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THE STATE OF MASSACHUSETTS

Introduction

            This State had the advantages, means and impetus to be an early player in manufactured gas; finances, technology and a generally high standard of living. The beginnings of manufactured gas in the Commonwealth began in the period 1822-1828, but the details are sparse. In any sense, the acceptance at Boston was good and there were multiple gas plants by 1834, where the North End Station had pushed gas generation and distribution north of the Commons, where the wealthy had installed residential gas machines in their Pemberton Square mansions, as had the American House Hotel and other first class hostelries.

            As with other major cities, worldwide, the low distribution capacity of existing technology, along with low joint-pressure retention characteristics of existing pipe joints meant that extensions to service called for multiple gas works. In fact, by 1855 there were seven gas holders on the peninsula that then formed the City of Boston and all were housed in brick enclosures. That year technology had delivered the capacity for a 200-ft-diameter gas holder and the decision was made to construct the first out-door gas holder in New England. In 1872 one of the nations earliest district stations was constructed by placing the Windmill Point gas holder at South Cove. Boston eventually was the site of at least 31 PAHs sites related to commercial gas plant activity.

            In 1851, demands for gas lighting caused entrepreneurial expansion of gas plants, as individual companies, to radiate outward from Boston, the city limits of which were somewhat confined. Cambridge got the first of the works, followed within a few years by gas plants in a westward-moving outward ring.

            By the 1857, another westward ring of towns were treated with gas plants and so on, moving outward until the time of the Civil War, at which time most of the major towns of eastern Massachusetts were lit by gas.

            Another surge of expansion occurred in preparation for the Centennial  year of 1876 and this activity filled out most of the other gas plant establishment in the Commonwealth.

The first of the utility holding companies came in the late 1880s operating on the worldwide example of the United Gas Improvement (est. 1882), at Philadelphia. These companies began with the Bay State Gas Company. Stone & Webster was later established in 1887 and began engineering, construction and operation of more gas works, culminating with the 1911 formation of its subsidiary, the Old Colony Gas Company, covering the region south of Boston. SWEC went on to greater national and involvement in manufactured gas until the 1935 “death sentence” passed by the Congress.

            Other Boston-based holding companies controlled gas plants in the Commonwealth, greater New England and elsewhere. Some of these companies were the Massachusetts Lighting Companies (est. about 1908), the Massachusetts Association of Gas Companies (a commercial venture of 1915) and the New England Gas & Electric Association formed 1926 as a subsidiary of the Associated  Gas & Electric Co. of Ithaca, New York.  One of the more far reaching operations were those of the family of Charles H. Tenney, a self-educated gas entrepreneur, who began his empire of gas company control at Springfield, Massachusetts, migrating into Boston in the 1890s. Tenney family activities can be tracked westward to Chicago and on to Iowa, exclusive of other Boston and New York State operations.

            The usual smoke pollution problems plagued Boston and civic uproar drove the gasmen to move their gas generation capacity for Boston, north to Everett in 1898 with construction of the mammoth New England Gas & Coke Co. plant at Everett.

The gas works of Boston were brought together in 1905 with formation of the   Boston Consolidated Gas Company. Much of the history of manufactured gas in Boston was transferred from Boston Gas Co. to Boston College in the form of the company’s photo archives. But once in place in late 1999, the Company rescinded its permission for public access to these valuable images.

As with manufactured gas elsewhere, most gas works prior to 1890 were coal gas, with carburetted water gas (CWG) generally appearing after the late 1880s. Oil gas was in use at Amherst in 1889. After World War II, with general price, strike and supply problems associated with American coal production, various alternative gas production processes were put forth, including high-Btu gas retrofits of CWG sets. This interim system was knowing an interim “fix” and generally was in place by the summer of 1947. While economic conditions within Boston favored retention of straight manufactured gas, natural gas had become available in the first ring of cities and towns immediately west of the city, in 1953, while Boston was planning on moving to mixed manufactured and natural gas in that year. Natural gas also was being served south of Boston but in Barnstable County and the Cape Cod area LPG was the interim solution and their historic gas works  had largely been decommissioned.

Click the blue "EPA" link below to view the
Massachusetts map of the EPA 1985 Radian FMGP Report.

Click the green "Hatheway" link below to view the
Massachusetts map of Professor Hatheway's research.

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