City Hall Plaza, Worcester, Mass

Looking north along Main Street from in front of City Hall at the corner of Franklin Street, around 1910-1920 and 2016. Historic image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The scene in 2016:

Despite being right in the heart of downtown Worcester, very little has changed in this scene over the past century. The first view shows the plaza in front of the then recently-completed City Hall. In the distance, commercial blocks from the 19th and early 20th centuries line Main Street, including the imposing Slater Building in the center, which had opened in 1907. It nearly matched the somewhat older State Mutual Building, which is visible further in the distance flying an American flag. Some of the businesses in the first photo included the Riker-Jaynes drugstore, in the distance on the right, which advertised itself as “The Largest Drug and Medicine House in the World.” On the left side of the photo was the John C. MacInnes Company, “The Popular Dry Goods Store,” which sold “Smart Clothes for Men, Women, Boys and Girls” along with rugs, draperies, and other goods.

Today, the buildings on the left are gone, having since been replaced by Worcester Plaza, the glass skyscraper that is partially visible at the edge of the photo. However, most of the other historic buildings are still standing, including City Hall, the Slater Building, and the State Mutual Building. Along with these, other older buildings include the 1869 Rogers Block at the corner of Pleasant Street, and the 1850 Harrington Corner Building, where the Riker-Jaynes drugstore was once located. The only major addition to this scene, aside from Worcester Plaza, is the 1971 Guaranty Building, seen in the distant center between the Slater and State Mutual Buildings.

Union Congregational Church, Worcester, Mass

The Union Congregational Church, at the corner of Chestnut and Pearl Streets in Worcester, around 1906 and 2016. Historic image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The church in 2016:

This church building was completed in 1897, in a Gothic Revival style that bears some resemblance to a scaled-down version of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. It was originally home to the Union Congregational Church, which had been established in 1835 and had several different locations around the city before coming here at the end of the 19th century. Following a merger in 1936, the church became the Chestnut Street Congregational Church, and since then it has gone through several other owners. Currently, it is owned by the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, who began holding worship services here in early 2016.

Over the years, the building has seen few major changes. The spire, seen in the center of the first photo, was removed in 1954, and since then the tops of the two towers have also been removed. Otherwise, it remains well-preserved as an excellent example of late 19th century Gothic architecture, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Union Station, Worcester, Mass

The Union Station in Worcester, around 1911-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


Union Station in 2016:

Although Worcester’s Union Station looks largely the same now as it did over a century ago, the building has undergone dramatic changes in between. It was built in 1911, when the railroad tracks through downtown Worcester were raised above street level, requiring the replacement of the original 1875 Union Station, located just east of here. Although owned by the New York Central Railroad through their Boston & Albany subsidiary, the station served all of the railroads in Worcester, including the Providence & Worcester and the Boston & Maine. This new building was designed by the firm of Watson & Huckel, and its Beaux Arts architecture was very different from the Romanesque style of its predecessor, reflecting a major shift in architectural tastes from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries.

Although the twin towers of the building were its most iconic feature, the original ones lasted barely 15 years, and had to be removed in 1926 because of damaged caused by vibration from passing trains. The station, without the towers, remained in use for nearly 50 years, but by the mid-20th century passenger rail travel was in decline, and in 1972 it finally closed.

For more than 35 years, the station sat abandoned and decaying. Over time, the panes of glass in the skylight above the main concourse fell out, and for many years the interior was completely exposed to the elements. However, through decades of neglect the exterior remained structurally sound, and after several years of restoration work, the station reopened in 2000, complete with replicas of the towers that had been missing for nearly 75 years. Today, the restored building is a prominent Worcester landmark on the National Register of Historic Places, and from this angle is virtually indistinguishable from its original appearance.

Worcester Common, Worcester, Mass (2)

Another view of the Worcester Common, taken looking west from the corner of Church and Front Streets, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The Common in 2016:

Taken from the northeast corner of the Common, on the other end of Church Street from an earlier post, this view shows the Soldiers’ Monument in the center, with City Hall to the left and Front Street to the right. The monument is the oldest feature in the first photo; it was dedicated in 1874 in honor of Worcester’s fallen soldiers and sailors of the Civil War, and was designed by prominent sculptor Randolph Rogers.

Along with the monument, several other buildings remain from the first photo, including the 1898 City Hall. On the far right, partially hidden by trees, are two 19th century commercial buildings. Both were designed by Fuller & Delano, a Worcester-based firm that was responsible for many other significant buildings in the city. The tall red brick building is the Chase Building, which was built in 1886 and, although the top floors were later altered, it is still standing. To the right of it, at the corner of Commercial Street, is the Ransom C. Taylor Block, built around 1897.

Today, the only particularly obvious change to this scene is the Worcester Plaza building in the distance. Originally built as the Worcester County National Bank Tower, it was completed in 1974, and is tied for the record of the tallest building in the city.

Bancroft Hotel, Worcester, Mass

The Bancroft Hotel, at the corner of Franklin and Portland Streets in Worcester, around 1912-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The building in 2016:

The Bancroft Hotel opened in 1913 as the city’s grandest hotel, at a time when Worcester was a prosperous industrial city. Originally planned as a 225-room hotel, the 9-story building was expanded to 320 by the time it was completed. It was designed by the Buffalo-based architectural firm of Esenwein & Johnson, and reflects the Classical Revival style that was often seen in early 20th century grand hotels.

In 1926, the building was expanded in the back along Portland Street, which is visible in the distance of the present photo. This brought the hotel up to 500 rooms, and remained as Worcester’s premier hotel well into the middle of the century. However, as was the case in cities across the northeast by the 1960s, the population was in decline, and interstate highways shifted travelers away from downtown Worcester. In 1964, the hotel closed, but the historic building was preserved, and renovated into apartments. Today, it has 255 housing units, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Worcester Common, Worcester, Mass

The Worcester Common, seen facing west from the corner of Franklin and Church Streets, around 1914-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The Common in 2016:

Today, Worcester is the second-largest city in New England, and the Common has been at the center of the city ever since it was a small colonial settlement in the 17th century. Set aside in 1669, more than 50 years before Worcester was formally incorporated as a town, the Common was originally used as a training ground for the militia, burial ground, and the site of the meetinghouse. It was once much larger, but as the city has grown up around it, this common land has steadily shrunk to its current dimensions, and at one point in the 19th century even had railroad tracks running across it.

The first photo was taken shortly after the completion of several prominent buildings along the Common, which are still standing today. These buildings, designed in the popular Classical Revival style of the turn of the 20th century, include the 1913 Bancroft Hotel on the left, the 1915 Park Building to the right of it, and the 1898 City Hall, which is mostly hidden by trees in the distance on the right. Along with the Common itself, all three of these buildings are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.