Updated: Jul 1, 2022
It’s not every day a city turns 300 years old! To commemorate the Worcester Tercentennial this month, I’ve gathered a few fun facts about the special place that Worcester holds in the hearts of Armenians. The Church of our Saviour has the unique distinction as the first Armenian church in the entire Western Hemisphere and was built in Worcester in 1891. Additionally, Massachusetts boasts the second largest Armenian population in the US, largely in Watertown, Worcester, and Whitinsville.
"There is no legitimate proof as to how Ararat Street took its name. There is a legend, though – and a good one – to account for it. The legend should be taken with a grain of salt; maybe two grains. Sometime before 1851, when Ararat Street first bowed its way into the city directory, a resident at the Summit, past what was known as the Barber farm, was on a hillside back of his place. He found a peculiar hunk of old wood – shaped by human hands. As near as he could figure out, the thing resembled part of a boat – a big one. He put it in his barn but couldn’t forget about it. The next time he hitched his horse and wagon, he put the thing in back and drove to Lincoln square. There he showed it to the others. A crowd soon formed. “Reckon it’s part of a boat,” said the farmer who found it. Others agreed. Some were skeptical. But interest and excitement grew. If it was a boat, the majority agreed, how did it get on a hillside so far from the water? There was one explanation from the Worcester men who knew their bible – it must be part of the Ark. They quoted Genesis 8:3,4: “And the waters returned from off the earth continually; and after the end of a hundred and fifty days the water decreased. And the ark rested in the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat.” Mad as the idea was, it spread. If the thing was part of the Ark and it landed on the hill, then that must be Ararat. The hill became known as Mount Ararat – later Indian Hill."
THREE-DECKER HOMES WERE SAID TO HAVE ROOTS IN WORCESTER
One example was the historic Mary Dean Three-Decker in Worcester's Belmont Hill neighborhood. Built about 1892, it was a relatively rare surviving 19th century "double" triple-decker that had well-preserved Queen Anne styling. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. Mary Dean, the early owner, lived on the premises. A significant number of early tenants came from Armenia, and included workers in the city's wire works, as well as clerks, bakers, and painters.
ALICE STONE BLACKWELL Feminist, Humanitarian relief in Worcester, “Armenian Poems” translator
Alice Stone Blackwell (1857 – 1950), a feminist and humanitarian, devoted her mind and soul to the culture and cause of the Armenian people. She brilliantly published her translation of “Armenian Poems” which was of immense value with links to Worcester in raising funds for Armenian. It has been said that Alice joined the Armenian Orphan’s Aid Society founded by the ladies of the Church of Our Savior in Worcester, United Friends of Armenia, and the National Armenian Relief Committee.
She is the daughter of Lucy Stone, leading reformer and advocate of women's rights who spoke at the first National Woman's Rights Convention which was held in Worcester in 1850 and whose portrait hangs in historic Mechanics Hall.
RICE PILAF IN A BOX
Near East® started in 1962 in Worcester, MA as a small, family-owned company. George and Hannah Kalajian immigrated from Armenia to the United States and set up a grocery store in 1940. Soon after the store opened, Hannah began serving sandwiches and home-cooked hot meals at a twelve stool luncheonette counter adjoining the grocery store. On Wednesdays, Hannah served her specialty: roasted chicken and Armenian-style rice pilaf. A tasty combination of rice, orzo pasta, and seasoning, the pilaf quickly became so popular that Hannah began to package it - filling bags of pilaf mix by hand in her home kitchen. As demand rapidly increased, more help was added and a growing number of food distributors helped to sell the product. Over the years, production moved out of Hannah's kitchen and into modern manufacturing facilities. Today the Near East family of products includes more than 30 different flavors and varieties of rice pilafs, couscous, and other grain dishes, all with the same high-quality ingredients, care and handling that Hannah put into the first pilaf.
These are just a few fun facts of Armenians in Worcester. What are your favorite stories?
SPOILER ALERT: You will read more of at least one of these fun facts in my debut novel.
HINT: It won’t be that I’ve made rice pilaf from a box. My mother, grandmother, and aunties may never forgive that admission 😊