Great 19th century poet Poet William Cullen Bryant once described Brockton this way: “The whole place resounds, rather rattles, with the machinery of shoe shops, which turn out millions of shoes, not one of which, I am told,is sold in the place.” For the first 200 years or so of its existence this was farm country with scattered mills and forges the only hint of industry. The town was known as Bridgewater and the district that would become Brockton was cleaved off in 1821 as North Bridgewater. Population was fewer than 2,000 souls.
There were tanneries around as early as the 1700s and a bit of a shoe-making tradition established. By the 1840s Brockton shops where churning out more and more footwear, mostly boots. In 1848 Daniel Howard introduced a quality shoe that sold for $1 which took New York City by storm and it is said that he was producing more shoes than all other manufacturers in town put together to keep up with demand.
Up to that point all shoes were made with practically the same hand tools that were used in Egypt as early as the 14th century B.C. as a part of a sandal maker’s equipment. To the curved awl, the chisel-like knife and the scraper, the shoemakers of the thirty-three intervening centuries had added only a few simple tools such as the pincers, the lapstone, the hammer and a variety of rubbing sticks used for finishing edges and heels. In the 1850s Gordon McKay adapted the new sewing machine technology of the day to shoes, a fortuitous leap in technology that arrived simultaneously with the Civil War. The town landed enormous government boot and shoe orders and became America’s largest shoe producer as it boasted that “half the Union Army was shod by North Bridgewater.”
Other technological advances followed. Lyman Blake of Abington came up with a machine that joined the uppers to the soles of hoes 400 times faster than nailing by hand. Chandler Sprague of Brockton had molds that created left and right shoes in quantity for the first time. By 1874, when the town changed its name to Brockton, it was well on its way to becoming the “Shoe Capital of the World.” By the early 1900s more than 15,000 people were employed in the shoe industry and it was reported that Brockton had the highest percentage of any city in America of working-class people who owned their own homes.
In the 1930s the Great Depression, overseas competition and low-cost Southern labor conspired to bring down the Brockton shoe industry - fast. By the 1960s there was only ten shoe factories left in the city and today only one, FootJoy, a golf shoe manufacturer that can trace its roots to the Burt and Packard Shoe Company founded in Brockton in 1857, survives.
Our walking tour will begin at a souvenir of a time when Brockton was at the forefront of progressive American towns, in the 1880s, when Thomas Alva Edison came to town to provide for the first time electrical power to an entire city that looked forward to a bright future...
Central Fire Station
40 Pleasant Street
The red brick Station No. 1 was constructed in 1884. Thomas Edison personally wired the building not just for incandescent lighting but with an electrically operated harness system that was supposed to hasten the dispatching of the horse-drawn engines. The scheme was never fully implemented when Edison’s assistants lost patience with the uncooperative beasts. Still, Station No. 1 was the first electrically operated fire station in the country.
WITH YOUR BACK TO THE FIRE STATION, TURN RIGHT. TURN RIGHT ON MAIN STREET.
Brockton Times Building
One Main Street at Pleasant Street
The Brockton Times had barely been publishing for two years when it moved its printing facilities and editorial offices into this building in 1897. It was wired for electricity by Thomas Edison’s fledgling Edison Electrical Illuminating Company. In 1934 the Times merged with the Brockton Daily Enterprise that published its first edition in January 1880 and continues to this day. After the paper moved out the building was used for office space and apartments, went through a period of vacancy and has been re-habbed for condominiums and shops.
TURN LEFT ON PETRONELLI WAY.
Petronelli Brothers Gym
28 Petronelli Way
Rocco Marchegiano was born to Italian immigrant parents in Brockton on September 1, 1923. He left high school in the tenth grade and worked on the trucks of the Brockton Ice and Coal Company. After a stint in the army he tried his hand at professional baseball but washed out in the Chicago Cubs farm system. He had enjoyed a moderately successful amateur boxing career and now decided to turn professional at the age of 24. When a local ring announcer mangled his name, Rocky Marciano was born. He would never lose a professional fight, winning 49 bouts, 43 by knockout. He became heavyweight champion of the world at the age of 30 and when he retired in 1956 he became the only heavyweight champion to finish his career undefeated. A few American cities have been able to tie their identities to legendary boxers but Brockton can lay claim to two legendary fighters. Marvin Hagler was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey but his mother fled that city during the riots of the 1960s and moved to Brockton. Through a sensational amateur and professional career as a middleweight champion, this is where Marvelous Marvin Hagler trained. Goody and Pat Petronelli opened their gym in 1969 in an old Brockton Hardware building on Centre Street before setting up here in the 1980s. On the strength of those two iconic careers Brockton bills itself as the “City of Champions.”
WALK BACK TO MAIN STREET AND TURN LEFT.
83-109 Main Street
The first commercial blocks were built in Brockton in the middle of the 1800s, mostly in the popular Italianate style of the day. None survive but their successors from the 1880s and 1890s still line the west side of this block of Main Street. All are listed on the National Historic Register.
TURN LEFT ON SCHOOL STREET.
Home National Bank
34 School Street
Home National Bank was chartered in 1874 and was under the direction of its first president, Rufus Packard Kingman, for twenty years. In 1908 the bank purchased this land across from City Hall for the construction of its classically inspired headquarters fronted by a quartet of imposing Doric columns.
Brockton City Hall
45 School Street
After a nomadic existence since the incorporation of Brockton as a city in 1821, the first permanent home of the city government was constructed between 1892 and 1894. It was built on the site of the Centre School that had started in 1797. Wesley Lyng Minor, a Louisiana-born architect who settled in Brockton and designed many homes in the City, drew up the designs in Romanesque style. Construction materials included yellow brick, granite foundations and terra cotta and brownstone trim. City Hall was also intended as a Civil War monument in the interior halls and as home to the city library.
Brockton Edison Electric Illuminating Company Power Station
70 School Street
Thomas Edison was widely celebrated for the invention of the incandescent light bulb but he himself viewed the widespread transmission of electric power as the ultimate goal. To that end Edison came to Brockton in 1881 to oversee the installation of the world’s first complete three-wire underground power system. When he flipped the switch in 1884 his system used less power than would now be required to light the bulbs on a modern Christmas tree but the prototype was a success.
TURN RIGHT ON ELM STREET. TURN LEFT ON THE VFW PARKWAY AND WALK TO ITS END AT CRESCENT STREET. TURN RIGHT.
Old Post Office
43 Crescent Street
J.K. Taylor, Supervising Architect of the United States Treasury, is credited with the Colonial Revival design of the Brockton post office in 1898. The building was added to the National Historic Register in 1978 and has moved into its second century of public use as a school administration building.
TURN LEFT ON MAIN STREET.
People’s Savings Bank
221 Main Street
People’s Savings Bank was founded in 1895 and in 1908 they were able to constructthis temple-like Neoclassical vault. It operated as a bank for almost the entire century before being vacated in 1997.
Gardner Kingman House
309 Main Street
Wesley Lyng Minor created this Queen Anne-style house of red brick and terra cotta in 1886. Gardner Josiah Kingman was born in 1838 and by the time he was 16 was involved in manufacturing old-fashioned “brogan” shoes that were heavy, ankle-high boots favored by soldiers. Kingman would go on to become one of the City’s leading shoe manufacturers and an active investor in real estate.
Brockton Public Library
304 Main Street
The first books lent out, from a collection of 600, by Brockton Public Library were lent in in 1867. The library moved about the city for many years until it landed in the basement of the new City Hall 1893. Industrialist Andew Carnegie, who would endow the building of 2,509 libraries in his lifetime, donated $110,000 for the construction of this Neoclassical brick and limestone building. Nathaniel C. Smith of New Bedford designed the first permanent home of the library with an interior of white marble and quartered oak and skylights to provide natural lighting. Dedication took place on June 10, 1913.
Old Colony YMCA
320 Main Street
The YMCA movement began in London in 1844, when George Williams and a group of fellow shopworkers created the organization to substitute Bible study and spiritual growth for the rough-and-tumble life on the city streets. The first YMCA in the United States was founded in Boston in 1851. The Old Colony YMCA was established in Brockton in 1887. The first facility was constructed in 1901 and the present six-story Colonial Revival building dates to 1913.
St. Patrick Church
335 Main Street
Charles R. Greco, a Boston architect, designed numerous religious buildings for both Roman Catholic and Jewish congregations in Massachusetts during the first half of the 20th century. This dark brick Renaissance Revival church with stone trim was completed in 1912; the parish traces its beginnings to 1856.
TURN RIGHT AT BARTLETT STREET. TURN RIGHT AT WARREN STREET.
72 Belmont Street at Warren Street
Architect J. Williams Beal tapped a number of influences for this Plymouth County courthouse in 1891. There are Romanesque entry arches and golden Roman bricks; there are Neocolonial style corner quoins executed in brick and classical pillars decorating the projecting center.
First Baptist Church/Assembly of God
199 Warren Street
The First Baptist Church of North Bridgewater was organized on January 10, 1850 but the hopes of its seventeen members were quickly dashed by a fire four years later and the congregation disbanded. It would be another quarter-century before the Baptists again attempted a foothold in the newly named Brockton and in 1910 they were able to dedicate this Gothic-inspired church building, designed by Arthur Eaton Hill. The high-quality stone is Weymouth seam-face granite and the central tower rises 112 feet above the curb. Decades later, with a shrinking congregation and mounting maintenance costs, First Baptist swapped its church for the church of the Assembly of God, a growing parish looking to move out of is outgrown brick structure on Forest and Bouve avenues. It was believed to have been the first time in America that two churches had traded facilities in a no-money arrangement.
TURN RIGHT ON ELM STREET.
Central United Methodist Church
65 Elm Street
MIT-trained architect J. Williams Beal honed his craft in the offices of McKim, Mead & White, America’s foremost Gilded Age architects. He designed a number of churches around Boston and executed this Romanesque Revival church in yellowish brick in 1900.
33 West Elm Street
This residential building began life as a 24-unit apartment house in 1903. In the 1930s a make-over created the 60-room Hotel Bryant that quickly became the City’s most prestigious and a regular stop on the campaign trail for John F. Kennedy. Following a major renovation in 1998, the name was changed to the Elmcourt Hotel to usher in its second hundred years.
TURN LEFT ON MAIN STREET. TURN LEFT ON PLEASANT STREET TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.