- Associated Press - Monday, December 12, 2016

LOWELL, Mass. (AP) - After more than a century, the Club des Citoyens Americains came to its end for the simplest of reasons: it just couldn’t make ends meet anymore.

Better known as the CCA, the club was once several French clubs in Lowell at a time when such social clubs were a common way for people to get together. Other clubs have also seen their numbers dwindle, or have closed altogether.

Al Marcel, the CCA’s treasurer, said the club was devoting more and more money to debt and taxes and could no longer survive financially.

“The club couldn’t sustain itself,” he said, not dwelling on the club’s ending after so many years. “I don’t know how else to put it.”

Armand Menard, the club’s president for 20 years and a member for nearly 50, said the club had close to 200 members. Yearly dues of $20 weren’t enough to offset other costs.

“Business has been dead. It’s been slow, and that’s the reason it’s closed,” he said. “It’s a shame that that’s what happened.”

Another Lowell French mainstay, the Franco-American School on Pawtucket Street, shuttered in June after more than a century.

The club’s longtime home on Market Street in the Acre was knocked down in the summer of 2015. The club moved to its new space on Lakeview Avenue, but that move has proven to be short-lived.

“It’s tough to see another one of our city landmarks disappearing with the march of time,” said Mehmed Ali, the city historian. “The CCA will always be held in high honor as one of those places which still kept people in touch with each other as brothers and sisters.”

The club’s closing isn’t an outlier when it comes to such institutions.

Only about a half-mile away, the Polish American Veterans Club sold its Coburn Street building last year, which is now proposed to be turned into a church. The club has continued to meet at the Dom Polski Club, a sister Polish organization in Centralville.

“We are alive and well and continuing our efforts,” said Bob Jaracz, the group’s commander.

The CCA has a long history in Lowell.

It formed in 1898 as Le Club des Citoyens Americains de Lowell, Massachusetts et des Environs. The longer, French name was unruly enough for most that it has long simply been known as the CCA.

The original purpose of the club was twofold, Ali said. It worked to assist the city’s French-Canadian immigrants in becoming citizens and then urging those new citizens to vote to affect the political process, in particular on behalf of Republican candidates.

At the very first meeting, a hat was passed to raise $31.29 to officially start the group.

The CCA ran in secret, so much so, Ali said, that in the first year, three members were expelled for divulging the group’s information. But the group’s political activism was “legendary,” the historian said. For many years, there was a de facto “CCA seat” on the city’s Board of Assessors.

“The CCA is one of the famous French social clubs in the city which brought a community together in the days before television and smartphones,” Ali said.

“While other French clubs had clientele connected to religion,” he added, mentioning the Pawtucketville Social Club and LaFayette Club, “the CCA was focused primarily on the working class.”

A century ago, there were several booming French clubs in the city, and the French for decades had a major role in the city. Lowell’s French community even had its own French-language newspaper, Le Journal de Lowell, from 1975 to 1995.

Club Social de Pawtucketville opened in 1897, and Club Passe Temps opened in 1902, giving French-Americans a place to play the card game Whist, which was popular at the time.

In 1913, a group decided to form a Franco-American club and name it after General Marquis de Lafayette, who sided with the Americans in the Revolutionary War. The Lafayette Club now uses its Fletcher Street building several days a week and counts about 300 members.

While the Franco-American School closed its doors earlier this year, other French schools have already gone by the wayside. St. Joseph High School merged in 1989 with Keith Academy and other Catholic schools to become Lowell Catholic High School.


Information from: The (Lowell, Mass.) Sun, https://www.lowellsun.com

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