On October 11, ThisWeekinWorcester.com published an article titled “Charles Longeway and His Search for Worcester’s Catacombs.” Now, Mr. Longeway has agreed to do a four-part series about his experiences and expanding on some of the details in his book, Worcester’s Forgotten Catacombs.
This is part two of a four-part series. Read part one here: Worcester’s Catacombs a Maze of Mystery
The map below, shows a part of Worcester as it appeared in 1886, the catacombs are beneath this section of the city. The location runs east from Main Street and falls between Exchange Street on the south side and Central Street (now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard) on the north side. From this point on forward, I will refer to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, as Central Street.
Cypress Street, which shows on the map, was replaced with Commercial Street years later. Commercial Street now runs from Front Street to Thomas Street. Just envision Cypress Street continuing northerly through all the buildings, passing Central Street and continuing to Thomas Street (talk about your historic renewal).
It’s not known if the catacomb complex could have been larger. It is very tempting to imagine that the catacombs were more extensive, maybe even stretching to Union Street (along the line of Major Taylor Boulevard). What a tantalizing brain teaser that would be! When the DCU center was excavated I don’t believe I ever heard reports of tunnels and rooms discovered during construction. If they were discovered, I’m sure the find would have been covered up. It does make you wonder, doesn’t it?
If you were alive around 1886 and you took a walk down the east side of Main Street heading north, you would have seen the businesses that are listed in the 1888 House Directory (from the Worcester History Museum). While taking a brisk walk on a sunny day you would most likely observe the following establishments: a patterns office, Levi & Sons watches, a hairdresser, Pierce corsets, etc., The Bay State House/Hotel residents ranged from dentists to lawyers, a watch and accessories store, a tea store, another tea store, the Frohsinn Hall, a dressmaker, a physician, a carpet cleaner and upholsterer, a provisions store, Russell Brothers, butter etc., a jeweler, a milliners (makers and sellers of woman’s hats), a boots and shoe shop, a boarding-house and even a tobacconist.
When turning the corner to go down Central Street’s south side, we would see such establishments as a fruit stand, a saloon, a barber, a stable, a livery stable, a hostler (someone who takes cares of the horses for an inn), the Boston Marble & Granite Company, Sears A.H. & Company – ice and wood, a laundress and best of all – a pool room.
Keep in mind, at that time in history, Central Street extended about 260 feet beyond the present day Commercial Street location, continuing to Union Street.
Upon reaching H.C. Fish’s property, just after No. 55 Central Street, you would take a right down the alley, beginning your imaginary walk down Commercial Street until you reach Exchange Street (through buildings and all). At that time it was like an alley, no store fronts and no businesses to list. At Exchange Street, we take another right, seeing more businesses of the time: an apartment building, a cigar manufacturer, a blacksmith, Russell H. J. & E. S. carriage builders, a saddler hardware store (making or repairing equipment for horses), a hairdresser, a tailor, the world famous Worcester Theater, a gasfitter and finally, billiard rooms.
Worcester was a thriving city, there was something for everyone. Even a secret playground forty feet below the ground, right under the Bay State House/Hotel, located at 281 to 285 Main Street.