  The Bradts originally worked for Mr. Pierce’s bakery.  In just a couple of years the brothers opened their own bakery on Whiting Street and built a home.  They acquired tracts of land that make up parts of Bowers Street.  Through the years the company took on several names; Bradt’s Soda Crackers, Bradt’s Soda Biscuits, and Bradt’s Common Crackers.  The family did well enough that they became involved in real estate and banking.  The founder, David Bradt died in 1892, leaving the company to various relatives and slowly declining over the years.  He was buried in the family plot in the Lowell Cemetery.

The company was sold off to Oswald Turcotte in the 1930s who tried to re-energize it by broadening the selling area to outside of Lowell and a new advertising campaign.  Ads appeared in the papers using the theme “crispness without brittleness.”  Mr. Turcotte assured his patrons that they were keeping the original recipe and quality of the 100 year old product, while expanding the line to include oyster crackers  and saltines.  As November rolled around the ad campaigns showed up in the Lowell Sun.  One was a “telegram” by grandchildren reminding Grandma they were coming home for the holiday and her stuffing made with Bradt’s crackers.  Another was a personal endorsement by a Mrs. Edna Riggs Crabtree who used them at her cooking school.  The company even had a quite successful bowling league in the 1940s and 50s competing against the likes of Laurin Morticians and Turcotte Wines. They were still advertising for employees in the Lowell Sun up to 1970.  The actual date of closing is unclear. 
Today we buy water biscuits at outrageous prices at specialty stores.  Yet nothing today could compare to a Bradt’s!




More on the Solon Perkins Saga

I just posted this on my own Facebook page. Please read the latest entry of the Solon Perkins saga as discovered by our own Lowell Historical Society board member and history researcher Eileen Loucraft.

Remember the recently found Civil War flag? The discovery in the Lowell Memorial Auditorium gave rise to a “crowdsourcing” approach to more discovery led by Lowell  Historical Society board member Eileen Loucraft. Peeling back the cover of the Solon Perkins saga reveals some strange bedfellows of the family kind… http://www.richardhowe.com/2014/01/28/more-revelations-solon-perkins-ancestors-and-progeny/

Another Chapter in the Solon Perkins Saga

Here’s another chapter in the Solon Perkins saga in a cross-post of my post on Dick Howe’s blog. LHS board member Eileen Loucraft continues her research with more to come as there are still some unanswered questions.

Civil War Solon Perkins Saga Continues

Eileen Loucraft offers more insight into  the Solon Perkins – Civil War soldier saga. But questions remain: Why did Mrs. Perkins give the flag to the Middlesex Bank? Were there Perkins-Knapp connections? More research coming…

From E. Loucraft: His mother, Mrs. Wealthy Perkins received the gideon from the estate of Benjamin Butler. The General had been holding the sash of Solon A. Perkins and his Captain Henry A. Durivage, of 3nd Calvery Massachusetts. Captain Durivage drowned in the Mississippi River in April of 1862 and Lieut. Perkins commanded the 3rd until his own death. Captain Durivage was the son of 19th century author Francis Alexander Durivage of Boston and later New York City. So instead of the sash ending up at Memorial Hall it ended up at the bank.

My note: What is now known as Memorial Hall is located on the second floor of the now Pollard Memorial Library. Since the library was built as a memorial to veterans and with expectations that surviving Civil War veterans would have a place to occasionally meet – the expansive upper hall was the site of the meetings  of the   B. F. Butler Post 42, G.A.R. organization. The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was a fraternal organization composed of veterans of the Union Army, US Navy, Marines and Revenue Cutter Service who served in the American Civil War. The Lowell Post  42 was established in 1868. The furniture and accoutrements of the GAR were in the hall for many years. BTW – the LMA has the sash!

From the Lowell Daily Sun, December 15, 1894:

A Valuable Memento

Mrs. Wealthy Perkins, mother of Capt. Solon A. Perkins, who enlisted in this city when 27 years of age for the war, has the sash worn by her son when he was killed in the engagement with the rebels in Louisana. The sash, with another, was formerly in possession of Gen. Butler, and was enclosed by him in a receptacle for safe keeping, with the following memoranda. The sash and letter are to be put in Memorial hall.”

“The two sashes in this box belonged to two of the bravest cavalry officers I ever knew. The smaller one was worn by Henry A. Durivage, 1st lieutenant of the second company, Mass. unattached cavalry, who was lost overboard from the steamer North America on the Mississippi river at the head of the Passes, April 21, 1862. The larger one belonged to Capt. Solon Perkins of the same company, who was killed near Port Hudson, La., in June 1863. Both were dear friends, and better or braver men never lived.

B.F. Butler”

Check out this web page with a gideon in excellent shape – http://jeffbridgman.com/inventory/index.php?page=out&id=1625

More on the Civil War Flag Story

Here’s another cross-post from Dick Howe’s blog. My post is based on information found by fellow LHS board member Eileen Loucraft. This overall story has had input from many people/sources – all interested in the history of Lowell.

More on the Civil War Flag Mystery

Fellow blogger, history researcher and Lowell Historical Society BOD member Eileen Loucraft has discovered more background on the Civil War flag found at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium.

The  flag was donated to the Lowell Memorial Auditorium by a Mrs. Charles (Mary Sawyer) Knapp of Fort Hill Avenue in November of 1929. The particulars were found in a Lowell Sun story ( 11.29.1929)recounting that Mrs. Knapp – who had a large collection of war relics – felt that the “guidon under which a Lowell boy, Solon A. Perkins, was killed in action, and the flag was given by his mother to my husband… carefully preserved by mounting under glass in a beautifully hand-carved frame…” deserved the honor of a place in the Auditorium. For years – it seemed – prior to just coming into her hands – the flag was kept in the banking room of the Middlesex National Bank (also identified as the Middlesex Trust).

At her invitation the LMA trustees visited her home, observed the flag and unanimously agreed to add the flag to the collection. It was installed at the Auditorium on November 12, 1929.

My research shows her husband Charles L. Knapp as treasurer Middlesex Trust Company, a Trustee of the Lowell Cemetery and  Clerk of the City of Lowell water board.

Eileen also found a January 1919 Sun   “Man About Town” column – describing the flag as a wall decoration hanging over the chair of the bank President – F. P. Gilly. The bank president shared the Solon Perkins story with the Sun writer. Thanks to Eileen Loucraft for her research and this information.

The Story ~ Solon A. Perkins and the Civil War Flag at the LMA

This is a cross-post from Dick Howe’s blog. He tells us the story of the Civil War flag discovery and more about Solon A. Perkins.

Solon Perkins: 1836-1863

Photo by Tory Germann

Workers at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium recently discovered a large, ornate wooden frame which enclosed a faded and tattered flag from the American Civil War.  The Auditorium workers quickly contacted the Greater Lowell Veterans Council which sprung into action and is already planning for the refurbishment and eventual public display of this Lowell relic.  Tory Germann has already documented the case and its contents with her camera and has made those pictures available on her website.

Even a quick glance at this artifact makes clear it is dedicated to Solon Perkins, one of nearly 500 men from Lowell who died in the Civil War.  Perkins died from wounds sustained in battle near Port Hudson, Louisiana on June 3, 1863 while serving as an officer in the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment.  Perkins was one of many from Lowell who served in Louisiana, recruited by General Benjamin Butler who had been appointed military governor of New Orleans in 1862.

Solon Perkins was born in Lancaster, New Hampshire on December 6, 1836.  His family moved to Lowell in 1840.  Solon graduated from Lowell High School and immediately became engaged in the world of international business, working for several years in Buenos Aires and for several more in Valparaiso, Mexico.  In these places, he became fluent in both Spanish and French, skills that became invaluable during his military service in Louisiana.

In late June of 1863, the Reverend Owen Street, minister at Lowell’s High Street Church, delivered some remarks about the circumstances of Perkins’ death that were based on information that had been provided to the deceased soldier’s mother.  The following is some of what Street had to say:

When the army of General Banks moved upon Port Hudson, [Perkins] was ordered there and wrote his last letter from that place.  The booming of the enemy’s cannon, only 400 yards distant forbade his sleep, and he arose in the night and continued his letter . . . until an order came for him to support a battery; he stated the fact, recorded his farewell, and there his pen rested forever.  The same day that this letter was received, there came another, from another hand, saying that his earthly career was closed.

[Perkins and the Union cavalry encountered] the enemy’s force at Clinton at about 2 p.m.  In the course of fifteen minutes the action became general.  Lt. Perkins . . . was ordered to dismount his men and deploy as skirmishers . . . The fire became so galling, however, that he was ordered to fall back . . . It was found that the Federal force was in great danger of being outflanked, as the enemy had two or three times their number . . . Perkins fought the rebels at every step.  They reached a bridge over a ravine which the enemy were making every exertion to gain.  While skirmishing in front of this, Perkins received a ball through his arm which disabled it.  He did not however, stop fighting, but rode up to Colonel Grierson on a mule – his horse having been killed in the fight – and said that he could hold that bridge till the infantry had got out of range. . .

Perkins rejoined his corps, with one arm disabled and bleeding, and resumed the contest, exclaiming with the energy and impassioned tone of the battlefield, “Now boys, let us show these scoundrels that we can fight.”  A few minutes afterwards he received his mortal wound. . . Perkins was soon placed in a carriage and conveyed off from the field.  He survived about two hours, suffering little or no pain, and calmly passed away. . .

Thus has fallen as brave, as earnest, and as dutiful a soldier, and as faithful an officer, as the service can boast.  If all our officers, high and low, had fulfilled their part as well as he, this war would have many months since have been brought to an end.

Besides the recently discovered flag, a monument to the memory of Solon Perkins sits in Lowell Cemetery at his family’s burial plot.  The spring tours of the cemetery pass by this place.  This spring, we will stop there and talk of Solon Perkins, of his service, and of the flag display created in his memory.

Civil War Flag Found at LMA

Our friend Jack Mitchell just posted this link to photos of a recently discovered Civil War flag. The framed, tattered flag was located at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium. Looking forward to the story and more photos.

Citation: “Under this flag at Clinton, L.A. (?) June 3rd, 1863 Solon A. Perkins was killed.”

Check out Tory Germann’s site and photos: