Norcross Brothers Lecture

via The New England Chapter, Society of Architectural Historians:

The New England Chapter, Society of Architectural Historians
The Metropolitan Waterworks Museum

America’s Pioneer General Contractor for Buildings: The Norcross Brothers of Worcester, Mass

Sara E. Wermiel, PhD
Wednesday June 29th at 7:00 pm
Metropolitan Waterworks Museum, 2450 Beacon St., Boston MA 02467

For those of you who are not familiar with them, the Norcross Brothers were, in the words of Preservation Worcester’s Peter Viles, “the Bechtel/Parsons of the age [1875-1905] with one important difference: there were no cost overruns. When the Norcross Brothers told you how much it would cost, that’s how much you would pay.”

The brothers, James Atkinson Norcross and Orlando Whitney Norcross, moved to Worcester after the Civil War, when they were in their thirties.  They became the contractor for H.H. Richardson and McKim, Mead, and White.  Among many other buildings, Trinity Church in Copley Square is one of the most famous buildings they constructed.

From The History of Worcester: “No contract was too large or too difficult for Norcross Brothers to execute, and there was scarcely a city of importance in the country in which sooner or later the firm did not have large buildings to erect.”

You might also be familiar with some of the buildings they constructed in Worcester: the Norcross Brothers Houses (short history; interior pictures), the Slater Building (390 Main Street), Classical High School, All Saints’ Church, and City Hall.

The mausoleum of James Norcross (with the famous “beehive”) is located at Hope Cemetery, as is the mausoleum of his brother Orlando.  You can find James’ at #16 on the Hope Cemetery walking tour, and Orlando’s at #20.

(Note: for the Proquest links, click here first.)

What I want in a District 5 councilor

James, who is running for the District 5 Council seat, wanted to hear some of my concerns about the city.

Unfortunately for him, I’m not a typical voter.  But I wanted to share some of my thoughts on this subject in the hopes that other folks will share theirs.

I want someone who understands that District 5 includes Webster Square.  It also includes Mill Street.  It also includes James Street.  It includes Elm Park.  District 5 is big, and it’s more than Tatnuck and West Tatnuck.  District 5 desperately needs someone who represents all of us.

I want someone who feels that parks are non-negotiable.  Parts of District 5 are as urban as Worcester gets.  When parks like Hadwen Park are under threat of road development, we need someone who will be an advocate for the need for green space.  We need someone who understands that park land should never be the first choice — or any choice — when we build or expand schools.

District 5 is blessed with some great parks and woods, and we need someone who will advocate for them, not just when they are threatened by development, but when they are threatened by budget cuts.

I want someone who understands that the airport does not just affect West Tatnuck.  Shocking to some, there are residences, schools, and businesses south of the airport, and many of them would be affected by an access road.  No access road is currently on the table, but it seems like much of the time any discussions about airport impact only mention those who live to the north of the airport.

Speaking of south of the airport, there’s a high school in District 5 called South High School.  I’m sure Doherty needs repairs, as do many other schools.  But it’s a bit galling to continually hear a chorus of councilors requesting repairs for Doherty, and having a D5 councilor remain silent on the subject of South.

I want someone to tell me what the heck is going on at the former Price Chopper site on Mill Street.

We need someone who will advocate for a standard evaluation for the city manager.  We currently have a free-form evaluation of the city manager.  We need some more direction of his work, some goals and objectives to be measured against, and some goals for the coming year.

We need someone who is passionate about the job.  Passion comes in different forms.  We need someone who is excited about making this part of the city better.  We need someone who has great ideas.  We need someone who will be an advocate for us.

It might be too much to ask, or too clichéd, but we need someone who is visionary, not reactionary.  Here are a few examples of what I mean:

  • It might sound obvious, but we’ve got a major tree problem in this city.  And we didn’t always.  Did you know that Worcester had one of the best street tree programs in the country about 125 years ago?  I know we’ve got the Worcester Tree Initiative, but we need an even more vocal advocate for trees in this city.  We need someone to ask why we can’t use some of the existing vacant lots not only for urban farms but to grow seedlings.  (Here’s an extra for the winning candidate: you can call my backyard a “vacant lot” and grow American chestnuts therein.)
  • We need someone to advocate for responsible dog ownership through support and education, not by creating bully breeds.
  • We need someone who fully embraces communication and social media, and who is willing to have an honest dialog with constituents.
  • We need someone who truly thinks for him/herself and who’s not beholden to party machines, special interests, etc.

Memorial Day Observances

The 124th Memorial Day Observance will be at Hope Cemetery on Monday at 9am. Participants will meet at 8:45 am inside the Main Gate for a short procession to the G.A.R. Veterans’ Section (#45).  [section map]  Guest Speaker will be John E. McAuliffe, WWII and Korean War Veteran.

There will also be a wreath laying on Monday at 11am at the Massachusetts Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial at Green Hill Park.

If you can’t make the observances on Monday, please consider attending the Water Ceremony at Elm Park on Sunday at 2pm, which honors those lost at sea.

WoMag on Tap – June 2

I rarely attend Worcester Magazine on Tap events (because my Thursday nights are  otherwise occupied) but I will be able to go to the one next Thursday, June 2, at the Flying Rhino on Shrewsbury Street.

If you can’t attend the Blogger Waffle get-together on June 12 (or if you are looking for yet another opportunity to discuss street signs, the grammar of obscure languages, or Donatism), I would love to see you at WoMag on Tap.

The door prize I will be giving away to the first blogger or commenter I see there (or, failing that, whoever really wants it) is a copy of The Adventurous Gardener: Where to Buy the Best Plants in New England.

UMass Medical School Study on Dog Walking

Reader Emily is recruiting dog owners in Worcester (which is at least 75% of the readership) for a study.

Here are the details:

Are you a Dog Owner? Would you like to participate in a research study?

Researchers at UMass Medical School are recruiting Worcester residents age 21 or older who own a dog to participate in a 1-hour focus group to gather opinions and perspectives on dog walking experiences. A focus group is a discussion where people are asked to voice their opinions about a particular subject.

Our research team would like your help in developing a community dog walking intervention program to encourage people to be more physically active.

You will be reimbursed for your time.

If you are interested in participating please contact Emily at (508) 856-7564
Docket #: H-14184

(Image: Dog Walking, a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic image from Doug’s photostream.)

CWW: Savers Memorial Day Sale

Savers will be holding their big half-off sale on Memorial Day beginning at 7am.

Before the store in Lincoln Square opened, the Webster Square Savers was a zoo on these sale days (lines out the door for at least twenty minutes before the store opened, people with carts loaded up with goods, etc.) though I think that the Webster Square Savers is less crazy on sale days now that there’s a second Worcester store.

I’ve never quite understood the lines-out-the-door thing.  Salvation Army has a half-off-everything-except-the-newest-colored-ticket sale every single Wednesday, and while there might be a handful of ladies hanging out a few minutes before the store opens, it’s certainly not pandemonium.

But I know lots of folks who shop at Savers who never, ever go to the Salvation Army, or Goodwill, or any of the other, smaller area thrift stores.

I’ve bene trying to think about why I know so many devoted Savers-goers who never go to another thrift store, and I think there are a few reasons why:

1) For some reason, people don’t really think of Savers as a thrift store because it doesn’t call itself a thrift store and thus you can avoid the potential stigma of answering “Goodwill” when someone asks where you got that awesome jacket.  (Though everyone who knows me also knows that all my clothes are either thrifted or hand-me-downs, and most people are impressed at my extensive collection of thrifted pantsuits.)

2) The new Savers at Lincoln Street — at least — feels like a department store or, at least, like a Marshalls or a TJ Maxx.  A lot of the stuff doesn’t look like it’s secondhand, and part of that is just the surroundings: the store is brightly-lit and well-labeled.  Even a bright, practically new shirt in Salvation Army can feel a bit, well, used in the somewhat dingy surroundings.

3) Clothing at Savers is sorted by size.  I don’t know who wrote the thrift store manual that says that clothes should be sorted by color, but it is really annoying to pick out a shirt in the perfect shade of green only to find that it’s a size 2.  Sorting and labeling clothes by size actually cuts down on the thrifting disappointments by focusing you on just the things that will fit.  For those of us who shop with kids, it’s also mighty convenient to have a quick ten-minute trip in the clothing aisles rather than a half-hour scavenger hunt.

Question for the readership: Has anyone signed up for the Super Savers Club card?  Is it worth it?

National Trails Day at God’s Acre – June 4


I’d been meaning to write about our Earth Day Cleanup at God’s Acre/Swan Avenue, which was once again a success, and I keep putting it off.

And part of that is a good thing: the cleanup has become nearly routine, and this year, our fourth, was certainly not the production of years past.

Our successes, as always, were in gathering stuff that has been dumped on the side of Swan Avenue that has a bit of a hill:

You can really get a sense of the height difference between the road and the woods here:

I will never stop wondering why folks need to walk their stuff into the woods.  It would be so much easier for us if they’d just dump by the side of the road!

My real pet peeve is not the complete-first-floor-remodel-debris-dumping, not the refrigerators-off-the-cliff, but folks who dump leaves in black plastic bags in the woods. 

Forget “I Will Teach Worcester To Be Rich“…I Will Teach Worcester To Compost!

You can see more pictures of the cleanup on Bob Q’s Picasa site.  I have a tendency to downplay our efforts, and I always come away from the pictures in awe of how much we’re able to do in just a few hours.

I’d like to thank everyone who assisted:

  • The Regional Environmental Council for their assistance and supprt.
  • The neighbors (like Jack) and non-neighbors (like Bob Q.) who humor my primadonna attitude (“I want that armchair gone — get to it!”) and whose efforts have made this area quite tidy!
  • Jim Kempton (and everyone at Worcester DPW&P), who kindly picked up this stuff, which could not fit into our dumpster:

(An aside about Jim K. — I told him that if I started an “I love Jim Kempton” Facebook Group, we’d likely get 100 people in no time.  He refused to believe that he has scores of fans all across the city…)

  • The awesome Dennis O’Connor from Superior Waste & Recycling, who is extremely helpful and always stays ’til the bitter end. 


I often joke about having a ten-year plan for God’s Acre, and we’re in Year Four.  We’ve pretty much met most of my ten-year goals: we’ve got boulders blocking the cart path, we’re pretty much picking up new trash every year, I don’t wince as I walk down the street, etc.

The Greater Worcester Land Trust and its volunteers have been hard at work for nearly a year on many items on my plan, including cleaning out the small pond along the cart path and doing a crazy amount of trail blazing.

Their efforts have paid off, and God’s Acre will be a site for National Trails Day on Saturday, June 4, from 4-7pm.  You can find more details here.

I really hope folks will come down and walk some of the trails, see the Deed Rock, and enjoy this beautiful piece of land that so many people have worked to reclaim and improve.

Thank you, all of you.  You are amazing.

Last Night’s Council Meeting

I didn’t catch all of last night’s City Council meeting, but here were the highlights, at least from my home viewing:

1) Blind item: which elected official left the meeting and returned with a cup of tea that clearly came from an establishment across the street from City Hall?  Yes, during the meeting.

2) The liveblog unfortunately did not feature the MikeGermain moment of the evening (about two hours in): “just a quick story…which I know will drive everyone nuts.”  And then Mike committed what could be political suicide in Worcester: he admitted he once lived in Auburn.  (Also, Mike, you drive some of us nuts all the time, but in a good way.)

(The story itself was about how he lived on a road right over the border from Worcester, and it was hilly and treacherous in the winter, and would see the Worcester snow plows from his house and told his then-wife that they really needed to move to Worcester.)

He then championed DPW: “with all due respect with every person who works for the city of Worcester…, if we start cutting public works…the phone will be ringing off the hook.”

3) At one point, Commissioner Moylan was discussing signage in the city.  They spend about $45,000 on all signs (not just street signs) in a year.  FYI for those interested.

4) Sean Maher of the Local 495, who is so ubiquitous I probably see him more than I see my own mother, spoke, and every time people referred to him (or he referred to himself), my husband said, “What is that guy’s last name?  Moore?  Maher?” and then proceeded to rage against the silent r.

5) At some point, Bill Eddy remembered that he was the chair of the Youth, Parks, and Recreation Standing Committee (to be fair, he might have forgotten because they haven’t met once this year) and rose to ask about the golf course.  Oh, and the ball fields.  No comment.

CWW: Boylston Book Sale

The Friends of the Boylston Public Library will be having their annual booksale on Memorial Day, May 30 from 9:00 AM-2:00 PM.

I cannot recommend this booksale enough. 

The prices are not rock-bottom, but they’re still library-book-sale prices.  However, the selection is usually excellent, and the volunteers are friendly and helpful.  Also, the Boylston Public Library is the cutest library building in Central Massachusetts.

The library booksale is part of a larger Boylston Memorial Day commemoration: there’s usually a fair on the common, an extremely cute parade down the street, bouncy castles, horse rides, etc. 

In other words, bring your mother-in-law to supervise the kids while they play and gorge themselves on cotton candy while you shop for books.

(That also means that you might have to park far away from the booksale, which discourages you from buying two boxes’ worth of books.)


On Saturday I was driving towards Brown Square (that is, I was coming up Plantation Street from Belmont) when a posse of kids in baseball uniforms approached my car. 

Or, rather, they ran into the road in such a way that it seemed as if they were trying to achieve Death by Altima rather than ask me for some change from my wallet.

I looked around to see if there was an adult supervising — because, you know, there’s supposed to be an adult when there are kids begging for money in the street.  (At this point, I was a couple of doors away from Maria’s Fine Jewelry.)

I didn’t see an adult until I was right at the intersection with Franklin Street; he was diagonally across the street from most of the kids (and not right at the intersection), and he was sitting in a lawn chair.

When I got home, I related this story to my husband, who said that he had had a similarly unsupervised experience.  He was at the intersection of Heard and Stafford Streets, and traffic was backed up.

The reason?  A panhandling kid kept hitting the Walk button so that she and her compatriots could use the 20 second delay to pony up more cash.

Again, the adult who was supposed to be supervising was sitting at a bit of a remove on a lawn chair.

I know it’s going to make me sound like an awful curmudgeon, but I really hate the municipal rite of Spring that requires every youth sport team to go to busy intersections to beg in the street.

I think panhandling is an activity that is protected by our freedoms of speech and association.  I don’t have a problem with homeless (or otherwise monetarily challenged) folks who are out there asking for money.  I have never witnessed any adult panhandler who has tied up traffic or who is anything less than courteous.

The City of Worcester previously waged a campaign against panhandlers, and the city requires that these kinds of activities require a permit.

And the reason is so that we don’t have a bunch of twelve-year-olds running in front of my car willy-nilly.

My largest problem with the city’s minor war on poverty was that the adult panhandlers were not causing an issue to motorists and were not a danger to themselves.  The child panhandlers are more often than not both, and the adults that should be supervising them are often not doing their job.

During Girl Scout cookie season, I often see girls and their mothers outside the Millbury Credit Union branch in Webster Square.  They are selling their goods, not harassing passersby, and seem to do a pretty decent business.

I’m not sure if a similar solution could work for the numerous sports teams that are on the streetcorners, but I am really not looking forward to my next Saturday’s drive.