Boston Rambles

Boston Rambles

A Rambler Walks and Talks About the Hub of the Universe

Worcester, Massachusetts, Part Three: Highs and Lows

Upper Boston Post Road Entry #16 (UBPR #16)

View of Worcester City Hall and Worcester Common from Front Street. The building in the background is the Glass Tower (also called Worcester Plaza), the tallest building in the city at 289 feet (tied with The 6Hundred Building at 600 Main Street). Worcester Plaza is located on the site of the famously grand eighteenth-century estate of Gardiner Chandler. All the buildings along the north side of Front Street (on the right in the photo) are on what was once the estate of John Chandler, the wealthiest man in Worcester County before the Revolution and the brother of Gardiner Chandler. The Park Building (behind City Hall at upper left) is on the site of the estate of James Putnam, brother-in-law of the Chandlers and the lawyer with whom John Adams boarded and studied law from 1756-1758.

“We came through Worcester this afternoon, and a[re] now but 6 miles from it. This I think is where Pappa studied Law, and the appearance of the town pleased me very much; I wished to stop there this Night, but it would have made our Journey of tomorrow, too long.”

John Quincy Adams, Letter to his sister, Abigail Adams 2nd, August 24, 1785.


Highs and Lows

The tallest building in Worcester is located directly opposite City Hall along Main Street, the route of the Upper Boston Post Road through the city, a road traveled by famous people like George Washington and a road traveled by people who did not want to be recognized, like the British spies Captain William Browne and Ensign Henry DeBerniere, who stopped at a tavern a few yards down the road on their mission. Worcester was an important center of resistance to the Crown in the eighteenth century although a number of the most prominent citizens of the town were outspoken Tories. As it happens, one of these men, Gardiner Chandler, lived in a house that one writer described as “one of the handsomest, which I have met with in the interiour(sic) of this country,”1Timothy Dwight, Travels in New England and New York. New Haven, Timothy Dwight Publisher, 1821. p. 368. on an estate located precisely where the Glass Tower, also known as Worcester Plaza, the 289-foot, 24-story glass-covered high-rise building facing City Hall, is located.2But is it a skyscraper? According to the definition on Wikipedia, the answer would be no, as it does not meet the generally-accepted height requirement of 150 meters (490 feet) and at least 40 stories. It is however, a high-rise building by any definition.

Although Gardiner Chandler managed to remain in Worcester after the Revolution his brother Colonel John Chandler, who lived on the block north of City Hall where Harrington Corner is located, diagonally across Main Street from Gardiner Chandler’s estate, a man whose “influence until the Revolution was almost paramount,” was not so lucky.3Charles Nutt, History of Worcester, 4 volumes, 1919. Volume I, p. 76. John Adams, who kept the grammar school and studied law in Worcester in the 1750s and was well acquainted with the Chandler family, wrote a letter to James Warren in December, 1773, describing the mood in the town and the general attitude to the people with whom he once socialized: “The Spirit of Liberty is very high in the Country and universal. Worcester is aroused. Last Week, a Monument to Liberty was erected there in the Heart of the Town within a few Yards of Coll Chandlers Door. A Gentleman of as good Sense and Character as any in that County told me this day, that nothing, which has been ever done is more universally approved, applauded and admired than these last Efforts.” Months later John Chandler, the wealthiest and most powerful man in the county, left his home for good, eventually moving to England, and his property was confiscated, his mansion later becoming a tavern, discussed in the previous entry.

Nor was Gardiner’s brother-in-law and fellow Loyalist James Putnam able to remain in Worcester: his house, located diagonally across Main Street from Gardiner Chandler’s estate south of City Hall at the junction of Main Street and Franklin Street, was also seized. It was in this house that John Adams boarded while he studied law with James Putnam from 1756-1758. The Chandlers, along with the Paine and Putnam families with whom the Chandlers were extensively intermarried, were the most prominent family in Worcester before the Revolution, but many of them left town because of their Loyalist political beliefs when the political turmoil of the 1770s began to boil over in Worcester, some never to return. Although quite a few members of the Chandler family and the Paine family managed to remain in Worcester and even achieved some level of success in the new order, these families never again regained the level of dominance in the political and cultural circles of Worcester they had attained during the Colonial period, displaced by the new men like Stephen Salisbury and Levi Lincoln who rose to prominence in the town with the winds of change.

Worcester, like the Chandler family, has endured through both highs and lows. The town grew dramatically in the nineteenth century and became the second largest city in New England, a position it maintains even today. Yet the wealth that accompanied the astonishing growth in the nineteenth century slowly ebbed away over the decades and with it a large fraction of the population. The outstanding collection of architectural treasures along Main Street and beyond in Worcester is mostly from another, wealthier time. Worcester Plaza, put up in 1974, was an attempt to vault the city back into the big time after years of decline, but fifty years on, in 2024 Worcester is still struggling to regain the prestige it held when travelers passed through and heaped praise upon places like the Chandler house. Like the Chandler family, Worcester has managed to hang on through difficult times and has even achieved some success in a post-industrial world, but it has never managed to reach the level of economic, cultural, and political clout the city wielded through the nineteenth century, when it was bigger than seven of the ten-largest cities in the United States today, including Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, and Atlanta.4Using the metric of cities alone without the surrounding metropolitan area, Worcester had more people in 1900 than the following cities that are currently ranked in the top ten largest cities in the United States: Los Angeles (currently #2), Houston (#4), Phoenix (#5), San Antonio (#7), San Diego (#8), Dallas (#9), and Jacksonville (#10, with a definite asterisk! My long-standing irritation with Jacksonville’s claim to being a “big city” has not ended. See this entry for a more detailed discussion of my eternal bugbear). If you use the population of the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) as the criterion for what constitutes a large city (some cities, like Boston, or San Francisco, have a small footprint but are surrounded by dense satellite cities), Worcester in 1900 was larger than the following cities in the top 10 largest cities by MSA: Los Angeles (#2), Dallas (#4), Houston (#5), Atlanta (#6), Miami (#9), Phoenix (#10). The clear pattern among all these cities is that they are all in the Sun Belt and do not primarily base their economy on manufacturing. Thus Worcester resembles many northern cities like Rochester, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and so on that declined with the decline of manufacturing.


View south along Main Street in Worcester from the corner of Main Street and Front Street. This image, from the archives at Digital Commonwealth (and in the Special Collections of the Boston Public Library), is of a postcard dating to sometime between 1932 and 1945. The buildings along the west side of Main Street (the right side of the street) are all located on what was once the estate of Gardiner Chandler. The large building on the left, the Park Building (1914), is on the site of the estate of James Putnam. City Hall, a small section of the front of which is visible on the left, was the site of the Meeting House for well over 150 years. The location of the view from which the image was produced is at Harrington Corner, which is located on the site of John Chandler’s estate (see photo below). In the center distance is the Federal Post Office and Courthouse Building (1932) near the site of Jones Tavern, where the British Spies Henry DeBerniere and William Brown stayed during their visit to Worcester in February 1775. The red-brick building at right is Denholm’s department store, discussed later in this entry. The buildings at right in the foreground are all now demolished and the Glass Tower (aka Worcester Plaza) is currently located on the spot. See the photo below for a modern version of this image.
View of Main Street taken from Harrington Corner (Front Street and Main Street) June 25, 2024. This view shows roughly the same view as the post card above. Denholms (at right) has been modernized, but the Park Building (left center), the Federal Building (center) and City Hall (partially visible at left) still remain very similar to their 1930s incarnation. The traffic is noticeably lighter as are the number of pedestrians. The trees at right are part of the landscaped property surrounding the Glass Tower. The area behind the trees where the yellow two-story building extends away from the street is the approxiamte location of the home of Gardiner Chandler.


To be honest, Worcester Plaza, even with its racier new “Glass Tower” name, is a fairly prosaic building despite its claim to being the tallest building in town (see the photo at the beginning of this entry showing the building looming over City Hall), particularly when compared to the architecture it replaced (see the “postcard” above) and with the buildings in the city of Boston 45 miles down the Massachusetts Turnpike which this project is ostensibly about, a city which puts up high rise buildings on what seems like a monthly basis.5Worcester Plaza would not even come close to the top 40 tallest buildings in Boston. In fact, even if the building was double its current height, it would be still not make the top 10 list in Boston (12th), and there are at least three building currently going up in Boston that are ALL planned to be taller than Worcester Plaza). Ironically, the original plan for Worcester Plaza was for a building twice as high as the final product which was sensibly, and inevitably, scaled back. The Glass Tower, although distinctive in Worcester, is special neither from a “big building” point of view nor from an architectural point of view, and solicits none of the effusive praise Timothy Dwight and others once heaped upon the building that formerly stood on the property. The Glass Tower did however displace a beautiful block of nineteenth century office buildings that once contributed to the elegant architectural tableau around City Hall and Worcester Common, and so the modern building seems even more out of place than it would be if it were hidden in among the anonymous collection of buildings currently in the process of overwhelming what little architecture of historic interest remains in the financial district of Boston. Along with several other misguided efforts at renewal in downtown Worcester, the high rise Worcester Plaza building, seemingly dropped in from outer space onto an unsuspecting collection of impressive older buildings, merely serves as a highly visible example of what not to do to make a struggling city more dynamic. Fortunately, other examples of ways to improve the city more organically are in abundant supply as we shall see. Worcester Plaza, in my view, is an all too familiar example of sticking with a “big” project despite the fact that it was clearly obsolete before it even started. This situation is not dissimilar to the political dynamic in Worcester before 1775, where the levers of power were almost completely in the control of one family who failed to realize that the tide of public opinion had turned against the policies they stubbornly supported until it was too late.



As Worcester Plaza overshadows City Hall, so Worcester is unavoidably in the shadow of Boston. In the eighteenth century it was a bit far from Boston, unlikely to be reached in a day until the very end of the century. John Quincy Adams, the son of the soon to be President John Adams and a future president himself, passed through Worcester in 1785 and wanted to stop but felt compelled to keep going in order to reach Boston faster.6He wrote from Shrewsbury to his sister Abigail that “we shall have 42 (miles) to-morrow, an hard days work, but I hope we shall perform it, if the weather is good.” By the nineteenth century the railroad reduced the travel time to under three hours while today the fastest train takes slightly more than an hour as does an optimal drive. As travel times have become shorter Worcester, once the market town and shire town of Worcester County and an important center of industry and commerce in its own right, lost some its independence to Boston. Ironically, as the high cost of housing drives people further from Boston in search of cheaper housing, the relative proximity of Worcester has perhaps helped it to reap some of the benefits (and problems) of this expansion of the Boston Metropolitan Area.7Two personal anecdotes that serve as examples of the changing dynamic between Worcester and Boston. My father ran a restaurant, first in the nearby town of West Boylston and later on Chandler Street in Worcester. His daily commute took him from Braintree, where I grew up on the South Shore, to Worcester. John Adams, of course, was also from the town of Braintree (which once encompassed what is today Quincy and Braintree) and his frequent trips between Braintree and Worcester almost always included an overnight stop somewhere in between the two towns. More recently, a next-door neighbor of mine in Jamaica Plain commuted daily to teach at Holy Cross College in Worcester for many years.

In 1900, Worcester was the 29th largest city in the United States with a population of 118,421 residents, while Worcester today, although it has a larger population (207,621 estimated inhabitants as of July 1, 2023) is ranked as only the 116th largest city in the United States. According to the US Census Bureau, Worcester is technically the principal city of its own Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) comprising the totality of Worcester County (with a population of 867,000, ranking 69th in the United States behind El Paso, Texas and just ahead of Columbia, South Carolina). However, it is merely a secondary component of the larger unit of measurement typically used to describe the “metro area” of a large city, the Combined Statistical Area (CSA, which typically corresponds roughly to the area comprising the fan base represented by one professional sports franchise e.g. the Boston Red Sox, with the exception of the very largest cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, which frequently are represented by two teams). It is called the Boston CSA after the principal city in the area, not the Worcester CSA, which is the tenuous reasoning I have used to justify writing about the city of Worcester for a project about Boston, but consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds as Ralph Waldo Emerson, a famous resident of the Boston CSA, once wrote.8For those of you who are interested, the Boston CSA, with a population of 8,345,067 inhabitants and which includes all of Rhode Island, Southern New Hampshire and all of eastern Massachusetts, is currently (June 2024) ranked 7th in the United States in population. Boston was recently overtaken in size by Dallas, while Houston (7.7 million) and Atlanta (7.2 million) are quickly catching up).


Detail of a map of Worcester from 1829 by Edward Phelps, showing Main Street (from left to right in this image) in the vicinity of what is today City Hall. City Hall currently is located on the site of the former town hall (#93 on the map) and the meeting house (#94). The house once owned by John Chandler (#88) is located at the far right along Main Street, almost at the intersection with Mechanic Street (not shown). The building labelled #90 nearby is the building occupied by William Harrington which was replaced in 1850 by the building currently inscribed with the words “Harrington Corner” (see photo below). The house once owned by Gardiner Chandler (#95) is directly opposite the meeting house. Gardiner Chandler at one time owned all the land on the west side of Main Street shown here (from #91 all the way along Main Street to #100). The house of James Putnam (#97) and his wife Elizabeth (Chandler) is on the same side of Main Street to the left of the meeting house, just beyond what is called South Street on the map but today is Franklin Street.


This entry, the third one on the city of Worcester in my series of walks along the route of the Upper Boston Post Road across Massachusetts, will look at how Worcester went from being one of many small villages in the hinterlands west of Boston to become the second largest city in New England, a wealthy industrial and commercial powerhouse, and a politically important center of culture in its own right. There was even a fascinating early attempt to make Worcester the capitol of Massachusetts. I will also try to understand how and why Worcester has become the city it is today. As is usual with these entries, this will principally be accomplished by walking on the route of the Upper Boston Post Road through the town using the buildings and the stories of the road to amplify what might otherwise be a dry dissertation on topography or about small physical changes to the course of the road (there is some of that, however, as it is one of the main purposes of this project). Also, like the previous entry, I will wander slightly off the beaten path in order to examine some of the important nearby buildings and artifacts that had an impact on the development of Worcester and, by extension, on the development of the Post Road itself.

Finally, although I normally write one entry for each town through which I pass on the road, the importance of Worcester and the sheer density of cultural, political, commercial, and historical buildings, artifacts, and stories along the road through the city have compelled me to slow down a little and spread the walk in this city out across more than one entry. This entry, which begins at Harrington Corner, at the junction of Main Street and Front Street in downtown Worcester and ends at the intersection of Main Street and Chandler Street, a mere 0.30 miles south of the start, is one of the shortest walks so far in the project. As I always seem to find more interesting things to discuss than I have room for in an entry about even the smallest of the towns through which I walk, it is unsurprising that a 300 year-old city with more than 200,000 inhabitants has proven exceptionally fruitful. These entries, as long and full of information as they are despite the relatively short length of the actual walk involved, merely scratch the surface of the deep and interesting history of Worcester. As usual, I highly recommend getting out there and wandering the road to see for yourself.


The Center of the Heart

City Hall, Worcester, Massachusetts. Opened in 1898, City Hall is located where the meeting house stood from 1719 to 1889.

As discussed in the previous entry, there were two focal points in early Worcester, the court house in Lincoln Square and the meeting house on the Common, connected by Main Street. From the court house the Upper Boston Post Road followed what is today Lincoln Street north and east to Shrewsbury and Boston while from the meeting house the Upper Boston Post Road continued south and west along Main Street to Leicester. The town (and, after 1848, the city) of Worcester developed around and between these two focal points. The southern focal point of Worcester was essentially established “in 1719 when the first meeting house was built on the present site of the City Hall,” on the west side of Worcester Common.9Charles Nutt, The History Of Worcester And Its Peoples, 4 Volumes. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1919. Vol. II, p. 798. This was the only “church” in town until a group of parishioners broke away under Reverend Aaron Bancroft in 1785 and formed a second parish which eventually settled in the building next to the old court house, as discussed in the previous entry. Dudley Woodbridge, a doctor from Connecticut who traveled from Cambridge to Sunderland, in Western Massachusetts, in 1728, recorded in his diary entry for October 2, 1728 that he passed “the meetinghouse standing on the left” on his way west through Worcester along the Upper Boston Post Road, a place it remained for 170 years.10See the Massachusetts Historical Society Online Collections, Woodbridge Diary, p.2

A newer building was put up in 1763 “with 61 pews on the lower floor. That esteemed the best, on the west side of the pulpit, and directly under it, valued at £9, was assigned to the Honorable John Chandler, as an acknowledgment of his contribution of £40 toward erecting the church.”11 Lincoln, p. 258. The meeting house was the largest hall in town in the eighteenth century and remained the location for town meetings even after the separation of the congregation into two parishes. It was not until 1824 that plans for a town hall were made and, in 1825, a two-story brick structure was opened next door to the First Parish Meeting House, by now called the South Meeting House to distinguish it from the First Unitarian Church (Second Parish) to the north along Main Street.12Nutt, p. 476. Incidentally, a Baptist Church had appeared in 1812 on the east side of the Common on Salem Street, and a group of “Calvinist” defectors from the South Congregation in 1820 established a new church, called Central Church, along Main Street near Thomas Street (the congregation moved to a new building that still exists in Wheaton Square in 1885 near the current site of the “48 mile” stone). In other words, the fact that there were four distinct congregations in a town with over 3,000 residents by 1824 (2,962 in the 1820 census and 4,173 inhabitants in the 1830 census), likely hastened the move away from the use of a specific ecclesiastical building for town meetings in favor of a government building.

Town Hall, with seating for four hundred people, was the largest hall in town until Mechanics Hall was opened in 1857, and was therefore the site of not just town meetings but also of any important large indoor gathering. According to Charles Nutt in his History of Worcester: “the hall was in constant demand for concerts, lectures, political conventions, dances and similar purposes. The Free Soil party was born here in 1848; Eli Thayer announced his “plan of freedom” here March 11, 1854, inaugurating the squatter sovereignty movement to hold Kansas as a Free State. Among those who spoke here were Daniel Webster, Abraham Lincoln, Henry Clay, Charles Sumner, Edward Everett, Theodore Parker, Henry Wilson, Col. T. W. Higginson, Gov. John A. Andrew, Frederick Douglass, Wm. Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Edw. Everett Hale, John Brown,” and a host of others.13Nutt, History of Worcester, p. 477.

In 1848 Worcester became a city and town meetings were no longer held, so by the 1860s the hall was divided into chambers housing the City Council, the Municipal Court, the Police Department, and other administrative offices. However, by the 1890s the population of Worcester was closing in on 100,000 (118,421 in 1900) and more space was needed to accommodate the bureaucracy necessary for the administration of the growing city, so a larger building was opened in 1898 on the site of the old City Hall and of Old South Meeting House, a building demolished after the congregation moved in 1889 to a new home half a mile to the south along Main Street. City Hall is still located in the impressive building taking up most of the west side of the Common along the block between Front Street and Franklin Street along Main Street. For over seventy years until 1971, when the Mercantile Center was built on the opposite side of the Common (226 feet, 20 stories, at 100 Front Street), City Hall was the tallest building in Worcester as its distinctive bell tower reached 203 feet in height. Only three years later an even taller building across Main Street from City Hall was put up and Worcester Plaza has remained the tallest building in Worcester since 1974 (tied since 1991 with 600 Main Street at 289 feet and 24 stories-more on that later).


Adams and the Family

The Bancroft Hotel (1913) on Franklin Street opposite Worcester Common and City Hall. The property was once the parsonage of the meeting house in Worcester, first occupied by Reverend Thaddeus Maccarty in 1747. Although 400 feet from Main Street, the route of the Upper Boston Post Road, this building lines Worcester Common which is discussed in detail in the entry.

In 1747 Thaddeus Maccarty was chosen minister of the Worcester congregation, a position he served in until his death in 1784. Maccarty had himself been dismissed from a position in Kingston, Massachusetts in 1745 because of his “Calvinist” views, which received a more appreciative audience in Worcester. In later years, when his health began to fail, Aaron Bancroft was hired to fill in for the ailing minister and was named his successor upon Maccarty’s death. However, his views were considered much more liberal (Arminian) by the majority of the Worcester congregation and, as a result of the dissension, many of the wealthier (and more liberal) members made the decision to withdraw from what had been the sole church in town for sixty years and establish a second church closer to Lincoln Square with Bancroft as the minister of what was to become the First Parish Unitarian Church in Worcester.

In order to accommodate the new minister the town voted money to buy a parsonage and “the house of Dr. Samuel Breck, situated on the common, south east from the meeting house, was purchased for £187. 10s. and conveyed, by deed dated Sept. 25, 1747, with about two acres of land adjoining, to John Chandler, treasurer, to and for the use of the town. This property was granted to Mr. Maccarty, on his release of all expenses for repairs, and conveyed March 4th, 1765.”14William Lincoln, History of Worcester, Massachusetts : from its earliest settlement to September 1836 ; with various notices relating to the history of Worcester County. Worcester: Hershey, 1862. p. 149. A plaque marks the location of the farm and house along Franklin Street just across from the Common on the wall of an apartment building today called “Bancroft on the Grid.” This impressive Beaux Arts building was opened as the Bancroft Hotel, named for the historian and Worcester native George Bancroft whose father, Reverend Aaron Bancroft, had established the Unitarian church a year after the death of Maccarty. The Bancroft was, for decades, the premier hotel in Worcester, “the center of all important functions,” according to Charles Nutt in his History of Worcester (1919).15Nutt, Vol. II, p. 1041. The building ceased to be a hotel when it was converted to apartments in 1964, but retains its architectural grandeur and is one of a number of fine buildings that have survived the depredations of time and “urban renewal” around Worcester Common.

Reverend Maccarty was commissioned in 1755 to find a teacher of Latin for the grammar school. According to Charles Nutt “He went to Harvard Commencement, and at that time engaged John Adams, afterward president of the United States, to teach the new school. Adams was not twenty years old when he set out for his task here.”16Nutt, History of Worcester, Volume II, p. 688. Adams kept a diary beginning in November 1755, which recounts his daily life during the first year of his life in Worcester. Adams took the job in part because he was unsure what profession he ultimately planned to pursue. Although he seriously considered becoming a minister, after a year of teaching he decided to pursue the study of law. Although he continued to also run the Grammar School, he was clearly very busy, and his diary entries are interrupted from August 22, 1756, when he recorded “yesterday I completed a contract with Mr. (James) Putnam to study law under his inspection for two years,” until October 5, 1758, when he reported from his family home in Braintree that “yesterday arrived here from Worcester.”

The grammar school was a school in the center of town devoted to teaching students Latin as a prerequisite for admission to Harvard and was thus the school principally for the children of the wealthy elite of the town. On a return trip to Worcester in 1771, Adams describes his reunion with some of his former students “Here I saw many young Gentlemen, who were my Scholars and Pupils, when I kept School, here—Jno. Chandler Esq. of Petersham, Rufus Chandler, the Lawyer, Dr. Wm. Paine, who now studies Physick with Dr. Holyoke of Salem, Nat. Chandler, who studies Law with Mr. Putnam, and Dr. Thad. Maccarty, who is now in the Practice of Physick at Dudley. Most of these began to learn Latin with me.”

Detail of a map of Worcester produced in 1878 by Samuel Triscott, showing Main Street from Front Street to Chandler Street. Notice the continued presence of Old South Church alongside City Hall. Directly across the street is the newly-built Taylor’s Block, which replaced the mansion once occupied by Gardiner Chandler and frequented by his friend John Adams. Also notice the appearance of St Paul’s Roman Catholic Church.

Adams spent even more time with the parents of his students, describing in his diary his almost daily visits to take tea or dine with members of the Chandler, Putnam, or Paine families, often in the company of Reverend Maccarty. That he was contemplating a career in the church is obvious from his detailed descriptions of the religious discussions he had at these daily social interactions and his detailed critiques of the sermon given by Maccarty or other visiting ministers. That Adams maintained a lifelong interest in ecclesiastical affairs is clear in a letter to Reverend Aaron Bancroft dated January 21, 1823, nearly forty years after Bancroft had established the Unitarian Church in Worcester and more than sixty years on from Adams’s time in Worcester. Bancroft had sent Adams a copy of a book of sermons he had written and Adams responded “I have never heard or read a volume of sermons better calculated or adapted to the age and country in which it was written—How different from the sermons I heard and read in the town of Worcester from the year 1755 to 1758. As my destiny in life has been some what uncommon I must beg pardon for indulging in a little egotism—I may say I was born and bred in the centre of thelogical and eclesiastical controversy.” He goes on to discuss his time in Worcester, saying of the man who brought him to the the town and the predecessor of Reverend Bancroft: “Mr: McCarthy though a Calvanist was not a bigot—but the town was a scene of dispute all the time I was there—When I left, I entered into a scene of other disputations at the bar—and not long afterwards disputations of another kind in politics.” That Adams himself took part in the disputes is clear from his diary entries as well as in letters, such as a letter to his Harvard classmate Charles Cushing in July 1756, where he writes “there is a story about Town that I am an Orminian.”

John Adams was on particularly friendly terms with the Chandler family. He often visited the house of Colonel John Chandler for tea or dinner and conversation, even though he was fifteen years younger than the man who was at the time treasurer of Worcester and was to become judge upon the death of his father in 1763, the man who would eventually be banished from his home in 1778. He was even closer to John’s brother Major Gardiner Chandler, and Adams spent an even larger share of his time at the house directly opposite the meeting house on Main Street. A typical diary entry is the one for April 11, 1756, where Adams recorded: “Heard Mr. Maccarty preach all Day. Spent the Evening at Mr. Paines, and supped upon fresh Fish with the Coll., Mr. Putnam, Major Gardiner and his Lady. Talking about Law and Pollitics.” The very next day, Monday April 12, 1756 the same group met in a different setting as Adams recorded: “Signs of Rain. Cleard off about 10. A most beautiful Day. Drank Tea with Coll. Chandler, and spent the Evening, at Major Gardiners, with the Coll., Messrs. Maccarty, Paine, Putnam, Green.”

The Chandler family once owned most of the land surrounding the meeting house in Worcester. John Chandler owned more than one thousand acres of property in Worcester County, including the mansion that later became Mower’s tavern and the surrounding property, a lot that encompassed the entire block of Main Street between Mechanic Street and Front Street and extending east from Main Street for several blocks. Chandler’s estate was confiscated after his official banishment in 1778, with about a fifth of the estate being returned to his wife Mary who remained in Worcester until her death in 1783. The building at the corner of Main Street and Front Street, which is engraved with the words Harrington Corner, marked the southwest boundary of the estate of John Chandler.

Harrington Corner (MACRIS #Wor.767), a local landmark, at the corner of Main Street and Front Street, Worcester. The building here was first built in 1850 on what was once the estate of John Chandler. Chandler’s Loyalist sympathies resulted in his flight from Worcester in 1775 and his eventual banishment. Although most of Chandler’s extensive properties were confiscated in the 1780s, Chandler’s wife managed to retain control of the house and estate in the center of town and the property was later sold by her heirs to William Harrington in 1838.

Gardiner Chandler owned the property extending along the west side of Main Street from Pleasant Street south to Chandler Street and from Main Street west as far as Newbury Street, more than 60 acres. His daughter Elizabeth married Nathaniel Paine and they lived in a house just north of her father’s estate, on the corner of Main and Pleasant Street, opposite from her uncle John Chandler’s house. Colonel John Chandler’s first wife, who died in 1746, was Dorothy Paine, Nathaniel’s aunt. Sarah Chandler, a sister of John and Gardiner, married Nathaniel Paine’s father Timothy in 1749, and lived on the the other side of town in the extensive Paine estate along what is today Lincoln Street, which I discussed in an earlier entry on Worcester. Elizabeth Chandler, another sister, married James Putnam in 1754, the lawyer with whom Adams studied law and in whose house he boarded from 1756-1758 on the corner opposite City Hall and diagonally across from the house of Gardiner Chandler.17This family is even more connected than the above examples imply: Colonel John Chandler’s father “Judge” John Chandler (1693-1763), married Sarah Clark, the “relic” of Nathaniel Paine of Bristol, Rhode Island and the mother of Timothy Paine. Thus Timothy Paine married Sarah Chandler, his step-sister. Similarly Colonel John Chandler married his step-sister Dorothy Paine. The next generation is even more complicated and a little disturbing to contemplate. This entry is effectively a walk entirely contained within the territory controlled by the Chandler family in the Colonial era.

The world of John Adams during his time in Worcester in the 1750s was, like this walk, circumscribed by the Chandler family as Adams himself admits in his notes toward a never-completed autobiography: “The Family of the Chandlers, were well bred and agreable People and I as often visited them as my School and my Studies in the Lawyers office would Admit, especially Colonel Gardiner Chandler with whom I was the most intimate.” In addition to numerous mentions of visits to the Paine’s or to “Coll Chandler’s” houses, there are dozens of references in his diary to “dining,” “breakfasting,” “taking tea,” or “spending the evening” at “the Major’s” or “Gardiner’s” or “Major Chandler’s,” all references to Major Gardiner Chandler. Gardiner Chandler (1723-1782), who was the younger brother of Colonel John Chandler, also served in many offices in the government of the town and county of Worcester: he was a selectman from 1754-1756, during the period Adams writes about in his diary, he was also the County Treasurer from 1754-1762, at which time he succeeded his brother John (who became judge upon the death of his father) as Sheriff of Worcester County, a position he held until his ignominious resignation in 1774.

The circumstances of the downfall of the Chandler family circle are well-documented in the history of Worcester. Although the final demise of the political power of the Chandler clan did not take place until 1774, the seeds had been sown years before. According to Charles Nutt in his History of Worcester: “During the excitement over the Stamp Act, this town instructed its representative in the General Court, Capt. Ephraim Doolittle, at a meeting October 21, 1765, ‘to join in no measure countenancing the Stamp Act.’ It was the custom at this time to give instructions, generally through a committee appointed for the purpose, to the representative in the legislature. The initiative and referendum of that day were taken in advance at town meetings.”18Nutt, p. 522. Despite the clear sentiments of the majority of members at town meetings most of the officials in office in Worcester County pursued the policies advocated by the establishment of which they were a part. Hence, as Nutt says, “During the next five years the Whigs were organizing here, but the Loyalists or Tories filled the public offices.”19Ibid. In fact, despite the superficial appearance of calm, the political climate was in a state of agitated fermentation, with a secret organization known as the American Political Society working with “Committees of Correspondence” to organize and effect political change.20Kenneth J. Moynihan, A History of Worcester, 1674-1848. Charleston: History Press, 2007, p. 67.

Gardiner Chandler Mansion in a photograph taken in 1865, only two years before its demolition. Photograph taken from the Revolutionary Worcester website and courtesy of the Worcester Historical Museum.


Goodbye to All That

Among the many political battles that occurred during the 1770s, two in particular are illustrative of the changing dynamic of power in Worcester. The first was the battle over the boycott of British goods, which reached a head with the passage of the Tea Act in 1773. Clark Chandler, the son of Colonel John Chandler, operated a general store close to the site of Harrington Corner which sold goods that were subject to local boycotts. A second store had appeared in Worcester in 1767, operated by Stephen Salisbury in Lincoln Square, which was more favorable to the non-importation policy advocated by the opponents of the Townshend Acts. In this moment it is tempting to see the changing of the guard, as the newcomer with his ear tuned to the ground first competed with and subsequently overwhelmed his older established competitor who stubbornly clung to a minority opinion. The Salisbury name, as I discussed in the last entry, is the most prominent name in the annals of the subsequent century of Worcester’s history, while the Chandlers were soon to fall from the pinnacle of power in Worcester.

The covert struggle over the political response to the acts imposed by Parliament broke into the open at the Worcester town meeting of March 7, 1774. A committee was elected to create a report, adopted by a majority vote at the next town meeting, which specifically called for a boycott of all imported British goods and further criticized the government of Massachusetts specifically for its failure to react in an appropriate manner to the “unrighteous acts.” Twenty-six Loyalist members of the town meeting dissented, and submitted their own report criticizing the “unlawful committees of correspondence and their dark and pernicious proceedings” and supporting the government policies and the actions of Governor Thomas Hutchinson and his successor, the newly-appointed Military Governor of the province of Massachusetts, General Thomas Gage, a document which was submitted to the town records by the town clerk, Clark Chandler, without the knowledge or approval of the majority. A copy was subsequently printed in Boston newspapers and then all hell broke loose. A committee was organized for August 22, 1774 at which a response was produced that protested the “unjust” characterization of the people and events at the previous meetings as a “piece of low cunning… and malignity,” and called upon specific individuals to apologize for their words and actions, including William Paine, Clark Chandler, and James Putnam. That this was a majority opinion in the town is clearly indicated by the fact that a written recantation of the report was received in September 1774 which included not only the aforementioned names, but also those of John Chandler and Gardiner Chandler. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that 1500 men from all over Worcester County assembled on Worcester Common on August 22, 1774 demanding redress for what they deemed libelous charges, or perhaps it was the three hundred or so men that arrived on the doorsteps of the houses of Timothy Paine, John Chandler, Gardiner Chandler, and James Putnam, requesting their presence on the Common. At any rate, the Paines, the Putnams, and the Chandlers soon resigned their political positions, ending their decades-long control of the political offices of Worcester County.

Cupboard from the mansion of Gardiner Chandler c.1750, at the Worcester Historical Museum. The house was demolished in 1867.

Gardiner Chandler, unlike his neighbors and brother John Chandler and brother-in-law James Putnam, remained in Worcester until his death in 1782, very likely because he suffered from asthma and other chronic health problems. John Adams writes in his diary entry of June 1, 1771, of meeting his friend (now a Colonel) Gardiner Chandler: “He said he heard I was in Quest of Health—if I found more than I wanted he begged a little—no poor Creature ever suffered more for Want of it. Thus he is the same Man. 16 Years, I have been a Witness to his continual Complaints of Weakness, and Want of Health.” After his death his estate was divided amongst his heirs. The house and thirty acres of the once much larger estate were purchased by Benjamin Butman in 1818. Subsequently Sheriff Calvin Willard purchased the “old Chandler mansion” in 1825 and resided there until 1834 when it was sold to Judge Ira Barton. The property is shown on Edward Phelps’s 1829 map and directory of Worcester as being owned and lived in by Calvin Willard (#95 on the map above) and is listed as #254 on Phineas Ball’s map of 1860 (see map below). It was razed in 1867 to build the Taylor Block, visible on Samuel Triscott’s map of Worcester from 1878 (see map above). The original mansion was most likely located in the space occupied by the yellow building in the postcard image above. Today the manicured and unused grassy area surrounding the looming Glass Tower and the dull two-story building adjacent to the defunct Denholm’s department store are the depressingly boring modern representatives left standing on the location the old Chandler estate. There is, however, a lovely piece of furniture from the original house that can be seen at the nearby Worcester Historical Museum, which is well worth a visit.


The Crown Jewel

Denholm’s, Worcester. The story of Downtown Worcester in one building. Opened in 1870 near Mechanic Street, moved to this location in 1882, modernized in the 1950s, closed in 1973. Threatened with demolition, waiting for a new mission.

After Adams began his study of the law in August 1756 he moved in with the Putnam family who lived across the street at a mansion that once stood on the corner of Main and what is today called Franklin Street (the name seemingly changes on virtually every map of Worcester from South Street on the 1829 Phelps map to Park Street on Triscott’s 1878 map, see both above). Putnam’s law office was located on Gardiner Chandler’s large estate across the street from his house, so Adams did not have to travel very far at all to visit his friend. Even before his law studies constricted his time, his travels in Worcester were fairly circumscribed as the populated area of the town itself did not extend much beyond Lincoln Square to the north and much beyond what is now Federal Square but which is called Franklin Square on Triscott’s 1878 map of the city. The town was still concentrated around the two focal points of the court house and the meeting house as late as 1793, when Peter Whitney, a minister from nearby Northborough, published a History of Worcester County, in which he described the limits of the town of Worcester at the time: “in the centre, in the compass of one mile, and mostly on one street, are collected the county officers, a number of merchants and shop keepers, professional men, and mechanicks of various sorts.”21Peter Whitney, The History of the County of Worcester. Worcester: Isiah Thomas, 1793, p. 28. Incidentally the book is dedicated to “John Adams, LLD. Vice President of the United States and President of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.”

The center of Worcester continued to be the most heavily populated area of town even as the town expanded outward as it continued its remarkable growth in the nineteenth century, when it increased from 2,095 inhabitants at the first census in 1790 to 118,421 residents by 1900. Much of this growth was the result of the rapid increase in mechanization in the nineteenth century and the improved transportation systems that allowed raw materials, goods, services, and people to move more rapidly. Worcester was far enough from Boston that it could maintain its independence but close enough to the seaport and to the transportation network emanating from Boston to be able to ship its industrial products, including machinery and wire, around the world, a history told in great and interesting detail at the Worcester Historical Museum.

The city benefited financially from all this industry and numerous banks, stores, and cultural enterprises sprang up along Main Street, many of which were discussed in the previous entry. The center of commercial activity from the nineteenth century in Worcester well into the twentieth century was the area around Harrington Corner (see photo above) at the intersection of Main Street and Front Street, the “crossroads of Worcester.”22Moynihan, p. 75. One store in particular illustrates the history of this activity. Denholm’s Department Store, which began in 1870 as Denholm & McKay in the Clark building on Main Street and Mechanic Street, once the location of John Chandler’s mansion, moved in 1882 to occupy the block adjacent to the Taylor Block and opposite the site of the Putnam estate, the same block where the law office of James Putnam was once located on the estate of Gardiner Chandler. Denholm’s ultimately became the biggest department store in New England outside of Boston and was a well-known and much-visited landmark in Worcester, “the crown jewel of a once-bustling downtown” according to a recent article in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette. The store was a popular destination, particularly at Christmas when the front of the building was decorated with festive lights and a large Christmas tree. At its peak in the postwar period, the store employed 600 people and was the second largest employer and taxpayer in the city of Worcester. In the 1950s the Victorian facade was modernized to its current look and the first escalators in the city of Worcester were installed in Denholm’s in 1964. However, business declined as the city declined, and the construction of a new shopping mall behind City Hall, the now closed Galleria at Worcester Center was the final nail in the coffin for the financially struggling store, which had itself expanded with a branch in the nearby Auburn Mall, and the store was shuttered in 1973, a year before the Glass Tower went up next door. The store continues to interest and to inspire people; there is a blog dedicated to the store, the Worcester Historical Museum recently closed a long-running exhibition about the store, a book has been written about the store and so on.


The Devil’s Men

View down Main Street from the front of the Denholm building, once a thriving department store which closed in 1973. On the opposite side of the street is the Park Building from 1914. James Putnam, the lawyer who trained John Adams and who was banished from Massachusetts in 1778 for his activities as a Loyalist, lived in a house located on the east side of Main Street and owned most of the property seen along the left side of the road in the photograph.

James Putnam, the brother-in-law of Gardiner and John Chandler, was a widely respected lawyer who began his legal practice in Worcester in 1749 and ultimately became the last provincial Attorney General of Massachusetts in 1774.23Nutt, p. 211.Unsurprisingly, his appointment to a high political position in the much-reviled colonial government at the time was his undoing in Worcester and he was soon on his way to exile in England, later moving to New Brunswick, where he became Justice of the Supreme Court of the Province in 1779, and where he died in 1789. John Adams passed through Worcester on his way to Philadelphia in January 1776 and recorded that he “Stopped at Sternes’s in Worcester, and dined with Mr. Lincoln at Mr. Jonathan Williams’s. In Putnams Office where I formerly trimm’d the Midnight Lamp, Mr. Williams keeps Laws Works and Jacob Behmens, with whose Mistical Reveries he is much captivated.” Thus his former teacher had now been replaced by a former law clerk of Adams. On an earlier trip to Worcester in 1771, when Adams had stayed with the Putnams, he wrote, “this Pleasure of revisiting an old Haunt is very great.” In 1776 Putnam was gone and Adams now dined with the new elite in the person of Levi Lincoln, future Representative in the United States Congress from Worcester, United States Attorney General, and (briefly) Governor of Massachusetts, who had moved his own law practice to Worcester in 1775 after the departure of Putnam and the Chandlers. Incidentally Levi Lincoln, as the Judge of Probate for Worcester County, a position once held by John Chandler, was the man officially responsible for seizing and distributing the assets of John Chandler and James Putnam.24Andrew McFarland Davis, The Confiscation of John Chandler’s Estate. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1903, p. 72.

Six men from the town of Worcester were listed among the roughly 300 names of the people banished under the act of 1778: John Chandler, his sons Rufus and William, his brother-in-law James Putnam, and his nephew William Paine, along with a man named Adam Walker, about whom I have been unable to discover much information. Others like Clark Chandler, Timothy Paine, and Gardiner Chandler were apparently deemed sufficiently contrite that they were allowed to remain in Massachusetts. Timothy Paine redeemed himself to such a degree that he was actually elected as a state representative from Worcester in 1788 and was an unsuccessful candidate for Congress in 1789. His son William Paine was allowed to return to Salem after the repeal of the act of banishment in 1787 and returned to Worcester to claim his inheritance after his father died in 1793, where he remained until his death in 1833 “an inflexible loyalist to the last.”25Wall, Reminiscences of Worcester, p. 87. John Chandler, the most significant figure in Worcester to be banished by the act of 1778, was well-respected right up to his death in 1800 in London, and achieved a reputation as the “honest refugee” among the Loyalists who never returned.26Caleb Wall, Reminiscences of Worcester, 1877, p. 70.

The question that comes to my mind is, why did some people leave and never return while others stayed and still others left and returned? It is clear that John Adams held the Chandler family in high regard despite knowing full well their Tory inclinations, indicating that he was likely not disposed to approve of their banishment. Perhaps the epithet applied to John Chandler, the “honest refugee,” was a little too on the mark. John Adams, in a letter to Abigail dated June 30, 1774, is clearly trying to understand why his friend is pursuing the course that will ultimately lead to his banishment: “In Truth the offices, which are held in every Shire Town of every County, create a Dependence in the Minds of the Principal Gentlemen of the Place upon the Court, which generally draws the Parson and often the Doctor into the Vortex, untill they all become disposed to Act upon the Principle of Coll. Chandler at Worcester, tho they have generally more policy than to avow it ‘That if the Devil was Governor, as for them and their Houses they would be Governors Men.’”

That Adams respected the Chandlers despite disagreeing with their political opinions is beyond question. After completing his legal studies Adams was asked by several men in Worcester to run for Register of Deeds in order to try to break up the Chandler monopoly on public office in Worcester County. Adams recounts in an autobiographical essay written around 1800, that “My Answer was that as the Chandlers were worthy People and discharged the Duties of their offices very well I envied not their felicity and had no desire to sett myself in Opposition to them, and especially to Mr. Putnam who had married a beautifull Daughter of that Family and had treated me with Civility and Kindness.”

As I mentioned earlier, the Chandlers managed to keep more than a toe-hold in Worcester after the Revolution. Lucretia Chandler, the fifteenth child of Colonel John Chandler, married none other than the Reverend Aaron Bancroft in October, 1786. Yet the fragmentation of the family was also apparent when, less than three months later, in December 1786, Elizabeth Chandler, sister to Lucretia and the youngest of John Chandler’s seventeen children with his two wives (Dorothy Paine and Mary Church), married Ebeneezer Putnam of St. John, New Brunswick, the son of the exiled James Putnam. The Chandlers were now scattered between Worcester, England, and Canada. There was enough Chandler influence left in Worcester that a major thoroughfare in Worcester to this day bears the name Chandler Street, the street at which this entry concludes but, by the nineteenth century, the Chandlers were merely one of several prominent families.27Wall, p. 71. As Kenneth Moynihan points out in his History of Worcester “the Chandler and Paine fortunes had survived, vigorous if not entirely intact. Besides these old aristocrats now stood new men whose wealth, like that of their predecessors, was based largely on appointive positions at the courthouse, on commerce, or on the practice of law.”28Moynihan, p. 95.Men like Levi Lincoln and Stephen Salisbury, whose families dominated the political and cultural scene in nineteenth century Worcester.


The Grand Old Party City

When Worcester had political power. Statue of George Frisbie Hoar in front of City Hall in Worcester. Hoar served as Senator from Massachusetts for 27 years until his death in 1904.

Worcester thrived in the nineteenth century as a manufacturing and commercial power in central Massachusetts, but also as a center of political power: Levi Lincoln Sr., who served as Attorney General of the United States from 1801 to 1805 under Thomas Jefferson, subsequently became Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and briefly served as Acting Governor, while his son, Levi Lincoln Jr., served as Governor of Massachusetts from 1825-1834 and later became the first Mayor of Worcester. John Davis, although born in Northborough, lived most of his later life in Worcester, and succeeded Levi Lincoln Jr. as Governor. Davis later served again as Governor in between his fourteen years as United States Senator from Massachusetts. Republican George Frisbie Hoar, whose statue is prominently located in front of City Hall, was the last resident of Worcester to serve in the United States Senate, from 1877 until his death in 1904. Numerous important political conventions were held in Worcester in the nineteenth century, often in the original Town (then City) Hall, including “the People’s Convention held in this city, (where) a new party was organized and called the Republican party, July 20, 1854, and the organization in this State has continued from that time.”29Nutt, History of Worcester, p. 499. An interesting side note is the continued, albeit indirect political influence of John Chandler, who died in London in 1800. He was, according to Caleb Wall, in his Reminiscences of Worcester “grandfather of Mrs. Gov. Davis, Mrs. Gov. Lincoln, and Hon. George Bancroft.”30Wall, p. 63.

The political clout of Worcester has diminished in recent decades (much like the Republican Party in Massachusetts) along with its cultural and economic clout as Boston dominates not only the economy of the state but is also the capital of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. There was an interesting early effort to make Worcester the capital instead of Boston, an effort whose principal advocate was none other than Timothy Paine, whose “remarkable rehabilitation” led, in 1788, to his election as representative from Worcester to the Massachusetts General Court. Paine argued that a more central location for the state capital would better serve the residents of the Commonwealth but his arguments were defeated primarily because of the continued presence of Maine as a part of Massachusetts, the argument being that the people of Maine would be at a disadvantage if the capital were not on the coast.31Moynihan, p. 110. By the time Maine became a state in 1820 the rapidly growing soon to be City of Boston (1822), with 43,398 residents, was the fourth largest municipality in the United States while Worcester, with 2,962 residents, was merely the 18th largest town in Massachusetts. Boston had, if anything, increased its economic and political power and, although Worcester shortly thereafter began to experience the dramatic growth that vaulted it to the second largest city in New England, the coastal city kept a firm grip upon the reins of government in Massachusetts which it maintains to this day.

It is interesting to speculate about the evolution of Worcester had it become the seat of government of the Commonwealth. On the one hand, the capitol building, which was likely to have been located on or near Worcester Common, would make the area more bustling than its current moribund atmosphere. It is also likely that transportation links between Worcester and Springfield, as well as with other areas of the state, including Boston, would be better than today’s poor connections; perhaps there might even be the long-sought commuter rail link between the second and third largest cities in Massachusetts. On the other hand, Boston was already the seat of government and much the larger town even in the eighteenth century and, as a seaport, was never likely to lose that demographic and economic advantage. In states where the capital city is not the economic powerhouse, the benefits of being the center of political power are almost never substantial enough to overcome the demographic and economic clout of the principal city: see New York (Albany), Pennsylvania (Harrisburg), Maryland (Annapolis) for examples of the other thirteen original states that chose a capital that was not the largest city at the time. Even states formed later generally reflect the same disparity between the capital and the principal city: Illinois (Springfield), Missouri (Jefferson City), Washington (Olympia) are only a few examples. It is probably wishful thinking to believe the fortunes of Worcester would have been much different had the State House been located on Worcester Common instead of facing Boston Common on Beacon Hill.


A Brief Walk around Worcester Common

Monument to the “sons who died for the unity of the Republic, 1861-1865” at the northeast corner of Worcester Common. The monument is flanked by two buildings in the background erected in 1971 as part of the urban renewal project called Worcester Center. The Mercantile Center (on the left) was briefly the tallest building in Worcester.

Had the State House been located on the block between Commercial Street and Church Street on the north side of Worcester Common it would certainly have helped prevent the current disaster that passes for revitalization along the block. The first block leading east from Main Street at Harrington Corner along Front Street on the north side of the Common is lined with a half dozen impressive nineteenth century buildings (with only one modern nightmare jarringly squeezed in among the cluster of noble brick buildings. See the photo at the beginning of this entry), dominated by the impressive seven-story Queen Anne-style Chase building of 1886 (MACRIS #WOR1003). Built for Ransom C. Taylor, the largest property owner in Worcester at the turn of the century, this was briefly the largest office building in Worcester and has “retained its semi-circular terra cotta decorated panels, its central copper-clad bay window, and its granite trim,” according to the report submitted by the Worcester Preservation Committee that appears on the MACRIS Website.

The following block is a product of the misguided, almost religious, zeal for urban renewal that swept through so many cities in the 1960s and 1970s which resulted in the large-scale demolition of the historic cores of many once-thriving downtown areas. In Worcester, the destruction of a significant chunk of downtown resulted in the complex of office buildings and stores opened in 1971 as Worcester Center. In addition to the aforementioned Mercantile Center (then termed the Mechanics National Bank Tower), which briefly became the tallest building in Worcester, there was a mall called the Galleria, anchored by two big Boston department store chains, Filene’s and Jordan Marsh. Not only was the mall a failure, closing for good in 2006, but it also directly contributed to the decline of Denholm’s, Worcester’s own department store on nearby Main Street, as well as to the loss of several city blocks worth of interesting architecture that would have given the Common a more consistently majestic and aesthetically pleasing appearance. Instead, the ugly buildings lining the northeast corner and the east side of the Common make the area seem more forlorn than it actually is. The scale is all wrong for any type of street-level interactions and the buildings themselves are forbidding with few windows and entrances that are uninviting. Find your way into this modernist labyrinth and one discovers that there is clearly an ongoing and more small-scale attempt to revitalize the area that Worcester Center was meant to revitalize and it appears to be achieving some modest success, so hopefully the lessons learned from the earlier demolition of the area have been taken on board. The main difficulty for the stores and restaurants hiding away behind the facades of these menacing buildings is that it is difficult to know they are there. I am not joking when I suggest that they put up some giant colored arrows with the names of some of the businesses tucked away in this maze; one day I randomly discovered a small food court/mall and bought some wine from a wine store. A few weeks later I went back, tried to find the store, got fed up looking for it, and continued on elsewhere. It shouldn’t be this difficult. 32I am someone with a very good sense of direction who can find places in foreign cities I visited thirty years previously with little effort, so this was quite disturbing to me and indicative of the disorienting sameness of modern mall architecture. I found it the next day, at home, by spending a couple of minutes googling “wine store” for the area around Worcester Common; here it is for those of you who might be interested: Clock Beer & Wine

One “wonders” how they let this happen?

The recently renovated Worcester Public Library, with a new entrance on Franklin Street anchoring the southeast corner of Worcester Common is a welcome addition, although its move here in 1964 from Elm Street near Main Street was another blow to Main Street (the site is now, unsurprisingly, a parking garage). Fortunately most of the buildings along the south side of the Common along Franklin Street, including the Bancroft building, managed to survive the bulldozers. The south side of the Common has a lot more atmosphere, with many of the buildings occupied by small businesses at street level, including a beer garden in the void between #60 and #76 Franklin Street where the Paris Cinema (originally the Capitol Theater, 1926) once stood. Parking lots in the empty spaces left by knocking down buildings are useless if there is nothing to do once you have left your car. At least the old cinema has been replaced by the nearby Brick Box Theater in the Jean McDonough Arts Center at 20 Franklin Street, which, according to their website, is “the place in downtown Worcester, MA to present and experience a wide range of arts, culture, and community events.” This seems like a more promising approach to bringing people downtown than the demolition strategy. The renovated building has a modern facade but step down adjacent Allen Court and it quickly becomes apparent from the blond brick veneer along the side of the building that this is still the old Worcester Telegram & Gazette Building (1910).

The Common itself has been spruced up in recent years, although even in the nineteenth century it was treated with somewhat less respect than perhaps its central location and history called for, as evidenced by the train tracks running through the Common behind City Hall and Old South Church on Phineas Ball’s 1860 map of Worcester. Part of Worcester Common originally served as a burying ground, and later all the stones were laid flat and buried to create a more park-like atmosphere.33Nutt, p. 427. Eventually the graves were dug up and moved to other cemeteries outside of downtown, but a few stones are preserved in a small enclosure surrounding the impressive memorial to Joshua Bigelow, who led the company of Worcester soldiers to the battle of Lexington and Concord in April 1775. An even more impressive memorial to the soldiers who died in the Civil War is located on the northeast corner of the Common (see photo). The city has tried to create a bit of action in the Common by setting up an ice rink in winter and having movies and concerts in the summer, but on the half dozen days I visit the Common over the course of several years and every season, the homeless and the unstable make up the lion’s share of the other visitors to the area. It is a difficult trick to pull off the revitalization of a once vibrant area that suffers from decline, an area referred to as “a ghost town, reminiscent of the Old West” by a long-time resident recalling the better times, but it is apparent that there are ongoing efforts to bring vitality back to downtown, some organic, some bureaucratic, some institutional. I was a student here in the 1980s and I can assert with some confidence that the area around Worcester Common today is more vibrant (in a good way!) and shows more promise than it did when the Paris Cinema, which ran adult movies across the street from City Hall, was the principal source of entertainment in the area. As a fan of big cities, especially older cities with a rich architectural and cultural heritage like Worcester, I would love for the efforts to succeed. One thing I am sure of though is that demolishing the architecture that is a part of the historic fabric of the city is not the solution; they tried it in lots of places, including here in Worcester, and it didn’t work.

Detail of an 1860 Map of Worcester by Phineas Ball. Notice City Hall next door to Old South Church, as well as the train tracks through the Common. #254 Main Street, across from Old South Church, is the house built by Gardiner Chandler in 1752, soon to be demolished. Notice that most of the buildings on the west side of Main Street are residential and compare with the map by Triscott of 1878, which shows many more commercial buildings.


Becoming Downtown

The Morgan-Sawyer building (1922) at 529-545 Main Street was for decades the home of Filene’s department store in Worcester until the store moved to the new Worcester Center Galleria in 1971. The fifth floor was added in 1947.

Fortunately Main Street managed to escape the worst of the ravages of “demolition fever.” From the Park building on the corner of Franklin Street and Main Street to Chandler Street, many of the nineteenth century buildings survive, only a few in bad enough shape to fear for their future and only the occasional empty lot or parking structure to mar the otherwise unified appearance of so many fine examples of buildings that appeal to the eye, with the notable exception of one more high rise building. It’s not all peaches and cream, as many of the buildings have “For Rent” signs in the window, and still others are occupied by government agencies, never a good sign as it indicates the lack of tenants willing to pay higher rents, but there is promise even along this section of downtown south of City Hall.

The block from Franklin Street south to Federal St along the east side of Main Street is part of the Main and Franklin Streets Historic District, which includes the block along Franklin Street facing the Common described above. This district, once principally the estate of James Putnam along with the adjacent parsonage where Reverend Thaddeus Maccarty lived, is considered significant by the Massachusetts Historical Commission because the “area is associated with the late 19th- and early 20th-century shift of mostly low-scale residential and institutional uses in this central part of Worcester to a solidly commercial area that complements the earlier commercial development along Main Street and the institutional architecture of City Hall and within the Common to the north. The Main and Franklin Streets Area’s predominantly classical style architecture depicts the rapid and relatively complete transition of the area during an important period of the city’s growth.”

The area might have firmly become part of commercial Downtown Worcester in the twentieth century but on earlier maps the commercial, cultural, and government center of Worcester was definitely the area of Main Street between the meeting house on the Common and the court house on Lincoln Square. All the prominent buildings shown on the 1795 map of Worcester by John Peirce and David Andrews are between the court house and the meeting house along Main Street, but there are no buildings shown on Main Street, or what the map called the “Road from Boston to New York,” south of the meeting house. Similarly, Edward Phelps’s 1829 map of downtown Worcester (see map above) shows dozens of buildings between the court house and the meeting house but only five buildings south of the meeting house along Main Street, all residences, before the map ends one block south of the meeting house at what is today Federal Street at the top of Federal Square.

In 1860, on the map of Phineas Ball (above), there are clearly a few commercial buildings along Main Street south of the meeting house on the east side of the street but the west side of the street is still comprised principally of residential properties with large gardens. However, by 1878, on the detailed map produced by Samuel Triscott (shown earlier in this entry), the blocks south of Main Street are lined with commercial buildings on both sides of the street, with the sole exception of the “residence of Dr. Joseph Sargent.” The house is also shown on the frontispiece of Caleb Wall’s Reminiscences of Worcester (1877), in which the author presents a view of Main Street as it looked in 1836 from Franklin (now Federal) Square (see image below), a view that also shows the house built by Gardiner Chandler, and reinforces the notion that forty years earlier, in 1836, Main Street in this area was primarily residential in nature.

Frontispiece of Caleb Wall’s Reminiscences of Worcester (1877), showing a view of Main Street as it looked in 1836, “looking north from a point near the middle of Franklin Square” (today’s Federal Square). According to Wall, writing in 1878, the first house on the right is the house of Charles Allen, built in 1788 by Daniel Clapp after the Putnam house previously on the site burned in 1786. Today the Park Building (1914) occupies the location. Next on the right is Old South Church (the meeting house) and beyond that is the Town Hall from 1824. The first building on the left is the house of Doctor Joseph Sargent, built by Benjamin Butman in 1828. According to Wall, Putnam’s law office was located on the site of this house, once the grounds of Gardiner Chandler. Today the former Denholm’s department store building occupies the location. Beyond that on the left is the house occupied by the late Judge Ira Barton which was built in 1752 by Gardiner Chandler.
Approximately the same view up North from Federal (Franklin) Square as in the image above. Denholm’s is located where the Sargent House is above. The Park Building is located where the Allen (Putnam) house was located. Harrington Corner (1850) is visible in the distance (the red building); an earlier version of the building is shown in the image above, just past Town Hall.
A third image of the same view as above, which is undated but clearly from after World War II. Again, notice how much busier it is than today’s view. The added labels are not mine, but are useful, even if they misspelled the name of the pharmacy.


St Paul’s Cathedral (completed 1889) sits above Main Street. In front is the now struggling Frederick Block (1894) another building put up by real estate entrepreneur Ransom Taylor.

The series of buildings along the block leading south from the Park Building are each unique and impressive and include the Cheney-Ballard Building at #517 Main Street (c. 1865-1875, MACRIS WOR.772), a rare Second Empire commercial building in Worcester and the Filene’s building (1922) at 529-545 Main Street (see photo above), the long-time location of the Worcester branch of the Boston department store, which moved to the Worcester Galleria in 1971, doubly hastening the decline of this commercial section of Main Street by also contributing to the decline of nearby Denholm’s department store.

The buildings that once stood next door to Denholm’s along the west side of Main Street south of the department store did not survive the demolition ball, and a parking lot now occupies the site that once held a nineteenth-century building occupied by Richard Healy Furriers (closed 1972) and the next door Walgreens (closed 1974), which used to have much more visually striking buildings, as can be seen in this photograph from an article in the the Worcester Telegram. However, the block from Chatham Street to Austin Street is lined with a series of interesting commercial buildings dating from 1860-1900, blighted only by a large parking structure mid-block. Behind these buildings up the hill on Chatham Street is the impressive Victorian Gothic Cathedral of St Paul, begun in 1868 and completed in 1889 as Worcester’s third and largest Catholic church. Originally planned for the corner of Main Street and Chatham Street, the planned widening of Main Street convinced the church to instead build one block uphill at the corner of High Street and Chatham Street and the building, with its nearly one hundred-foot high tower, even today dominates the view along Main Street, a symbol that the Catholic church had finally achieved a measure of power in a town long-dominated by the nearby Congregational meeting house. The topic of the changing demographics of Worcester is one I will return to in the next, and final, entry on Worcester.


Theater of Spies

Just beyond the old Filene’s Building there is a prominent junction which has existed at least since 1794, as it appears on the map of Worcester surveyed by Peirce and Andrews in that year and published in 1795. The “road to New York,” today’s Main Street, begins a slow arc southwest towards the town of Leicester, three miles away. The “road to Ward,” today’s Southbridge Street, heads south towards the town of Auburn (originally called Ward). This busy junction was part of the commercial district of Worcester by the end of the nineteenth century as can be seen in the photograph below from the early twentieth century. The prominent “flat-iron” building in the photograph is called N.R Scott’s Block on Triscott’s 1878 map as it housed the offices of the “druggist” of the same name located on the ground floor.34Nutt, p. 1095. The federal government purchased land behind the “Flat-iron” building in 1887 and a new Worcester Post Office building opened there in 1897. The space was eventually deemed too small and so in 1932 the current imposing Classical Revival Harold D. Donohue Federal Building and United States Courthouse opened on the site of both the former Post Office and the Flat-iron building (see photo below; MACRIS #WOR.1907).

An undated photo from c. 1900 showing the junction of Southbridge Street and Main Street. The prominent “flat-iron” building is listed in 1878 as the property of N.R. Scott, who operated a druggist store as early as 1867. The building was eventually replaced by the Federal Building and United States Courthouse shown in the photo below.

The junction of Southbridge and Main Streets, which is referred to as Franklin Square on older maps and in most history books, is today called Federal Square, presumably because of the prominent location of the Federal Building in the middle of the junction. In 1904 the Franklin Square Theater opened on the east side of the square. The theater was built by Ransom C. Taylor, the real estate mogul we have already encountered, and was originally set back from Southbridge Street behind several commercial blocks also put up by Taylor visible on Triscott’s 1878 map of Worcester. An elaborate entrance located between two of the commercial buildings led to the theater in back.

The building was purchased in 1912 by Sylvester Zefferino Poli, an Italian immigrant who became one of New England’s biggest theater magnates. Poli remodeled the theater in 1925 and reopened it in 1926 as Poli’s Place Theater, Worcester’s largest and most opulent theater (MACRIS #WOR.2815). A review of the newly-renovated theater in the Worcester Telegram in 1926 raved that “S.Z. Poli has built a theater that will thrill not only the regular patron of vaudeville but even those who are interested in architectural beauty alone.” As vaudeville declined and the “talkies” became popular the theater was transformed into a movie palace by the 1930s and was ultimately converted to a multiplex movie theater in the 1960s, obscuring and destroying much of the grandeur of the original interior of the building. After the theater closed in 1998 with the simultaneous opening of a larger multiplex theater on the outskirts of the city, the theater faced a fate not unlike other demolished downtown theaters such as the Paris Cinema around the corner on Franklin Street.35I learned much of this from the excellent volunteer-led tour of the theater, which I highly recommend.

Fortunately the theater was purchased by local businessmen Edward Madaus and Paul Demoga who envisioned restoring the theater to its former glory as a performing arts center. Today the Hanover Theater and Conservatory is a thriving nonprofit theater showing Broadway plays, musicals, and local productions in a stunningly renovated theater, as well as offering classes in improv, music, dance, and acting. The theater is an example of successful renovation that has spawned more renovation in the neighborhood and attracted local businesses to invest in the area. The city of Worcester has changed the layout of the square, closing off Southbridge Street and creating a pedestrianized space in front of the theater. Even the original entrance to the Franklin Square Theater has been restored. Franklin/Federal Square is a bright spot in the efforts to return the area to what a guest columnist in the Worcester Telegraph recalled in a column from 2018 entitled Reader’s Memories: Downtown Worcester, Bygone Days: “Who would think that Downtown Worcester, now a virtual ghost town, reminiscent of the Old West, was once a thriving metropolis, the place to be? But, yes, it is true. During the ’50s, ’60s and early-70s, when I grew up as a child and to a young adult, downtown was a fun and freeing experience, a place to gravitate toward.” The author specifically mentions going to the movies at Poli’s, and shopping in Filene’s and in Denholm’s. While it seems the era of the department store is over, at least the theater is back and in better shape than it was in the author’s remembered halcyon days.


Hanover Theater and Conservatory, Federal Square in Worcester. Notice the restored facade of the original entrance in the center of the building with the “Franklin Square” sign. The theater is actually in the brick building rising up to the right in the background. This was once the location of the tavern operated by William Jones, where the British spies Ensign Henry DeBerniere and Captain William Brown spent two nights in late February 1775

Exciting as the restoration of the theater and the revitalization of Franklin Square is for the city of Worcester, my primary interest in this project is the documentation of the history of the old road that passes through the area, the Upper Boston Post Road, which follows Main Street southwest from City Hall towards Leicester. In early 1775, Colonel William Brown and Ensign Henry DeBerniere, two soldiers of the British Army were sent out in disguise to survey the countryside in anticipation of impending action against the increasingly hostile locals, men like the 1500 from all over Worcester County who had gathered on Worcester Common the previous August to protest the actions of loyal government men like the Chandlers, Putnams, and Paines. At 5 p.m. on Saturday, February 25, 1775, Brown and DeBerniere arrived in Worcester “very much fatigued,” as DeBerniere noted in the report he submitted to General Thomas Gage later that year. This report was found among the papers left behind when the army was forced to retreat hastily from Boston in March 1776, after artillery captured at Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York was successfully transported by men (well, by oxen and by horses under the supervision of men) under the command of Colonel Henry Knox along the route of the Upper Boston Post Road, passing through Worcester to the outskirts of Boston, where it was placed on the heights overlooking the town and the harbor during the Siege of Boston following the Battle of Bunker Hill.36The report was published in Boston in 1779, and can be found on the website of the Massachusetts Historical Society. The relevant section on Worcester can be found on pages 8&9.

Brown and DeBerniere had solicited advice from Isaac Jones, the friendly proprietor of the Golden Ball Tavern in Weston about “friendly” tavern keepers along the road and he “recommended us to two, a Mr. Buckminster’s (Joseph Buckminster of Framingham)37Not a Loyalist as it turned out and a fairly dangerous place for the two men to stop. See my entry on Framingham, Everybody Comes to Buck’s, and another at Worcester, a namesake of his own, a Mr. Jones.” After having passed through the town “we got safe to Mr. Jones’s tavern; on our entrance he seemed a little sour, but it wore off by degrees and we found him to be our friend; we dined and supped without anything happening out of the common run.” The two men spent the next day in Worcester as travel on Sunday “was contrary to the custom of the country” and the spies worried about drawing attention to themselves. They also stayed in at Jones’s all day because “nor dare we stir out until evening because of meeting, and no-body is allowed to walk the streets during divine service, without being taken up and examined; so that thinking we could not stand examination so well, we thought it prudent to stay at home, where we wrote and corrected our sketches.”

Front page of the published version of the report describing the adventures of the spies Henry DeBerniere and William Brown in the late winter of 1775. Reproduction from the Massachusetts Historical Society website.

The Jones tavern where the two men spent all day on Sunday February 26, 1775, was located “a few rods south of Old South Church” according to William Lincoln in his History of Worcester.38Lincoln, p. 96. Charles Nutt puts “Jones tavern, from the Revolutionary period” on Franklin Street, which seems mistaken based on the fact that Putnam owned 80 acres on the corner of Franklin and Main Street and the parsonage took up another couple of acres along Franklin Street, as discussed earlier.39Nutt, History of Worcester, p. 1041. A more likely location is Federal Square, what was called in Nutt’s day Franklin Square, a block south (a few rods) of the “Old South Church” as the meeting house on the Common was later known. Caleb Wall, in his 1877 Reminiscences of Worcester, states that “Jones Tavern on the site of Sargent’s Block at Main and Southbridge Street was a Tory refuge when kept by Jones from 1770-1777.”40Wall, Reminiscences of Worcester, p. 335. Sargent’s Block can be seen on the map of Worcester produced by Samuel Triscott in 1878 (see above), next to the train tracks, set back behind the commercial buildings of R.C. Taylor along Southbridge Street. This is, of course, the location of what became the Franklin Square Theater and is now the Hanover Theater.

Captain William Jones, along with his wife Sarah (Curtis), operated the tavern from 1770 until his death in 1777 at the age of 73.41Wall, p. 36. According to DeBerniere in his report “the landlord was very attentive to us, and asking what he could give us for breakfast, he told us tea or anything else we chose-that was an open confession what he was; but for fear he might be imprudent we did not tell him who we were, tho’ we were certain he knew it.” In the evening the two men finally “went round the town and on all the hills that command it, sketched everything we desired, and returned to the town without being seen.” Sadly the known sketches Henry DeBerniere took on his travels west of Boston extend only as far as Wayland; it would be fantastic to have his detailed descriptions of the layout of Worcester on the cusp of the Revolution.

Upon their return they had another intriguing encounter with William Jones: “That evening about eight o’clock the landlord came in and told us there were two gentlemen who wanted to speak with us; we asked him, who were they? on which he said we would be safe in their company; we said we did not doubt that, as we hoped two gentlemen who travelled merely to see the country and stretch our limbs, as we had lately come from sea, could not meet with anything else but civility, when we behaved ourselves properly; he told us he would come again in a little time, and perhaps we wou’d change our minds, and then left us.” The men it turns out were attempting to warn the two soldiers that the rebels were disarming “friends of the government” at nearby Petersham and that they were about to do the same in Worcester. Jones then “sat and talked politicks, and drank a bottle of wine with us-and also told us that none but a few friends to government knew we were in town; we said it was very indifferent to us whether they did or not, tho’ we thought very differently; however, as we imagined we had laid long enough in that town, we resolved to set off at day-break the next morning…” back towards Boston.

I, however, will be continuing west to Springfield, and so ends my journey with these two fellow travelers, whose footsteps I have followed through every town along the route of this project thus far. It well and truly feels that from this point on I will be traveling without a guide through the more mysterious reaches west of Worcester. In truth there are other narratives which will become more important as I travel west to Springfield, including the diary of George Washington, which was more detailed as he traveled through Connecticut and east from Springfield, before he got closer to Boston. However, none of these narratives can match the exciting adventure story told by DeBerniere of the travels of the two British officers who wandered along the route of the Upper Boston Post Road and along the Framingham road from Boston to Worcester in late February and early March 1775, leaving so much detailed information about their journey and yet presenting so many more unanswered questions: Who were the two men who came to see them at Jones’s tavern in Worcester? Could one have been Gardiner Chandler, or perhaps a Putnam or a Paine, if they were still in town at that point? The two spies, who were in disguise for fear of being discovered as “government men,” were staying at a tavern located next door to the estate of James Putnam and across the street from the estate of Gardiner Chandler, self-professed Loyalists and two of the most important people in Worcester until only a few short months before the arrival of Brown and DeBerniere, an indication of the dramatic changes in Worcester and in the fortunes of the Chandler, Putnam, and Paine families in that turbulent period.


High and Low Revisited

At left in the photograph above is the Harold D. Donohue Federal Building and United States Courthouse for the Central Massachusetts District. At right is the high-rise apartment building at 600 Main Street called The 6Hundred.

The other tallest building in Worcester takes up most of the block between Austin Street and Chandler Street on the west side of Main Street. The large high-rise building at 600 Main Street, built in 1991 as Sky Mark Tower but currently going by the affected name “The 6Hundred” (see photo), is a 206-unit, 24-story (289 feet) apartment building, exactly the same height as the Glass Tower (Worcester Plaza), and is the last building over ten stories to be built in Worcester, according to an article in the Worcester Business Journal. Another article in the same journal discusses the history of the “tower boom” beginning in the late 1960s and ending with the Sky Mark Tower. During this roughly two-decade period fifteen buildings of ten or more stories were built, but the boom ended with this building in 1991. The article quotes Rob Kreuger, Professor of Social Science and Policy Studies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), who states that “towers are typically built for two major reason: land values are so high to make construction costs viable, or a builder or owner wants to spend on a signature project. Worcester doesn’t really fit into either of those categories. We just don’t have the land scarcity issue.”

Indeed the problem is not the lack of buildings in Worcester at all; in fact, its quite the opposite. As the walks described in this entry and the previous entry through Downtown Worcester have amply illustrated, Worcester is fortunate in that, despite the occasional temptation to destroy swathes of valuable architectural treasures, it has preserved an abundant supply of truly outstanding architecture, some of which has been transformed to meet the requirements of contemporary city living, but much of which appears to be waiting desperately for somebody to recognize the potential inherent in restoring or adapting these old, mostly underutilized, architectural gems to create a more vibrant community. Main Street, as recently as the 1860s, was a residential street, lined with elegant mansions. The residents of these houses, like John Adams as early as the 1750s, were able to meet all their needs merely by walking up and down Main Street and the adjoining cross streets. This vision of local living is not too far-fetched even today for Downtown Worcester. The train and bus station is within walking distance of City Hall, and there are churches, restaurants, theaters, concert halls, universities, museums, even a bakery, all within a short walk as well. Also nearby is the Worcester Public Market, a baseball stadium for the AAA franchise of the Boston Red Sox, and a hockey rink. A bold grocery chain could easily build a store in downtown, either in one of the older buildings or even in one of the empty lots. Alternatively, smaller food vendors could occupy the many underutilized store fronts (How many cell phones can one person have?).

As I walk through the center of Worcester I am frankly astonished that the transformation of Main Street into a vibrant and trendy hub of activity hasn’t happened yet; I walk through town thinking I have “discovered” a place before it has become fashionable and that I should keep it to myself. I also realize that it has a long way to go before it becomes the “place to gravitate toward,” that more of the empty store fronts need to be filled, that the whiff of desperation given off by the presence of too many cell phone stores and “check cashing” outfits and pot dispensaries needs to be removed, that although the population of Worcester is increasing, it needs to continue to grow and that more and better jobs are needed to raise everyone’s living standard (a topic I will return to in the next entry), that the transportation links are in place and being improved (currently Union Station is being renovated and the tracks are being improved) but that more is needed. The buildings may not be going up as high as they used to, but I much prefer the older, lower buildings anyway, with their rich and complicated histories, the architecture closer to street level and more friendly to the pedestrian. Rather than sweep away the past, I prefer to embrace the history along the road, both the good and the bad, the highs and the lows, especially the lows in this case as I don’t much care for the high-rise buildings. The city of Worcester, despite its low profile, seems to be in the process of rediscovering the rich and interesting past of Main Street and that road leads in only one direction, in my opinion, towards a new high.


Chandler Street, just beyond 600 Main Street, marks the historic boundary of the estate of Gardiner Chandler. This seems a good place to end this walk and entry, as the Upper Boston Post Road begins to transition at this point out of Downtown Worcester. Although there are still several significant commercial buildings along Main Street south of Chandler Street, which I will discuss in the following entry, there is no longer the structural density of the blocks closer to City Hall or in the blocks between City Hall and Lincoln Square. The walk described in this entry along the Upper Boston Post Road has passed, on both sides of the street, almost entirely through the properties of the once powerful Chandler family, and so to end at the street still bearing the name of the preeminent family of colonial Worcester seems appropriate. In the next entry I will “see the country and stretch my limbs” as I follow the Upper Boston Post Road south and west out of Worcester passing through three more miles of the city that dominates central Massachusetts before heading out of Worcester for good, much like John Chandler and James Putnam. Unlike them, I am sure I will be stopping in Worcester again as, to borrow the words of John Quincy Adams, the appearance of the town pleases me very much.


Distance traveled in this entry along the route of the Upper Boston Post Road from Worcester City Hall to Chandler Street: 0.3 miles.

Total Distance traveled along the original route of the road from the Old State House in Boston for this project: 47.7 miles.

Total Distance covered for all the walks described in Boston Rambles: 109.2 miles

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