“…a model of neatness and convenience.” The Boston & Maine Depot of 1877.

DepotWhen the new Lowell depot of the Boston & Maine Railroad opened to the public in 1877, riders were pleased to have an alternative railroad  route to Boston and delighted in the many comfortable features of the station, especially the protective train shed, equal to any in Boston but there was skepticism about one feature – the radical decision to eliminate the ladies-only waiting room. The location of the new depot had also inspired the transformation of a shabby neighborhood into one of the major commercial centers of the expanding city. What’s more, its architects were nearly as colorful as the Victorian building itself.
The Richard and Nancy Donahue Performance Center at Middlesex Community College is at least the fourth chapter in the life of the depot building in Towers Corner. Built as the head house for the Lowell depot of the Boston & Maine railroad, it was later reused in turn as a telephone exchange, a movie theater, a pool hall and a bowling alley, and in its persistence over 140 years and its adaptability, it embodies the resilience of Lowell itself.  What’s more, the struggle to build the railroad it served is a quintessentially Lowell story,  one that began twenty-five years earlier with the attempt to build the first of what would be three railroads by that name.  It was a struggle not just to build a competing railroad but a grapple for control of the future of the city.
Lowell was distinguished from the industrial cities that followed, not just because it was the first, but also because, as was observed by a writer in the Lowell Daily Courier (undoubtedly the lawyer and historian Charles Cowley), it possessed “…men of means with large landed and permanent interests here.” These were not the Boston merchants and investors who controlled the corporations, but the ambitious young men from New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and beyond who came to build the new city explore its commercial opportunities and remained. Their wealth and continued prosperity was bound up in the city more intimately than the fortunes of Boston investors. And if their wealth depended on the economic success of Lowell’s manufacturing corporations, they also knew that their interests were not always mutual. Some made their fortunes in construction, building Lowell and the new cities that followed like the great lumber king Nicholas Norcross  controlled thousands of acres of forests across northern New England and Canada. Others were also manufacturers partially or completely independent of the great corporations, like the Nesmith brothers, who sold the family farm in New Hampshire to finance their Lowell investments, or Oliver Whipple with powder mills in Lowell, New Hampshire, and Maine that had an alarming propensity to explode. For Many, like the Hildreths, Tylers or Rogers, whose wealth lay in real estate, the continued growth of Lowell was essential. Many of these men brought their up-country Democratic political beliefs in free trade with them, which often put them in opposition to the Whig manufacturers, who vigorously upheld protective tariffs and legislatively bestowed corporate privileges.
This by 1845, a quarter of a century after the founding of Lowell, the most prescient might have foreseen the future.  There were troubling signs.  The great Locks and Canals land sell-off and reorganization and the ambitious development of the new cities of Holyoke and Lawrence signaled that the great expansion of Lowell manufacturing by the Boston merchants, was over. They weren’t abandoning the city, far from it. Corporations would continue to expand and modernize, the water power system would be made more efficient, but now the Lowell interests had new incentive to take control of the engine of growth and that engine would be railroad.
O! The Railroad!/You’re the way for me;/No other way is half so sweet,/So jolly fleet and free!
Railroads were the first of the “disruptive technologies” of the 1840s, changing overnight people’s relationship to time and geography and revolutionizing communications. As Charles Cowley would comment in 1868, “It is time that counts now. Space is extinguished.”  Railroads were also expensive,  dangerous and accident prone, and there was a fear of a speculative railroad “bubble” caused by too much expansion which would bring on a financial disaster. But railroads had quickly become indispensable for transporting people and goods.
Rail traffic between  Boston and Lowell, the two largest cities in Massachusetts,  was monopolized by the eponymous Boston and Lowell Railroad, one of the first in the railroads in the country. The B & L was financed by the same conservative investors as the Lowell corporations, and it had a cozy relationship with them, seeing its primary role as serving their interests. The standard freight cost was $1.50 a ton, but “with the Lowell factories we have a special bargain…we…charge them $1.25 for all cotton and wool.” In fact, the B&L’s charter legislation gave it a monopoly on travel between the two cities. This benefited the large corporations but the monopoly in freight and passengers hurt and hindered the local interests.
“…treacherous, faithless, and ungentlemanly,”
The wealthy coal and lumber dealer William Livingston thought he’d found a way around this restriction when in 1845 he proposed a branch road which would connect to the Boston & Maine line in Andover and provide an alternative route to Boston.  But Livingston, after believing that he had support for his Lowell & Andover Railroad,  was double-crossed by William Schouler,  the leader of the Lowell representatives in the legislature, an adroit attorney and former editor of the Lowell Daily Courier, the resolutely pro-corporation newspaper of the local Whig establishment.
The original 1830 charter granted the Boston & Lowell exclusive rights to a railroad between Boston, (including Charlestown and Cambridge) and any point within a five-mile radius around the Lowell depot.  Schouler insisted that the new route violated that charter and to approve the new railroad would be akin to revoking the charter of the so-called Lowell Road. The legislature could certainly grant a new charter but he was determined to protect the powerful Boston interests. In a sly parliamentary maneuver, Schouler and his allies substituted an alternate route to Livingston’s plan.  The new route was proposed by Hobart Clark of Andover and Samuel Lawrence  and intended to link to Clark’s Wilmington and Haverhill Railroad, a branch off the Boston & Lowell, effectively eliminating any competition.  An enraged Livingston characterized Schouler’s deception as “…treacherous, faithless, and ungentlemanly.”  The question of the new railroad was dead. but the controversy roiled Lowell for months, and the uproar ended Schouler’s career as a representative from Lowell. He moved to Boston in 1848, where he edited the Boston Atlas, a  Whig paper and he was returned to the Legislature for Boston, where he continued to shepherd the interests of the Lowell corporations and their wealthy Boston investors.  Claiming he was done with politics, he later moved to Ohio to edit of the Cincinnati Gazette, but he returned to Massachusetts during the Civil War.

Livingston and his Democratic and Free Soil allies, led by Ben Butler and Fisher Hildreth, would continue the struggle over the next decade for such causes as the secret ballot, modernization of corporation law, the ten-hour workday, district representation, and the detested “ticket” system that allowed corporations to blackball workers.
Livingston got his Lowell & Andover charter from the 1846 legislation, and with a new strategy. His road would link with the new Salem & Lowell Railroad in which he was also an investor. The Salem & Lowell was a scheme to revitalize the depressed town of Salem as an alternative port to Boston.  The Salem railroad inspired resort on “Lowell Island” off Salem and marketed to Lowell visitors. The railroad also encouraged the development of the Lowell summer colony at Juniper Point in Salem (after the group had been evicted from Marblehead Neck.)new route ad

When finally built in 1848, the Lowell & Andover was re-christened as the Lowell & Lawrence in recognition of the increased importance of the new manufacturing town of Lawrence.  In 1852, the long awaited new service to Boston began through the cooperation of the Salem railroad and the Boston & Maine and just as quickly, the Boston & Lowell sued.  The state Supreme Court  in an 1854 decision found that the three railroads had exceeded their charters by creating the route. But in 1855 they received the necessary legislative approval. The corporations exploited the ensuing competition for the freight business, principally the transport of southern cotton,  and the competition proved fatal to the undercapitalized Salem railroad, and the Boston & Lowell took control of the road in 1858.

Lowell Island Ad
“The Boston & Lowell …even more of an enemy to the Boston & Maine than the Eastern…”
By the 1870s, Lowell’s position as the Commonwealth’s second largest city was challenged by other growing industrial centers, particularly Worcester. Many thought that Worcester’s accelerating growth was powered by its superior railroad connections. the Boston & Lowell, Boston & Maine, and Eastern Railroads were battling for control of  rail service north of Boston, but in Lowell, the Boston & Lowell controlled all the rails in and out of town. Nonetheless,  Lowell interests saw an opportunity in the struggle among the giants. Edward M. Sargent, owner of an express business and so  reliant on good, cheap rail service, proposed yet another Lowell & Andover Railroad to connect with the Boston & Maine at Ballardvale. It was conceived and capitalized locally;  the Ayers with their many manufacturing interests were chief investors and beneficiaries.The Boston & Maine  was invited  to lease the new road,  For the Boston &Lowell Railroad, this was the “raising of a club over the head of the Lowell Road,”

Detail 1874 Lowell & Andover RR Plan
Building a railroad was an act of faith in the aftermath of the economic disruption of the Panic of 1873, but labor was plentiful and cheap. The contractors may have anticipated bargain-rate labor, but workers struck almost immediately, complaining they had nothing left of their $1.00-a-day pay after paying board. They won an increase to $1.25 and struck again in a few months to wrangle another increase to $1.50, with some gaining $1.75. Construction moved rapidly, and at one point, over 800 laborers were at work on the road. The operations of the new steam shovel were also of great and curious interest. The construction methodology and inevitable complications would look familiar to anyone involved with civil works today. A general contractor, Edmund Rice of Boston, won the contract in early 1874 and then let the work to sub-contractors in fourteen sections; the bridges went to still another sub-contractor.  Any project manager today would recognize the problem hen one sub-contractor  walked off his section.  He was selling off too much valuable excavate from his area which the engineers wanted elsewhere on the job; he countered that delays in bridge construction and removal of buildings had unnecessarily delayed him. There was some truth to his claim, but if he wanted back on the job the railroad and prime contractor would require surety bonds.

Courier 3-14-1874 Building Sale
The site selected for the new depot in Towers Corner, a block bound by Central, Green, Williams, and Warren streets, was a  deteriorated neighborhood yet home to five hundred people who would all be displaced and nearly two dozen or so houses on the site would need to be removed.  The local real estate man Hugh Morrison bought a number of them. Buildings were commonly moved in a time when materials were more costly than labor, but by the 1870s the streets were clogged with traffic. So when Morrison announced that he was moving his houses half a mile away up busy Gorham Street to Elm Street in Chapel Hill, there was an uproar. It wasn’t just the disruption and traffic impacts, there was a bit of NIMBYism as well. Neighbors in the new vicinity, represented by the venerable Tappan Wentworth, were not certain that Morrison’s deteriorated houses would attract the best class of tenants and might will cause their homes to depreciate in value. That was the opinion of neighbor, Mr. Fordyce Coburn, a mill overseer, who had taken it upon himself to investigate the Green Street buildings. Some of them, he noted, were there when he first came to Lowell in 1840. Morrison countered that one three-story house he intended to move was only a year old and said he “intended to fix [the] houses up as good desirable tenements for such persons as would seek them in that locality.” But when the moves began, buildings blocked streets for days, damaged trees, and had to be removed by the City. Morrison did reconstruct his buildings on his lot and made good on fixing them up with stylish “French” roofs and other modern features, but his dismantling and reconstruction must have cost him dearly.

Cherrington 1874 Ad Lowll Diretorry

“In 1868 I quit medicine and found relief and cure…
The train shed for the new Boston & Maine Depot, 467 feet long with trusses spanning 70 feet, was constructed in 1874, but the head house itself would not be completed for another two years. The most significant of the buildings to be removed for the depot was the First Universalist Church. Coincidentally the Universalist Church had been to this location in 1838. Liberal in their beliefs and views, including equality among men and women members, the congregation of this church was also prestigious and affluent. The family of the future architect, Frederick W. Stickney, were members. They weren’t happy with the railroads offer for their building so they sued and debated a new location among themselves.
After the abrupt departure in 1858 of James H. Rand, there was no single Lowell architect of stature (or pretensions)  in the city. There were a number of competent carpenter architects, such as William Patterson and George Pearson, and there was the curious Thomas G. Gerrish, the embezzling former City Treasurer who had reestablished himself as an architect but still later found success as distiller of bitters. Consequently, important works often fell to architects from Boston. Hocum Hosford dispensed with architects altogether and turned to the Architectural Iron Works Company of New York for his Merrimack Street replacement for the old Concert Hall. But more typical was the experience of  The Eliot Church, formerly the Appleton Street Congregational Church, which selected the Boston architect Samuel S. Woodcock. Woodcock was well known in Lowell when he partnered with George Meacham in the design of the Ladd & Whitney monument.  He also designed the imposing Ayer Mansion on Pawtucket Street.

First First Univ

Original  1838 First Universalist Church
Thus it was no surprise that the First Universalist first turned to Thomas Silloway of Boston, to design a wood structure for an Appleton Street lot.  Silloway was a celebrated architect, who already had to his credit many of the 400 churches he would design during his career – including the Branch Street Tabernacle in Lowell -and he was also a Universalist minister. So it’s even more surprising that the Universalists rejected Silloway’s plans and selected a young 23-year-old Worcester architect, Frank Cherrington, for a new site on Hurd Street opposite Saint Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church. Cherrington provided them a fashionable, if unremarkable, High Victorian Gothic design in stone — a competent enough design, but not the equal of Silloway’s contemporaneous Eliot Church.

First Univ

First Universalist Church 1874

 
Despite the lagging economy, Lowell was busily rebuilding itself, particularly the business district and the fashion in design was Gothic.  Already, John G. Stearns of the Boston firm of Peabody and Stearns had chosen the style for the Wyman Exchange on the corner of Central and Merrimack streets. But unquestionably the finest example of the style from this time was the white marble Five Cent Savings Bank by Charles B. Atwood, known colloquially as the “Marble Bank Block.” Atwood designed this jewel box of a building shortly after leaving the Boston firm of Ware and Van Brunt. Atwood would later work with Charles Birmingham on the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, and Birmingham would declare Atwood, after his untimely death, one of the four best designers in the country.

Five Cent Bank
In line with the impressive reconstruction of the city’s business district, The imminent arrival of the Boston & Maine Depot sparked a transformation of Towers Corner. The Dempsey, Smith, and Costello blocks on the opposite corner of Green Street were rebuilt in unison to the designs of William Patterson. The American House Hotel a block further north was expanded, and, no doubt impressed by Cherrington’s skills, Amos French chose him to design the grand new French and Puffer’s building across from the depot (the site of WCAP radio studios today.) Cherrington was building a reputation and a professional practice in Lowell and in 1876 he the design of the new depot head house itself. With the design of the head house, also in the de-rigueur Victorian Gothic, Cherrington showed more imagination and whimsy than in previous designs, using two asymmetrical towers to give the small structure a more imposing profile. Just a block north on Central Street the rising local architect Otis Merrill would also try his hand at the Gothic style, with his design for the nearby 1877 Appleton National Bank block.

French Block

French & Puffer Building 1874 2nd from Right. Far Right: Cook & Taylor Block (FW Stickney) 1884

Frank Cherrington was born in South Boston in 1850, the youngest of nine children of Edmund and Tryphena Cherrington.  Edmund was an inventive and ambitious upholsterer, acclaimed for his patented spring support system, a revolutionary idea in 1835. Son Frank appears to have shared his father’s ambitions and he apprenticed with the carpenter and architect Stephen Tourtellot in Worcester. 1872 was elevated to a junior partner in the new firm of Tourtellot and Cherrington, but Tourtellot’s death in 1873 left the young Frank the sole proprietor. Frank was joined in Worcester by his older brother LeRoy. LeRoy had had a peripatetic career as bank messenger, hardware store operator, insurance agent, and landscape gardener (an early term for landscape architect). LeRoy was dispatched to Lowell to manage the local “branch” of the firm, but as the work in Lowell grew, or because of LeRoy’s possible indifference or mismanagement of the business. (At an 1877 meeting of local investors discussing the establishment of a new cotton mill, LeRoy rashly offered the design for free,)  By 1876 Frank had moved to Lowell, and the partnership apparently ended with the brothers maintaining separate offices.
LeRoy’s true passion was what was know as “ physical culture,” The nascent field of exercise and nutrition. He gave lectures on Bertha Von Hillern, the celebrated “pedestrienne,”  a devotee of the competitive walking crazeof the time. He threw himself into organizing the local “Prohibitory Party,” a movement dedicated to the prohibition of alcohol.  In 1878 he opened a local branch of “Dr. Butler’s Health Lift,” an exercise system he marketed aggressively to men, women and children. “It is peculiar and that is why it works,” proclaimed his advertising. When all the medicines of the best physicians failed, the Health Lift was what cured his “lazy liver.” In time LeRoy was styling himself a “hygienic physician.” He fell into “personal insolvency” in 1879 but continued practicing in Lowell until he moved to Salem in 1892. Frank, apparently beset by business problems, moved to Boston in 1880, where he died at 39.  His last known work in Lowell was the 1881 Edson Cemetery chapel, but the Cherringtons designed a number of significant buildings in Lowell during their short tenure, perhaps none as significant or as enduring as the Boston & Maine Depot.

Butler Health Lift
Following consolidation of the Boston & Maine and the Boston & Lowell Railroads, the Towers Corner Depot would be replaced by a new “union” depot in 189,3 on the site of the old Northern Depo,  designed by the renowned architect Bradford Gilbert. Despite its stylish Richardsonian Romanesque architecture, there was disappointment that Gilbert’s depot was not sufficiently impressive, more critically, it failed to solve the traffic problems in the vicinity  and it was razed in 1959, leaving only the Cherrington-designed depot and its reconstructed towers to speak for an essential story of Lowell’s history.

Edson

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When Big Bill Callahan Tried to Move the Charles River

Turnpike CardBy late 1962, William F. “Big Bill” Callahan was in a rush to finally build the Boston Extension of the Massachusetts Turnpike — and he was ready to move the Charles River, or a good portion of it, to do it. There were few obstacles, natural or political that could contain his ambition. “When we start we go. We don’t waste time.” He’d already moved the Sudbury River when it proved convenient for his plans, and the Charles would be no different.
Callahan had been trying to build the turnpike to Boston since its inception in 1953. When opposition from Waltham and Watertown proved overwhelming, he dropped a planned eastern terminus outside of Watertown Square, retreating back to Route 128 in Weston. This was no rout but merely a temporary fallback. He was determined that his road would continue east to meet the new Central Artery, and he fought a concerted battle particularly from 1960 on to make it happen.
Even at 71, Callahan, the “Maharajah of Macadam,” was one of the most powerful men in Massachusetts politics — although he never held or sought elected office. The shoemaker’s son from Stoughton, the once ambitious young stenographer, was now driving the highway policy of the state. One critical legislator dubbed him the “Fourth Branch of State Government.” And Callahan was often likened to his contemporary Robert Moses the storied New York powerbroker.
“The nearest thing Massachusetts has to the dedicated, ruthless, unrelenting drive of New York’s Commissioner of Parks Bob Moses is Bill Callahan.”
Norton E. Long, Visiting Professor of Political Science, Harvard University
As a Democrat, Callahan had twice served as the Commissioner of Public Works. He was removed in 1939 under accusations of scandal by the incoming Republican Governor, Leverett Saltonstall. He returned triumphant in 1949 under Governor Paul Dever to oversee the “Accelerated Highway Program” of the early 1950s, a program most remembered for the “Northern Circumferential Highway,” Route 128. He learned, like Moses, to build and consolidate his power base and insulate himself from his opponents through a nearly autonomous agency, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority (MTA), virtually created for him in 1952.
Also like Moses, Callahan augmented his power by becoming Chairman of the Massachusetts Parking Authority and the State Office Building Commission and serving on the Mystic River Bridge Commission. As Chairman of the MTA, he oversaw construction of the largest highway project undertaken in Massachusetts to date, a toll road from the New York State line to the new Route 128 in Weston, a road he’d built just a few years earlier. Simultaneously, he built a new tunnel under Boston Harbor which he named for his only son, a World War II casualty.
Callahan worked with teams of professionals, including financiers and in-house and consulting engineers, but he always promoted himself as the man in charge, calling the shots. His admirers believed his self-burnished persona and promoted him as the “man of action.” “Let Callahan do it” read the headline in 1934 when he first joined the Public Works Commission after building his reputation in marine engineering; tough, public projects needed “a man like Callahan,” “the greatest builder of public projects in the state’s history.” He was personally formidable as well. He had survived a laryngectomy ten years earlier and arduously learned “diaphragmatic speech.” He used the disability to his advantage in his often-repeated joke, “In 1952 I had my throat cut – by a doctor. I’ve had it cut in many other ways, in many times since.” When in 1963 an intruder disguised as a Catholic priest invaded his Waban home and pistol-whipped him, Callahan shook that off as well. His critics thought him fast and loose. Fast wasn’t the problem but loose was.
“He gets things done but…he is convinced that the end is more important than the means and …will exploit all devices to get what [he] want[s].” Elliot S. Richardson, U.S. Attorney
“He has bought power over investment houses, bankers and insurance companies and he has bought it with public money.” Senator Phillip A. Graham
Callahan was a master power broker and political operator with deep support in the legislature, which he cultivated through financial and political favors. He was also reputed to be a prodigious political fund-raiser. He boasted that he’d never lost a legislative vote regardless of the party in the majority. His MTA, as created by 1952 legislation, was virtually autonomous, accountable to no other state entity — not even the Auditor. As Commissioner, Callahan could negotiate contracts directly, unburdened by competitive bidding. Only the DPW held any oversight, and that was to approve the location of the turnpike. The always savvy Callahan stayed on as DPW Commissioner until the Public Works Commission which he chaired, approved his proposed route, a highway lay-out developed largely in secrecy. If he could sell the bonds, he could build it and apparently no one and nothing could constrain him.
Even as what Callahan would call the “initial pike” was still under construction in 1955, a compliant legislature changed one word in the original legislation to permit him to continue the highway into Boston. He was seemingly at his peak, but the limits of his power were at last showing and there were efforts to restrain him. He’d stepped down from the Parking Authority, reportedly voluntarily, and he was  forced to resign from the State Office Building Commission on reaching mandatory retirement age. (the subsequent building would be named for his one-time political nemesis, Leverett Saltonstall.) Still he managed to block the creation of a regional planning agency for several years for fear of interference, until he got the road he wanted.
Before the 1960 gubernatorial election, Democratic Governor Foster Furcolo pushed through Callahan’s reappointment as Chairman of the MTA months ahead of the expiration date, and in advance of the Republican John A. Volpe’s election as Governor. Volpe was well-liked and respected; he was one of the rare Republicans to survive the Kennedy Democratic wave of 1960. His election was a challenge for Callahan and his Boston Extension plan when Volpe committed himself to a competing freeway in his inaugural address. The two would spar over their road schemes for the next two years.
Volpe had succeeded Callahan as DPW Commissioner in 1953 and often leavened his measured criticism of Callahan with muted praise. In 1958, a politically ambitious Volpe criticized Callahan for his inaction on the proposed Turnpike Extension, even though the 1958 Recession had stymied any bond sales. Taking aim at the vanity of a man who boasted that he didn’t “waste time,” Volpe again lambasted Callahan in 1960 for making no progress since the 1955 legislative green light.
Volpe’s criticism was both political and targeted to promote his own competing road scheme, the “Western Expressway”. Since 1956, it was understood that Callahan wanted to continue the Pike into Boston along the right-of-way of the Boston & Albany Railroad (B&A), now controlled by the struggling New York Central Railroad. The B&A had been eyed as a highway location at least since 1930, when the “Boston Thoroughfare Plan” debuted. But in 1948, the DPW, the State Planning Board, and the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), under Republican Governor Robert F. Bradford collaborated on a new “Metropolitan Highway Plan,” which proposed a comprehensive ring of radial highways from the city to the suburbs. Unlike the 1930 Boston Thoroughfare delimited by the city line, the more ambitious 1948 plan proposed a new “Western Expressway,” largely paralleling the Charles River and terminating near the Boston University Bridge at an Inner Belt, a ring road arcing from Roxbury to Somerville. But just as the 1930 plan hadn’t anticipated or ignored the prospect of the Worcester Turnpike “Super Highway” of that same year, the authors of the 1948 plan didn’t foresee of the Massachusetts Turnpike of 1952 or expect the return of the formidable Bill Callahan. The “Metropolitan Highway Plan” might be the putative highway policy of the Commonwealth but the master builder had his own plans.1930 Plan1930 Plan1948 Met Plan1948 Plan
Supporters of a toll-free expressway, including Volpe, argued that it could be built with 90% federal reimbursement and that Pike extension would only worsen traffic in the center of the city. Callahan countered that he could deliver a roadway in two years, while the rate of federal funding would mean years of delay in constructing the Western Expressway and Inner Belt. He also knew he had the support and independence to build his road. His only notable opposition came from the City of Newton led by Volpe allies Mayor Howard Whitmore and his successor Donald Gibbs. Callahan characterized the opposition from wealthy suburbs as “smug selfishness.”
Callahan’s plans were boosted in 1959 when the Department of Public Utilities, dominated by three Furcolo appointments, approved the B&A’s petition to drop statewide train service from 30 trains daily to 4 freeing up his preferred location. Complicating matters but again adding to Callahan’s advantage — was the Prudential Insurance Company’s massive redevelopment plan for the B&A railyard in Back Bay. In one a failed strategy, Callahan sought legislation that would permit the MTA to acquire the railyard site, construct and operate the three levels of the garage, and lease out air rights to the insurance company. Prudential would commit to buying a portion of the turnpike bonds. The state Supreme Court however killed this idea, and the race was on between Volpe and Callahan.
Volpe requested that the Interstate Commerce Commission delay approval of B&A’s plan to drop service; Callahan’s longtime ally, state Attorney General Edward J. McCormack, deemed the Western “Freeway” “unconstitutional” because the Turnpike Authority had an exclusive right by legislation to build the Extension. When Volpe tried to test this opinion before the Supreme Judicial Court, Callahan pressured the Executive Council, the bane of every Governor, to block the request.
This was a battle that Volpe couldn’t win. The urgency of the Prudential project to lift a depressed city was compelling and no one wanted to block it through confusion or delay. Callahan’s influence in the legislature was also too great; Volpe would never get the necessary funds and his Western Expressway had a critical flaw. It required the Inner Belt which was hugely unpopular in Cambridge and Somerville. Callahan argued persuasively that the Inner Belt and Western Freeway would be hugely expensive and starve needed highway projects across the state. But in an ironic parallel, Callahan’s only real obstacle too was financial as well. If the cross-state turnpike had been the most expensive road project to date, the cost of the Boston Extension would dwarf it with a per-mile cost four times greater than that of comparable roads. The original turnpike ran a deficit for its first eighteen months of operation, and financiers were increasingly skeptical of turnpike bond issues as reliable investments. Academics at Harvard and MIT deemed the road and its financing plans financially unworkable. Indeed, just as Callahan awarded construction contracts to three firms, the first attempt at a bond issue, for $175,000,000, failed to sell out in April of 1961. A second bond issue of $183,000,000 in June failed as well. In a surprise October announcement, Jimmy Hoffa of the Teamsters Union announced that he had put together a syndicate of labor unions that would buy a portion of the Extension bonds for their pension funds. The Teamsters represented Turnpike workers but in the background, the AFL-CIO was attempting to take over representation of the turnpike workers, with Callahan unsurprisingly backing Hoffa in the fight.
At last in January 1962, the third $180,000,000 bond issue was proclaimed a success — which was only technically true. It would take several more months for the underwriters to resell the bonds. To celebrate the long delayed start, Big Bill inaugurated construction on March 5th and with his usual bravado personally set off the first blast of dynamite at Weston end of the project.
Time and money and perhaps his secretly failing health – he’d undergone surgery the previous year – were now the dynamic factors for Callahan.. He must build within the terms of his bonds and there were no contingencies in his budget. Thus he began looking to shave costs and they found what appeared to be easy savings in Allston where the Extension must wedge between Commonwealth Avenue and Soldiers Field Road within the narrow railroad right-of-way. He needed to maintain two railroad tracks preserving the minimal remaining commuter rail service but that required a viaduct with an ICC mandated clearance of 18 feet over the tracks. Better, he decided, to eliminate the expensive structure and lay his new road over the adjoining stretch of Soldiers Field Road which would be pushed out into the neighboring Charles River by filling eight acres with the effect of twelve lanes of traffic across the two roadways, along with necessary medians and barrier, all between the rail tracks and a shockingly narrowed river channel. For good measure, he could save disposal costs by using stone blasted away in Newton as the fill. Narrowing the river’s width from 500 feet to 320 feet was no issue for the Chairman. Still, the threat of flooding caused by reducing the river was something Callahan would not be able to ignore.
Callahan often boasted of the beauty of his roads; he likened Route 128 to Connecticut’s storied Merritt Turnpike but he was no environmentalist. His plan was”… the best and cheapest way to [do} it.” As for filling the Charles River, he wondered, who would want to “save eight acres of a polluted, muddy river bottom?” But the Charles River would in fact swamp his plans for a time. He had dismissed Republican opponents handily. He’d swept powerful politicians like Governor Volpe and Senator Howard Whitmore out of his path. Republican Mayor Gibbs of Newton was no obstacle. Gibbs managed to gain some modest concessions through an appeal to the Interstate Commerce Commission but those concessions were mostly face-saving items – Callahan had his road across Newton exactly where he wanted it. It would be a fellow Democrat and sometimes ally who would ultimately check Callahan’s overreach.
It’s hard to conceive now, over half a century later, the kind of autonomy that Callahan’s Turnpike Authority enjoyed. “Neither clapping nor tears will move this authority,” pronounced Associate Commissioner Grout at one public hearing. There was a near total lack of oversight over its activities and plans and absolutely no environmental stewardship. NEPA, MEPA, EPA, DEP, 4F, ACHP, SHPO- the alphabet soup of environmental regulators we rely on today – none existed in Callahan’s day. Negotiations occurred out of the public view among the most powerful political and financial figures of the day — all men — in a complicated game in which Callahan usually held the advantage.
Two years earlier in October 1960, and just weeks before the gubernatorial election, Governor Furcolo reluctantly appointed Lieutenant Governor Robert F. Murphy as the MDC Commissioner in response to a scandal at the agency. Reluctantly, because Murphy was a political rival and the MDC Commissioner was a powerful position, overripe with opportunities to grant political favors through its important responsibilities overseeing the water supply and sewage collection systems for the metropolitan area, tens of thousands of acres of regional parks around Boston, skating rinks, pools, beaches, a police force (whose policing responsibilities included the Central Artery and over 150 miles of key regional roadways), hundreds of thousands of acres of watershed land in the center of the state; and numerous flood control facilities, none more significant than the Charles River itself. InkedSoldiers Aerial_LIAerial view not to scale
Murphy was alarmed by the flooding risk potential of Callahan’s scheme and dismissed it as “an eleventh-hour effort to cut construction costs…” The construction of Storrow Drive several years earlier had filled sixty-four acres of river, and a study by the Charles B. Maguire engineering firm warned that the river’s flood storage capacity was now at a critical level. If the locks couldn’t be opened during a large storm, due to a high tide or storm surge or both, there was no way to draw down the flood-swollen river basin. (That capability wouldn’t be added to the system until the construction of the new Gridley Dam and Pumping Station opposite the Museum of Science nearly twenty years later.) In a compromise and to avoid the need for filling, Murphy suggested that Soldiers Field Road be relocated over the river on pilings, as MDC had done just a few years earlier in 1958 with the Cambridge Parkway Extension beside the Longfellow Bridge. Callahan dismissed the flood risk and objected to the cost of Murphy’s solution. The Army Corps of Engineers, the sole regulatory authority over the project, agreed that the river could be filled with the condition that a commensurate area be dredged in compensation. Callahan proposed to excavate the necessary amount and even fifty percent more on the Cambridge side, essentially moving the Charles for three-quarters of a mile, and for good measure straightening out a bend in the river. What loss was Magazine Beach, MTA representatives asked? The beach was abandoned to pollution and now was only used as free parking for Boston University students! Alarmed Cambridge forces organized to protect Magazine Beach and a contemptuous Callahan pledged that he would “not touch a single weed or tin can on the play fields of Magazine Beach.”
To win over Murphy, in June 1962, Callahan finally settled an MDC lands claim from years earlier and conceded a design modification in the planned turnpike bridge over the Muddy River that would save the MDC $400,000 on its Charlesgate bridge – today’s Bowker Overpass. But Murphy did not relent. By December 1962, with the roadway construction to the west well underway and negotiations over the river deadlocked, the MTA took the unprecedented step of attempting to seize the disputed river acreage by eminent domain. Callahan boldly (and preposterously) announced the contractor would be at work in the area within two weeks.
Murphy succinctly observed:We are a state agency; they are a state agency. The state cannot take land from itself.”Murphy’s attorney, Harvey E. Weir, was sworn in as a special assistant to Attorney General McCormack to procure a temporary injunction, and he called out the cops, directing the MDC to block any work in the disputed area. Callahan, bluffing or perhaps convinced that he would win the fight with Murphy as he had with others, continued engineering and design on his plan. In February, MDC police chased Turnpike Authority surveyors off the frozen river, purportedly for safety reasons. Legislators, beholden to both men, chose to sit out the battle, eliminating one of Callahan’s familiar options.
Time also worked to Murphy’s advantage. The Authority was reportedly paying $22,000 a day in interest, so a significant delay would be expensive — and of course the construction contracts included penalties for delays as well. Callahan bluffed that if he was denied the river, he would shift the road to the south, taking millions of dollars of taxable properties along Commonwealth Avenue in Boston and Brookline. In reality, he had no reasonable options for relocating the extension, because he couldn’t afford anything else financially or politically. He was anchored by his massive Allston interchange and the freight and tandem-trailer yard on one end and the constraints of the BU Bridge area on the eastern side, where construction work had already begun.
At last on June 20, 1963, after six months of dispute, the state Supreme Court appeared to resolve the issue by finding that the Turnpike Authority lacked the authority to take the river acreage, but Callahan wouldn’t yield until the following September when he announced a plan for a 3000-foot viaduct, from the Allston intersection to just west of the BU Bridge, to carry the Extension over the railroad tracks. Callahan had been bested by a surprising adversary he couldn’t overcome, — a neglected river abetted by its champion in Murphy.
Callahan wouldn’t live to see the completion of the Extension in 1965. He died on April 20, 1964, just months afterwards the first segment of the road from Weston to Brighton was opened on September 3rd. There would be no dynamite this time, the subdued ceremonies were a muted celebration of the road’s opening and a commemoration of Callahan himself. At the unveiling of a plaque in his honor, the rarely concise Richard Cardinal Cushing, in a bit of uncharacteristic understatement, commented, “I doubt if this could have been built without him.” Newton Mayor Donald Gibbs was present and peevishly commented, “What does one say who fought the road for five years?” Years earlier he asked, “Why should we be forced to pay tribute to one man named Callahan?” Now they were memorializing him in bronze.
The dynamite this time would be the explosive announcement by Callahan’s successor, John T. Driscoll, that the Extension had cost $35,000,000 more than projected. The Allston viaduct wasn’t the only factor in the increase. In his customary “build fast” improvisational style, Callahan hadn’t anticipated the special construction precautions through the Copley Square portion of the project necessary to protect the likes of Trinity Church and the Boston Public Library. Another casualty of the budget and the rush to build was the promised lush parks, complete with sparkling fountains, proposed for the unsightly cleared parcels, the site of today’s Copley Place. One thing did more than meet the promises, the 90,000 vehicles expected to use the Extension daily which in fact was easily exceeded. Despite Callahan’s assurances and confidence, the traffic chaos at the Extension’s intersection with the Central Artery predicted by the critics also ensued. Forty years the massive Central Artery project, whose notorious costs far surpassed the record-breaking cost of the Extension, would attempt to remedy it.

The Finest Motor Road in the World

DPW ViewFinest Road HeadlineWaiting out multiple traffic light cycles in an endless queue at Eliot Street in Newton, or weaving through the mad traffic along the once heralded “Miracle Mile” of Natick and Framingham, you might find it ridiculous to imagine that the Worcester Turnpike (Route 9) was once hailed at the Finest Motor Road in the World — or even more incredibly, America’s first “Super Highway.” And yet, at the time of its construction and for several years afterward, it was the most sophisticated and technically advanced roadway of the day. It introduced many of the characteristics of the expressway that we take for granted, and it wouldn’t be equaled for nearly a decade. It initiated a new era of highway development that changed everything — construction techniques, policy, the road bureaucracy, and means of funding. Moreover, it inspired a wholesale rearrangement of the landscape of the state and its communities to create a new style of living — the expansive suburbanism of today. The comprehensive bureaucracy to plan, build, and oversee a statewide network of advanced highways would emerge with construction of the Worcester Turnpike.Overpass
But first let’s answer the question of what to call it. Is it the Worcester Turnpike or Route 9? In this piece we are talking about the Turnpike and not the cross-state Route 9 which it also generated. In the simplest terms, roads have names and routes have numbers. But more specifically, routes are itineraries that direct drivers — often over numerous roads. In the early years of motoring, recreational enthusiasts and automobile clubs began identifying and marking routes as wayfinding tools for intrepid new drivers, routes sometimes identified by names, symbols, colors or numbers. Before then, few people had reason to explore the roads beyond their own neighborhoods, relying instead on railroads and streetcar lines for travel of any distance. With the adoption of cars guidebooks proliferated, filled with routes and lists of critical facilities like garages and hotels and inns.
Road construction and maintenance was scattershot but generally the responsibility of local communities, with counties often providing regional connections. Roads were usually better in cities and more established towns, but there was often no coordination beyond municipal boundaries. In 1922, the New England states adopted a cooperative system of route marking which is still largely in use today. This was complemented in 1927 by the “voluntary” network of so-called interstate routes identified by the U.S. shield. Under this new program, the principal east-west route across Massachusetts was designated U.S. 20. Still today it runs from Kenmore Square in Boston across the nation to Newport, Oregon. In Massachusetts, it passes through Worcester, Springfield, and Pittsfield, and from Boston to Worcester, it largely follows the historic Boston Post Road, an artifact of the 18th century, running through intervening town centers. It was perhaps a charming and practical drive in the early auto days but less efficient for distance travel with each passing year.
Cars made a huge contribution to the fabled roar of the 1920s. The number of vehicle registrations tripled over the decade, and with this explosion in autos and driving came new developments, in roadway engineering, regulation and as well as driver education. Accompanying these new developments were , along with increased expectations and the inevitable impatience for speed. Virtually everything we understand about driving now had to be developed in this brief time. 1920 arrived with no official highway network, standard signage, traffic lanes, or signals. Even the most basic traffic regulations were lacking, and chaos ruled the rudimentary roads. Yet by the end of the decade, most of these necessities were in place as the automobile assumed a central role in modern life.Cartoon
By the ‘20s, bustling Worcester was the brash and wealthy “second city” of Massachusetts, and city leaders were demanding a more direct and express route to Boston to bypass the intermediate town centers clogged with local auto traffic and trolleys, trucks, and pedestrians. The need was clear: the Boston Post Road carried the highest traffic of any state highway. What Worcester Mayor O’Hara, neighboring towns, and the influential Bancroft Auto Club wanted was unprecedented: “a super type of roadway with two traffic lanes elevated at the intersecting streets.” It was a dream of a road type that did not yet exist, the “super highway.” What’s more, the resources, financial and legal, necessary to build it didn’t exist either, at least not yet.
Massachusetts was an early leader in traffic engineering theory if not always practice, aided by resources like the Erskine Bureau for Street Traffic at Harvard University. The state established a state highway commission in 1893, the second in the nation, following New Jersey’s lead. But progress in road improvement was hampered by the Commonwealth’s notorious parochialism and local resistance to state leadership. There was also a lack of significant financial resources dedicated to roads, and a conservative mentality among the state’s engineers that favored piecemeal development connecting existing centers over large schemes. Henry Ford’s privately funded $200,000 bypass skirting the historic Wayside Inn in Sudbury was one of the few new ideas outside of Metropolitan Boston. A so-called “Good Government” reorganization of the state created a Public Works Division in 1920, and in 1925 the legislature created a “highway fund” drawn from fines, fees, and local maintenance assessments. Still, the Republican-dominated state government was averse to debt and refused to issue bonds for roadway construction, insisting instead on a “pay-as-you-go” policy. Funds were so limited that new construction was constrained to no more than ten miles per county per year. As one Worcester booster wryly noted, at that rate it would take ten years to finance their grand scheme of a new road.
But from calamity comes opportunity. Worcester’s scheme got a providential boost with the petition by the Boston, Worcester Street Railway Company on January 28, 1927 to drop service to Boston. The streetcars largely followed the old Worcester Turnpike, a nearly forgotten relic of the turnpike enthusiasm of the first decade of the 19th century. The Turnpike had been chartered and laid out in 1807 as a private toll road, and like other turnpikes of the era, it followed the straightest, most direct route and deliberately avoided town centers. It was dissolved in 1841 in the face of insurmountable competition from the faster railroad, foreshadowing the streetcar’s future demise in the face of automobiles. The very next day, Franklin T. Miller, the receiver of the streetcar company, petitioned the legislature for a resolve to study a new state highway on the Turnpike route. The proposal of course would also include “compensation” to the company. (The compensation issue would inevitably spark contentious partisan politics.) It would take another two years, replacement of a reluctant Highway Commissioner, and the eventual establishment of a gasoline tax (a measure in which Massachusetts lagged 44 other states) before the Worcester super highway dream would come to life. But the ultimate factor in favor of the road was an even greater calamity, the great stock market crash of October 29, 1929 and subsequent Great Depression, and the desperate need to create “material relief to the unemployment situation.”Road Plan
1930 was an election year, and the Democrat Joseph B. Ely successfully challenged the Republican incumbent’s poor record of highway construction. Ely’s inaugural address signaled a momentous departure from “pay-as-you-go” and called for a $20,000,000 bond issue for public works, including finishing the Turnpike. Adding to the urgency was $80,000,000 nationwide in Federal aid to be spent by September; Massachusetts was determined to get its share. Ely eventually won nearly $13,000,000 in short-term notes and an increase in the gas tax from the Republican legislature. With these state funds and Federal aid, he pursued an ambitious “super-highway” program across the state. Grander in scope than the Worcester road, the program also included a new turnpike to Providence, the Southern Circumferential Highway to the south of Boston, and a new bypass around Worcester, the Southwest Cut-Off – a portion of the multi-state trunk road between New York City and Boston. But first, and unsurpassed in scale, engineering sophistication, and controversy, would be the Worcester Turnpike.Features

.Everything about the Turnpike was exceptional, especially its cost: a staggering $200,000 a mile, or $3,000,000 for the first seventeen-mile leg between Worcester and Southborough, “the most expensive piece of highway building the state has ever undertaken.” The cost was just one of its wonders. The new super highway, straight-arrow and almost without curves, would cut perhaps five miles off the trip between the cities and save twenty or even thirty minutes. Plus it would be the safest road imaginable. With three ten-foot-wide travel lanes, a ten-foot landscaped median to prevent head-on collisions, no grade crossings, and cloverleafs or innovative rotaries to eliminate left hand turns, it was expected to be serenely safe. Remarkably, there was no set speed limit. As one report put it, “Go as fast as you like…within reason” because “As a matter of fact, it’s difficult to see how, with normal conditions, good judgement and fair luck, any bad accident could happen on the Worcester Turnpike.” Reality, as always, differed from theory, and when an early segment was unofficially opened to traffic, it had to be closed again immediately because of excessive driving speeds. When the road was officially opened, neophyte drivers were intoxicated by its novelty, and speeds as high as 85 miles per hour were recorded. Drivers added to the recklessness by wandering wildly across the roadway, contemptuous or uncomprehending of the concept of fixed travel lanes.
“…every known trick of building safety in the roads – and still the motorists mowed down 28 persons last week on the new Worcester Turnpike within the limit of Wellesley alone,” noted one reporter in 1933. This was only mild hyperbole — 28 were indeed injured, but only one death recorded. Driving was inherently dangerous and still a kind of extreme sport, with Sundays seeing the heaviest traffic. By the end of November 1933, there had been 731 fatalities in Massachusetts, and 1934 would bring 953 road deaths, with the total number of vehicles in the state hovering just below 800,000. (By comparison, the number of highway deaths in Massachusetts 80 years later in 2013 was 351, for around 2.4 million vehicles.)
In the face of this rolling disaster, in the early 1934 Registrar of Motor Vehicles Morgan T. Ryan announced a crackdown, “a campaign” which would “severely” penalize “flagrant offenders.” Dorchester-born Ryan was an ambitious young attorney and close associate of Governor Ely when he was appointed Registrar. He introduced several safety measures, including regular auto inspections and mandatory insurance, and he was not slow to suspend the driving licenses of offenders. Among his less successful initiatives was his naive New Year’s resolution for drivers – not effective then and likely not now either:
I resolve that during 1935, I will drive sensibly and courteously with due regard for the rights and safety of others, both motorists and pedestrians.
After one accident, he required President Roosevelt’s son to pass a Massachusetts driving exam, and at different times he suspended the licenses of James Michael Curley’s sons Leo and Paul. Those last actions, along with political rivalries within the Democratic Party, drove the newly elected and vengeful Governor Curley to demand that “Big Bill” Callahan, new Commissioner of Public Works, later known as the “Maharajah of Macadam,” fire Ryan. Curley replaced Ryan with Frank Goodwin as a reward to an erstwhile Republican and ally, himself a former Registrar and, as Sinclair Weeks pegged him, a “stooge” opponent to Curley in the Governor’s race.
If the Turnpike failed to insure safer driving, it did pioneer a number of roadbuilding innovations, some successful and others not so, including portable concrete mixers and a curious system of paving over burlap to theoretically ease future resurfacing. This “burlap road” would be used by the Republican Lieutenant Governor Youngman, possibly at Curley’s behest, to discredit Governor Ely. And as the construction moved eastward towards Boston, the unanimity of Worcester County waned, pockets of opposition arose, and unavoidable compromises followed. The City of Marlborough, afraid of being bypassed by the new road to the south, fought the project. To appease the city, the U.S. Route Number 20 would remain on the Post Road and not be moved to the new superhighway as might logically be expected. The village of Oak Hill in Southborough protested and blocked an underpass, concerned that it would ruin the character of the community. Many other dreaded grade crossings would remain only to be closed up in future safety campaigns. The “super” qualities of the roadway were also compromised as it passed through Framingham Center, where trolley tracks persisted, albeit in a center reservation. While an extensive underpass s pared Wellesley Hills from Turnpike traffic, the stubborn Lally sisters, in one of the more humorous highway-building episodes, fought the state over the value of their house. The state announced it would take the necessary half by eminent domain and the resolute sisters insisted they would remain in the surviving half. More densely settled Brookline rejected the state’s plan of underpasses and overpasses and choose instead a narrower roadway with a novel system of synchronized stop lights—traffic signals were still rare, particularly outside the city center.
turnpike FraminghamBrookline’s opposition was pecuniary rather than aesthetic, since the town was to be responsible for a large portion of the cost of the road, which Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Charles F. Rowley fumed was “…an example of extravagant public expenditure.” “One would assume that every vehicle travelling upon the road was tearing madly between Boston and Worcester …The great majority of the vehicles … are pleasure vehicles… which will in no way be financially affected [by] arriving three or four minutes later at their destination.” Brookline’s plan saved two-thirds of the cost of the state’s proposal. It also didn’t hurt that it would spare the Longwood Cricket Club and the now-defunct Chestnut Hill Golf Club.
Brookline9

lost reportMore controversy would follow construction, when the roadway between Framingham and Brookline started deteriorating almost immediately. It was suggested that the resulting cratering was caused by calcium chloride de-icing. A $20,000 study by Charles Breed of MIT was commissioned and its results then suppressed for eight years. When the study was finally made public, it revealed that the real problem was construction deficiencies cause by poor oversight and missing and poor quality concrete. The collapse of one approach to the new Huntington Avenue overpass in Boston a week before it was scheduled to open to traffic was also met with great cynicism. There was also  criticism that the road was overbuilt, too large for the traffic it carried although it was never characterized as a ‘White Elephant”  like the Sumner Tunnel that was bleeding tens of thousands of dollars monthly in deficit.
“You know every time a new highway is built, you see hot-dog stands, gasoline filling stations, and dine-and-dance spots popping up overnight,” commented DPW Commissioner in 1938, while speaking on plans for a new super highway between Boston and Lowell, doubtless alluding to the experience of the Worcester Turnpike. Contemporary accounts describe the “decentralization” – which we would recognize as “suburbanization – that immediately followed the opening of the Turnpike. “A modern cry of freedom from cramped house lots and city traffic congestion…” as new subdivisions followed the roadway to Brookline, Newton, Wellesley and beyond. It was a model that would be replicated many times over. The department store Jordan Marsh joined with local builders in producing model homes to demonstrate the advantages of this convenient new dispersed and leafy style of living. Even if unaware of the full implications, the pioneering influence of the Worcester road was immediately apparent to contemporary observers:
“What the Worcester Turnpike has done to boom building from Brookline Village to Framingham in only seven years, the Concord Turnpike is expected to do shortly for the territory that lies between Lexington, Arlington, and Concord.”Highlands9
In 1948, Jordan Marsh itself would follow the new homeowners along the Turnpike to Framingham and into the first regional shopping center. A year later, competitor Filene’s would build its largest store outside of Boston along the Turnpike in Chestnut Hill. Ironically, the development drawn magnetically to the Turnpike would ultimately destroy its “super” luster, abetted by a flaw in its original conception. The Turnpike was built on an existing right-of-way, so abutting property owners could not be denied reasonable access to the public road. Thus the “express” road eventually turned into a congested boulevard just like the ones left behind in the crowded city. Massachusetts passed a “freeway” bill in 1944 to permit total control of access, facilitating the construction of a new state-wide turnpike in 1954. The free-wheeling Federal highway spending of the following decade would create the network of highways that make the Worcester Turnpike seem almost quaint today. But for better or worse, modern highway system of the 21st Century found its inspiration in “The Finest Motor Road in the World.”paving

The Dramatic Court House Rescue of Shadrach Minkins would not be Repeated

In the midst of  other research, I kept coming across the story of Shadrach Minkins’ dramatic Boston court house rescue  from slave catchers. I quickly became enthralled with the story and decided to try to retell it myself from contemporary newspaper accounts, directories and vital records.   The drama and excitement of the story was compelling but the aftermath was even more significant for fugitives and Boston’s place as a safe haven,

Boston and Massachusetts are never far from the national discussion of race, rights, and tolerance. But in 1851, with the dramatic courthouse rescue of the fugitive slave Shadrach Minkins and its perhaps more significant aftermath, the abolitionist Massachusetts was the epicenter of opposition and resistance to  the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

Early on Saturday morning, February 15th 1851, Deputy Marshall Frederick Warren called on the assistant U.S. Marshall Patrick Riley at his Lincoln Street home to alert him that an alleged fugitive slave was to be arrested at 8:00 AM at Taft’s Cornhill Tavern. Charles Devins, U.S. Marshall for the Massachusetts District, was away on official business in Washington, so Riley told Warren to bring the suspect to the U.S. Court Room located the city’s courthouse. But identifying the man was an immediate problem.
The warrant had been presented the previous evening to another Deputy Marshall, Charles Sawin, who had no idea who the suspect might be among the numerous African-Americans working at the tavern, and the informer had not shown up to identify him as pre-arranged. Sawin set off in search of the informer, found him, confirmed the identity of the fugitive, and rescheduled the arrest for 11:00 AM. At the new time, Riley’s officers were arrayed around the .but the informer was still not there. Riley and Warren entered surreptitiously and ordered coffee, posing as ordinary patrons. After some time, assuming nothing would occur, they prepared to leave and paid their waiter, only to observe Sawin and fellow deputy Frederick Byrne intercepting the same waiter and carrying him out through the back and over the short distance to the courthouse.
Riley reports he hurried to see the City Marshall Francis Tukey at his office in City Hall by the courthouse to notify him that the local police would be needed to handle a possible disturbance, and then went upstairs to see Mayor John Bigelow to make to same request. The Mayor answered ambiguously, “Mr. Riley, I am sorry for it,” which Riley would interpret as indifference on the part of the Mayor. The Mayor however would later assert that Riley made no request for help and merely advised him, “We have got a negro, and I thought I would call and let you know.” Tukey would later characterize Riley’s notice as ‘a hint to look out for street disturbances, and would claim that Riley had declared, using a viler term, “We have got a [ ] — I merely notify you so that if they make trouble you may be about.”

Boston was already agitated. Just months earlier two southern slave catchers by the names of Willis Hughes and John Knight were arrested for conspiracy to kidnap William Crafts and his wife Ellen. Crafts was with Frederick Douglas on Southac (Phillips) Street when the conspirators first appeared in a suspicious carriage. The Crafts escaped the kidnapping and shortly thereafter left Boston for more security in Great Britain. News of this new event would spread throughout the city and its small African-American community. The waiter seized by Sawin and Byrne was brought before the United States Commissioner George Curtis still wearing his apron and coatless yet appearing “calm and confident.” Known as Frederick Wilkins, he answered the Commissioner that he did want counsel and that friends had sent for attorneys. The courtroom was quickly filling with a mixed crowd.

Detail Salter & Callahan 1852 Map of the City of Boston

Detail, Salter & Callahan 1852 Map o the City of Boston

The warrant stated that Wilkins was the “property” of John DeBree, a purser in the Navy at Norfolk. De Bree’s representative, the Boston attorney Seth Thomas, was prepared to show through sworn affidavits that Frederick Wilkins was the fugitive Shadrach Minkins whom DeBree asserted he had purchased from John Higgins (who in turn had bought him at a Sherriff’s Sale). Wilkins’ impressive volunteer defense team of Samuel Sewell, Ellis G. Loring, Charles List, and Charles G. Davis (Richard H. Dana, Jr. was consulting from his office) motioned for a continuation to provide time for a more thorough review. The Commissioner granted them until the following Tuesday.  Riley, anticipating a continuation, had already dispatched Deputy Marshall Warren to ask Commodore Downes at the Navy Yard in Charlestown to hold the prisoner there. Commodore Downes declined the request, saying he had no authority to hold the prisoner. Riley could not expect to place the prisoner in the Boston jail on Leverett Street, because an 1843 Massachusetts statute forbade holding alleged fugitive slaves in the state’s jails. Riley had reason to be anxious. Boston was openly hostile to the pursuit of fugitive slaves, as evidenced by the jail law, and crowds had freed prisoner at least twice before, as recently as 1836. Riley would need to hold the prisoner in the wide open, public courthouse and then only in the U.S. Court Room.

SuffolkCountyCourthouse_CourtSt_Boston

1836 Suffolk County Courthouse

Riley ordered the court room cleared but permitted defense counsels Loring and Sewell to remain to consult with Wilkins. At this point, an unknown man approached Wilkins and whispered in his ear quietly, after which Wilkins rose, doffed the coat he’d been given, rolled up his sleeves, and secured his neckerchief as if in preparation for something. At one point Deputy Marshall Byrne asked defense attorney Charles Davis if there might be something of a scheme in the wind. “Nothing that I know of; this is a damned dirty piece of business,” answered Davis. Deputy Byrne claimed that Davis grabbed his shoulder and said, “You are a damned pretty mess.” And then “you all ought to have your throats cut!”
Around 2:00 PM Elizur Wright, of the “Vigilance Committee,” and editor of the Commonwealth, a Free Soil and Abolitionist daily, entered the court room accompanied by a minister, most likely the Reverend Samuel Snowden. The excitable Wright harangued Wilkins: “Why didn’t you defend yourself when they came to arrest you? Where were your hands? Why didn’t you use any instrument you could lay your hand on? If I had been there and had pistols, you should have had them to shoot them down with; or I would have used them myself.” But Wilkins maintained his composure, understanding what Wright didn’t that the consequences of Wright’s urging would likely have fatal consequences for an black man.

Wright’s rancor was stoked further when Riley suggested, “You gentleman, who feel so much interested for the slave, may have an opportunity to prove it. Perhaps you may be able to buy him from his owner. I am not authorized by the owner or claimants that the man may be bought, but I am ready to put down $25 or even $50 towards making up the purchase money.” The incensed Wright replied, “I’d sooner give $50 to buy pistols for his release.” Riley order Wright out of the court room, but relented after learning that he was a journalist and let him stay.

The court messenger Ebenezer Noyes had been dispatched meantime to the City Marshall’s office to ask for “every man he could send” to control the growing crowd. Tukey replied that he had none at the moment but would send some when he could. Outside the courtroom the chemist William F. Channing – a future collaborator with Alexander Graham Bell – joined onlookers and shouted “You will have to answer to God for this!” Riley had posted one or two deputies at the door, but he had no authority to close the entire courthouse, since it was a city building. The courtroom was largely empty, with just Riley, the prisoner, two counselors and the deputies remaining inside, but outside the crowd had been growing steadily over the past hour and a half, and the corridor and stairs beyond were now packed with perhaps one hundred or more people.
The details of what occurred next would be debated in many more court proceedings over the following months. As Davis and Wright left, a cry was heard, “Take him out boys!” and “Come in! Come in!” The officers at the door struggled to hold their position, and Deputy Warren ran to the City Marshall’s office for help. Not finding the Marshall there, Warren hurried to the Mayor’s office, only to be told that the Mayor was out to lunch. Returning to Tukey’s office, he found the Marshall in his private office and asked for all available aid. When he offered to help round up officers, Tukey refused him. Riley claimed that no help arrived, and that the City Marshall and Mayor had made a deliberate decision not to intervene. Tukey claimed that an officer he did send was barred entry by a deputy marshall.

Soon the officers lost control of the courtroom door, and a crowd of twenty, thirty, or in some reports as many as forty men rushed the court room, collars buttoned up and hair down over their foreheads to evade identification, cheering and shouting “Take him away!” Patrick Riley was pinned behind the baize door and unarmed but later reported he turned towards Shadrach and told him, “Don’t move or I’ll shoot.” In the rush, William Riley, Patrick’s brother and also a deputy, unsheathed the Commissioner’s sword and waved it threateningly, if ineffectively, at the swirling, pressing crowd. He laid it on a table, and one of the rescuers snatched it and carried it out triumphantly to the street with the liberated Shadrach. A city constable relieved him of it outside as the crowd surged towards the West End. Shadrach was carried off to a cab on Garden or perhaps Belknap (Joy) Street but then taken from the cab (reportedly on-foot) to the Southac (Phillips) Street house of the abolitionist Lewis Hayden, an African American used clothes dealer. There Shadrach was purportedly dressed in women’s clothes and spirited out of the City. Some would later claim that the pantomime of the cab and women’s clothes was merely a diversion to throw off pursuers, and that Shadrach had walked safely to his freedom. He was soon settled in Montreal, where detractors claimed he was destitute. But others reported him established as a barber and later a saloon keeper with help from friends in Boston. In any event he married, had a family, and lived there until his death in 1875.

But Minkins’ dramatic non-violent rescue is merely a triumphant prelude to a much darker, tragic story and the aftermath for both Boston and the other fugitives. News of the rescue enraged supporters of the fugitive law. President Fillmore issued a proclamation calling for all law enforcement officers to aid in Shadrach’s recapture and ordering that all who assisted in the rescue be prosecuted. Daniel Webster, Fillmore’s Secretary of State and leader of the Massachusetts Whigs, threatened to resign if immediate actions weren’t taken in response to punish the rescuers and support the law, and it was rumored that the President was sending a company of Marines to the City. An irate Henry Clay on the Senate Floor would ask: “Who committed the outrage? Was it our own citizens? No. It was a band of blacks…”

But that outrage might have been more contrived than real. The contempt for and opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act in Massachusetts was well known. The Massachusetts Senate had recently elected the determined abolitionist Charles Sumner as United States Senator. “The Bostonians wink at these things because they sympathize with the fugitives…” crowed the Philadelphia Bulletin. Shadrach’s “value” was reportedly $1000, but the costs for lawyers in Virginia and Boston and the travel of agents and witnesses to Boston must have been significant. Although DeBree would sue the U.S. Commissioner for his loss, it’s been suggested that DeBree pressed his claim for Shadrach to test whether the Fugitive Slave Act “could be carried out in Boston.” For supporters and apologists of the act, a recalcitrant Massachusetts, defiantly and openly sheltering fugitives, was a bold challenge not only to the stability of chattel slavery but also to the law of the land. Massachusetts must do its “constitutional duty,” or the Georgia Citizen railed that the authorities should “batter down the walls of Boston and lay it in ruin… <and>hang the ring leaders of the riot…”
Compelled to respond, Boston Mayor Bigelow and the Aldermen issued an order directing the City Marshall to assist any officer, state or federal, who was obstructed in his lawful duty by a mob but the Boston officials had no taste or participating in slave-catching. Nonetheless, City Marshall Tukey would interpret the order very broadly in subsequent events. A defiant Massachusetts Senate would respond with resolves to Congress underscoring again “that Massachusetts protests against the Fugitive Slave Act; [it is] abhorrent to the feelings of the people of this Commonwealth and [never will have] support in the heart and conscience of the community…”
Over the next few weeks, U.S. courts would issue indictments for aiding the escape against Lewis Hayden, the attorney Robert Morris, John P. Coburn, Thomas P. Smith, J.K. Hayes (the Keeper of the Tremont Temple), Charles G. Davis Jr., and Elizur Wright. All but Smith would eventually be acquitted; Smith would escape in June to California, clearly fearing for his life after an assault in April by four men who smeared a “plaster of tar” over his mouth.

Less than two months after Shadrach’s rescue on April 3rd, another fugitive named Thomas Sims was apprehended under similarly deceptive circumstances. The arrest would have tragic consequences for him and for Boston’s principled resistance.
According to the New York Herald, “The eyes of the whole country have been riveted on Boston since the arrest of Sims. No one cares about the slave as a fugitive, nor his value. It’s the principle involved in the case which made it important. For the third time an effort was made to ascertain whether or not the people of that city and of Massachusetts would comply with their constitutional duties.” Thomas Sims had been in Boston for less than a month when he was grabbed on Cooper Street by two city constables falsely accusing him of the theft of a watch to throw off his suspicions and those of on-lookers. The city constables were actually working for the U.S. Marshall to recapture a fugitive slave. Even with the drummed-up charge, a wary crowd attempted to block the capture, and an officer sustained a minor wound. It was only in the carriage as it approached the court house that Simms kidnappers” as he was bundled into the building. His captors claimed that he had escaped in February from James Potter, a wealthy Georgia rice planter, by stowing away in Savannah on a ship bound for Boston. Twenty-three and quite handsome, Simms had telegraphed his wife, a “quadroon” free woman, and a great beauty learned the real reason for his arrest, and as he exited he managed to get out, “I am in the hands of the, to join him in Boston unknowingly revealing his whereabouts. Sims was held in the courthouse and guarded by Marshall Devins himself. Tukey, overstepping his authority, placed a great chain around the building, to the ire of Mayor Bigelow and justices. He claimed that the courts were open for all who had business there only “spectators and idlers [were] excluded.” The City Marshall posted sixty men around the building during the day and twenty-five at night. There would be no risk of a heroic rescue this time, and Tukey was eagerly collaborating with the federal officers.

The following day, a Friday, Sims was brought before Commissioner Curtis for an examination that would extend with continuations through to the following Friday. A defense team for Sims was quickly assembled composed of abolitionist attorneys Robert Rantoul, Charles G. Loring, and Samuel Sewell. Commissioner Hallett’s charge was to determine if Simms was the fugitive identified in the claim and if so to release him to the owner’s representatives. As in the Shadrach case, the Boston attorney Seth Thomas represented the alleged owner Potter, aided by Potter’s representative John B. Bacon. Witnesses were brought from Savanah, along with sworn affidavits to attest to Sims’s identity. The defense team would try various strategies, including seeking a habeus corpus from Massachusetts courts, seeking to have Simms transferred to the state’s custody because of the theft complaint, and challenging the identification itself. Bacon and one of the Georgia witnesses were even arrested for kidnapping, but all tactics ultimately failed. The Commissioner issued his finding in the early morning of Friday April 12th, giving cursory affirmation to the defendant’s identity but opining extensively on the constitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Act. At 5:00 AM City Marshall Tukey and constables brought Sims to the brig Acorn at Long Wharf, and he was returned to Savannah, accompanied on the trip by Deputy Marshall Patrick Riley. All to show, according to the Whig paper the Boston Atlas, “the manner in which the law of the land will be hereafter enforced and vindicated.” The implications were clear, and the slave catchers were emboldened. A Baltimore writer for the New York Tribune expected six more arrests in Boston and within days another report said that forty or fifty fugitives had fled Boston.

The apologists, the Whig supporters of Fillmore, the “Great Compromise,” and the Fugitive Slave Act, would justify themselves by disparaging Sims. A correspondent for the Boston Courier wrote that Simms was an “idle, dissipated fellow.” Sims, “capable of earning a dollar and a half a day, had only paid $10 to his master in two years, being less than the amount of taxes paid for him.” They added, “…His reputed wife is a free woman who was much incensed at his desertion of her… and gave the information <on his location> to his master.” And in perhaps the greatest fiction, “Mr. Potter at first thought he would not trouble himself to reclaim so idle a fellow, but Tom’s mother told him it was his duty to do it, and endeavor to save him from becoming worthless to himself and everybody else.” But perhaps more honestly, “This … would give a fair test as to whether Boston would redeem her character and sustain the laws or not…”
The New York Tribune assured readers that, “Mr. James Potter is a high minded, humane, honorable man, and it is his extreme kindness and leniency to his slaves which had caused him a great amount of trouble.” The Boston Courier noted that Potter had “…done it without regard to expense.”

Thomas Sims was sold to a Havana sugar cane plantation for $1200.

 

The Architect of “the handsomest buildings of Lowell”

With this post I return to the historic architecture of Lowell sooner than I’d expected but I answer a question that has puzzled me for fifty years and one that also eluded John Coolidge when he wrote “Mill & Mansion” some seventy-five years ago. The answer might upend some of Coolidge’s assumption about the architecture of Lowell in the decades before the Civil War. I also get to reclaim the legacy and reputation of James H. Rand, architect of the Lowell Jail which became my high school alma mater, Keith Academy.

Nesmith ModelJohn Nesmith House Model c.1842. Courtesy of the Lowell Historical Society

The distinction as Lowell’s first professional architect surely belongs to the enigmatic and overlooked James Hovey Rand, whose body of work in Lowell is largely unrecognized and whose reputation is unfairly tarnished by  controversy surrounding his most notable surviving work, the 1857 County Jail. The truth is that Rand was a determined and respected designer with ambition and substantial talent and the designer of what John Coolidge declared “the handsomest buildings in Lowell…” But first, why not Kirk Boott? Certainly the indomitable Kirk Boott, the multi-faceted factotum of the Boston investors who founded Lowell, designed many of the city’s first structures, according to John Coolidge the architectural historian in his seminal 1940 book on Lowell architecture, “Mill and Mansion.” Coolidge ascribed the Town Hall and Saint Ann’s Church and Boott’s own imposing home along with mills and boarding houses to him. But if Boott had any architectural ambitions, they were subsidiary to his primary role as an engineer and agent. Boott’s work, other than his own house and Saint Ann’s, did not aspire to architectural distinction; it was founded in expediency, utility and economy and informed by his military engineering training. He perhaps though should be appropriately termed, “The Architect of Lowell” since he determined the original form and plan of the City and those choices would shape and direct what was to come for decades.

Overlapping with Boott and beginning in Lowell’s second decade, the enterprising James Hovey Rand deliberately and energetically pursued a career as an architect and  unabashedly assumed the title of architect at the age of twenty-one.   Coolidge in “Mill and Mansion” is sparing  in his comments of Rand’s best known surviving work, the 1857 design for the Jail. “Clumsy” as he fulminates, “The design is a matter of rote. The architect knew all the answers.” Coolidge is equally dismissive of Rand himself,  suggesting  “He seems to have been a local person, perhaps a builder who arrogated to himself this more pretentious title [architect]” Coolidge was perhaps unaware that the Jail was the culmination of the a twenty-five year career in Lowell.  Still Coolidge had restrained if qualified praise, for Rand’s grand house of 1850 calling it “The most splendid mansion of the Italian style...” The house was razed decades before Coolidge’s writing and it appears that Coolidge’s familiarity with the house may have been limited to a small image on the margin of a map. But he goes on to describe it as “a ponderous structure, reflecting in its cubic form some influence from the neighboring Nesmith and Lawrence [(Butler] houses.” Coolidge’s admiration for these two works however is unrestrained. “In both houses the details are of purity of form and delicacy of execution unmatched anywhere in Lowell.” He continues, “It is regrettable and significant that these two houses, perhaps the handsomest buildings in Lowell, should stand completely alone. Their designs must have seemed too subtle, too reserved to the average man of the time.” What Coolidge did not realize was that the influence of these two houses on the design of Rand’s own house was more than coincidental for Rand was in fact the architect of all three. An 1843 account in the Lowell Courier of Rand’s design for the new Nesmith House revealed as well that Rand’s design was more than “subtle” aesthetics, but technologically advanced as well. It included an early, unprecedented central heating system along with a four season conservatory amidst, in the spirit of Andrew Jackson Downing, two acres of gardens containing ‘‘…fruit trees, shrubs and flowers of every variety, [and] an artificial pond …” The house cost a substantial $15,000 and it was expected that Samuel Lawrence’s new house to the east would cost at least as much. An exploration of Rand’s work and career reveals a far more interesting and talented professional capable of a broader range of expression than Coolidge presumed and certainly for whom the title of architect is no arrogation.

James Nesmith House

John Nesmith House 1843

My beautiful picture
Samuel Lawrence House 1844 (General Benjamin F. Butler House)

James Hovey Rand was born in Boston in 1814 to Gardner Hammond Rand and Sally Frothingham both descended from original settlers of Charlestown. Rand’s father was a sail maker with a sail loft  in the Charles Bulfinch designed India Wharf. Tragedy stalked the young family, first with the 1815 death of James’s two year old brother George of “worm fever,”  followed by the death of “dropsy in August of 1817  of his infant sister  Abigail, ”and finally by the death of his father in Havana in November of that same year.

1837 Directory AD
James  did not follow his father into sail making, but first appears in a booming Lowell in 1832 as the eighteen year-old junior partner of fellow housewright Cyrus Frost. That year the pair contracted to erect a house on South Street for Cyril Coburn a lumber dealer and sometime carpenter. All three were boarders at the widow Catherine Parker’s place on Appleton Street. Coburn in fact had recently married Parker’s daughter Harriet. Coburn would go on to be a real estate investor and speculator; He later bought and quickly flipped the important Merrimack House in the great Locks and Canals land sell-off of 1845; he would have at least one more significant dealing with Rand in future years.

Housewrights are a nomadic crew but Rand was settled on Lowell and by 1834, in the enterprising spirit that would characterize his career, the ambitious twenty-year old started a sash and blind business as the junior partner with another housewright William Field. The more valuable, exacting and detailed joinery required to craft window sash and blinds requires high degree of skill; this skill would influence a distinctive aspect of his architectural practice, a penchant for making detailed models of his more substantial designs. Sash work however would only be a step and means to pay the bills as he strived for professional advancement as an architect. And in his 1835  record of his marriage to Laurinda Moore, the twenty-one year old Rand boldly declares himself an architect.  He must be studying architecture assiduously on his own immersing himself in the pattern and style books of the day, including the Englishman Peter Nicholson’s ‘Dictionary of Architecture.”  His wife Laurinda herself was a well-established dressmaker and the daughter of a farmer from Bolton in Worcester County.

In 1836 young Rand, running his sashworks alone, was sufficiently successful to hire housewright Joseph Buswell to build his own modest first house on the corner of Fayette Street and Andover Street. From this house he  graduated to his 1841 house on the corner of Andover Street and Harrison Street. Still surviving, although altered, this second house demonstrates his growing expertise and exhibits design features and qualities seen in his better known works.

Rand Ad In Cowley
By 1844, following the celebrated success of the Nesmith and Lawrence houses, Rand confidently advertised his services as an architect and clearly he’s a successful one. An 1845 news account boasts he has offers for designs of 20 houses and it’s at this time that, he brings in Isaac Place as junior partner in the sashworks, freeing Rand to focus on his growing architectural practice.

Beyond simply designing their houses during the 1840s, Rand had numerous business affairs with both John Nesmith and Samuel Lawrence so it’s reasonable to assume that he designed more buildings for both. Rand is the most likely candidate as architect of Nesmith’s “New Block” the Italianate style commercial building that wraps from Merrimack Street to John Street.  And from 1845 onward Samuel Lawrence is concentrated on his new venture, the Essex Company and the development of what will be the new City of Lawrence, ten miles downstream from Lowell. It’s likely that Rand designed buildings on behalf of Lawrence in the eponymous new City but it doesn’t appear that Rand designed another house for Lawrence who bought a prominent historic house in Andover for his new residence.  It was in this decade that Rand he designed the double agents’ houses for the Boott Mills and the Massachusetts Mills on Kirk Street, known more commonly as the Linus Child House and he was designing school houses and engine houses for the City of Lowell along with one of the many remodeling’s of the Kirk Boot designed Town Hall.  Rand was also building houses on speculation for sale including a trio on Harrison Street.

Rand HouseAmerican Cottage & Villa. Courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum

1850 and subsequent years are pivotal for Rand when he builds his own admired house on Andover Street, the subject of Coolidge’s measured praise. His third residence,  it sat between John Nesmith’s house and the estate of Samuel Lawrence; In 1860, he sold it to the Merrimack Manufacturing Company which used it as an Agent’s residence. and was razed in the early Twentieth Century.  1850 was also the year that James C. Sidney, the noted Philadelphia cartographer, civil engineer and architect, along with partner James Neff, published their exceptional, illustrated map of Lowell. Sidney was the original designer of Philadelphia’s celebrated Fairmount Park. Rand’s house, was one of the principal buildings that illuminated the map’s margins. Sidney must have been significantly impressed because he not only included it on the map but also as a model in his, American Cottage & Villa Architecture, A series of Plans and Views of RESIDENCES ACTUALLY BUILT. Intended as models for those about to build, as well as Architects, Builders, etc. published that same year as a subscription series. Unfortunately, the copy in the Library of the Peabody Essex Museum is missing the floor plan but the perspective view better demonstrates the architectural finesse that Coolidge admired and showcased Rand’s talent to a wider audience beyond Lowell.

Villa Cover

Rand’s business entanglements with Samuel Lawrence are hinted at in their many real estate transaction and particularly the 1844 house on Andover Street. It’s been wrongly assumed that Ben Butler acquired the Rand designed Samuel Lawrence House in conjunction with the 1857 collapse of the Middlesex Corporation, itself precipitated by Lawrence’s personal insolvency and the scandalous failure of his firm, Lawrence , Stone and Company.  In fact, records show that Rand purchased the house and its fourteen acres from Lawrence in 1850 at a greatly reduced price in conjunction with the construction of Rand’s adjoining  house.  Lawrence  was deeply committed to his new city downriver. Rand in turn sold the Lawrence house and remaining acreage at a substantial profit to Cyril Coburn, his initial client from eighteen years prior, but when Coburn defaulted on the mortgage, Rand was forced to foreclose and the ever-shrewd Ben Butler redeemed the mortgage for two-thirds its value and acquired for himself one of the most imposing houses of Lowell along with it’s twelve acre estate.  Butler would later acquire more of Lawrence’s properties to add to his own.

 

 

 

A6194 CN 02 - Appleton Bank Block Sketch [LHS}

Appleton Bank Block  1848 as rendered by Millard Davis in 1877 at the time of the Otis Merrill designed reconstruction. Courtesy of the Lowell Historical Society

Throughout the 1840s and 1850s, Rand was increasingly entrepreneurial, an incorporator of the Appleton Bank as well as the architect and part owner of the Appleton Block . He went on to incorporate the Prescott Bank on  Central Street and kept an office above the bank so it’s highly  likely that he was also the architect of the  picturesque Italian style bank.  He was also a director of the Traders and Mechanics Insurance company and other major design of this period include a reconstruction and expansion of the American House hotel on Central Street and the Lee Street Unitarian Church which survives today as the older portion of the  Saint Joseph’s the Worker Chapel.

Prescott Bank Building

Prescott Bank Block c. 1850

He also became increasingly involved in Democratic Party politics but appears to have maintained genuinely cordial relations with the Lowell’s Whig leaders and he was elected to the City Council in 1856 after several unsuccessful attempts. But when the Boston and Lowell Railroad built the new Merrimack Street depot and Huntington Hall in 1852, the job went to Edward C. Cabot, a rising young Boston architect who had won acclaim for his design for the Boston Athenaeum on Beacon Street. The depot construction was supervised by Samuel K. Hutchinson, the closest to a Lowell competitor for Rand. Largely supervising construction of other’s designs, Hutchinson would however be the acknowledged architect of the 1858 Tyler Block on the corner of Central and Market Streets. But Rand would play a significant role in the early fortunes of Huntington Hall when in October of 1856, during an overcrowded Democratic rally assembled to hear Rufus Choate speak, the floor of Huntington Hall terrifyingly settled once and then once again causing a panic and rush for the doors. Rand riskily investigated the underside of the floor as the grandiloquent Ben Butler reassured the agitated crowd. Subsequently both Rand and James B. Francis, the Locks & Canals engineer, were called to propose structural solutions. Rand’s solution cost about one-quarter of Francis’s plan and subsequently Rand and fellow members of Lands and Building Committee of the City Council went to lengths to reassure an apprehensive public.

Citizen 11-19-1856 Rand Certifies Hunt Hall

In 1856, Rand’s design for the new Myrtle Street School (Varnum School) was selected but its controversy dogged its construction. Charles Cowley, then a school committee member, criticized the design for inadequate blackboards and deplored the location of its belfry, but the real motivation for the contentious Cowley’s petty discontent was more likely the underlying conflict between the City Council and School Committee over the authority to design and build schools. Coolidge comments on the similarity of this school to the five other schoolhouses that preceded it as surprising but the explanation again may be a simple one. Rand was also the architect of the 1845 Branch Street schoolhouse and may well have been the architect of the nearly identical old Moody School of 1840 (demolished 1964.)  The conservatism of school design likely also resulted from the influence of Henry Barnard’s 1848 design manual, “School Architecture or Contributions to the Improvement of School Houses of the United States.”  which in 1849, the Massachusetts legislature distributed to every city and town.  Among the examples included was Lowell’s high school of 1837.

Barnard Lowell High

Lowell High School 1837 form Barnard’s “School Architecture

Jail

1856 was also the year Rand undertook his most noted but then controversial design in Lowell, the County Jail. As discussed previously, John Coolidge is dismissive of the design citing its “bulging heaviness” and “insensitivity.” This is in notable contrast to his unrestrained affection for the “charming” county courthouse of 1850. He deliberately contrasts the two buildings to the detriment of Rand’s jail.

Ammi Yound Court House

Lowell Court House 1850

Coolidge apparently was unaware that Ammi Young was the court house architect but Rand certainly would have known Young’s authorship and the quality and character of the design. He also would have been aware that his jail would sit opposite the court house across the new South Common.  In fact Middlesex County acquired both sites in 1847.  The future court house site was quite controversial.  Local attorneys derided the location on the outskirts of the young city and complained bitterly about the prospect of walking up Chapel Hill.   The discontent didn’t subside; when the court house opened in 1850 the local bar refused to organize a building dedication.  Rand made his own pitch for the design of he building with an unsolicited model in 1847 whose design was described as “Athenaeum Doric Temple” style demonstrating that Rand was up-to-date on current trends in Boston architecture.  He didn’t get the design.  As noted, that went to Ammi Young who had also designed an addition and renovation of the Bullfinch designed courthouse in East Cambridge.  Young also designed the Concord court house and a scheme to relocate the State House to Worcester.

When designing the jail, Rand must have deliberately chosen, not to mirror the delicate design of the courthouse, but chose a heavier more muscular counterpart as more appropriate for a jail. H.H. Richardson would do as much decades later in his design for the Alleghany County Court House and Jail where the contrast between the courthouse and attached jail is immediately obvious and deliberate. More significantly though, Rand was unquestionably influenced by Gridley Bryant’s 1851 Suffolk County Jail (Charles Street Jail) in Boston. Rand’s design shares with Bryant’s, not only the monolithic rusticated granite  but more pertinently the advanced humanitarian features of reformed prison design of the time including provisions for adequate light and air, beds and hospitals rooms and separation of male and female inmates. The Jail’s architectural grandeur  was grudgingly acknowledged as a new landmark but unfitting for prison which coddled its miscreant denizens..

Rand entered a model of the new Jail in competition in the Middlesex Mechanics Association Exhibition of September of 1857 but when the award winners were announced, Rand took umbrage with the characterization of his work by John Wright:
One of the few ornamental structure of our unadorned city; affording evidence of a very creditable amount of architectural skill in its constructions and arrangement, and furnishing a safe and commodious habitation for that large and increasing class, whose energies seem mainly and assiduously exercised in securing for themselves an abiding interest in such institutions; and affording moreover on the part of those who have sanctioned the erection of that costly and imposing edifice, an example of unwise, extravagant and unjust administration of public affairs; in giving to the abode of the criminal a magnificent outside appearance and imposing on the home of frugal industry, and even struggling poverty, burden and retrenchment that crime may be cooped in a palace.
The incensed architect took the extraordinary and rare step of responding in writing over his own signature in a letter published in several Lowell newspapers. He responded:
I did not enter the new jail on the doings of the commissioners or a premium; but simply a design, plans and model of the Jail, as an architect supposing that should the Judges find my design new and useful, they would award me a diploma which would benefit me in my profession; instead, however, my contribution to the exhibition, was made an excuse, seemingly, for censuring the commissioners, deeming this opportunity to good to be lost.

The impetus of the criticism, which Rand had alluded to, was an effort to discredit County Commissioner Leonard Huntress of Tewksbury, by among others, his political rival the Sherriff John Keyes (whose brother Joseph Keyes would serve as the new Jail Keeper.)   Huntress had overseen the project. The assertions of extravagance continued. The censorious Charles Cowley would carp  ten years later of the Senseless manner in which the county commissioners wasted the people’s money on this jail…
How legitimate was the charge of extravagance? A comparison of the county’s capital expenditures during this same time period suggests it was groundless. The County had spent $100,000 on the 1851 courthouse to little criticism (although the location was maligned.) The new court house in Cambridge cost the same and the Cambridge jail, with additions, cost $175,000. Overall the County’s debt was substantially reduced during this time. Further, the Lowell Jail was somewhat more than a third of the size of the contemporaneous Charles Street Jail in Boston (eighty-four beds versus two-hundred and twenty-four) so its $150,000 cost seems commensurate when measured against the $460,000 expense of the Boston jail.  Good old political rivalries, unease that the grandest building in the city should be a jail and a profound disapproval of the more humane features of the facility fueled the criticism and resentments. The residue of these criticisms may have colored Coolidge’s observation however subtly nearly a century later.

Ella Flemming School

This dismissal of his work as extravagant may have dogged Rand. Earlier in April of 1857, the Trustees of the Lowell Cemetery balked at the presumed cost of Rand’s design for a new stone gateway and the sum of these criticisms may have influenced Rand’s startling decision in May of 1858 to depart Lowell for Boston. The precipitous departure is more confounding because Rand was well entrenched in Lowell affairs. He was elected an alderman for 1858 and he was selected to design the schoolhouse in North Tewksbury (Ella Fleming School.) His name had also been circulated as a competitor to Fisher Hildreth’s reappointment to the remunerative postmaster sinecure but this may simply have been political mischief by Whig opponents. It seems unlikely that Rand would antagonize his political ally Ben Butler or his brother-in-law Fisher Hildreth. Ultimately what may have been the deciding factor was his selection as the architect for the Portland City Hall and Courthouse which would be the most important work of his career.  He may have calculated that it would be better to develop a growing architectural practice from Boston rather than Lowell.  He opened an office on Devonshire Street in Boston and eventually settled in Charlestown where he designed a school and numerous houses there and in the new Back Bay; he remained politically active petitioning for the annexation of Charlestown to Boston.

Family issues might also have influenced him; his father-in-law died in Roxbury shortly after the departure from Lowell. Rand too, like others, may also have suffered financial problems in the wake of the Panic of 1857 as well as the Samuel Lawrence financial scandal. His departure from Lowell was abrupt and included the sale of his celebrated house on Andover Street and the surrender of numerous mortgaged properties.  Yet upon his death in 1883, he returned to Lowell for burial in an unmarked grave in the Lowell Cemetery  but not forgotten As the Daily Courier noted of his death:
He… made the plans for the Lowell Jail. He also designed several of our best residences.

Portland City Hall JHRandPortland City Hall 1858

“…at the expense of of General Butler’s Quarry” and “…a peculiar protest.’

Clean Globe pic

Merrill & Cutler may have secured the City Hall contract but they may not be in full control of the design as Prentiss Webster says, “The Commission had ideas of its own in regard to the building…” and the Daily News could provocatively ask, “Who are the architects of the new city hall anyway? Some say Merrill & Cutler have the honor; others say the city hall commissioners have drawn the plans and that they, and they alone, are responsible for the abortion.” Fred Stickney may have been the real winner after all. His design and construction of Memorial Hall will proceed quietly except for one incident instigated by the Commission.
When plans for both buildings are ready to bid in January of 1890, there are several notable changes. The City Hall estimate is now $300,000 and the Memorial building has grown to $150,000 an increase of 50% for both. The city hall floor plan more closely represents a Clough design with an open courtyard and the Merrill’s plain hipped roof has now sprouted gables but perhaps most significantly both buildings are now to be built in granite. And there’s the matter of the bid form; contractors will be required to identify the granite companies so that the Commission may select their preference. That’s not how architects do these things.
Webster says that the unconventional bidding format will inspire competition among quarries. The most obvious competition is among the Commissioners themselves as some appear to favor Butler and his Cape Ann quarry and others appear to want to exclude his company. H.H. Richardson has made the “reddish and pink colored granites” from Milford Massachusetts fashionable; the Commission has selected the similar “reddish hue colored granite” from the White Mountain range. This would appear to eliminate General Butler’s Cape Ann quarry and its grey stone but it may also be an attempt to shut out the respected Norcross Brothers contracting firm with whom Commissioner Runels appears to have a business relationship. Norcross Brothers has an arrangement with alocal firm, Sweatt and Davis, to do stone cutting in Lowell and Runels has a finger in that firm.

Prior to the first bid, there was agitation from labor, local contractors and the press that the work for such large and lucrative contracts should go to local firms. But when bids were opened on February 10th all bids for City Hall, local and out-of-town, were substantially over the estimate, as much as $90,000 over. There’s no choice but to rebid.
Worth noting however, among those discarded bids is one curiosity. The second lowest “local” bidder is that firm called Sweatt and Davis. Covering all options, this company reportedly is a sub-contractor on Norcross Brothers’ bid to cut stone for the Worcester firm here in Lowell. But it’s not clear just who this firm actually is and where it may be located. There was a Simeon Sweatt, a local stone cutter, but he died in 1861. Nor is there a Nathaniel Davis in Lowell in 1890, although there was one who worked for George Runels many years before. An advertisement says the firm located on Thorndike Street, near the Jail, but there’s only stone concern in this area and it’s George Runels business. Sweatt and Davis’s address is a post office box in Lowell and there’s a mail drop at the Master Builders Association on Devonshire Street in Boston.  Any one might think it’s a paper company run by Charles Runnels, son of Commissioner George Runnels from the father’s stone yard. In subsequent bids in fact, the firm will be identified as “Sweatt Davis and George Runels.”

Sweat&amp;Davis 1890 Directory
When the second set of bids is opened in late February, Norcross Brothers is the apparent low bidder at just $14,000 over the estimate. This should be good news. Norcross Brothers is perhaps the most respected contracting firm of the day. They are Richardson’s preferred contractor their business and reputation growing with him from their first collaboration the Worcester High School of 1869 (incidentally considered the worst of his early work.) In fact it’s easily argued that the genius of his architecture owes as much to their skill and craftsmanship as much as to his design talents. But Norcross has failed to specify the source of their granite in the bid as required. This should be no surprise to anyone. Norcross owns their quarries. Their Milford quarry supplies the fashionable pink granite in such high demand and used in Richardson’s designs. They also quarry sandstone in Longmeadow and marble in Connecticut. But to everyone’s astonishment, they are disqualified. There’s some funny business going on though and it’s not just the mysterious trip by the City Messenger to Norcross Brothers in Worcester. Finally, on a motion by Commissioner Phillips, the contract is tentatively awarded to the second lowest bidder, Darling Brothers, also of Worcester. Per bid rules, Darling Brothers have identified several granite sources and the Commission also selects the Cape Ann Granite option. Phillips will later claim his first motion was to award to Norcross but it failed. Darling Brothers hadn’t offered Cape Ann stone in the first round of bids but they did this time for the second round and on good advice. Jaspar Darling will testify later in the law suit against the City:

“I had a conversation with Mr. Webster…Mr. Webster told me to see Col. French and get the best prices on Cape Ann Granite and said we would have a good show on this bid, as our estimate was the lowest on the first bid.”
The Commission, as secretive as ever refuses to release the bids to the public. But we do learn that Mayor Palmer and Commissioners Welch and Webster voted for Cape Ann option and Commissioners Howe and Phillips voted against it; Commissioner Francis abstained. Commissioner Runnels was out of town at his Florida house.
“Jobbery!” Claims the News and asks further “Must the taxpayers suffer at the expense of General Butler’s Granite Quarry?” Sentiment around town says if the work didn’t to go to a local firm, then it should have gone to Norcross Brothers. The recently formed Master Builders Association meets and fumes that their members have been deliberately excluded from bidding by the form of the bid process. If the Commission had bid the components rather that the buildings in their entirety, we hear repeatedly, the buildings could be built for the budget and local builders would have a better chance of winning work. And of course, bidding by trades increases the burden but also the control by the Commission. One contractor says, speaking clearly of Butler and Webster, that he has “nothing against old soldiers but there is a drummer boy on the commission and he drummed the members into line as he wished.”

Local contractors are demanding that Commissioner Runnels return to Lowell quickly. Commissioner Howe goes on record as opposed to the contract and claims that Runnels and Francis share the same opinion.
And then there’s the problem of The Darling Brothers themselves. They are brashly telling the Worcester papers that they’ll have the building up and roofed over by winter. Jaspar Darling has been bold enough to call on Norcross in Worcester to tell them to withdraw or else. Nobody has a good word to say for them. The Central Labor Council calls a meeting at Jackson Hall and all hell breaks loose. It’s reported that the Darling Brothers have threatened local labor unions not to interfere. Labor groups slam Darling Brother’s bad reputation and poor working conditions. They hire scabs. Even the bricklayers of Worcester, who know the Darlings well, have nothing good to say for them.
Lowell’s fractious bicameral City Council weighs in. The Common Council resolves for a committee to investigate the Commission. In a bit of political theater in the Board of Aldermen,  Alderman Fuller and Alderman Drury thunder against the Commission but then the Aldermen unanimously vote down the investigation idea. But when the Common Council refuses to approve any additional appropriation, the City Hall Commission has no choice but to throw out the bids along with the bids for the memorial building, even though a local contractor has come in under estimate for that work. Darling Brothers will follow through on their threat to sue the City but ultimately lose. Commissioner Prentiss Webster astonishingly, is the attorney defending the City in the suit.
For the third bid, a chastened but wiser Commission announces that it will give preference to local bidders and both projects will be bid in their entirety and in parts as the local contractors have demanded. Plans are modified again to bring bids in line with the appropriation and greatest change is the substitution of a low tower for the original tall one. But keeping all its options, the Commission includes an option for the high tower as well.

Short
Low tower, high tower quarry options, general bids and bids by trades, preparing bids might take as long as the actual construction. Significantly, contractors must again supply bids with different granite options and now the granite companies have the chance to bid directly on the stone work. This “inspiration” to competition seems to provide more chances for one firm to snag the prize. When bids are opened on June 18th, Norcross Brothers is once again the low bidder for the overall City Hall job yet again failing to specify its granite source, but because the combination of individual trade bids is lower,  Norcross Brothers is again pushed aside. Because the lion’s share of work will go to local contractors, there’s no controversy and perhaps least surprising, Cape Ann is the lowest bidder for the stone work.
John Murphy, low bidder for Memorial Hall in the last round and this one too, complains that he has made a mathematical error of $10,000 but the Commission will not allow a correction. He says he will honor the price error but when requested, he refuses to name his sub-contractors and so he is disqualified. Murphy held back because he had hoped to renegotiate with his subs to recoup some of the loss. Murphy is so angry that he threatens to write a letter to the Commission that will blow open the selection of Merrill as the City Hall architect but he doesn’t do it. Both jobs are awarded to multiple contracts by trades. Cape Ann hasn’t won all the stone work; Maine and New Hampshire Granite Company of Conway N.H. is the supplier of stone for the Memorial Hall. But to supply the desired reddish granite for City Hall, the Cape Ann Company will need to open its own quarry in Conway, N.H. and thus will begin a new round of controversy and delay.

“…a peculiar protest.”
But even before the extent of the granite problem reveals itself another quarrel breaks out, this time over the cornerstones. By early fall, the foundations have progressed sufficiently to allow the setting of cornerstones an important ritual in the 19th Century building; ceremonies are scheduled for October 11th. Mayor Palmer appoints a sub-committee of Commissioners Welch, Philips and Webster, all good Masons. But when the Catholic community discovers that the Masons have been invited to lay the stone in their typical grand ritual, vigorous protest errupts. Over 4600 individuals sign the petition which is read from the pulpit of every Catholic church in Lowell but one: St. Peter’s. No doubt because Fr. Rowan, the pastor, has his hands full with his plan to replace his current church with a new one;  to fund the new church, he has collaborated in a scheme with leading businessmen from Ward 4 to locate the new post office on the site of his current church at the corner of Gorham and Appleton Streets. The Saint Peter’s conflict is a conundrum for General Butler. The Catholic parishioners of are part of his Democratic constituency, but he has allied with corporate interests to block the scheme and grab the new post office for a site owned by the Massachusetts Corporation on Merrimack Street. (He fails and George Runels will pick up the site for his impressive new block.) Now the cornerstone protest can only further offend his Catholic supporters.
The Catholics ask why is a secret organization granted this honor? Why isn’t this ceremony a purely civic event? The organizers claim to be dumbfounded. No one has ever objected before, but this protest is reported sympathetically around the country despite local efforts to dismiss it. Coincidentally, the Pope will issue an Encyclical on October 15th of that year, “Ab Apostolic Solii Celsitudine” condemning the Masonic influence in the Italian government. The City Council refers the petition to a sub-committee, essentially burying it but a compromise of sorts is in the works. The Masons won’t set the Memorial Hall cornerstone. Instead it will be undertaken by the Grand Army of the Republic an organization that embraces both Catholic and Protestant veterans of the Civil War.
General Butler sends a telegraph to the City that unfortunately he has an engagement in the west and so cannot otherwise accept their kind offer that he make an oration.
“A peculiar protest” says the Vox Populi, but this protest explains the second half of the title of Webster’s memorial book: Webster is a Mason himself and he wants to discredit or diminish the significance of the protest. The “peculiar flurry of opposition…” Vox Populi reports “…had the effect to bring out a much larger number of that fraternity than would otherwise have appeared; and other people who resented this attempt to control the city-authorities made it a point to demonstrate their feelings in unmistakable ways.” “One of the grandest pageants in Lowell’s History” it crows. And it indeed must have been grand with six bands and a grand parade of thirty-eight carriages full of past and present Masonic Grand Masters.

Prentiss Webster, Mason himself, minimizes his fellow Democrats’ discomfort and give the grandiose ceremony detailed coverage in “The Story of the City Hall Commission: including the Exercises at the Laying of the Cornerstones.” But it falls to former Mayor Jerimiah Crowley in his remarks at the Memorial Hall stone setting to give perspective and find common ground: “…sometimes people, through mistaken zeal for the cause of liberty and religion will fan into life the dying embers of almost forgotten prejudices and for a moment they will burn with all the fierceness of the hated past…”
By early 1891, with the new construction season ahead, there’s a problem at the City Hall site. Memorial Hall construction is humming along, but City Hall is lagging and anyone paying attention can see that the stone is not arriving in sufficient quantity. Each month, less than half of the needed forty cars of stone arrive. Some months, it’s been as few as twelve carloads. In early February, Architect Merrill offers reassurance that the delays of the fall will not be repeated. The Cape Ann quarry in New Hampshire he explains had layers of defective stone that had to be quarried out to reach suitable material and now a second quarry has been opened and no bad stone has been found. But he’s been misinformed.
ON March 20th Colonel French,  himself of the Cape Ann Quarry, of the  is summoned to the City to explain the delay. When French meets with the Commission, members Howe, Runnels and Phillips are absent. Webster, Welch and new Mayor Fifield will need to sort out the mess. French tells the Commission that he cannot supply them with the necessary stone from New Hampshire and that they must finish with Cape Ann stone from Gloucester. But the Cape Ann stone is bluish in color, not red, and the basement level of the Hall has been completed in the redish Conway stone. One wit suggests that the solution is build the first floor in white marble and finish above with Cape Ann. In that way the City will have a patriotic monument in red, white and blue, but nobody’s laughing.
The local granite cutters say that there’s enough stone at North Conway to build ten city halls and that Cape Ann needs to honor the contract terms. A rumor claims that the real problem is that Cape Ann has another contract with a delay penalty of $100 a day – far more than the $25 daily penalty in the city’s contract. But it’s worse; both explanations are true. The quarry stone is inferior and Cape Ann is favoring another contract with higher penalties. Architect Merrill files his own protest with the Commission objecting to the stone substitution and disavowing for the bad effect that will occur. Webster mildly mocks Merrill for this.
The public is briefly distracted by a new controversy over the wording on the lintel stone of the memorial building. The Commission has voted that it will read “City Library.” In the face of protests by the Grand Army of the Republic and others the Commission will quickly backtrack and change the inscription to “Memorial Hall.’ And then on March 31st, James Francis abruptly resigns from the Commission. It’s not because of the Memorial Hall controversy as some suggest; he explains that he has a relative working for the Cape Ann company and he does not want to be appear to be taking actions that might favor the company and impugn his reputation. The relative is his son-in-law, Henry H. Bennett who has recently taken a job with the Cape Ann granite company. Perhaps it’s simply an innocent coincidence but for many years prior, Bennett was the postmaster at the Bay View station in Gloucester and you don’t get a job like postmaster in the General’s front yard without Butler’s support. Francis’s resignation must be the catalyst needed for the Commissioners to reject the substitute stone as Webster tells us they do, but what he omits to write is that the delays will continue for months until August, when Cape Ann is compelled to acquire the necessary stone from the neighboring New Hampshire and Maine company quarries, the suppliers to Memorial Hall. But even before the stone problem is solved, the Commission is faced with another decision but with a happier outcome, under the terms of the contract, if they want the high tower they must commit by June 30th so on May 19th they request and additional $30,000 from the City Council for the taller tower and the attic dormers.
Memorial Hall is completed and dedicated in April 1893, a full six months ahead of City Hall which is dedicated finally in October to general relief and celebration. Even the new Daily Sun can say:
“Grand, gorgeous, massive in proportions, perfect in details; such is our new city Hall.” (with nary a mention of grain elevators.)
There were two more flare-ups first over furniture and then when the Olmsted landscape architecture firm proposed moving the Winged Victory statue to the side of City Hall as part of its overall landscape plan.
It’s no wonder that battle weary Prentiss Webster feels the need to write that criticisms, were “printed on wood pulp,” [which will] “crumble to pieces within one quarter century, … the buildings … stand as the result of the work of the Commission and as an instructor to the children of the critics, when the critics …[are] no more.”

“…the first shall be last and the last first…” The Lowell City Hall Architectural Design Competition of 1889

 

Perspective City Hall - Copy

In 1878 Lowell’s City Hall, built in 1830, is patched up yet again for another ten years of service, but no one is particularly satisfied and there’s a sense that Lowell is falling behind.  It’s a matter of civic pride.  William Kitteridge the sash and blind maker says of the City Hall that it’s the “meanest on the continent for the number of inhabitants”[i] but there’s still no rush to replace it  as the coal dealer Josiah Peabody pragmatically notes “our pride may have outgrown the present building but our necessities have not.” [ii]

Still, when the opportunity arises in late 1879 to buy the “Burrows Lot,” from the Merrimack Corporation, the City seizes the chance.  This sale is no charitable gesture by the Corporation. Shrewdly they know a new city hall will substantially enhance the value of their neighboring real estate and the city has paid top dollar, $83,400, for the site. By one calculation it’s determined that the cost of the site will be over $146,000 [iii] when the ten-year sinking fund is retired. But there is never a question of any other location.  This is the symbolic heart of the City, made sacred by the Ladd & Whitney monument and ringed by the leading civic, industrial and religious institutions of the city.

But a new city hall will wait ten years until 1888, at the start of a new city government, headed by the reform mayor Charles Dana Palmer. Palmer is a Harvard educated corporation man from a prominent Boston family and married to Rowena Hildreth. [iv] The intervening years have been good ones; wages and capital have doubled[v] and the booming city is full of confidence and no longer afraid of debt.

Ordinarily a new city building would be the responsibility of the City Council’s joint committee for lands and buildings but Mayor Palmer wants a commission, a commission of impartial and civic-minded leaders who will transcend politics and personal gain, a commission dedicated to its noble cause and which will survive the annual changes in city government for what’s expected at most to be a three-year long enterprise.  It will take twice as long to complete it’s tasks.

Reformers love commissions which are presumed to be apolitical, efficient and free from partisan battles. For the likes of Charles Eliot,  President of Harvard, they are the preferred form of government and Palmer is a Harvard man. Democrats despise commissions.  For them they are elitist affronts to democracy.  So while the City Council passes the resolution in April, Palmer won’t announce his City Hall Commission until August 3.  He’s got a lot riding on this board because he wants to replace the Lands and Buildings with a public works commission; the City Hall Commission will be its stalking horse.

When the members are announced , the sententious weekly Vox Populi will effuse “It would have been difficult for Mayor Palmer to improve upon the commission he has appointed.”[vi] Only later will the Vox editorialize for members to resign.

But it does indeed seem to be “a commendable selection of gentlemen”[vii] of age and experience, one for each of the city’s six wards and headed by the mayor who will serve ex-officio.  The irreproachable, James B. Francis, Chief Engineer of the Locks and Canals corporation and world-renowned hydraulics expert, represents Belvidere; and there’s George Runels, the wealthy stone contractor, who returned to Lowell fifty years earlier from a whaling boat shipwreck and the south seas adventures to make his fortune as a stone contractor .  He built the Jail.  Equally experienced an influential is John F. Howe, the contractor and lumber dealer who, with his brother, seems to have built just about everything in town.  John F. Phillips, Agent for the Boston & Maine Railroad, who will tragically die by a fall from his window in the Merrimack House. John Welch the former senator for the Irish neighborhood the Acre and one of the two Democrats is on the Commission who will grouse loudly about his treatment by the Press.

Lastly, representing Centralville and the Secretary of the Commission is the enigmatic Prentiss Webster, the youngest of the group and Welch’s fellow Democrat. Webster is an attorney, the legal partner of the inimitable General Benjamin F. Butler and for good measure he’s also Butler’s nephew; In fact, he’s also Mayor Palmer’s nephew.  Both Palmer and Butler married daughters of  prominent Fisher Hildreth.   His grandfather was  Humphrey Webster, a cousin of Daniel Webster, and the carpenter for Town Hall. After graduating Lowell High School, Prentiss followed his attorney father to Germany where William Prentiss had been appointed a U.S. Consul.  Prentiss attended university in Germany and after his father’s death served for a brief time as an American consul as well.

Consensus among this olio of opinions, experience and interests may not prove easy and the Daily Courier is nearly prophetic when it notes, “There is no immediate pressure for a City Hall and the Commission can afford to ‘go slow.”[viii] The board will be mired in indecision and controversy, competing agendas, hobbled by questionable decisions and poor practices. The last, the decision to repeatedly meet in executive session with no press or public present, will  fuel endless speculation of scheming, conspiracy and  calculating secrecy decried as  “dark-lantern” tactics.  Suspicious types will later assert that the purported reformer Palmer’s intended all along to benefit General Butler’s Cape Ann Granite Quarry, the Boston & Maine Railroad and his friend, the architect Fred W. Stickney[ix].  What will become clearer is that Palmer is Stickney’s sometimes lone patron that Webster is looking after Butler’s interests closely and that the often absent George Runels, friend of architect Otis A. Merrill,  has his own agenda.

Almost as soon as it begins, the Commission’s work is expanded to accommodate a request for a hall to memorialize the City’s Civil War Veterans.  The initiative is a petition to the City Council from city notables headlined by General Butler. More that a petition, the demand includes  detailed specifications for a fine granite memorial that will incorporate the city library as well.

In February of 1889, the Commission announces that it will hold an architectural design competition with cash prizes for the top three winners.  Competitions like this are increasingly popular.  Rival city Cambridge held one the previous year for its City Hall and that contest may have  been Lowell’s inspiration, but competitions come in different formats; the Cambridge competition was a closed one, only five firms were invited to compete.  Lowell’s contest will be open and blind.  Coincidentally, just three months earlier a  similar, controversial State House additional architectural competition drew a letter of protest published in American Architect and Building News, signed by architects from across Massachusetts and beyond and including both of Lowell’s leading architects Frederick W. Stickney and Otis A. Merrill.  Among the architects’ grievances is that it’s not promised that the contest winner will also receive the contract.  Lowell’s contest will lack a similar guarantee.  Otis Merrill’s indignation over the State House contest terms will not carry-over to the Lowell exercise.

Sixty-seven architects express interest and twenty-three make anonymous submissions in a prescribed format to insure anonymity and allow comparison.   Webster’s writes in The Story of the City Hall Commission published the year after the dedications, that the Commission deliberates and narrows down the competitors to five,  eliminates two more and then does something surprising.  They reveal the three finalists for the final ranking, until now known only as “Three Rings,” ”Triangle” and “Utility.”  Astonishingly, the Commission members now know the identities of the three even as they choose the first, second and third place winners.  It takes four votes to select the first-prize winner with a four to two split and a single vote for the second prize winner, again split four to two.

When the winners are announced on April 2nd to the city’s delight, two of the three winners are Lowell architects.  Fred W. Stickney the popular, young  designer, has taken the first prize of $1200 for the most original design.  He’s also the only one who’s proposed solving the awkward building program with two separate structures: a city hall and a memorial building and library. (He may come to regret this later.)  Lowell’s favorite young architect has also beaten Arthur Vinal, the well-connected former City Architect of Boston who receives the second prize of $800.  Merrill & Cutler, Lowell’s other leading firm by default is third with a $500 prize for a competent design modeled after a well-known H.H. Richardson work.

First

 

In fact all three prize-winning designs are some variation of the currently popular Romanesque, a style of architecture which will abruptly fall from fashion in just three years in the wake of the Chicago Exposition of 1892 which ushers in a new classically inspired style.  Webster acknowledges as much when he states of the winners, “originality of design was not apparent…”

Second A - Copy

Vinal’s design is the same as much of his other work to date.  He readily appropriates fashionable architectural details and materials from Richardson, like just about everyone else. Stickney’s plan is  more original in composition. Merrill & Cutler’s design “Utility”, a motto particularly appropriate to his work,  is an obvious scaled down interpretation of Richardson’s masterpiece, the Allegheny County Courthouse.  For good or bad, Richardson’s work, has created models and fashions that the public expects for all types of structures particularly railroad stations, libraries court houses or city halls.

Third - Copy

There’s no guarantee that Stickney will get the actual commission, but he’s the first prize winner and isn’t that how these things work?  The local press carefully describes both Stickney and Merrill’s designs in minute detail. Vinal’s design is barely mentioned and not even illustrated.  Curiously though, at Stickney’s insistence, Mayor Palmer forbids Stickney’s perspective to be photographed for an engraving so an image of Merrill’s design is published first.[x] An image if Stickney’s winning design is published days after it’s description.  But with the praise, comes the first criticism of Stickney’s design and the competition.  An anonymous letter to the Daily Mail, signed only  “Artist” acidly comments that ‘if this is the best of the 23 submitted, the other 22 must indeed have been an inferior lot.”  “schoolboy work, ” [xi] the writer calls it and provocatively asks  why haven’t the actual designs been made public?  It’s a good question. The losing entries have been returned to their authors with no public viewing.  We don’t even know who competed but for one entry from the firm of Wait and Cutter, later  published in American Architect and Building News.

Prior to the competition it was expected that the building would be built of granite.  Quincy Granite as Councilman Sullivan suggested.[xii]  Butler’s Memorial Hall petition imagined a granite building as well. Several of the Commissioners want granite as well but likely for different reasons. But Stickney’s plan calls for brick buildings with red granite trim.  Merrill’s building  design is Ohio Sandstone with red granite from North Conway. They both have designed cautiously for the budget of $300,000. The cost difference between a brick or even sandstone structure and a granite one is substantial principally because granite is hard to quarry and to work with. Merrill has even told the Vox Populi that the budget didn’t allow granite.

Webster writes that “…none of the architects…could demonstrate the possibility of the erection of the buildings for $100,000 and $200,000.”  Surely this can’t be true because both Lowell architects have economized in their designs and how then could the Commission select winners at all if “possibility of erection of the buildings for the sums named…” was the first criterion of the competition? The budget question must be a red herring because the cost will grow to $450,000 under the Commission’s direction.  Something is missing in the winning design and it’s granite. When it becomes clear that Stickney is not the automatic winner, American Architect and Building News editorializes that this is “humiliating treatment”[xiii] to an architect of his standing.  He’ll need thick skin because a lot more is on the way.

Stickney will have a chance to fight for the bigger prize when he is invited to develop a revised plan under the supervision a sub-committee of Mayor Palmer and Commissioner Howe.   In another strange turn, the Commission also invites the Boston architect George A. Clough to also revise his plan but Clough hadn’t even entered a complete submission to the competition just a hurried floor plan.[xiv]  The historian Walter Muir Whitehill describes Clough as “a competent but not very talented practitioner.”[xv]  Clough is credited for adopting the German system of building large public buildings around interior courtyards for light and air.  He was also Boston’s first city architect in the 1870s. At the time of the City Hall competition, he’s the architect for the new Suffolk County Superior Courthouse in Pemberton Square which, coincidentally, is being built with Cape Ann granite. Clough is invited because Commissioner Howe, the old builder, it’s suspected, doesn’t think Stickney is experienced enough. “What will we do when all the old architects have died?”[xvi] another Commissioner mocks.

But unexpectedly, when the Commission meets to review Stickney and Clough’s new plans, there’s a third set. Someone has tipped off Otis Merrill who’s pushed his way to the table with his own revised plans. That someone is undoubtedly Merrill’s friend, George Runels.   Now with three architects in contention, the Commission will stalemate for two more months through seven meetings and forty-seven votes. Clough, it’s rumored, had three votes initially which included Welch and Howe and possibly Webster, but at some point he’s out of contention, voluntarily or  dropped perhaps because he was too stubborn for a board with strong opinion .  He’s paid $700 for his efforts and the next year he will be in a heated conflict with the Court House Commissioners and will announce, “I disown the building and will not be responsible for it.”[xvii] He will also sue the City of Boston for $20,000 in unpaid fees.[xviii]

The Commission may be meeting in executive sessions but rumors are spreading and in early July, the Republican-leaning Daily Mail claims that the “mouse in the meal”[xix] is partisan politics.  Commissioners Welch and Webster, both Democrats the  Mail claims, are delaying by voting doggedly for  Arthur Vinal, undoubtedly, a fellow Democrat and it’s allegedly their plan to continue to delay until there’s a new city administration, a Democratic one so they can give the job to a Democrat.  There are a few problems with this claim.  Vinal is a Republican and substitution of a Democratic Mayor for Palmer alone won’t provide a Democratic majority on the Commission.  Welch is incensed and demands that the Commission respond; he claims he supported Clough as long as Commissioner Howe supported him and then with Clough gone, switched to Vinal as the best man.  Mayor Palmer tells him to let it go, and the Commission votes down Welch’s proposal to open meetings to the press and public. Only Webster votes with him. The Commission is deadlocked: Welch and Webster supporting Vinal, Howe, Runels and Phillips voting for Merrill and only Palmer, and possibly Francis backing Stickney.  With growing public exasperation at the inaction, this can’t go on and a solution is finally brokered among the Republican members.  The contract will be split in two with Palmer joining the others to award the City Hall to Merrill and the Memorial building to Stickney.  Welch and Webster abstain.

A “log-rolling scheme”[i] says unapologetically Democratic  Daily News  cynically asking: “Is the City Hall to be built on the “good fellow plan?  Is it to be erected merely to fatten the pockets of a few pet architects?”[ii]  And in yet another surprise, the Commission, stung by criticism that the design competition was a folly, announces that the two architects have agreed to return their prize money.   Stickney refuses saying he knows nothing about any arrangement but Merrill acknowledges that he had agreed, suggesting  that he was deep in the deal.[iii]  The Daily News satirically sums it up: “The City Hall Commissioners believe that the first shall be last and the last first.  This is why the man who won the last prize was placed in the first and the man who received the first prize was pushed to the rear.”[iv] If selecting the architects was an ordeal, building City Hall will be a similar trial.

The Lowell Architects

Stickney and Merrill could not be more different in education, background, style or temperament.  They compete for public work,  but for their commercial and residential design work will come from very different sources.  They are both ambitious and competitive and both are descended from old Yankee families that trace their lineage back to the 1630s.  Merrill takes particular pride in his descent from a line of ministers and deacons and finds common ground with the newly affluent, self-made Yankee businessmen and small manufacturers of the Lowell Highlands, men like himself from the New Hampshire countryside. Stickney is the favored architect of Belvidere, the worldly community of inherited and corporate wealth.

Merrill comes to architecture self-taught from carpentry.  It’s a traditional path declining with the introduction of organized professional training. Stickney is among the first generation educated at MIT and he has trained in leading Boston firms before striking out on his own.   Practicality will define Merrill’s work throughout his career.  Stickney’s work will mirror popular architectural fashion but with originality and skill.

Merrill is a sober man, a decorated Civil War veteran nine years Stickney’s senior and a Deacon in the First Congregational Church. In many ways he’s more typical of Stickney’s father’s generation.  Fred is the Lowell-born son of a successful businessman.   Merrill  is acknowledged for his public piety. The Deacon, as he is often called, will design meeting houses not only for his own First Congregational Church but also the Highland Congregational Church and the Central Congregational in Chelmsford. Fred Stickney’s  family belongs to First Universalist Church a liberal denomination; they believe in universal salvation not predestination. It’s is also one of the most prestigious and perhaps wealthiest congregations counting Freeman Shedd among its members; Shedd will be an important patron for Stickney.

Deacon Merrill

Otis Merrill is born in Hudson N.H in 1844 the son of a carpenter and Deacon and the eldest of at least nine children but as a teenager he lives and works on the  farm of a neighboring widow.  Just before his 18th birthday in 1863, he enlists in the 7th New Hampshire Regiment, serves in multiple battles in the Carolinas, and is promoted first to a corporal and later sergeant; In one battle he  is injured but not too seriously and is decorated for bravery.  Like his religion, his military service will be a defining feature of his life and  career providing valuable business contacts and commissions.

He arrives in Lowell in 1868 to practice carpentry and study architecture after a three year apprenticeship in Haverhill.  In 1870 he and his first wife Jennie Moore move into their new home of Wannalancit Street where he will live for over thirty years. He’s doing well; it’s an enviable location. Wannalancit Street is a not wealthy Pawtucket Street, but close by.  After Jennie’s death in 1882, he marries Annie Smith, ten years his junior. When Annie dies prematurely in 1886, he marries in 1889 for a third time  to Annie Boynton.  He will have six children with his three wives.

By 1874 Merrill is confident enough to call himself an architect and he sets up shop in Stott’s Block on the Depot end of Middlesex Street. Important work is still going to Boston architects but he will learn from their examples.  George Meacham the designer of the Ladd & Whitney Monument, and best known as the architect of the Boston Public Garden, is the architect of the 1868 Green School. a building whichMerrill will cite the school some  twenty years later as still  the best public building in Lowell.[i]  Charles B. Atwood fresh from the Boston firm of Ware and Van Brunt, designs the 1873 Five Cent Savings Bank Block on Merrimack Street, a Venetian Palace in High Victorian Gothic done up in white marble. Years later, Atwood is called one of the “three or four best designers in the country” known not just for the Vanderbilt Cottage in Newport but also his work as Charles Burnham’s partner at the Chicago World’s Fair.

In 1878 Merrill is selected as  architect for  the  important Appleton National Bank Block and he  moves his offices to the better located Fisk Block on Central Street.  He now has a popular practice designing houses for Lowell’s business elite such as an 1879 house on Wilder Street for Asa C. Russell, the head of the Thorndike Manufacturing Company.  His work is safe and conservative.  Merrill is not an original designer and the best work from his office will be by his junior partners and other young architects.  But draftsmen and architects don’t stay for long and he will have four professional partnerships over his active career.

In 1878 Merrill enters into his first partnership with Charles C. Eaton; Eaton is an odd choice for a partner.  He’s just graduated from MIT, not the special architectural program but  with a full degree, but has no obvious experience, but he is the son of Samuel C. Eaton the beloved local popcorn dealer, a temperance leader and a fellow Deacon of the First Congregational Church.

It’s hard to imagine what contribution the young Eaton makes to the firm because he spends much of 1879 travelling in Europe with his new wife. His real interest is engineering and after patenting a switching device in 1880 that he sells to Bell, he leaves the firm and moves to Boston, settling in the fashionable Hotel Cluny. With his brother-in-law, he establishes a ‘temperance spa” serving medicinal waters such as Vichy and soft drinks, which becomes the  Boston institution, Thompson’s Spa. In his later years, he’ll be entangled in a scandalous, cross-continental divorce to the delight of the Boston and Los Angeles press.

Merrill forms a new partnership in 1882 with Arthur S. Cutler.  Cutler is a native of Andover and a talented draftsman who has been with Merrill since 1875.  He too is an active member of First Congregational Church and will serve as the superintendent of the Sunday School for years.  Some important works from this time include an 1882 laboratory building at Phillips Academy and The Old Ladies Home of 1882.  Not all their work is accomplished but the awkward Wilton Town Hall of 1884 may be the result of its difficult site.  Cutler’s own house on Niccolet Street showcases his talent and his 1894 Odd Fellows Hall is one of the finest works from the office.

The firm’s work is greatly enhanced  when the young Scottish architect, Alexander Hay joins the office in 1888 and his influence can be seen in the Armory and the Palmer Street firehouse and particularly the City Hall design. With its powerful, simple geometry, stripped of superfluous ornament it looks towards the modernism of the early 20th century.  This new confident design is evident in  the 1889 addition to the Central Block with it’s bold, modern gesture of a wide curving glass wall that faces up to Merrimack Street.. Hay is a young architect with ambitions; he submits his own entry to the 1889 competition for the Cathedral of Saint John the Devine in New York. He remains with Merrill and Cutler until 1893 when he relocates to New Orleans to become one of that city’s premiere architects.

“…an architect of taste and ability.”

Fred Stickney’s father Daniel arrives in Lowell in 1849 from Pelham, New Hampshire. First a clerk but in 1853 he joins Albert Wheeler as the junior partner in a West Indies goods and grocery firm on the corner of Merrimack and Tilden Streets. In 1862 he starts a new partnership in Centralville with his brother-in-law Frederick Spofford. Fred is the younger of two children; bright and talented, he passes the rigorous entrance exam and graduates Lowell High School in 1871.  In the fall of 1873 he enters MIT as a Special Student in Architecture, a five old program at the eight year old school and the first professional architectural training in the country.

Fred may have found his way to MIT thanks to a new 1870 state law that requires communities of over 10,000 inhabitants to offer courses in drawing for free to anyone over the age of fifteen.  Lowell offers the requires drawing in its evening school beginning in 1872.  The instructor is Channing Whittaker, a Civil War veteran and recent MIT engineering graduate.  It’s easy to imagine an ambitious Stickney in this class encouraged by Channing to study further.  The links between the Lowell classroom and MIT are strong; William E. Ware, an MIT instructor himself and partner in the firm of Van Brunt and Ware teaches the advanced architectural class in 1875 and Whittaker will later teach at MIT himself. Stickney will take over the Lowell evening program in 1880.

MIT in 1873 is the center of American architecture. Richardson’s Trinity Church is rising, fitfully across Boylston Street.  Fred distinguishes himself by winning one of the two class prizes awarded by the Boston Society of Architects and in 1875 he begins working in the Pemberton Square offices of Hartwell & Swasey. Some accounts say he studied with H.H. Richardson.  Richardson regularly brought young MIT draftsmen and students to his Brookline studio so it’s conceivable that a prize-winning student like Stickney was invited to work for a period  with Richardson.

Fred may be training with Hartwell’s Pemberton Square office but his focus is on Lowell.  The architectural historian James O’Gorman says that Richardson moved his practice from New York City to Boston to be closer to his Harvard college classmates who were the source of many of his commissions. Stickney has made a similar strategic choice to build his practice among his friends and acquaintances in Lowell.  With the  Vesper Boat Cllub and later with the founding of the Yorick Club the grocer’s son for Centralville and his Belvidere friends are  trying to create in Lowell a facsimile of the metropolitan world of the “club men” and  for Stickney this will be  a social network that will nurture his practice. His association with Freeman Shedd will provide important local work and his friendship with Julian Talbot also will result in numerous projects. Young and athletic, Fred is a regular champion in races and  Vesper regattas. He’s something of a hero himself when he and two fellow boaters rescue a boater who’d gone over the Pawtucket Falls.  He’s chummy with the Butler boys, Ben Israel and Paul and the Nesmith sons; more so  it seems there’s not a ball or party or society wedding that doesn’t include him.  In fact he designs an admired Tea housefor a Japanese themed ball in 1878.  The first known completed design by Stickney is, in fact, the 1879 Vesper Boat House a beautiful, compact Stick Style structure that  still ranks among his finest and most original works.  In 1879 he also designed  an exuberant Stick Style house for Elizabeth Burrows, the widow of Henry Burrows, former agent of the Merrimack Print Works.

When the firm of Hartwell & Swasey is dissolved in 1881, Hartwell forms a new partnership with George C. Richardson.  We don’t know whether Stickney was invited to join the new firm, but Richardson was from Lawrence and was Fred’s MIT classmate and the other BSA prize winner of 1875; this may not have sat well with  the competitive 28-year-old Stickney who boldly opens his own Boston office on Devonshire Street. He shares space another distinguished former Hartwell & Swasey employee, Ludvig Ipsen, a Danish-born architect who will gain greater fame as a book illustrator for Mark Twain.  Ipsen’s son Ernest is a renowned portrait artist and the painter of the portrait of Stickney that hangs in the Memorial Hall.   By 1883 Stickney is confident enough open a Lowell office and of course he opens it in the newly built Hildreth Building, designed by Van Brunt and Howe and the most prestigious address in the city.  A local newspaper account assures readers that it will be the best looking office in the building.” [i]

The 1880s, will be a productive and creative decade for Stickney and his work will be far reaching, incluidng houses for three of the most prominent men of Topeka, Kansas, Rosemary Hall in Water Mill New York and local commercial work including in 1884 a business block for Taylor and Cook and a new building for the Hoyt and Shedd firm. During this time he  develops a reputation for school design with the Butler School in 1881 and the Pawtucketville School in 1884. But he’s also working further afield  as seen in the 1887 Alice Keyes House in Cincinnati the grand resort hotel, the 1887 Senter House in Centre Harbor, New Hampshire, an  1889 a country house in Manchester, Vermont for Edward Isham, the Chicago law partner of Robert Lincoln.  The 1890 Eliot Hospital in Manchester, New Hampshire and the 1892 Woodstock Inn in Vermont.  Two of his best works from this period are the 1890 Kennebunk River Club and the 1891 Talbot Hall in North Billerica. In 1887 he designs his only known church, the First Baptist Church in North Tewksbury which faces James Rand’s school house of 1858. In1892 he beats out two competitors for the design of the Highland Club. When envious Belviderites across town propose a club of their own, they know where they want it. Stickney’s 1890 Lamson House on Nesmith Street.

Stickney’s office in these days always had at least four or five draftsmen, among them is George Mansur, a Lowell native, also the son of a grocer who significantly had worked for several years as a draftsman for George Clough on the Boston Courthouse.  In 1892 Stickney also enters into a partnership with his MIT classmate, William D. Austin. In that same year, Henry Greene, of the future California firm of Greene and Greene, will apprentice in Stickney’s office after completing the MIT program much as Stickney may have apprenticed in Richardson’s studio.

Law Enforcement Association

Meanwhile, Otis Merrill’s public life takes a consequential turn 1892 when the notorious Reverend Hugh Montgomery, of the Anti-Saloon League, takes the pulpit of the Central Methodist Episcopal Church and brings his war on whiskey to Lowell.

Abetting Montgomery is the Reverend George Kengott, another ardent reformer, newly installed at the First Congregational Church.  This war will have no more determined foot-soldier than Deacon Merrill.  If they can’t prohibit alcohol then by damned they will see the licensing law rigorously enforced and so the Law Enforcement Association begins its crusade to save Lowell from itself. These self-appointed guardians of the public welfare and morality will inspect, spy on and file complaints on license violators and will in turn become subjects of scorn and ridicule.

“I might almost say that some of these places,” thunders Merrill at a hearing, “ are just as much licensed by the authorities of our cities as though they had licenses of prostitution,” [ii]The increasingly blue-nosed Deacon will  complain about theater as well. When n 1893 the City investigates extending Dummer Street, Merrill wants to make sure that they take the neighboring Bijou Theater in the process to eliminate the “plays dangerous to our people … . the quiet of the Sabbath is disturbed.” Although with coy reticence he’d rather “say nothing about the character of the plays…[iii] he will eventually be sued in 1894 for false imprisonment.

Montgomery’s ally as Merrill’s church, the Reverend George Kengott, proves too disruptive for a good number of the members of the First Congregational Church and a substantial number, including Arthur Cutler, Merrill’s partner,  will call for his dismissal but Otis Merrill will lead Kengott’s defense and a bitter battle over control of the church and property.  With two partners on opposing sides their professional partnership is shattered.

Merrill will form a new firm with another young draftsman from Andover. The new firm of Merrill and Clark will last for only three years and Merrill will join with Perley F. Gilbert to form a yet another new firm, Merrill and Gilbert. After only a few years he retires from architecture to his third wife’s family farm in Pepperell, where they will raise their four children until his death in 1931.  Arthur Cutler will finally find stable work as a building inspector for the city but will die tragically of a stroke or heart attack while vacationing with his family in the summer of 1903

Fred Stickney will continue to practice architecture in Lowell until his death in 1918.  His cause of death will be listed as Bright’s Disease, the same as with H. H. Richardson. But in a burst of frankness on the eve of Prohibition, the secondary cause will be listed as “alcoholism.”  Merrill’s firm will continue-on as Gilbert Associates and Stickney’s legacy will be carried on in part by the work of his partner William Austin and in Lowell by Henry Rourke a former employee, competitor and partner.

[i] Lowell Morning Courier 5-23-1883

[ii] Lowell Morning Courier 4-29-1892

[iii] ibid

[i] Lowell Vox Populi 2-4-1888

[i] Lowell Daily News 7-11-1889

[ii] ibid

[iii] Lowell Daily News 7-19-1889

[iv] Lowell Daily News 7-24-1889

[i] Lowell Daily Citizen 10-27-1879

[ii] ibid

[iii] ibid

[iv] Eliot Samuel Atkins; “Biographical History of Massachusetts:1916

[v] Lowell Morning Courier 10-19-1892

[vi] Lowell Vox Populi 8-4-1888

[vii] Lowell Morning Courier 8-17-1888

[viii] ibid

[ix] Lowell Daily News 3-7-1890

[x] Lowell Vox Populi 4-6-1889

[xi] Lowell Daily Mail 4-8-1889

[xii] Lowell Morning Courier 2-14-1888

[xiii] American Architect and Building News 4-20-1889

[xiv] Lowell Vox Populi 6-29-1889

[xv] Walter Muir Whitehill. The Making of an Architectural Masterpiece: The Boston Public Library. American Art Journal, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Autumn, 1970)

[xvi] Lowell Daily Mail 7-10-1889

[xvii] Boston Globe 9-22-1890

[xviii] Boston Globe 1-12-1894

[xix] Lowell Daily Mail 7-10-1889

[xx] Lowell Daily News 7-11-1889

Building Blocks

Building Blocks is a collection of writing on architecture, history, conservation and planning topics that catch my interest.  I have a particular interest in the history and architecture of my hometown Lowell so it will be over-represented but this collection will also be far-reaching and, one hopes, interesting and fun reads.