It took three tries for a settlement in the hills around the Blackstone River to take hold. the first massing of a handful of houses in 1673 was burned to the ground two years later in King Philip’s War against local Indians. The town was resettled and incorporated in 1684. When Queen Anne’s War against the French and Indians erupted in 1702 the settlement was abandoned. The beauty of the area and its geographical advantages demanded another try at settlement, which came in 1713. The town was incorporated under the name Worcester from the famous English town and in 1731 was named county seat, a role it performed until the dissolution of the county government in 1998.
In 1828 the Blackstone Canal began linking Worcester, at the headwaters of the Blackstone River, with Providence and the open sea. The Blackstone Valley became the linchpin of the Industrial Revolution and set Worcester on the path to becoming the greatest industrial city in the United States not on a natural waterway.
There was nothing glitzy about Worcester industry; its wealth was built on a succession of prosaic product. First came Ichabod Washburn’s patented process for extruding steel wire used for pianos and twisting the barbed wire that fenced the American plains. There were the requisite textiles, of course, and William Crompton’s special looms revolutionized the spinning of cotton. The grinding wheels and heavy-duty abrasives of the Norton Company found favor in industrial plants across the globe. And in 1853 Russell Hawes patented the first practical machine for folding envelopes. Suddenly a three-man crew could produce 25,000 envelopes in a single ten-hour day an by the end of the century three out of every five envelopes in America was coming out of the United States envelope Company.
Our walking tour will explore significant buildings constructed in the halcyon days between the Civil War and the Second World War that turned Worcester into New England’s second-most populous city...
In the original village plan twenty acres were to be set aside for use as a training field for the militia and as a place to build a meetinghouse and school building. By 1713 the open space was being traversed with roads and between 1730 and 1795 a corner by today’s Salem Square was used as a burying ground. In 1840 the Old Norwich & Worcester Railroad ran tracks across the Common. In 1854 the headstones were recorded, laid flat on the graves and the entire area was seeded over. Today’s Common is now a five-acre remnant of that historic greenspace. Spruced up with millions of dollars in renovations the Common features several monuments of note. The earliest monument remembered the exploits of Timothy Bigelow who served as Colonel of the 15th Massachusetts Regiment in the American Revolution, Donated by his grandson, ironically it was dedicated with impressive ceremonies on April 19, 1861 as Worcester soldiers in the famous Sixth Massachusetts Regiment were on their way to the front at the outbreak of the Civil War. The Soldier’s Memorial to that conflict was dedicated in 1874 when Randolph Rogers created a Corinthian granite column resting on a three-level pedestal. The bronze figure of Athena stands atop the column with a soldier, sailor, infantryman and artilleryman at the corners. On the north side of the Common is the monument to the Irish immigrants who built the Blackstone Canal and the railroad, and worked in the factories during the boom time of the mid-eighteenth century.
WALK OVER TO THE SOUTHEAST CORNER OF THE COMMON.
Worcester Public Library
3Salem Square at Franklin Street
John Green was born into a doctoring family in Worcester 1784. In fact, there would be a line of four Dr. John Greens who served the community continuously for 135 years. Although well-remembered by their patients this third of the lineage would have the lasting legacy as founder of the Worcester Public Library in 1859. Dr. Green collected books from an early age and presented them to the city along with $35,000 for the library. Today the collection is the largest in central Massachusetts with over 900,000 volumes. The current building is the result of a $20 million renovation at the start of the century.
TURN RIGHT AND WALK UP FRANKLIN STREET (THE COMMON IS ON YOUR RIGHT).
Capitol Theatre/Paris Cinema
68 Franklin Street
The Capitol Theatre opened on December 11, 1926 as one of the “Atmospheric” movie houses sweeping the nation. The idea was to allow patrons an escape from reality by decorating theaters in exotic motifs from far-off lands. Architect Roger Garland gave the Capitol a Spanish aura. The theater had more than 2,000 seats. The Capitol was twinned in the 1960s and then became an adult theater before it was closed down in 2006.
50 Franklin Street
Currently a mixed residential and commercial building this grand presence overlooking the Worcester Common began life in 1912 as a luxury hotel. Renowned architects Esenwein & Johnson of Buffalo, New York designed the Bancroft Hotel in a flamboyant Beaux Arts style with a brick facade on the upper floors trimmed with terra cotta blocks along the corners. The ten-story building rests on a base of granite and marble. The city’s leading hostelry was converted in 1964.
Bay State Savings Bank
28 Franklin Street
The Bay State Savings Bank launched in 1895 with $7,660 of pledges pooled from 114 city investors. It was the fifth savings bank to organize in Worcester, and the first in thirty years. This headquarters building, with Beaux Arts flourishes, was constructed in 1900.
Telegram and Gazette
20 Franklin Street
The Worcester Evening Gazette put out its first edition on January 1, 1866 when Charles Chase purchased the operations of the Worcester Daily Transcript. The Worcester Telegram began publishing Sundays in 1884 and went daily two years later. The two papers were published by the same company which took possession of this site in 1910. The current building came along in 1935 to house not only the printing presses but the paper’s radio station WTAG. In the 1986 the morning and evening papers became a single daily Telegram and Gazette.
Park Plaza Tower
507 Main Street at Franklin Street
Daniel H. Burnham & Company were pioneers in the construction of American skyscrapers, specializing in conservative Neoclassical architecture which they applied to this 11-story high-rise in 1915. One of Worcester’s largest office buildings, the Park Plaza is constructed of a steel frame structure faced in dressed limestone. Carvings with floral and animal motifs can still be seen at the third floor and between the seventh and eighth floors. The building was converted mostly to apartments in the 1970s.
TURN RIGHT ON MAIN STREET.
455 Main Street
When the first town hall was dedicated on May 2, 1825 the price tag for the two-story building was $9,017.90. When this Italian Renaissance city hall was opened to great fanfare on April 28, 1898 the final cost was $625,000. Worcester had come a long way through the 19th century. Distinguished artist and architect Richard Morris Hunt was engaged to oversee the project but he died and his son Richard Howland Hunt shepherded the building to completion. Faced with grey Milford granite, the magnificent Florentine campanile tower is 205 feet high, modeled on the Palazzo Vecchio. A bronze star set in the sidewalk marks the spot where, on July 14, 1776, Isaiah Thomas read the Declaration of Independence for the first time to a New England audience from the steps of the Old South Meeting House.
George Frisbee Hoar statue
north side of City Hall
The sculptor in 1908 was Daniel Chester French, who would later complete an even more famous rendition of a sitting politician - Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
446 Main Street
Taking its cue from the all-glass, 790-foot John Hancock Tower in Boston, this scaled down version at 325 feet and 24 stories is still the tallest building in Worcester. It was completed in 1974 on designs by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates.
390 Main Street
The city’s second “skyscraper” rose in 1907, designed in a Classical Revival style. It was constructed of a steel frame faced with granite at the base. The use of dressed Indiana limestone at the the upper floors was a first in Worcester. The facade is enlivened with carvings such as foliage, an eagle with open wings, and human faces. The 10-story building carries the name of Samuel Slater, who sparked the Industrial Revolution with his cotton mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the plans for which he carried from England in his head.
336-344 Main Street
The architectural firm of Peabody, Stearns & Furber delivered the first skyscraper to the Worcester streetscape in 1897. The nine-story Beaux Arts steel frame structure has been added to in the rear with expansions through 1930. The ornate dressed white marble facade dances with carvings of lion heads, angels, shields, and garlands of fruit.
321 Main Street
Elbridge Boyden was a prominent 19th century American architect from Worcester and this is his finest work, completed in the Renaissance Revival style in 1857 when he was 47 years old. Mechanics Hall was widely regarded as the finest pre-Civil War concert hall in the United States. The acoustics were so perfect the voices of speakers such as Charles Dickens and Theodore Roosevelt could be heard clearly throughout the hall without benefit of electric amplification. The Mechanics Association, formed in 1842 to help members develop the knowledge and skills to manufacture and run machinery in the mills, built Mechanics Hall to house educational and cultural activities. For more than a century it has been used for concerts, political and community meetings, even for wrestling matches, basketball games and other sporting events. Since an extensive restoration in 1977, it has been used primarily for concerts.
Worcester Five Cent’s Savings Bank Building
316 Main Street
The curved lines of the Romanesque Revival style is evident in this 1891 headquarters for the Worcester Five Cent Savings Bank with its buff brick walls curving to meet the rounded corner bay. The bank headquarters with limestone trim was designed by busy local architect, Stephen Earle.
Central Exchange Building
301-315 Main Street
The Central Exchange has graced the heart of the Worcester commercial district since 1896. Architect W.G. Preston carried the elegant Classical Revival style around the corner and part of the way down Walnut Street. Architectural details grow in abundance the higher the building rises from the curb. The top floor features rounded windows supported by small Corinthian columns and the roof is topped by a balustrade.
184 Main Street
Charles Frederick Hanson is acknowledged as the first Swede to settle in Worcester, arriving as a 19-year old in 1868. He began his work careerin piano repairing and before it ended he was well-known in the city as a music dealer, music teacher and conductor. An active member in many social societies around Worcester, he was instrumental in the organization whichbuilt this distinctive building for the city’s Swedish societies in 1905. Hanson moved his music store here when it opened. Although the lower floors have been altered the whimsy evident in the upper floors remains.
Elwood Adams Hardware
156 Main Street
The first brick building ever built in Worcester stood on this site in 1782. It was razed in 1832 to be replaced by the first two stories of this building. The height was doubled in 1865 to four stories. The one thing that never changed was the building’s function. Daniel Waldo didn’t call the saddles, oils, lamps, shovels and tools he sold here in 1782 “hardware” like we do today. Elwood Adams bought the store in 1869 and although it left the family in 1947, the name lived on. Today Elwood Adams Hardware is the oldest business in Worcester and bills itself as the “Oldest Hardware Store in the USA.
Wesley United Methodist Church
114 Main Street
The handiwork of Boston architect H.J. Carlson was much admired when this Gothic style church was completed in 1927. The congregation, more than 2,500 strong since the new church incorporated the previous Grace and Trinity churches, would expect no less since the price tag was more than a million dollars.
First Unitarian Church
90 Main Street
In 1785 when Dr. Aaron Bancroft was denied ministry in First Parish, 67 of his supporters broke away from the church and formed Second Parish. The new congregation had a meetinghouse by 1792, the money needed for construction being raised through the sale of pews. The first church building on this site rose in 1829; in 1849 when it was being renovated it burned to the ground instead. The church was rebuilt at the cost of $18,000 - again funded by the sale of pews. It stands today, but not without incident. The Hurricane of 1938 toppled the steeple and a fire in 2000 during another renovation caused $4 million of fire and water damage.
Worcester County Courthouse
2 Main Street
This has been Court Hill since the construction of its first courthouse in 1732. The current building, now vacant, is the product of expansions and shifting architectural tastes between 1843 and 1854. The original core of the courthouse was designed by Greek Revival enthusiast Ammi Burnham Young, who was destined to become the supervising architect of the United States Treasury. The classical Main Street elevation was outfitted in 1899 by Andrews, Jacques & Rantoul of Boston with a Corinthian-columned central entrance and pedimented pavilions.
Worcester Memorial Auditorium
The “memorial” is a tribute to veterans of World War I and the “auditorium” is a multi-use hall that has hosted everything from college basketball to the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. The Classical Revival temple was designed by architects Lucius W. Briggs and Frederic C. Hirons with Indiana limestone atop a granite base and completed in 1933. The interior mural by celebrated artist Leon Kroll took another three years and when the main mural was finished it was the largest of its kind in the United States.
Worcester Boys’ Club
This land was once the possession of the Salisburys, one of Worcester’s wealthiest 18th century families. The handsome Salisbury Mansion was built here in 1772 as a combination store and family home. It remained in the family at the head of Main Street until the early 1900s when industrial Worcester began lapping at the doorstep. The house was threatened with destruction but was willed to the American Antiquarian Society and hauled a few blocks up Highland Street where it became the city’s first house museum. The Georgian Revival building by the architectural firm of Frost, Chamberlain, and Edwards in 1928-1930. The facade is segmented by Ionic pilasters and curves to mimic the shape of the street out front. The Boys Club sported more than 5,000 members when its clubhouse was built.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON MAIN STREET TO EXCHANGE STREET AND TURN LEFT. TURN RIGHT ON COMMERCIAL STREET.
50 Foster Street
The city-owned arena opened as the Centrum in September 1982 with Frank Sinatra on the marquee. In 1997 a convention center was added to the facility.
AT THE END OF COMMERCIAL STREET TURN RIGHT ON FRONT STREET.
44 Front Street
Ransom Clarke Taylor started in his father’s business peddling meat by-products in the 1840s. By the time he moved to Worcester his own meat business was the largest in the region with branches from New York City to Albany, growing from a two-man, two-horse operation to a network of hundreds. After twenty years in the meat game he shifted his interests to real estate and banking. He built the first five-story, six-story and seven-story blocks in Worcester, including this ornamental building in 1886 that he named for his wife Mary louisa Chase, who died in 1878.
CROSS THE STREET INTO WORCESTER COMMON AND THE TOUR STARTING POINT.