Half the visitors brought lunch — noodles, sandwiches, a spinach calzone. But local history was the main course. 

Similar fare will be on the table midweek, all summer, at the Lawrence Heritage State Park. 

The new lunch and learn program, Brown Bag Wednesdays, continues this week with "The French-Canadians Invade New England." Presenting will be the park's supervisor, Jim Beauchesne, a Lawrence native and son of French-Canadian Immigrants.

Last week, Beauchesne and the park's Rich Padova — also Lawrence born —introduced the Brown Bag series to the public at the Jackson Street Visitors Center with "Urban Renewal — Then and Now."

The presentation surveyed Lawrence's experience under a national slum clearance program from the mid- to late 20th century that arose from the 1949 Housing Act.

The program provided billions of federal dollars to cities deemed blighted.

The goal was to improve lives of poor people in urban cores by demolishing unsafe housing and substandard buildings and replacing it with new construction.

Often, however, properties were taken by eminent domain and sold at a discount to developers who failed to build housing for the poor, Padova said.

Instead, the cleared land became parking lots, roads and vacant lots. 

Largely a "geography of nowhere," Beauchesne said. 

Overcrowding that tenants had experienced was often exacerbated as they were forced to seek housing elsewhere.

A sort of "musical chairs," Padova said. In Lawrence, residents were displaced and small businesses destroyed in the North Commons area.

Revitalization took place in some instances around the country.

In declining mill cities in Massachusetts, including Lowell, Lynn and Lawrence, later iterations of urban renewal preserved historic structures, improved quality of life and boosted civic pride through parks.

A local example is the Lawrence Heritage State Park's Visitors Center (once a boarding house for mill workers) and Pemberton State Park. 

The Visitors Center's lunch and learn series is part presentation, part conversation. Each week has a topic. Visitors are invited to bring a lunch and the center serves coffee, water and cookies.

Presenters cultivate a round-table spirit of discussion.

It complements the center's local history-based summer programming, including five walking tours and boat tours on the Merrimack River.

Among the guests at the first Brown Bag Wednesday were two ninth-graders from Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School in Lawrence. Mio Gabriel and Melanie Castro came with Amita Kiley, collections manager and research coordinator at the Lawrence History Center, where the girls are enrolled in a work-study program.

Also in the audience was John McDermott, of Dracut. He was drawn to the urban renewal subject. He recalled witnessing, as a child, the destruction of Boston's West End.

Brown Bag Wednesdays are offered weekly and start at 12:15 p.m. on the second floor Lawrence Heritage State Park Visitors Center, 1 Jackson St.

 

IF YOU GO

What: Brown Bag Wednesdays

When: Wednesdays, 12:15 p.m.

Where: Lawrence Heritage State Park Visitors Center, 1 Jackson St., Lawrence

How much: Free admission

More information: 978-794-1655, mass.gov/locations/lawrence-heritage-state-park

 

UPCOMING PROGRAMS

June 12: "The French-Canadians Invade New England," by Jim Beauchesne

June 19: "Lost Art Found at the Library," by Jim Ross

June 26: "The Early Settlement Period and its First Hero," by Tom Spitalere

July and August speakers and program to be announced.