Sunday, May 29, 2011

Albert Francis's Obituary

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

This week at the Historical Society, I was able to see a facsimile of Albert Francis's obituary.
While obituaries do not make for happy reading, they provide very valuable information about a person's life and activities.
They are especially valuable for historical research in that they provide a general timeline of accomplishments, occupations and their residences.
Fig. 1: Albert Francis's Obituary (01/03/1946)
The new information I was able to learn from this obituary was that Albert was instrumental in designing the original Oak Hill Country Club building as well as being a resident architect at Yale University from 1927 - 1932. His tenure at Yale may explain why I could not find him in the 1930 Census for Fitchburg.

By comparing this obituary (dated 1946) with information from Historic Homes and Institutions (dated 1907) a general biography of Albert can be constructed with names and societies he belonged to.

Fig. 2: Information about Albert from Historic Homes and Institutions of Worcester County

In addition to being a Republican, Albert was a Free Mason and a member of the Fitchburg Merchants Association and the Columbian Club of Fitchburg.
These small tidbits of information concerning a person's membership to clubs and organizations helps build a better understanding of that person's character and community pursuits. It also highlights civic activity and professional networking that are still alive in today's social climate.

Starting (Over) Again?

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

Going over last year's inventory with a fine-toothed comb is definitely not as easy as it would seem.
After I combined the previous inventories of Francis buildings with my own, I had one gigantic list of over 500 entries.

Fig. 1: Screenshot of combined inventories.
Many of these entries are duplicates of others, but each possesses its own unique data.
For instance, one inventory list specifies when a certain Francis building was razed, while another describes the type of architecture of the building. The best information that I have been finding is source material from which other volunteers/researchers gathered their data. Many of them cite books about Fitchburg as well as newspaper articles. I've been making a list of these sources in order to go back and retrieve other bits of information.

I've been feeling very fortunate that other volunteers have taken the time to begin Francis inventories and appreciate the fine architecture in Fitchburg and I look forward to continuing their efforts.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

West Fitchburg Methodist Church

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

I've begun working at the Fitchburg Historical Society again and it has been very encouraging to pick up where I left off last summer.
One of the first things I began to do was look at last year's inventory and look for sources that other people consulted when creating their own individual lists.
Since my own inventory was a combination of other volunteers' efforts and my own, I wanted to see where they got their information. A number of entries listed articles found in the Fitchburg Daily Sentinel, so I began my search there.
In the entry for the West Fitchburg Methodist Church, I found a citation for an article in the Fitchburg Sentinel on May 12, 1883.

As classes were winding down during my spring semester, I went to the college library and grabbed the microfilm spool for that year and started cuing up that issue of the Sentinel.

Fig. 1: An article dated 05/12/1883 about the dedication and completion of the West Fitchburg Methodist Church
I took the time to transcribe the article and found some very useful and interesting information about the church as well as the dedication ceremony.

The church edifice cost about $11,000 and more than $3,500 was donated by manufacturers from the West Fitchburg area as well as other residents in Fitchburg.
The land was given by Crocker, Burbank & Co. and the pulpit furniture was given by J.M. Valentine of New York City.
Some out-of-town donations included $150 given by a man named Jared Whitman who used to live in Fitchburg but had moved to Pasadena, California; another was $125 from persons connected with the Akron Knife Works at Akron, Ohio who also were previously residents of West Fitchburg. (I found these two donations to be the most interesting of the article.)

As for the construction of the building:

Carpenter work: S.G. Magill and finished by Francis F. Farrar
Mason work: S.S. & G.A. Lawrence
Stone work: Daniel O'Connor and F.A. McCauliff
Painting: Edward Pickwick
Frescoing: Theodore W. Arnold
Plumbing: George Robbins & Co.
Slating: William Edwards
Lumber: C.A. Priest
Two furnaces came from the store of C.M. Converse
Chandeliers were purchased from N.W. Turner in Boston

The Dedication Ceremony:

Participants in the church service included:

Rev. Dr. Daniel Dorchester, Presiding Elder of the North Boston District
Rev. Dr. J.H. Twombly of Gardner
W.J. Pomfret of Fitchburg
Rev. O.A. Brown, pastor of the Bromfield Street church of Boston
W.W. Colburn of Boston Highlands
W.B. Toulmin of Leominster
A. Gould of Clinton
W.A. Nottage of Townsend
C.A. Merrill of Winchendon

The article also mentioned that at the conclusion of a sermon read by Rev. Brown the congregation began a responsive reading of Psalm 122 and the singing of the Doxology before the benediction.

Fig. 2: Photo of the West Fitchburg Methodist Church (now Hue Lam Meditation Temple)(photo courtesy of

One of the many benefits from detailed newspaper articles like this is the abundance of names and companies that shed more light on individual actors and benefactors to community efforts. As time goes on, sometimes these people are forgotten and evade our sense of historical memory. When families uproot and leave their homes and settle in new ones, the memories of their passions and actions can sometimes only be found in newspaper articles and footnotes in historical artifacts.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

President Roosevelt Comes to Town

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

Arcadia Publishing puts out wonderful local history books with photographs of bygone eras, famous residents and former hotspots.
After perusing the Fitchburg edition of this series, I zeroed in on a photograph of President Theodore Roosevelt on a train, leaving Fitchburg.

Fig. 1: Pres. Teddy Roosevelt waves to crowd as he leaves Fitchburg on 09/02/1902.
The caption in the book read:
"ROOSEVELT'S VISIT. The only president to visit Fitchburg while in office, Theodore Roosevelt made a brief train stop here on September 2, 1902. War veterans escorted him from the station to the Wallace Building, where he gave a speech. In some way, Roosevelt's visit was ironic, as he had succeeded the presidency after the assassination of President McKinley in 1901 by an anarchist who used a revolver manufactured in Fitchburg by Iver Johnson."

I've always been impressed with the myth behind Theodore Roosevelt. Along with Pres. Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt has morphed into an iconic character resembling masculinity and a larger-than-life figure far removed from his statesman career and political exploits. When I read this caption and saw that he gave a speech, I was determined to track it down and see if I could imagine this bulky "man's man" echoing his bellowing voice throughout Main Street.

Fig. 2: President Roosevelt and his carriage en route from Union Station to the Wallace Building on Main Street.
I was able to track down an audio recording of Roosevelt through the Library of Congress, it was here that I first got to hear Roosevelt's voice.

Ten years and ten days after delivering his speech in Fitchburg, Teddy was hot on the campaign trail in Emporia, Kansas discussing the trusts and big bosses' disapproval of the Progressive Party. Though his voice did not match the caricature of the outspoken, nature-warrior, all-around musclebound, monocle-clad superhero we envision today, it pointed me to a different composition of the Roosevelt character. It helped me to remember that Roosevelt was a man, he was a politician, he was a husband, a father and a friend. The mutations of his persona that have enriched the imaginations of youngsters (myself included) like a real-life Superman have their place in the annals of fiction and fantasy. There is a separation between President Theodore Roosevelt and Teddy Roosevelt, and it's here that I was able to witness the former.

After hearing his voice for the first time I wondered how he was received in Fitchburg ten years earlier. It only sounded like Roosevelt was in town very briefly, maybe he passed on through without a sound? I searched through the Sentinel & Enterprise microfilm archives at Fitchburg State and was pleasantly surprised with what I found.
Fig. 3: Pres. Roosevelt graces the front page of the Fitchburg Daily Sentinel, 09/02/1902
According to the article, the mayor appointed a committee to design a beautiful spectacle awaiting the President's visit to Fitchburg. 2,500 American flags were passed out to schoolchildren for them to wave as the President drove to Main Street. Thirteen young girls donned outfits to represent the original 13 colonies and one dressed as Lady Liberty. The newspaper estimated that about 30,000 people showed up to Main Street to see and hear the President of the United States speak to them.

Fig. 4: President Roosevelt delivering his speech in front of the Wallace Building.
The caption from Fitchburg Past and Present reads:
During the President's visit the electric cars were stopped, the side streets were roped off, and a guard of police and specials kept the streets clear of all traffic to prevent the possibility of any accident. It was only two days later in Pittsfield, that the President's coach was run down and wrecked by an electric car. Secret Service Officer Craig instantly killed, and the occupants of the carriage, including the President, Secretary Cortelyou and Governor Crane, narrowly escaped a tragic death."

Fig. 5: The Wallace Building, home to the Fitchburg Daily Sentinel. The building was razed in 1978.
Many of Fitchburg's upper-class citizens were seated on the platform with the President as he spoke. One of these citizens was none other than H.M. Francis. It was very fitting to read that Fitchburg's great architect was on hand to see the President speak in front of one of his best designs, the Wallace Building. The building was commissioned by Rodney Wallace (Fitchburg Paper Company) who also donated money to the city for its first library building, another H.M. Francis design.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Old Fitchburg High (The Annex)

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

One of the first incarnations of Fitchburg High School is a building on Academy Street, now known to most resident as "The Annex." This building was designed by H.M. Francis in 1869 and was designed in the Second Empire style.
The Second Empire style is notable for using a Mansard roof, a hipped roof with steep slopes all around and usually with livable space included. For the Annex, the third floor space included a library and open assembly hall.
I was able to find a printed version of the Annual Report of the Massachusetts Board of Education from 1873 through GoogleBooks which discusses the building.

Fig. 1: Drawing of Academy Street High School with layout of first floor

The description of the building reads:
"This building has a frontage of eighty-eight feet, the central projection being forty-two feet by six feet, extreme distance from front to rear line eighty-one feet, the two side-wings being thirty-five feet wide and projecting seventeen feet from main line of building, and covering an area of 5,492 square feet...The first story is at present occupied by schools of intermediate grade, and the second by the High School. The total cost was not far from $60,000."

Fig. 2: Layout of second and third floor
Fig. 3: Contemporary photo of the Annex Building (courtesy of

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Albert Francis's World War I Draft Card and 1920 Census Information

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

When I began going through, I was specifically looking for Frederick Francis's World War I draft card. What I found instead was slightly surprising, it was Albert's draft card. When I first saw it, I instantly thought of his passport at the Fitchburg Historical Society and the number of questions it raised. I wondered if the mysterious "Motion Picture Producer" would insert another enigma on this document.

Fig. 1: Albert Francis's World War I Draft Registration Card
Because of the smudging, I had difficulty reading the document at first. I went online in search of a template for the registration card to aid my eyes and figure out where all the pieces of information were to fall.

Fig. 2: Page 1 of a World War I Draft Registration Card
Fig. 3: Page 2 of a World War I Draft Registration Card
Armed with this template, I was able to read Albert's card more effectively. I then took the time to transcribe its contents.

Name: Albert Franklin Francis
Permanent Home Address: 144 Main, Fitchburg (Worcester County) Mass.
Age: 43 years. Date of Birth: March 6th, 1875
Race: White
U.S. Citizen: Native Born
Present Occupation: Architect
Place of Employment: 804 Main Street, Fitchburg, (Worcester County) Mass.
Nearest Relative: Emily Francis (Leighton)
Address: [illegible, but I think it was the Wesley Building on Main Street]
Height: Tall
Build: Medium
Color of Hair: Light
Not physically disqualified from service.

I went through a 1907 edition of"Historic Homes and Institutions and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs of Worcester County, Massachusetts" through Google and was able to find this information about Albert, that helped shed light on some information in his draft card.

Fig. 4: Marriage information about Albert Francis from Historic Homes...
The selection reads, "He married, June 9, 1898, Edith Martha Perry, born June 9, 1877, at Leominster, died March 26, 1902, at Fitchburg. They had one child, Dorothy, born December 21, 1900, died December 24, 1900."

Emily Francis, his nearest relative in his draft card was his mother. After the deaths of his father, his wife, only daughter and brother, Albert lived with his mother Emily. I am presuming they resided in the Wesley Building, a lovely boarding house that H.M. had helped design on Main Street, which also served as his final residence.

Fig. 5: Snapshot of the 1920 census data for Emily and Albert Francis
The information from the 1920 census lists Emily Francis as the head of the household (Head), mortgaging their home (M), a female (F),white (W) 83 years old (83) and widowed (Wd). Albert F. is listed as her son (Son), male (M), white (W), 44 years old (44) and also widowed (Wd.)

I ran a basic search for Albert in the 1930 census, but was unable to locate him. The next time I visit the Historical Society, I'd like to research what Albert was up to in the 1930s and before his death in 1946.

Friday, May 6, 2011

One General Protest and Two Head-Houses

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

I found two interesting pieces of information while going through the American Architect and Building News archive.
The first appears in the January 19th, 1889 issue of the magazine.
Amongst the write-ups for building plans, something entitled, "General Protest" caught my eye.

Fig. 1: "A General Protest Against Improper Conditions of Competition"

The document begins with a general description of a resolution being passed in the Massachusetts Senate outlining the terms in which an architect is to be compensated for submitting a design for the extension of the State House. The arguments of the protesters are as follows:

"The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has, by its Commissioners, advertised for designs for the State-House extension, said designs to be furnished in open competition. The conditions of the competition, as announced, have evidently been framed without due regard to the best custom in the conduct of such matters, the sole end and aim of which should be to secure to the State the best service by making sure that 'the best men shall take part; that they shall be encouraged to do their best; that the best they offer shall be selected; and that the author of the successful design shall be employed as architect, provided the building is built and he is competent.'
The conditions announced are faulty--
First. In that they are not drawn up in accordance with the best custom, and no assurance is given that an expert adviser will be employed to aid the Commission in their choice.
Second. That no assurance is given that the successful competitor will be employed, but, on the contrary, it is distinctly stated that all premiated competitors are to relinquish all ownership in their plans to the State, without any further claim to compensation or employment.
Third. Even if the first prize in the competition were as it should be, the execution of the building, the actual prizes offered would still be entirely insufficient compensation to the authors of the drawing placed second and third.
For all the above reasons, we, the undersigned architects, citizens of the State of Massachusetts [and elsewhere], protest against this form of competition, which, in our opinion, is not for the best interests of the State or of our profession, and we therefore decline to enter it:" 

Amongst the names of protesting architects, I found H.M. Francis, the sole undersigned from Fitchburg.

As I comb through more issues of AABN, I'm going to keep my eyes open for any updates to this protest.

The second item I wanted to write about was found in the December 15, 1900 issue of AABN.

Fig. 2: Part of the cover design for the December 15, 1900 issue of American Architect and Building News
As a young researcher still learning finer points of historical inquiry, it has been very tough getting used to dead-ends in research. A tough lesson for any scholar and any writer is quite simply that the first draft of anything is usually never stellar. A difficult lesson I've been learning in the past few weeks, with specific regards to H.M. Francis (and architects in general) is that they often submitted designs for numerous buildings that were either never built or built to someone else's design. The incident that will trump this feeling of defeat is coming across something new and unexpected. When I started the initial Francis inventory last summer, nearly everything was new to me. I had lived in Fitchburg for nine years, but did not establish a firm set of "direction" within the city. I knew few landmarks, and just about all of them were erected in the past fifty years. At the end of the summer, when I completed the first draft of the inventory, I felt confident that perhaps I had covered maybe 70% of Francis's designs. When I go through these new resources (like MACRIS and AABN) I feel like a detective on the case of forgotten information and untold stories. This evening, I made a "break" in my Francis case by locating a very small listing in the December 15, 1900 issue of AABN.

Fig. 3: Two Head-Houses for the Laurel Street Railway Subway
At the bottom of the page, in a section titled "Building Intelligence: Advance Rumors" I found a little snippet about plans for two head-houses to be built for the Laurel Street Railway Subway. I was initially amused by the section's name, "Rumors" and how it added to my "history detective" persona in this "document sleuthing." I went through my inventory from last summer to see if maybe I had encountered this listing before, but I had not. Here was a new addition for the inventory! A very small, very limited explanation of two "head-houses." Head-houses are part of the passenger terminal where tickets and baggage can be stored. They are separate from where passengers embark and disembark the trains.
The listing read:
"Fitchburg, Mass. -- Architect H.M. Francis has made plans for two head-houses. 10' 4" x 23' 6" for the Laurel Street Railway Subway."

Every small lead of information ultimately leads to more hours of research and more questions to be asked. But thanks to snippets and "Rumors", stories and places that are beyond current memory can be brought back to light.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

American Architect and Building News through Online Books

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

An interesting resource I've been going through lately is the American Architect and Building News magazine. AABN was a trade magazine for architects, it featured articles about building designs and general goings-on in the industry.
The magazine ended publication in 1938 and was absorbed by the Architectural Record.

The Online Books Library through the University of Pennsylvania put together a very useful page with searchable digitized editions of the magazines from 1878 to 1922.

As I research H.M. Francis, I'm going through this resource to find news about building designs he may have submitted and were in competition with other architects. In some cases, at the Historical Society, I've found buildings he designed that were never built.
I believe I found one instance of competing designs in Vol. 37 of the magazine.
There is an entry on page viii that lists a competition for the Congregational Church design in Orange, Massachusetts.

Fig. 1: Page viii with a listing of a competitive design for the Congregational Church in Orange, MA

The listing reads, "Orange, Mass. Competitive Design for Congregational Church. A.C. Fernald, Architect, 865 (Reg.)"
865 refers to the number of the journal, and that is where we find this:

Fig. 2: Description of A.C. Fernald's design

The text reads, "Design Submitted in Competition for the Congregational Church at Orange, Mass. Mr. A.C. Fernald, Architect, Boston, Mass. Wood construction throughout; all truss-work to be of Georgia pine. Exterior shingled; granite underpinning. Interior finished in quartered oak. Sheathed dado five feet high around all rooms and corridors. Walls and ceilings plastered. Estimated cost from reliable builder complete including heating (not including pews or organ) was $16,500."

Unfortunately, there is no description of Francis's design in this volume, but I did find a color drawing of his church design.

Fig. 3: Hand-colored drawing of Francis's design for First Congregational Church in Orange, MA

Sunday, May 1, 2011


(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

A great resource to use on the Massachusetts Historical Commission's website is MACRIS.
MACRIS stands for the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System.
It is a very large inventory comprised of information on historic properties and areas in Massachusetts.

New information is added daily and many entries also have photographs of the historic property.

I've been going through this resource as I work on updates to my own H.M. Francis inventory.
I did a simple search for buildings and structures in Fitchburg with "Francis" entered as the architect and got 100 results.
(If you're looking for information in more than one city or town you can select them together or choose "All Towns" and it will search across the entire inventory.)

Fig. 1: Searching by Resource Type

Fig. 2: Results for Search

Fig. 3: Entry for Fitchburg Historical Society

There may be some discrepancies you find along the way of your research, but remember that MACRIS is constantly being revised and updated. For me, this resource is being used to cross-reference information I gathered last year, as well as to fill any "gaps", e.g. addresses, architectural styles, and construction years.