Jonas Chickering (1798-1853) was born in New Hampshire and eventually moved to Boston to work as a cabinet-maker. In 1823, Chickering formed a partnership with piano maker James Stewart and they began production of high-quality pianos. The partnership dissolved and Jonas partnered with wealthy shipbuilder and merchant John Mackay, using his factory for piano and organ production. John Mackay was lost at sea in 1841, and Chickering mortgaged the factory and bought out the Mackay’s shares, taking full ownership of the operation. In 1852, the factory burned, and was a complete loss. Undeterred, Chickering rebuilt, but in the rapidly developing South End neighborhood of Boston, hiring Edwin Payson to design a massive new steam-powered factory of fireproof construction. Jonas Chickering died before he could see the completion of his new factory, which opened in 1853 to great fanfare. The Italianate style building was bustling with over 400 employees when Chickering & Co. was the largest piano manufacturer in the United States in the middle of the 19th century, but was later surpassed in the 1860s by Steinway. From 1860-1868 space in the building was the location of the Spencer Repeating Rifle Company, who made over 100,000 rifles for the U.S. Army around the time of the Civil War. The Chickering and Sons Company moved out of the building by 1928 and the structure was occupied until 1973-4; when the building was rehabilitated by Brunner/Cott and Associates and subdivided into apartments and work and exhibit spaces for musicians, artists, and craftsmen, making this one of the earliest examples of adaptive reuse of an industrial building in Boston.
This two-and-a-half-story building sits on Main Street in the small town of Denmark, Maine, and has contributed to the town’s cultural life since it was built in 1884. The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) is a non-political and non-sectarian international fraternal group that promotes the ethic of reciprocity and charity. It was founded in 1819 by Thomas Wildey in Baltimore, Maryland, evolving from the Order of Odd Fellows founded in England during the 1700s. New buildings sprouted up all over the United States in the 19th century, in cities as large as New York City and towns as small as Denmark. This IOOF Hall is Italianate in style, with brackets at the cornice and hoods and round arched windows in the gable end; it also shows some Greek Revival details with corner pilasters and the pediment. When Raymond Hale, the last member of the IOOF Lodge passed away, the town purchased the old Odd Fellows Hall. The city could not maintain the property and had no good use for it. Residents in town voted in 1991 to sell the building rather than demolish it. Local residents bid on and won the building with the aim to convert it to a local arts center. In August 1994 the owners signed over the deed of the Odd Fellows Hall to the Denmark Arts Center, a non profit organization. From that time until present, the old building, now the Denmark Arts Center, has again served as a community focal point, providing cultural activities for the people of Denmark and surrounding towns.
There is something so charming about old stable buildings in Boston! This stable (like the Garcelon-Sears Stable of the last post) is located on Byron Street in Beacon Hill Flat. This stable building is older, and originally was two stories, similar to the others on the street. The stable was constructed in the mid-1860s for Margaret Barker Sigourney, a wealthy widow who lived nearby in Back Bay. After other owners, by 1922, a coachman named James F. Burke owned and lived in the stable. The painted sign on the lintel over the vehicle door reading “Burke’s Hack & Livery Stable” apparently remains from this period. Burke also added the mansard roof at this time, evident from historic maps. The stable was eventually converted to a single-family home. Could you live in an old stable?
Located in what historian Samuel Eliot Morison dubbed the “horsey end of town”, this stable in the Flat of Beacon Hill is built on 19th century-made land along the Charles River. The sub-area of Beacon Hill is best-known for the prevalence of old stables and carriage houses, converted to residential use. This stable dates to around 1860, when many of the Boston Brahmins of Beacon Hill either built their own private stables or rented space in a livery stable. By 1870, Alsom Garcelon was listed in city directories as a stablekeeper here, and he managed a number of others in the vicinity. After Garcelon’s death, the stable was owned by the wealthy Sears Family, who boarded some of their horses here. By the 1920s, the building was converted to a clubhouse, known as the Byron Street House. The clubhouse was largely rebuilt by architects Putnam & Cox, who also re-designed the interior space to a more social atmosphere. The former stable was later occupied as the Bishop-Lee School of Theater, run by Paul and Emily (Perry) Bishop. By 1970, it was converted again, but to a single-family home, which it remains to this day.
I have gotten a lot of requests recently to feature an old New England mill town, and I wanted to highlight a lesser-known one, so here is Millbury, Massachusetts! This gorgeous mill building was constructed between 1879-1919, impacted by over forty years of growth and design. The Lapham Woolen Mill is the largest and most intact 19th century industrial building in Millbury and sits in the middle of Bramanville, an industrial village in the town, off Singletary Brook, a branch of the Blackstone River. The Lapham Woolen Mill was built on the location of the former Burbank paper mills, which were in operation in Bramanville between 1775-1836. The Lapham Woolen Mill was started in the mid-1870s by Mowry A. Lapham, who oversaw the company’s growth after the Civil War, manufacturing clothing and other woolen goods. After Mowry’s death, the company’s pollution into the brook got the best of them and they disbanded, selling it. The mill was then purchased by Josiah and Edward Mayo, and their business partner Thomas Curtis. The group renamed the existing business the Mayo Woolen Company. The complex was occupied by Steelcraft Inc., a manufacturer of medical supplies, until recently. The building’s future was threatened until 2020, when a proposal to restore the old mill, and add new housing on the site was proposed. Fingers and toes are crossed to see this gorgeous building restored!
The first ready-to-use axes produced in the United States came from the Connecticut-based Collins Company, which was founded in the early 1800s. Prior to the firm’s establishment, consumers either purchased unground axes imported from Europe or looked to a local blacksmith who, along with his other activities, might also make axe heads. The Collins Company factory opened in 1826 by Samuel W. and David C. Collins, with the purchase of an old gristmill and a few acres of land along the Farmington River in Canton. As the company grew, the village of South Canton grew around it, and was later renamed Collinsville after the company (imagine if we had Starbuckstown or Walmartville!) In the 1840s, the company expanded and sold internationally with their machete; it sold more than 150 varieties of machetes in 35 countries, supplying 80% of the world’s machetes at that time. In the 1860s, the company built several dams along the Farmington River to produce hydroelectric power to run its factory. It saw steady growth during World Wars I and II. However, after the Flood of 1955 wiped out the railroad line, the company could not match the foreign competition. Portions of the business were sold to the Stanley Works in New Britain and to other firms. In 1966, the Collins Company closed after 140 years in business. Some of the old buildings along the river have since been demolished, others left vacant. Some have been repurposed into other uses, thankfully.
Located on sleepy Main Street in Lancaster, Massachusetts, this cute mini-mansard building caught my eye immediately, and I had to take a picture! The building was constructed in 1836 for the Lancaster National Bank. The brick building was just one story with storefront windows and a central entrance, and was the only bank in the small town. When the neighboring town of Clinton saw a large increase in population due to industrial growth, the Lancaster National Bank decided to relocate to be closer to a larger clientele. They sold this building to the Town of Lancaster in 1882 and moved out. Within a year, the town added the mansard roof to the building, being careful to preserve the original cornice (now where the brick meets the roof), and converted the building to a fire station with double doors. The Central Fire Station was in operation here until 1967 when a new building was built nearby, with doors large enough to easily house modern engines. The building was then used as storage and offices for the Lancaster Water Department. Sadly, the replacement fire station doors really diminish the appeal of the building.
One of the most recognizable buildings in Salem (especially in the month of October) is the former East Church, now occupied by the Salem Witch Museum. The former East Church was constructed between 1844 and 1846 for the oldest branch of the First Church of Salem, which originally organized in 1718. The stunning Gothic Revival church has been credited to architect Minard Lafever (1798-1854), a prominent New York architect known for his Gothic, Greek and other Exotic Revival style buildings, including the First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn designed at the same time as the East Church in Salem and strikingly similar in design. The church suffered from a massive fire in the early 20th century and the church eventually moved out in the 1950s. Before this, the church truncated the two castellated towers likely as a cost-saving measure as opposed to restoring them. The building was occupied by the Salem Auto Museum until another fire in 1969. In 1972, the Salem Witch Museum moved in and completely updated the interior (not much was original after the two fires). The museum is a huge draw in the month of October, for obvious reasons!
In 1823, the Newmarket Manufacturing Company built its first mill along the Lamprey River, dominating the waterfront and the economy of Newmarket, New Hampshire. Harnessing water power at the base of the falls, the cotton textile manufacturing community grew to include seven textile mills, with factory buildings, a machine shop, office, storage buildings, and corporate boarding houses; totaling some 140 buildings in all. During its peak production, 700 employees made up to 300,000 yards of cotton products each week, and 2.7 million yards of silk cloth each year. The mills operated continuously at this site until 1929 when a dispute between mill owners and workers erupted leading to their closure. Between 2010 and 2012, eight large mill buildings within the Newmarket Manufacturing Company property underwent a conversion to mixed use, including residential, retail, and office units, thanks to Historic Preservation Tax Credits, and many professionals who worked together with the vision to see such a large project through. Today, the complex is a excellent case-study on the power of adaptive reuse and historic preservation.
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.