I do love a good adaptive reuse story! This Marion, Massachusetts church building was constructed in 1830 for the town’s growing Universalist congregation. Architect Seth Eaton was hired and furnished plans, likely relying on neighbor, Warren Blankinship, a carpenter and congregant, to construct the building. It blends together the Greek and Gothic Revival styles well, but in a less sophisticated form. By the mid 20th century, membership of the church dwindled, and it finally shuttered its doors. With the building’s future uncertain, at a time where demolition for surface parking lots was the go-to solution, Marion residents Andrew and Dorothy Patterson, purchased the building and soon after worked with local artists in town to restore the building for use as an art space. The Marion Art Center was thus founded in 1957, and to this day, serves as a non-profit community cultural organization dedicated to promoting the visual and performing arts.
Just a stone’s throw away from the Marion Town Hall and Elizabeth Taber Library (yes, pun intended), this beautiful 200 year old stone building oozes charm. The building was constructed around 1820 as a salt works storage facility, and is an extremely rare surviving storage facility associated with the early 19th century salt industry. While many storage facilities we know today are void of architecture and soul, this building looks like it was plucked from the French countryside. The salt industry in Massachusetts began on Cape Cod during the Revolution. Salt was a vital necessity for the preservation and curing of fish and meat for sale in this country and overseas. According to local lore, the Old Stone Studio was originally “a place for the conversion of sea water into salt.” Around the Civil War, the building was being used as a whale oil refinery, a fitting use for a fireproof structure. It had fallen into disrepair by the 1880s, until New York magazine editor Richard Watson Gilder bought and restored it as a studio for his wife, artist Helena de Kay Gilder. Gilder renovated the building in the early 1880s as the town of Marion was becoming a vibrant summer colony. He added a massive stone fireplace and new windows to flood the interior with natural light. The towering fireplace, with its 9-foot long mantle, was apparently designed by leading 19th-century American architect and Gilder’s friend Stanford White of McKim, Mead & White. The fireplace provided a stunning backdrop for guests, including President Grover Cleveland and First Lady Frances Folsom Cleveland, who summered in town. Ms. Gilder even painted the First Lady in the studio, and hosted her on occasions.
The District 13 Police Station was built in 1873 in response to the needs of a growing community. Located in what is now Jamaica Plain, it was originally intended to serve the town of West Roxbury, which was itself annexed into Boston within the year it took to construct this building! The town of West Roxbury appropriated funds for a larger police station in the dense core of their town, but only acquired land in Sumner Hill, which was a rapidly developing neighborhood with large, upper-class mansions on large lots. To appease the neighbors, the town hired architect George Ropes to design this brick Victorian Gothic building with slate roof, punctured by a number of dormers. The building is one of the best-designed civic buildings in the present city of Boston and appears much as it would have when built 150 years ago. After West Roxbury was annexed, the City of Boston constructed an addition at the rear, designed in 1892 by Edmund M. Wheelwright, architect for the City of Boston, to serve as a municipal court building. The ornate building continued its use as a police station until the early 1980s until it was deaccessioned by the City of Boston and sold, subsequently converted to condominiums. I wonder if they kept the jail cells!
Located across the street from the soon-to-be-demolished Draper Factory in Hopedale, MA., the company’s former office building stands as an excellent example of how adaptive reuse of old buildings can meet current needs of a town, while preserving the past. In 1910, the Draper’s hired architect Robert A. Cooke, a local architect who had previously designed many workers’ housing projects for the company nearby. The new office building replaced an older 1880 building which held a staff of 6 men, the new building would have a staff of 90! With the unfathomable success of the Draper Corporation, the new office building, resembles a school building for a large town, showing how rich the company had become. The renaissance revival building was abandoned around the time Draper closed in 1980, but this building was adaptively reused as a senior living facility in the 1990s, saving this piece of local history!
In 1886, Hopedale, Massachusetts separated from Milford, almost entirely due to the young, and successful Draper Corporation growing in The Dale village of town. When George and Eben Draper succeeded in creating their own town of Hopedale, with their factory at the center, it gave the Draper brothers almost complete control over the development of a 3,547 -acre community. In the ensuing decades the factory village of Hopedale became a “model” company town. The Draper Corporation controlled every aspect of the town and worker life in a paternalistic program that extended beyond social structure to include architecture and urban planning of the village, with the company developing hundreds of homes for workers, a town hall, library, churches, schools, and recreational facilities, generating an entire town centered around the industrial giant. Draper Corporation originally made doors, window sashes and blinds and ran a printing office, but they discovered early on that their most profitable business was making textile machinery. By 1892, with the advent of the Northrop Loom, Draper became the largest producer of textile machinery in the country! Due to their success at the end of the 19th century, much of the complex was built and rebuilt in fire-proof brick factory buildings with large windows to allow light and air into the facilities. Draper’s dominant position within the textile machine manufacturing industry began to erode shortly after World War II, and the company began to sell its company houses to their occupants as private homes in 1956. During the 1960s American textile machinery makers such as Draper lost their technological leadership to foreign manufacturers due to cheap labor, and the general American textile industry collapsed. The plant eventually closed in 1980, and has sat vacant until the bulldozers came this year. The site is undergoing a full demolition, which is striping this town of its historic heart. It is truly sad to see.
Driving through the quaint village of Wilmot Center in New Hampshire, I had to pull over to snap a photo of this little library building. When I got home, I learned that the building was constructed in 1854 not as a library, but as a schoolhouse! The vernacular Greek Revival school served as one of many district schoolhouses in the region, dispersed around small towns to be within walking distance of the sparsely developed parts of the state. With population growth in the 20th century and the proliferation of the personal automobile, these small regional schools became obsolete. Many of these buildings were converted to other civic uses or as personal residences, but most were demolished. The Wilmot Public Library located in the former schoolhouse in 1972 and is now connected to the town offices next door.
The Curtis School for Boys was founded in 1875 in Bethlehem, Connecticut by Frederick S. Curtis as a private school for young men aged 9-13. Curtis moved the school to Brookfield Center in 1883 and began constructing a campus. Buildings for the 30 pupils and five instructors included a dormitory, President’s residence, schoolhouse, caretaker’s cottage, and gymnasium on 50 acres. The school never expanded beyond a few dozen students, likely under Frederick Curtis’ supervision. The school closed in 1943, at the onset of America’s involvement in WWII, and it never re-opened. The campus sat in the village center for over a decade, with many of the buildings falling to the wrecking ball for safety reasons. Possibly the only building remaining is the 1907 gymnasium, constructed of rubblestone. The building was purchased by the Brookfield Country Players in 1959 and remodeled as a community theater. The theater group was founded two years prior, and it required its own theater space after a school complained about an actor appearing on stage without a shirt, the horror! The group remains a regional institution in the arts and is a great caretaker of their historic Arts and Crafts style building.
Completed in 1858 from designs by architect Ammi B. Young, the Bristol Customs House and Post Office is a two-story rectangular Italianate style building, that stands out as an uncommon building of the style in town. Ammi B. Young was the first Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury Department. As federal architect, he was responsible for designing many custom houses, post offices, courthouses and hospitals across the United States. He was a master of the Greek Revival style so it is interesting to see how he diverged from his trusted style in a town so populated by homes and buildings in the style. The design is more subdued compared to other Customs Houses he designed around the time, likely a response to the declining economy in town from whaling and shipping. The building was occupied as a customs house and post office until 1962, when it was abandoned. The adjacent YMCA purchased the building soon after, connecting it via a small addition and occupying it as additional programming space until 1990. The building was restored and is now home to the Bristol Oyster Bar.
Located on the Bristol Town Green, facing the main commercial area and harbor, the old Bristol County Courthouse is a well-preserved example of a building for civic use in town, at the height of its growth. It is believed that the courthouse is the work of architect Russell Warren, who lived in a home he designed just blocks away. This Federal-style stone building is faced with brick and subsequently stuccoed, giving it the unique composition it has today. The focus of the symmetrical facade is the large central arched window with granite quoins, and Y-tracery that echos Gothic design. As part of the 1836 state Bicentennial, the stucco facing was added over the original brick facing, and the exterior was painted a Gothic Revival sand color with darker trim, replicated in a 1976 restoration. From 1819, the courthouse served as one of the five state houses used in rotation by the Rhode Island General Assembly (in 1854, the General Assembly decided to meet only in Providence or Newport). In 1853, it reverted to courthouse use, a function which ceased in the early 1980s. The Bristol County Sheriff maintained offices there until 1997, when the building was purchased from the state for $1 by the Bristol Statehouse Foundation. The nonprofit foundation has worked to restore and maintain the building. Today, the building is used for education, community programs, meetings, and events.
On September 15, 1847, a ship carrying 66 men and women and children docked at Long Wharf in Boston. This group of ex-slaves, led by Rev. Peter Randolph, emancipated by their former slave master Carter H. Edlow from the Brandon Plantation in Prince Georges County, Virginia. Members of the Boston Anti-Slavery Society, led by William Lloyd Garrison met the newcomers and made them welcome by securing lodging and work for self-support. The group settled in the South End on Ottaway Court not far from the Holy Cross Cathedral. The group first joined the Twelfth Baptist Church of Boston before establishing their own congregation. They eventually occupied this church in 1887, the building was designed by architect Nathaniel Bradlee in 1860, which was built for what was then the Third Presbyterian Church of Boston. The church has remained here for nearly 150 years, seeing the rapid change in the neighborhood. The church building accommodated meetings including the Professional Black Women’s Business Club, which bolstered Black women in business, many members owned stores in the South End. Many members left the area amid growing gentrification in the 1980s and 1990s, and from that, the aging population remaining made keeping the doors open difficult. Sadly, the church relocated out of the building in 2020 and appears to have sold the building, leaving its future uncertain.