Site History and Historical Significance
Worthington Place was originally
the Blake & Knowles Steam Pump Company. The Blake & Knowles Steam Pump Company
National Register District is an industrial complex that encompasses a one-block
area within the historically industrial East Cambridge section of Cambridge. The
district is bounded by Third, Rogers, Fifth, and Binney Streets and occupies an
area of approximately 2.4 acres. It includes six buildings, two thirds of the
remaining structures historically associated with the Blake & Knowles Steam Pump
Company, which at its peak occupied over six acres in the adjoining blocks to
the north, northwest, and south. (The remaining buildings, which are under separate
ownership, no longer retain integrity.) The district's character is defined by
the industrial designs of its buildings, most particularly by the large size and
bold scale of the major elements. The properties date from 1889 to 1918, the period
during which Blake & Knowles sustained its most extraordinary growth.
The district's topography is level, set within the context of a much larger area
of flat land extending westward from the Charles River, which is four blocks east
of the district. East Cambridge's accessibility to the river as well as to the
late nineteenth century railyards along its edge made the area ideally suited
for the extensive industrial growth of which this complex was a part. Rail lines
came directly from Fifth Street the buildings for transportation of raw materials
and finished products.
The district's architectural distinction derives from the consistent massing,
scale, and materials of its key components. The Machine Shop and the Office Headhouse
are substantial brick structures dating from 1889-1897 and 1892, respectively.
The Erecting & Assembling Building of 1903 employs similar scale, massing, materials,
and fenestration in its design. The large scale concrete/brick faced designs of
the Second and Third Machine Shops reflect their later dates of 1917 and 1918,
as do the large multi-lite steel sash which comprise a major portion of their
exterior surfaces. They are noteworthy for their sheer size and scale, and for
their use of the most current building technology during the World War I era.
The district's appearance during the time in which it achieved significance (1889-1946)
was largely the same as it is today. The six buildings retain most of their design
integrity, despite occasional infill and alteration of windows, the addition of
a loading dock along Rogers Street, changes in roofing and siding materials, and
even the complete replacement of windows in one building.
The machine shops and related buildings are of typical industrial construction
representative of the two periods in which they were built: 1889-1903 and 1917-1918.
The buildings are a handsome assemblage of structures of compatible scale, materials,
and massing. Their designs reflect a continuing interest in quality craftsmanship
and general innovations in building technology while clearly emphasizing the simple
lines and rhythmic fenestration patterns so distinctly characteristic of their
The largest building in the complex is also the district's earliest surviving
structure, the #1 Machine Shop. Its easterly portion dates from 1889, with the
westerly sections added incrementally over the next eight years, all in a uniform
design. It runs nearly the full length of the block between Third and Fifth Streets.
Its sheer size, 400' in length by 165' wide, creates a massive presence. Originally
designed as a full-height open space with a shorter, 20-foot wide gallery around
its edges, the open space was infilled with two upper floors by the mid-1940s.
The brick exterior retains its original form as seen in the west elevation along
Fifth Street: a central four-bay, three-story portion with gently sloped ridge
roof which is flanked by three-bay wings of two-story height, each with a sloped
roof. The west elevation features stepped pilasters flanking the central section.
It retains its original window openings with granite sills at the two upper stories,
although the second-story sash have been replaced by concrete infill and inappropriate
new glazing. Ground-level openings consist of two later rectangular loading bays,
one in each outer bay, and a door in the center bay, where evidence of the original
large, arched opening is visible in the masonry repairs.
The long northerly elevation of the #1 Machine Shop has full-height pilasters
between each bay, and a uniform pattern of two stories with segmental-arched window
openings and granite sills at each level. Again, many of the openings have been
infilled, altered into large loading bays (some later infilled with stucco), and
the original sash have been replaced by a panel/single lite infill. A long one-story
metal loading dock has been added midway along its length. At the third story,
not visible from Rogers Street due to its setback, the north elevation has widely-spaced
six-over-six light windows, and its wall surfaces are sheathed in asphalt siding.
The Office Headhouse dates from the early 1890s. It adjoins the east end of the
1 Machine Shop and occupies most of the block facing eastward onto Third Street.
As the company's office, it is designed in a more formal Panel Brick style to
convey an image of importance. Two stories in height and faced in brick, its rectilinear
form is accentuated by the four square-capped, full-height piers and by the granite-capped
parapet with brickwork decoration which has a raised central five-bay section.
Deep corbelled bands are set between the piers above the second story to organize
the facade into two and four-bay groupings. Granite sills and coursing above the
first story also enrich the design. In the center bay, a tall round-arched opening
denotes the entry, above which a smaller round-arched window opening (now infilled
in brick) echoes its form. The first floor window openings of the three north
bays have been altered into loading doors, and all of the building's windows have
been replaced by modern panels/single light glazing.
The district's southwest corner is defined by the large brick Erecting and Assembling
Building of 1903. This square four-story building faces south onto Binney Street.
It originally contained a full-height open space surrounded by 2nd, 3rd, and 4th
story galleries, but the floors were later filled in at all three upper levels,
probably in the early 1940s. The nine-bay Panel Brick style facade consists of
a wider central three-bay portion with a shallow gable which rises one-half story
above the main flat roof of the two outer sections. The window openings and brick
spandrels are recessed slightly within the full-height, segmental-arched bays,
creating a tight, narrow rhythm which accentuates the facade's verticality. The
center ground-floor bay has a large roll-down steel door. Elsewhere, the segmental-arched
window openings retain their granite sills, but the original wood sash have been
replaced by new infill panels above paired and three-unit one-over-one metal sash.
The Second Machine was completed in 1917, built on the site of several small frame
structures and the complex's original engine and boiler plant which was demolished
a year earlier. Its large rectangular mass is comprised of a four-story mass,
120' long by 65'deep, with a narrower one-story rear portion, also 120' long but
only 37' deep and built at the same time. This wing abuts the #1 Machine Shop
to its north and thus has no exterior wall surface.
This was the complex's first concrete building, and its design reflected the advantages
of this relatively new building technology in its large, fully-glazed bays. It
has a flat roof and is four stories high. The south elevation is six bays long,
with an entrance in the easternmost bay. The facade consists of narrow vertical
sections of painted concrete, with brick spandrels beneath the window openings.
The east entrance bay is subdivided into two narrower bays, one with full-height
sash and one with sash above a half-height brick spandrel. The original sash,
partially in place, are multi-lite steel sash with operable pivot sections. Many
have been replaced in the 1970s by a larger lite pattern, also in steel, and not
incompatible with the facade's overall design.
Abutting this building's east end is the Third Machine Shop which was completed
a year later in a nearly matching design of concrete vertical elements with brick
spandrels. It is considerably larger: five stories high; 180 ' long by 66' deep;
and with a similarly-designed original rear one-story section of 180' by 37'.
The nine-bay south elevation and matching three-bay east elevation are highly
visible from the surrounding areas along Binney and Third Streets. The parapet
includes shallow, stepped gables with diamond-shaped brickwork in the second outermost
bays of the facade and in the center bay of the east elevation. The original multi-light
steel sash have to a large extent been replaced by the larger-lite 1970s version.
The district contains no resources which are non-contributing, and later additions
are minimal. A post-1944 corrugated steel addition on the east elevation of the
Third Machine Shop is minimally visible from the surrounding streetscape. A long
loading dock along the north elevation of the #1 Machine Shop detracts from the
original design but is not out of character with the district's continued industrial
use. The replacement of original windows with unsympathetic modern infill designs
is an unfortunate reality in the past efforts to keep the buildings occupied in
a combination office/industrial function. The overall impact of these changes
is fairly small compared to the imposing mass and composition of the district
which remain among its most impressive features.
No known prehistoric sites.
The area was most likely entirely regraded in the 1880s and 1890s for the construction
of the industrial complex, so that earlier historic evidence would have been destroyed.
Since virtually the entire site is built up, it is highly unlikely that there
would be any archeological potential here.
The various buildings do not contain basement levels.
The buildings do not generally retain their original interior plans.
The open "atrium" spaces in Buildings 1 and 4 have been infilled.
Although the buildings continue their industrial use, large portions have been
converted into office areas in recent years by TRW. This has resulted in considerable
new interior walls and partitions, changing the quality of what were historically
vast open manufacturing areas.
None of the machinery relating to steam pump manufacture remains. This equipment
would all have been removed in the late 1920s when the Worthington Pump Company
consolidated its operations in Holyoke, MA.
The Blake & Knowles Steam Pump Company National Register District, Cambridge retains
integrity of location, design, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association,
and it fulfills Criteria A and C of the National Register on the local level.
The district is significant for its role in the industrial development of East
Cambridge in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As one of numerous
large industrial complexes in the area, the Blake & Knowles Steam Pump Company
gained national recognition for the innovative pumps it designed and manufactured.
Its pumps served a wide range of industries including ships, waterworks, textile
mills, tanneries, mines, wells, engines, etc.; practically every aspect of the
region's ongoing Industrial Revolution required some sort of pump. Acquired by
the Worthington Pump and Machinery Corporation in 1916, the company nearly doubled
in size during World War I as it adapted for U. S. Government wartime demand.
The district demonstrates the incremental growth historically characteristic of
East Cambridge's industrial complexes as well as the architectural styles commonly
used during its periods of construction, 1889-1903 and 1917-1918. The bold scale
and immense size of the major machine shops' designs illustrate the tremendous
production capabilities of the firm as well as the need for huge open spaces to
house the cranes and heavy equipment for producing specialty industrial pumps.
Although the district excludes the Main Foundry and two Core Shops which also
survive but have been greatly altered, it nonetheless exhibits a strong sense
of visual cohesion and architectural integrity. The district's period of significance
extends from 1889 to 1946, encompassing the period from when its earliest remaining
structure was built to include its ongoing role as one of the few remaining industrial
blocks in this portion of East Cambridge.
Development of East Cambridge as an industrial district in the mid-to-late nineteenth
century was in large part a direct result of the city's prior development patterns
and priorities. Founded in 1630 as Newtowne, the capital of the Massachusetts
Bay Colony, Cambridge was laid out in 1631. Its center was the present Harvard
Square, along the north bank of the Charles River halfway along the path from
Charlestown to Watertown. Outlying areas including some as far east as today's
Cambridgeport area along the Charles were gradually set aside for grazing, wood
lots and haying, due to their marshy meadow and swamp character. Cambridge retained
the medieval system of arranging planting fields and common grazing lands around
the town's outskirts but granting house lots only in the village center.
Consequently, East Cambridge remained primarily agricultural throughout the eighteenth
century. In 1807, rights were granted for a toll bridge from Boston to Lechmere's
Point, at the northeasterly edge of Cambridge. The Lechmere Point Corporation
then had its 300 acres surveyed and a street pattern laid out. Land development
was slow until 1813 when the Corporation shrewdly offered to donate land to Middlesex
County if it would move its court house, jail and registry of deeds to East Cambridge.
The offer was accepted, and by 1818 a community including a school and a church
was well established at East Cambridge.
A large population of Irish immigrants began settling here in the 1830s. By 1841,
the area's Irish residents were more than 1000, and a Roman Catholic church was
started. The area was close to Boston's factories and waterfront area where cheap
labor was in great demand, and many of its streets were being built up with small
workers' cottages and frame tenements. Among these, a block of tenements known
as "Conlan's Court" consisted of six two- and three-story tenements and stood
directly east of Third Street, across from the Blake & Knowles plant.
Situated on the most direct route from Boston to Cambridge Common, it was not
long before the area became too valuable for further residential use as small-scale
industries began to locate here.
During the 1840s and 1850s, a series of small glass and soap factories were established
in both the East Cambridge and Cambridgeport sections of the city, while simultaneously,
commercial brickyards were established in the city's northwest section due its
proximity to the glacial clay near Alewife Brook. After the Civil War, the early
glass and soap factories were gradually replaced by massive industrial growth
in the fields of woodworking, pump manufacture, rubber, sugar refining and candy
manufacturing, printing, publishing, and gasworks.
This was due to major landfill activity in the area. Formerly an island surrounded
by marsh and swamplands at high tide, major landfill of East Cambridge occurred
to take advantage of its location close to Boston's new freight and shipping facilities.
Relocation of the Boston & Maine's freight terminal from Boston to the East Cambridge
shore increased the area's desirability . Also located here was the Boston & Albany
freight terminal, whose tracks cut through the entire area's length, with spur
lines directly into the many warehouses and factories. A spur track of the Grand
Junction branch of the Boston & Albany Railroad ran down Rogers Street and eventually
directly into the #1 Machine Shop from Fifth Street. The Boston & Albany line
connected to Charlestown and East Boston's shipping terminals and to the Boston
end of the New Haven Railroad's line, giving East Cambridge's industries full
East Coast access.
A new elevated railway system connecting to Boston as of 1894 improved access
for employees of East Cambridge's new industrial plants. Stations at Lechmere
Square and Kendall Square were within a few blocks' walk of most plants. The intersection
of Broadway and Main Streets was in fact renamed Kendall Square in the 1890s after
Edward Kendall, founder of the Charles River Iron Works, a maker of steam boilers
and one of the largest companies in the area.
The George F. Blake Manufacturing Company began construction of its East Cambridge
plant in 1886, relocating here from Boston. The company's founder, George Fordyce
Blake, was previously a brickmaker in nearby Medford. In 1862, he invented a pump
that removed water from brickyard clay pits, greatly improving the brickmaking
process. In 1864, Blake formed the George F. Blake Manufacturing Company to produce
these pumps, establishing a shop on Province Street in Boston. The shop soon expanded
to produce water meters, brick presses, and other brick making equipment of Blake's
invention. By 1869, the shop was moved to Chardon Street, then in 1872 to an entire
block at the corner of Causeway and Friend Streets in Boston's West End.
In 1879, Blake acquired manufacturing rights to the Knowles pump, invented by
Lucius Knowles of Worcester. Knowles held the patent on a feel regulator valve
and was manufacturing steam pumps in Warren, MA under the firm name of Knowles
& Sibley. For the next eighteen years, the two manufacturers operated independently,
although under the same financial management. It was not until 1897 that the two
inventors formally merged their businesses, which then became the Blake & Knowles
Steam Pump Works. Within a few years, the company was designing and manufacturing
a greater variety of pumping machinery than any other firm.
When it first relocated to East Cambridge in 1886, the entire operation consisted
of three small wood-frame structures adjacent to the Foundry, a brick building
located at the southwest corner of Third and Bent Streets. A railroad spur ran
the full length of Rogers Street to Third Street.
By 1890, the complex had grown to almost two full blocks between Third and Fifth
Streets. Due to the nature of the business, the Machine Shop and Main Foundry
would always remain the key structures of the operation.
The #1 Machine Shop was built in stages between 1889 and 1897 to eventually create
a 400-foot long, three-story space in which a traveling crane run on overhead
tracks could lift upwards of fifteen tons. It was built by the Flint Building
Construction Co. of Palmer, MA. The Main Foundry, c.1895, replaced the original
foundry and is still extant in the block directly north of the district. It was
also equipped with two electric traveling cranes, each with a 35-ton capacity.
Its furnaces melted fifty tons of iron daily, considerably more than the average
foundry of its day. The Foundry was designed by L. H. Gager, of Palmer, MA, and
featured an unusual truss system of reinforced double wood trusses rising up within
the clerestory to support the beam on which the crane moved.
As demand for the company's products grew, additional buildings were added to
the complex. At first, many of these were small wooden sheds within the two blocks
west of the Main Foundry as far as Sixth Street. The two surviving but heavily
altered Core Shops north of the district along Third Street also date from c.1900-1905.
A separate engine and boiler plant was housed in a small building directly south
of the #1 Machine Shop (later replaced by Machine Shops #2 and #3). Later expansion
included the Erecting and Assembling Building of 1903, as well as a brick pattern
shop, drafting building, brass foundry, cleaning house, another large machine
foundry, and a large cylinder shop and engine and boiler house extending south
of Binney Street to Munroe Street, and none of which now survives. Surrounded
by other industrial operations including the E. P. Sanderson Iron & Steel Company
and the Cambridge Gas Light Company's Gasholders, the complex had grown to six
acres by 1905.
By 1900, pumps made here ranged from a few hundred pounds weight to the highest
grade of water-works pumping engines weighing over one million pounds. The company
employed 96 draughtsmen and pattern-makers to design its products, and a total
of 1000 employees for their manufacture. Pumps were designed to handle any fluid,
semi-fluid, or liquor, acid or alkali, from the lightest pressure up to 25,000
pounds per square inch. Pumps for gas and vapor under vacuum or various degrees
of compression, and adapted to be driven by steam, air, or water pressure, and
later by gas engines and electric motors, were all among the company's capabilities.
Although operated independently, the Blake & Knowles plant became part of the
International Steam Pump Company during the first decade of the twentieth century.
In 1916, it was reorganized together with seven of the country's largest pump
manufacturers as the Worthington Pump and Machinery Corporation. The Cambridge
plant from then on was referred to as the "Blake & Knowles Works." During the
1900-1916 period, the company became one of the nation's foremost pump manufacturers.
Industrial historian Orra Stone wrote, "The output comprised a vast amount and
variety of pumping and allied machinery, covering the requirements of almost every
industrial activity and extending over a world-wide area."
Products at this time included pumps for marine use, waterworks, tanneries, soap
works, cotton, woolen, paper and silk mills, for quarries, foundries, chemical
works, mines, artesian wells, elevators, sewage facilities, fuel oil, air compressors,
steam engines, etc. Practically every facet of modern industry required some sort
of pump mechanism which the Blake & Knowles Works could provide.
During World War I, much of the plant was shifted to wartime needs for the U.
S. Government, particularly for the Navy: pumps for destroyers, submarine chasers,
mine sweepers, etc. The plant was nearly doubled in size with construction in
1917-1918 of two new reinforced-concrete machine shops, the Second and Third Machine
Shops which greatly increased production capability and employment.
Industrial East Cambridge continued to expand and thrive into the 1920s. Within
this steady economic growth climate, a 300 per cent gain in manufacturing occurred
during the 1920-1930 period. The Blake & Knowles Works continued its military
production. As of 1930, the firm outfitted more than 90 per cent of the United
States Navy's vessels, with each ship requiring between 25 and 50 pumps of various
types. Other key products introduced in the 1920s included the Worthington two-cycle
solid-injection Diesel engine and the Worthington Locomotive feed water heater
and pump, both of which were considered milestone inventions within their respective
Blake & Knowles remained in operation at this site until 1927, when operations
were combined and relocated to another Worthington plant in Holyoke, MA.
Subsequent years saw the various buildings in the complex sold off individually
for various industrial uses. Beginning in 1929, the Smith Shop & Brass Foundry
was leased to the Enterprise Manufacturing Company, a coppersmith. By the mid-1930s,
the building was acquired by the Kendall Boiler & Tank Company, a boiler repair
service, which still occupies the building. The Main Foundry became a Motor Freight
Station and was used chiefly for warehousing, as was the #1 Machine Shop which
in the 1950s was in part a regional distribution warehouse for Carling Beer. In
the year 1942, the two Binney Street Machine Shops) were acquired by United Carr
Fasteners. Carr Fastener Co. was founded in 1912 by Fred S. Carr of West Newbury,
MA. It began as a maker of canvas fasteners for carriages, and later for upholstery
and canvas work on automobiles, particularly the "Dot" fastener. The firm grew
quickly, and in 1929 merged with U. S. Fastener of South Boston to become United
Carr Fasteners. Relocated to nearby buildings at 31 Ames Street in East Cambridge
at this time, the firm eventually acquired all three Machine Shops, the Office
Headhouse, and the Erecting & Assembling Building, virtually the entire district
with the exception of the Smith Shop & Brass Foundry.
During World War II, the plant was retooled for military aircraft products, including
a cowl fastener known as the "Airloc" used on B29 bombers and the Boots self-locking
nut. By 1945, 45 per cent of the Cambridge plant's output was for the airplane
industry, and the Binney Street buildings were referred to as the "Aircraft Parts
United Carr was acquired by TRW Corporation in 1969 but continued to occupy the
buildings. The present occupant, American Engineered Components Inc., is a spin-off
of TRW, continuing a combined industrial/office presence.
The complex demonstrates the incremental growth historically characteristic of
local industry during East Cambridge's rapid rise to become the state's third
largest industrial center. It aptly represents a range of utilitarian architectural
styles commonly used during its construction periods, primarily 1889-1903 and
1917-1918. Most of the buildings are of great size and scale, built close together
to readily integrate the many facets of the production process. The visual integrity
of the block's mass and scale are fully intact, forming a distinctive industrial
enclave within the broader character of the area.
The district's visual harmony is highlighted by the use of brick as the dominant
building material on the buildings from the first period of development. The long
brick elevation of the #1 Machine Shop reflects not only its incremental expansion
but an effort to establish and maintain simple patterns and proportions. Similar
strong vertical bay rhythms are echoed in the Office Headhouse and the Erecting
and Assembly Building.
The district's later phase of growth is demonstrated in its two large reinforced
concrete structures, the 2nd and 3rd Machine Shops. Although larger in scale,
these structures evidence an interest and commitment to new technology to accommodate
growing production capabilities.
The architectural significance of separate buildings within the district pertains
to each one's role within the steam pump production process. Each building's sitting
and design reflect its originally intended use. The 1889 #1 Machine Shop was situated
directly across Rogers Street from the Main Foundry. Its heavy-timber construction
and central full-height space were specifically designed for a travel crane, with
lighter machining functions supported by the outer gallery spaces. Direct rail
access into the building's northwest corner expedited the transport of finished
The Office Headhouse of 1892 was built as an extension of the #1 Machine Shop,
giving the complex a more formal entrance facade along Third Street, yet also
directly accessible to production from its rear (west) elevation. Designed in
the Panel Brick style, it is the most ornamental design in the complex. The facade
creates the image of a substantial and successful business through its use of
square-capped, full-height piers and a stepped parapet. Other details such as
brick corbel bands, granite sills and coursing, and round-arched window and entrance
designs added to the symmetrical, stately design.
The Smith Shop & Brass Foundry is the district's smallest structure, indicative
of the lesser volume of production in these two areas. Despite the small size,
their functions were critical to the overall production process. The hipped roofs
and clerestory monitors allowed a large degree of light and ventilation important
to the foundry process.
The large, handsome design and prominent corner sitting of the 1903 Erecting and
Assembling Building reflect the company's continued success and growth towards
the century's turn. The large, four-story square mass fronts onto Binney Street,
where the south facade design illustrates careful attention to rhythmic patterns
achieved with full-height recessed bays. Segmental-arched window openings and
a raised center section also add to the facade's rhythm. The raised roofline also
addresses the building's original function, a full-height central space to house
an enormous crane, surrounded by second, third, and fourth-story galleries for
erecting and assembling the various steam pump equipment.
The Second and Third Machine Shops of 1917 and 1918 offer large, impressive facades
along Binney Street, a result of the need for additional machine shop space capable
of handling the firm's ever-increasing production and floor-loading requirements.
The multi-light steel sash windows in fully-glazed bays were the most up-to-date
method for increasing light and ventilation to industrial spaces. The subtle exterior
detailing of parapets, spandrels, and varied entrance bays were efforts to create
modestly handsome as well as functional structures.
The district projects a strong image of its industrial history and architectural
development, an increasingly important reminder of the area's industrial past
since so much of the surrounding area's industrial character has been lost or