State Mutual Building, Worcester, Mass

The Second State Mutual Building, at the corner of Main and Maple Streets in Worcester, around 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The building in 2016:

Built in 1897, this office building was the first skyscraper in Worcester, and it was originally home to the State Mutual Life Assurance Company, who relocated from their much smaller quarters just down the street at 240 Main Street. It was designed by the prominent Boston architectural firm of Peabody and Stearns, and demonstrates the Classical Revival design that was becoming popular in commercial buildings at the turn of the century. To some extent, it bears a resemblance to the taller Ames Building, completed just four years earlier in Boston. Unlike the load-bearing masonry of the Ames Building, though, the nine-story State Mutual Building had a steel frame, a development that had been introduced into skyscraper design at the end of the 19th century.

None of the surrounding buildings are still standing from the first photo. Over the past 100 years, he city has grown up around it, but the historic building is still standing, essentially unaltered from its original exterior appearance. The only major changes have been the building’s tenants; State Mutual moved out in 1957, and it was later home to Commerce Bank. Now known as the Commerce Building, it remains in use as an office building, with commercial storefronts on the first floor along the Main Street side of the building.

Boynton Hall, Worcester, Mass

Boynton Hall at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, around 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The building in 2016:

As mentioned in the previous post, Boynton Hall and the neighboring Washburn Shops to the right were the original two buildings on the campus of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Completed in 1868 the same year that the school opened, they were named for John Boynton and Ichabod Washburn, two local industrialists who helped to establish the school. At the time, the United States was experiencing a rapid growth in industry and technology, but there were relatively few colleges that focused on mechanical and scientific training. Among the first was the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, which began holding classes in 1865, but WPI soon followed, with Boynton, Washburn, and other donors recognizing the value of such an education.

As the oldest building on campus, Boynton Hall looks very different from most of the others. With its granite exterior and Gothic architecture, it looks more like a traditional university building than later buildings such as the Salisbury Laboratories, which has a more utilitarian, industrial appearance. However, both building were designed by Stephen C. Earle, a Worcester-based architect who designed many public buildings in the city and surrounding areas. He was best known for his Romanesque designs such as the Central Congregational Church, but Boynton Hall was one of his earlier works, designed at a time when Gothic Revival was still a prominent style for institutional buildings.

By the time the first photo was taken, the building was already nearly 50 years old, but its exterior appearance had not changed much, and another century later it still looks essentially the same. On the inside, however, it has changed uses several times. Originally built to house classrooms and laboratories, the labs were moved out when the Salisbury building was completed in 1888, and in 1955 it was converted into administrative offices. Today, it continues to serve in this role, with offices for the president, provost, and other administrative departments.

Salisbury Laboratories, Worcester, Mass

The Salisbury Laboratories building at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The building in 2016:

This building is one of the oldest on the WPI campus, and was completed in 1888 to alleviate overcrowding at Boynton Hall. It provided additional classroom and lab space for the school, and was built with funds provided by Stephen Salisbury III, who had the building named in honor of his father, one of the founders of the school. Local architect Stephen C. Earle designed the building in a fairly conservative Romanesque design that more closely resembled a mill than an institution of higher learning, perhaps reflecting the practical, industrial nature of the school’s programs.

Over the years, the Salisbury Laboratories building has been significantly expanded, including a 1940 addition to the right that imitates Earle’s original design. The original building is still easily recognizable, though, and remains in use for classrooms, labs, and lecture halls. Further in the distance on the left, the historic 1868 Washburn Shops building is also still standing, and just out of view beyond it is Boynton Hall, which opened the same year and was the school’s first building.

National Guard Armory, Worcester, Mass

The National Guard Armory at the corner of Salisbury and Grove Streets in Worcester, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The building in 2016:

This castle-like design was a common element of National Guard armories in Massachusetts built in the late 19th century, and similarly imposing structures from the same time period can be seen in Springfield and Boston. Although it was never besieged by enemy armies, and no arrows ever rained down from the turrets, the building has been a landmark feature at Wheaton Square ever since its completion in 1890. It was designed by the Worcester-based firm of Fuller & Delano, and as seen in an earlier post, it is one of several prominent Romanesque-style buildings that were constructed here around the same time period.

Today, the armory building is no longer used by the National Guard. For many years, it was home to the National Guard Museum and Archives, but in 2013 the museum moved to Concord, and the following year the building was transferred to Veterans, Inc., an organization that serves homeless veterans and had leased part of the building since 1991. It is also a contributing property in the Institutional District, on the National Register of Historic Places, and aside from the shortening of the central tower the building’s exterior remains well preserved over 125 years after its completion.

Calvinist Church, Worcester, Mass

Looking south along Main Street from near School Street in Worcester, with a view of the Calvinist Church building, sometime between 1865 and 1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.


The scene in 2016:

Organized in 1820 after a split with the First Church, the members of the Calvinist Church met in different locations in Worcester until 1825, when this building was completed on Main Street, just North of George Street. It was built on the property of Daniel Waldo, a prominent local merchant who provided the land and paid the $14,000 construction costs. Architecturally, it fit in with the popular Greek Revival design of New England churches at the time, which most prominently included a portico with a triangular pediment, supported by large pillars.

Although located in the northern part of downtown Worcester, as the city grew this area became more commercially developed, as the first photo shows. Because of this, in 1885 the church moved into a new building a few blocks north of here, and the old 1825 building was subsequently demolished.

Today, the only building left from the first photo is the Elwood Adams Block, just to the right of the church. It was built in 1831 as a two and a half story commercial building, similar to the one next to it in the first photo, but in 1865 it was extensively renovated, adding two floors and an Italianate-style facade. At some point after the photo was taken, several other historic buildings were added to this scene. On the far right is the 1885 Armsby Block, and further down Main Street on the left side of the photo is the 1905 Thule Building. Along with the much older Elwood Adams Block, these buildings are all listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Worcester County Courthouse, Worcester, Mass

The old Worcester County Courthouse at the corner of Main and Highland Streets in Worcester, around 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The building in 2016:

Geographically, Worcester County is the largest of the 14 counties in Massachusetts, and for many years this building served as the county courthouse. It has been expanded several times over the years, but the original section is the left side of the building. Completed in 1845, it was designed by architect Ammi B. Young, a Greek Revival architect whose other works included the old Vermont State House, the Custom House in Boston, and part of the US Treasury Building in Washington, DC.

When it was first built, the courthouse had a different front, with a typical portico supported by six granite pillars. These were removed in 1897, during a major addition that included remodeling the facade of the original building and expanding it north, to the right from this view. The current front entrance was added at this point, with its four pillars and the phrase “Obedience to Law is Liberty” carved above them. On the right side of the building, this section matches the design of the reconstructed 1845 building, giving the building a symmetrical Main Street facade.

The courthouse remained in use for nearly a century after the first photo was taken, but by the early 2000s it was replaced with the current courthouse several blocks south of here on Main Street. After years on the market, the building was sold to a private developer in 2015, who plans to preserve it and put it to a new use. From the exterior, not much has changed with the building itself from this angle, although some of its surroundings have. The statue in the first photo, honoring Civil War general Charles Devens, is missing in the 2016 scene, but it is still at the courthouse, having been moved just around the corner and out of view to the right.

Aside from the statue, the only other significant change is the structure in the foreground. Part of the Ernest A. Johnson Tunnel, it was built in the 1950s by prominent Norwegian civil engineer Ole Singstad, who at this point in his career has already been responsible for such projects as the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels in New York City. Substantially easier than building under the Hudson River, this project involved bypassing the congested Lincoln Square to provide a direct underground connection between Main and Salisbury Streets. It is still used today, carrying southbound traffic into downtown Worcester and merging onto Main Street just south of the old courthouse.