A Tale of Two Ballrooms
Intro French Nichols Hutchins Nichols & Hutchins Building Passings Sources

When my husband and I moved to Lowell in 2009, looking into who was dancing what where in the city during its early days seemed an obvious thing to do; the two of us had been involved with historical recreations of nineteenth-century American dancing for decades. Our original intention was to obtain a bit of background to accompany performances but we quickly ended up with enough interesting information to fill a book. By the time that book, Twirling Jennies, was published spending my spare time puzzling out Lowell's dance past had become something of a habit.

One of the early discoveries that particularly fascinated me was learning that the section of the former Bon Marché store that's usually called the Railroad National Bank building was actually built as a restaurant and ballroom. I eventually found a detailed newspaper description of the building when it opened in 1874, and then later, an article about its remodel while in the hands of the Railroad National Bank. Having gotten that far I set out to learn everything I could about the pair of caterers behind this iconic piece of Lowell's downtown, Levi Nichols and Melbourne Hutchins, and about their mentor, Amos French. The links in the sub-header above will take the reader through their stories.

Writing about everyday people—people long gone and fogotten—using only the public record is tricky, and it's easy to misinterpret information or jump to conclusions; I have tried not to do that, although I did allow myself some latitude on a couple of minor details. Someday I may fictionalize the story and flesh it out as I see fit but for now I have hewed as closely as I could to documented specifics. If anyone would like to offer verifiable additions or corrections, please feel free to e-mail me.



The Bon Marché
A recent photo of the east end section of the Bon Marché building on Merrimack Street, once the Nichols and Hutchins Dining Saloon.

The map below shows the section of Middlesex County wherein these people spent their lives. The image links to a high resolution version of the same that allows one to pick out such details as the Hutchins-Taylor farm southwest of Westford center; Thomas French's farm (Amos's brother) in Chelmsford just south of the Lowell line; a W. Nichols in the northeast corner of Wilmington (Levi's father was William); and any number of the little shoe shops that dotted the area, one of which employed Levi Nichols just a few years before this map was made. The original, complete Middlesex County map can be found online at the Library of Congress or at Wikimedia.

One final word: certain surnames cropped up over and over again while researching this story, just as they do in more general Lowell histories. Many local families had been in the area for generations and were connected through both marriage and business ties. Trying to trace every connection is quite impossible so I have stuck to the ones that are both clear and relevant.

  County of Middlesex Map Detail
Intro French Nichols Hutchins Nichols & Hutchins Building Passings Sources
  Questions? Comments? evans-worsley@comcast.net— Copyright 2017-2022 by R. Evans
Back to top