Will national historic importance of Concord’s gasholder be enough to save it?

  • The inside of the Gasholder building on South Main Street showing the roof and the scaffolding that rises from the base. GEOFF FORESTER

  • The iconic gasholder building on South Main Street in Concord is seen on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. The structure has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • The iconic gasholder building on South Main Street in Concord is seen on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. The structure has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • The Historic Gasholder building in the South End is facing demolition after sustainting damage to the roof in 2013. But Liberty Utilities now has bigger problems than the storm damage. Repairs would need to address serious structural problems with the 127-year-old building – and the hazardous coal tar underneath it. Because the building was once used to manufacture gas, the soil underneath is now contaminated. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 10/28/2020 5:52:20 PM

The round, brick gasholder building in south Concord isn’t just a symbol of the city’s past but an important piece of America’s industrial history, one of barely a dozen such structures still standing and the only one with internal mechanism intact.

Whether that will be enough to save it from demolition, however, is another matter.

“I don’t think somebody is going to show up with a check and have it all tied up by Dec. 31,” said Jennifer Goodman, executive director of the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance, during an online discussion about the future of the gasholder. “I hope there’s enough … to help fuel that process to get (there).”

Tuesday’s online discussion was the first of two by the alliance, which has twice put the gasholder on its “Seven to Save” list of imperiled buildings, designed to ramp up ideas and funding on how to keep the building from being demolished. The gasholder’s owner, Liberty Utilities, plans to apply for a demolition permit at the end of the year  because of safety concerns unless others help it pay the many hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to stabilize and preserve the building.

The Preservation Alliance has scheduled a second Zoom conference on Nov. 5 to discuss possible ways to stabilize, preserve and possibly use the building.

During Tuesday’s presentation, James Garvin, an architectural historian, said the gasholder’s future is of interest outside the city and the state.

“This is an important monument; it has become more and more recognized as such (nationally),” he said. Gasholders existed throughout the country in the first half of the 20th century and fueled the nation’s pre-World War II industrial growth, but most have been torn down. Garvin said only 14 remain, many converted into other uses. Only Concord’s still has its internal workings, including the multi-ton floating cap that held up to 125,000 cubic feet of gas.

Gasholders are so important that one of them serves as the symbol for the Society for Industrial Archaeology, he said.

“I encourage you all by whatever means you can to preserve the building,” said Roger Reed of the National Register of Historic Place.

Concord’s gasholder was built in 1888 to hold flammable gas made from coal brought to the site by rail car and served that purpose until 1952, when natural gas pipelines reached the city. It was built with roughly 550,000 bricks, most of them made in the Holt brickyard, located where Grappone Automotive Group now sits.

Preservation consultant Elizabeth Hengen pointed out Tuesday that Concord Gas Co. was instrumental in creating an industrial corridor that stretched from Horseshoe Pond south along the Merrimack River and rail lines into Bow, employing thousands of people and defining the region for a century.

Most other buildings on the 2.4-acre property on South Main Street that were part of the “manufactured gas” process have been torn down, including a much larger steel gasholder. Aesthetic appeal has saved the brick gasholder, but years of neglect has taken a toll, particularly since a tree fell on it and knocked a hole in the slate roof in 2014, allowing moisture to get in and cause decay in areas, such as a huge wooden ring that keeps the roof rafters from spreading out.

Liberty Utilities got the building and surrounding property when it bought National Grid’s natural gas business in New Hampshire in 2012. The company says it has no use for the property and has looked to sell it.

A report commissioned by the city estimated it would cost $1.4 million to stabilize and preserve the building even if no public access is allowed. It would cost about $500,000 to tear it down and make the site safe. Liberty Utilities has indicated that it would be willing to contribute the demolition cost toward saving the building, if others would take on the job and find the rest of the funding.

In her overview of the area’s history, Hengen noted that the centerpoint of the old industrial corridor was the Boston & Maine railroad station, a huge Victorian building that was torn down in 1960 to make way for the Capitol Shopping Center.

“That’s a demise that we hope will not happen to the gasholder,” she said.

The virtual discussion about possible redevelopment of the gasholder will take place via Zoom on Thursday, Nov. 5, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. See the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance website, nhpreservation.org, for details.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)



Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301
603-224-5301

 

© 2020 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy