Mechanics Hall, Worcester, Mass

Mechanics Hall on Main Street in Worcester, around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

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The building in 2016:

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Mechanics Hall is a concert hall and a prominent landmark in Worcester. It was built in 1857 by the city’s Mechanics Association, with prominent local architect Elbridge Boyden designing the Italianate structure. With a seating capacity of nearly 2,000, it was by far the largest public hall in the city during the second half of the 19th century, and it attracted many prominent speakers and performers.

In 1868, Mechanics Hall was a stop on Charles Dickens’s tour of the United States. He had previously visited Worcester in 1842, when he was still a young writer, but when he returned to America for his 1867-1868 tour he was an international celebrity. His tour featured sell-out crowds in venues across the northeast, and when he visited Boston there were even people who out overnight on the sidewalk to buy tickets. Here in Worcester, he probably had a similar reception, and in his March 23 performance at Mechanics Hall his audience heard him read A Christmas Carol and part of The Pickwick Papers.

Over the years, the concert hall has seen many other notable performers. It fell into decline in the mid-20th century, though, and was threatened with the possibility of demolition. All of the surrounding buildings from the first photo have since disappeared, but Mechanics Hall has survived. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, and later in the decade it was restored to its former appearance. Today, the third-floor hall remains in use for a variety of events, including, appropriately enough, a 2012 reading of A Christmas Carol by Gerald Dickens, the great-great-grandson of Charles Dickens.

Main Street, Worcester, Mass

Looking north along Main Street from just south of Pleasant Street, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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Taken just across Main Street from the previous post, this scene shows the buildings along the east side of Main Street, many of which are still standing some 110 years after the first photo was taken. Most prominent in this view is Harrington Corner, the four-story commercial block on the right side at the corner of Front Street. This Italianate brick building was designed by local architect Elbridge Boyden and completed in 1850, several years before his more famous Mechanics Hall was built a few locks away in the distance. When the first photo was taken, it had several businesses in the ground-level storefronts, including D.H. Eames Men’s & Boys’ Clothing, and Bemis & Co. Fine Shoes. The upper floors had professional offices, with signs showing offices for a stock broker, architect, and even Whittemore’s Dancing Academy on the top floor. Today, the building is somewhat altered, but is still standing as a prominent historic landmark in downtown Worcester.

Beyond Harrington Corner on the right side of the street, starting closest to the foreground in the first photo, is the Piper Block, the Richmond Block, and the Clark Block, all of which were built in the 1850s. Today, these buildings are still standing, but they were heavily altered in the second half of the 20th century with drastically different Main Street facades, leaving only the two upper floors of part of the Clark Block still recognizable from the first photo. Even further in the distance on the right side are several other historic buildings, including the 1871 Grout’s Block and the 1857 Mechanics Hall. The left side of the photo has seen more changes, but a few buildings are still standing, including the 1869 Rogers Building, in the foreground at the corner of Pleasant Street, and the 1897 State Mutual Building further in the distance.

Cathedral of Saint Paul, Worcester, Mass

The Cathedral of Saint Paul, on Chatham Street in Worcester, around 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2016:

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Although now a cathedral, when the first photo was taken this building was still a Roman Catholic parish church. The first services had been held in the church in 1869, while it was still under construction. It was completed in 1874, with prominent Worcester architect Elbridge Boyden as its designer. Boyden had previously designed Worcester’s landmark Mechanics Hall, although its Italianate architecture is very different from the Gothic Revival style of this church. The only major change to the exterior of the church was the addition of the tower on the right side of the building, which was built in 1889 based on Boyden’s original designs.

Very little has changed in this view since the first photo was taken, although the role of the church has changed somewhat. In 1950, it became a cathedral, and since then it has been the mother church of the Diocese of Worcester. Because of its historical and architectural significance, it is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.