Jim Shulman | Baby Boomer Memories: Pittsfield gasholder building later used as factory and warehouse
Pittsfield residents always thought this building had been a roundhouse for trolley cars. However it seems that the local trolleys did not really need a roundhouse, plus Deming Street would be an unusual location for trolleys.
It turns out the building had been a storage facility for the gas company, and was called a "gasholder." The Berkshire Gas Co., formerly the Pittsfield Coal and Gas Co., built the gasholder in 1873. The company would actually bake coal to obtain gas, and then purify and store it in the round building. The gas would be distributed to customers as needed through gas mains in the city.
The inside of the building contained a huge bottomless steel tank, with a sealed top, sitting inside a larger tank filled with water. The bottomless tank would hold the gas and would telescope, rising and falling, depending on the amount of gas stored inside. The water in the bottom tank made a tight seal so gas would not leak out of the upper tank. Given the 75-foot building diameter, the tanks were quite large, extending down 18 feet into a cellar.
Gasholders were fairly common in the Northeast in the late 1800s, with Pittsfield's being the third largest in Massachusetts. Many of the buildings were very similar in design. The round structures with pointed roofs withstood harsh winter weather and heavy snow. Pittsfield planners also wanted the building to have somewhat of an aesthetic look to complement the nearby neighborhood homes and businesses.
In the early 1900s, aesthetics were not quite what the gas company had in mind when it replaced the gasholder building in with the three huge gas tanks on East Street at Newell Street.
As these bigger tanks replaced the gasholder building, the older structure was repurposed rather than razed. The inside tanks were removed and the basement was filled in.
Over the years the vacated building had numerous tenants, including a mattress factory. I remember it being a warehouse in the '50s and '60s for Siegel's Warehouse Furniture Co., located on Columbus Avenue.
In 1982, the 4,400-square-foot building was modernized to serve as the offices of the Berkshire County Arc. On Sept. 5, 1991, the Pittsfield gasholder building, nearly 120 years old, was destroyed by a fire. In 1992, the remains of the walls were razed.
There are 11 known gasholder buildings still standing in the United States. Two buildings very similar to Pittsfield's remain in Concord, N.H. and Saratoga Springs, N.Y. A larger, two-story gasholder in Troy, N.Y., is similar in appearance to the round barn at Hancock Shaker Village. The structures in Concord and Troy are both National Historic Landmarks.
Today all that remains of Pittsfield's gasholder is a grassy spot, and no longer would anyone mistake the area for a trolley roundhouse.
Jim Shulman, a Pittsfield native living in Ohio, is the founder of the Berkshire Carousel and author of "Berkshire Memories: A Baby Boomer Looks Back at Growing Up in Pittsfield." If you have a memory of a Berkshire baby-boom landmark or event you'd like to share or read about, please write Jim at email@example.com.
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