WorcesterThen: 1912


Steel Frame Construction

This piece on steel frame construction is not about the first use of iron or steel for the structural backbones of buildings.  That began in the 1880s.  The Chase building of Ransom C. Taylor, at 44 Front Street, completed in 1886, may have been the first in Worcester, but that is not confirmed.  Here the photos are of buildings that were erected in 1912 and in 1914.

At the time of its construction, the Chase building was one of Worcester’s largest, and what made it different, and led to controversy, was that it was structurally based on iron columns, with no load-bearing walls of stone, brick, or concrete..  Al Southwick devoted a chapter to the subject in his Once-Told Tales of Worcester County (1985), entitled “Two Old Dinosaurs come back to life,” one of which was the Chase building.

Fire Chief C. E. Combs, according to Southwick, was concerned about the use of iron without supporting walls of brick. The main threat was thought to be that in the event of a major fire, there being no brick walls between sections to contain a fire would prove catastrophic. Southwick quoted Chief Combs as saying, “When once thoroughly heated and the water strikes them, they are bound to crack and crumble, and then down will come the whole structure.” (p.162)

Worcester was a city of much metal working and much knowledge of metallurgy, but still the idea was new and many people lacked confidence that such a structure would survive a  major fire.

So 1912 was not all that early in the use of steel framing in building construction, but it is still interesting to see the cranes and to wonder how it was done in the absence of powerful engine-driven cranes on the ground.

Steel framing a building of ten stories, plus basement, which was tall for 1912.  Note the cranes and other devices in use or waiting to be: a cement mixer, probably steam powered, with a man sitting nearby; two workmen standing at the top, and likely other workmen here and there but hard to make out.  Do you know the building by its size and shape?  The shape is not yet complete in this viewing; another wing will jut forward, and in later years the building will be extended along what is the back from this angle (to the right).  Note that the first floor is double-height at the left end, and that space becomes two floors from there to the right side of the picture.   


Source: Ad in Worcester Magazine, 1912


This company, Eastern Bridge & Structural, of Worcester, possessed a capability for cost-effective and up-to-date construction methods of large buildings that must have made it very valuable and profitable. Who was behind it?  Was it really a Worcester company? Does it still exist, or has it evolved into a currently operational firm?

The building under construction shown in the ad was the Bancroft Hotel, which is now an apartment house known as Bancroft Commons, at 50 Franklin Street. The hotel opened a year after the photo, on September 1, 1913.  Another photo taken a few weeks later is shown below.

The top two floors are of greater height than the ones in the middle, which are the location of most of the guest rooms.  The shape of the building is an ell along Franklin and Portland Streets, with another wing inside the ell, parallel to Franklin Street.   


Another view, from the same perspective, a number of weeks later:

 The Bancroft Hotel under construction, October 2, 1912,  courtesy of Worcester Historical Museum

Viewing perspective: from behind the building now occupied by Quinsigamond Community College. In 1912 it would have been behind the already-standing building of the Worcester Telegram.  Park Street (now Franklin) and the Common are to the left.


The Bancroft after its first century (seen from the opposite corner).

Source: WorcesterThen


One more view of steel framing in that era: the Park Building, 1914:

This cover of Worcester Magazine shows a bustling Main Street in front of City Hall, with the Park Building under construction in the background, its exterior a combination of concrete walls and steel framing.  Note the cranes on top of the building.  The title at the bottom is “The Ever Changing Sky Line.”

Also of possible interest are the buildings on Main Street, including the “Boston Store” (Denholm and McKay) across from the Park Building, and the John C. MacInnes department store, consisting of three merged buildings, directly across from City Hall.  MacInnes at the time was the city’s second largest department store, trailing only Denholm’s.

Note also the number of streetcars  and the interplay of pedestrian and automobile traffic with the streetcars.  Not in evidence here are horse-drawn wagons or coaches. Their numbers were in decline by this time but they still were in use, likely encountered on almost any journey through Worcester streets.


As long as the picture above is on your screen, take a look at this one, from the back cover of Al Southwick’s Once-Told Tales of Worcester County.  While it is close it is not the same, but is the difference just one of focal length?  Which was taken earlier, and which later?

Albert B. Southwick, Once-Told Tales of Worcester County, Telegram & Gazette, 1985, back cover.

* * * * *

Don Chamberlayne, 2016