Excerpt from Ninety-Five Grand Street
ISBN-10: 0985484209, ISBN-13: 9780985484200
Published April 2012
In late August of 2009 I moved to Worcester, Massachusetts in the USA to attend Clark University. Despite being the second largest city in the state of Massachusetts with just over 180,000 inhabitants, Worcester is not known for much more than its many universities. These institutions stand as enclaves of the wealth that once abounded in the city. Worcester was born out of the Industrial Revolution and by the beginning of the 20th century had become a major centre of commerce and manufacturing in the northeastern United States. A jewel of the Gilded Age, the city was home to carefully crafted buildings, a vast network of electric trams and a relatively high quality of life for its tens of thousands of inhabitants. While Worcester’s population boomed for decades, it eventually slowed as manufacturing became automated and jobs were concentrated in the costal cities of the Northeast. Population decline began in the 1950‘s and by the year 1980 the U.S. Census reported that Worcester’s population had fallen bellow the 1920 count. Although the numbers have been slowly increasing since, this roughly thirty year period of dramatic decline changed the urban landscape of the city forever.
Few examples of Worcester’s glory days survived the period of decline, but the most visible and telling of those that did are the buildings that were hastily abandoned by companies going out of business. Worcester is dotted with abandoned factories and industrial complexes, many of which have been left entirely to the forces of nature for decades. Factories have remained, not out of historical admiration, but as a result of land values too low to make renovation or demolition worthwhile to landowners. The fate of abandoned buildings has always been a common topic in local politics, but only recently have the funds and interested parties become available to make large construction projects a reality. Because of the high costs of restoring buildings and often the lack of historical protection, developers and land owners have overwhelmingly chosen to demolish rather than to restore. As a result, Worcester’s factories are slowly disappearing as its population increases and land values rise.
When I arrived in Worcester I was immediately drawn to the faded industrial areas within walking distance of my university. After a few exploratory trips I had discovered that many abandoned buildings were not guarded by locks or alarm systems and that some even had wide open doors and other obvious entry points. I was fascinated by the buildings and made a regular habit out of visiting them and documenting what I saw. In late February of 2011 I took a particular interest in one of the larger buildings in the area when I noticed that a demolition project was beginning. This building, located at 95 Grand Street, was part of a sprawling complex of buildings occupying two city blocks and interconnected by epic multi-story bridges spanning the streets below. The site abutted the former Boston and Albany Railroad and walking along on the the tracks I could clearly see the words Crompton and Knowles Loom Works painted across the nearly 200 metres of brick. With this name I searched for more information about the company but found very little. I did learn that Crompton and Knowles had three locations in the Northeast but the Worcester headquarters was the grandest and included both manufacturing and office facilities. The company, which manufactured looms, was founded in 1897 as the result of a merger and the Worcester complex was built out to its maximum extent over the following 20 years or so. The entire site was permanently closed in 1980 and, based on the lack of records today, was seemingly forgotten by most.
After learning what I could about the history of Crompton and Knowles, I was determined to capture the destruction of its headquarters’ largest building and proceeded to visit the site on a weekly basis for months. The process went quickly and by October of 2011 only rubble remained; by February of 2012 this had been flattened to fine sand and gravel.
Witnessing the destruction of 95 Grand Street was like watching an outnumbered army being slaughtered. It was a bloody, horrifying fight and the outcome was inevitable. With this work I aspire to communicate the complex emotions I felt in the field.