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A HISTORY OF THE GREEKS IN DRACUT

Costas Caraganis (1938)

The Pappas and the Poulas began arriving to our shores in large numbers in the last decade of the 19th century. To be sure, they were not the first of their race in this country, for we know that even Greeks were included in Columbus' crew. During the 19th century, the Greeks were already playing an important role in the welfare of this country. For example, one of the pioneers in the education of the deaf and blind was a Hellene who served as principal of the Perkins Institute, Watertown, Mass. The reverend Thomas J. Lacey tells us that one of the Salons in the Wisconsin State Legislature at the close of the Civil War was an American Greek. An American Greek commanded one of the Battleships in Admiral Dewey's fleet in the Battle of Manila.

However, the story of the Dracut American Greeks and the Greeks we know dates from 1891, when the failure of the currant market, the chief export of Greece brought a financial panic and forced the young men of this little country to seek their fortune in other lands.

I ‑ The scarcity of railroad building labor in this country proved an opportune opening to these young Greeks, and here they came in large numbers from the islands and the mainland of Greece.

2‑ The first idea of these young men was to stay in America from two to five years, work, earn some money and return home to pay the family debts.

3‑ They worked, earned the necessary money, paid their family debts but very few returned to the old country. This was a different world, an ideal land to live in, and so they stayed.

The more ambitious moved west, the less ambitious or those who had married, settled down along the northeastern coast in industrial centers such as Lowell, Massachusetts. They established communities of their own wherein they took up a social life similar to that which they had left behind in their own villages. Since the Greeks, like other races of recent emigration to our shores, were kept apart by a social barrier from the older established races, we feel safe in saying that the resulting communities, such as Market  Street in Lowell, offered the Hellenes the only means to survive as a group.

The years began to pass, some of my people had been here five years, others ten years. Gradually they began to realize that this United States was a pretty good place to live in. Consequently, they began to think of things permanent, rather than transient. Same began little business enterprises, others thought of buying land to build a home. Thus, they came to Dracut.

The first Greek to buy land in Dracut was Keriazos C. Cozaros, who purchased ten lots an Hartford Avenue, better known as Walbrook, on March 14, 1902. In 1903, Socrates Manikos bought two lots in the same area. Neither of these two men, however, built on this land.

The first Greek to settle in Dracut was Peter Laganas, who in 1907, after bringing his wife and five children from Greece, bought a farm on Hampson Street. He was closely followed by others who also went into farming on Hampson and Phineas Streets. From then on, the migration maintained a steady pace which did not reach its momentum till the early twenties. Today, there are approximately one hundred and thirty‑five American Greek families in this town.

These migrations to Dracut may be divided into two groups: first those who wanted to take up farming as a livelihood and second ‑those who just wanted a home in the country. Despite the handicaps that confronted them, these farmers managed to eke out a satisfactory living. Perhaps the most successful was Peter Laganas, who as early us 1909, began specializing in the raising of Cocozelle Squash, a variety much in demand by all Southern Europeans. Today, there are eight families on Phineas Street alone, whose total income is derived from farming.

Up until 1921, the Greeks took very little interest in the affairs of the town of Dracut. There were two reasons for this condition: first ‑ were only three naturalized American citizens, John Vlahakis, Charles Tsouprakakis and Louis Caraganis; second, they could speak but very little English.

However, an incident occurred in and about 1921 which made my people realize that while they were moving into Dracut in large numbers and had lived here for some time, there were still barriers to be overcome.

The incident in question, was related to me by my father who was in attendance at the meeting. It seems that a special water district meeting had been called to consider a warrant providing town water to six homes on Phineas Street. In the course of debate on the warrant, some citizen, whose name is unknown to us, rose and objected to the passing of the warrant, in view of the fact that the street to be serviced was inhabited by nothing but Greeks. Our three stalwart representatives were at once stunned and indignant. Indignant at the fact that their tax money did not entitle them to that which they had a right to ask for, and stunned at the realization that they did not have sufficient command of the English language to stand up and fight for their rights. From then on, this incident became the battle cry for the Greeks. It helped in naturalizing many American Citizens. Today, there are over one hundred and seventy ‑ five American Greek voters in the town.

In 1928, the Greek American Citizens Club was formed. During the first few years, the Club was made up almost wholly of naturalized citizens. But gradually, the first generation became of age and enthusiastically joined into the activities of the club. For ten years, this club has been the only Greek organization in the Town of Dracut, and as such, has acted as the representative of all the Greeks. This organization has been of great help to our people as a whole.

A few days ago, a "new organization, The American Hellenic Civic League" was started in this town by three enterprising young people.

The purpose of this organization is to bring about a closer unification of the young American Greek men and women, and to assist one another in dealing with problems that are facing the younger generation. We are looking forward to big things from this new group.

The first political appointment to our people came in 1930, when Peter Boutselis was appointed a park police officer.

In 1935, the American Greeks received their first big recognition, when Arthur Skandalis was elected to the Dracut High School Teaching Staff.

In 1936, two members of our club ran for public office: Arthur Cutrumbes for Tree Warden and Costas Caraganis for School Committee. While neither man was nominated, they at least made an auspicious beginning which was culminated in 1938 with the election of George Neofotistos to the Dracut School Board. In 1936, the Greek element in the town was further recognized with the appointment of George Malliaros to the then newly created town Planning Board.

Perhaps the greatest ambition of all Greeks is to acquire knowledge because of the disadvantages that our parents have had, they have endeavored to give their children all possible opportunities to secure an adequate education. In conjunction with this ambition, they in 1926, organized a Greek School on Hampson Street, corner of Kinsella  Avenue. Classes were of two hours duration and were held three days a week, Tuesdays, Thursdays from 6 to 8:00 PM, and Saturdays from 8 to 10:00 AM. 'this school endured for a number of years and was discontinued only when the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church provided a bus to take the Dracut children to the Church school. Credit for continuance of this school goes to Soterios Lembesis, who worked hard to raise money so mat parents who could not afford to pay For their children's education could still receive its benefits.

Since 1924, twenty‑one boys and 3 girls from our town have entered various colleges and universities. The institutions attended included ‑ Colby College 1, Suffolk Law School 1, Harvard 2, Springfield College 1, Norwich University 1, Massachusetts State College 2, Lowell Textile Institute 4, Yale University 1, Providence College 1, Boston University 1, West Point 1, Keene Normal 1, Stock bridge School of Agriculture 2, and Lowell Teachers College 3.                                                         1

Since the establishment of the Dracut High School, the pupils have established an enviable scholastic record. In 1936, Miss Mary Laganas and Michael Tsouprakakis were chosen Salutatorian and valedictorian..

While Greek boys and girls have been establishing an enviable scholastic record, they have not lost sight of athletics and extra curricula activities as necessary contacts for a well rounded education. Since the inauguration of athletics at the Dracut High School in 1935, boys of Greek extraction have dominated sports. Among those who have brought fame to Dracut are Charles Manousis, Teddy Alexakos, Jimmy Spanos, The Pappas Brothers and Louis King Kong) Tzaneteas. Previous to 1935, the following Dracut boys did their share as members of Lowell High School basketball and football teams‑ Arthur Faipeas, John Faneros and William Tsapatsaris.

In the professional and business field, the Dracut Greeks have made rapid strides. Outstanding in the professions is James Kokavas, who received his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science Degrees at Mass. State College. After receiving his Masters degree, he secured an instructor's position at his Alma Mater. A year later, he secured an instructor's position at the University of Delaware. Two years later, he enrolled again as a student, this time at Yale. Upon receiving his Doctors Degree in 1933, he again returned to the University of Delaware. There he is now an assistance professor of Bacteriology.

Outstanding in the business field are the Laganas Brothers, Costas, Chris and George. Costas and Chris are owners of the Laganas Shoe Shop in Lowell, Mass., while George Laganas now operates a Shoe Shop in Auburn, Maine.

Among the other young people from the town who have established an enviable business record, we mention John Faneros, graduate of the Bentley School of Accounting, who is now general manager of the Candyland Company, and John Malliaros, a graduate of Colby College, who is now a district manager for the Union News Company, a national restaurant chain.

Thirty‑one years is not a long period of time in which a group can make itself felt or assimilated. Yet in that space of time, the Greeks of Dracut have shown that as a group, they are an asset to the town, state and nation, as evidenced by the manner in which they have drawn themselves into the political and business life of their community and by the way in which they have taken advantage of the opportunities to better themselves. Contrast the Dracut American Greeks of today with the Dracut American Greeks of 192 1.

The 1921 product was an un‑assimilated person to whom surrounding American contacts were unknown. The product of 1938 is the product of the American Melting pot, a tribute to the ideals, tolerance and freedom of American Democracy.

By ‑ Costas L. Caraganis     1938

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Copyright 2001 by Lowell Hellenic Heritage Association. All rights reserved.
Revised: 10 Oct 2005 10:11:59 -0500