The North Bennet Street School (NBSS), America’s Oldest Trade School, has been a Boston institution located at 39 North Bennet Street in the North End since 1879. The school was incorporated in 1885 and has a long history of offering vocational training and forward thinking social services which continue through today.
After more than a century at the original location the school eventually grew beyond what the old assemblage of buildings (an ex-church, sailor’s retirement home, townhouses etc) could fit and some of the programs had to move to other locations around the Boston area. In an effort to re-unify the school, update the facilities, and get everyone under one roof again the school embarked on an aggressive fundraising campaign and has now moved to 150 North Street in Boston (about 1/3 mile from the original location). This new building takes up a city block and has recently opened for the new school year. This new set of buildings once served as the Boston City Printing Press and a Police station. They sit above the entrance to the Callahan tunnel right on the Greenway. The buildings have a stately facade, are stoutly constructed and have an interior fitting for a school of this kind.
Wednesday night was the first North Bennet Street School Alumni Meeting at the new building. We had the opportunity to tour the new facility.I took as many pictures as I could with my iPhone and have shared them below as a virtual tour of the new building. This small set of photos do not do it justice, so I recommend coming by to see it in person yourself during this year’s open house events Nov 8-9. If you click on any of the photos below you can see it in a larger size and can also cycle through them like a slide show.
Front of the building complex which touches the Rose Kennedy Greenway
Scale — the 2 buildings stretch a full city block in the North End of Boston
Architectural Details of the Building
Rear corner of new building. 1st floor in the corner is Preservation Carpentry. Above that is Carpentry. Above that is Cabinet and Furniture Making
Part of the new NBSS marketing campaign ‘Do what you love, every day’
Student work already on display in the new Gallery
Boyd, the new NBSS Gallery Manager in the new Gallery Space
Early NBSS Sign that we used to have in the PC dept. in Arlington
A violin in progress
Violin-making bench room
One of the many awesome views of Boston from the new building.
A nice change is that each student will have a locker to store and lock up personal items
First year Preservation Carpentry Bench Room
Rich’s sweet new teaching space in the second year classroom
Timber framing models in the second year Preservation Carpentry Bench Room
Human powered miter and mortising machines in the PC dept.
More models and kitchenette in the Preservation Carpentry Classroom
Preservation Carpentry Machine Room
Loading dock and wood rack in Preservation Carpentry
NIcely redone skylghts with indirect lighting — it’s almost too nice for NBSS — ‘Where’s the dank Moe? The dank?”
NBSS Feeling more like home — some of the many great sample walls have migrated to the new space.
One of the cabinet and furniture making bench rooms.
A CFM Student’s tool chest.
More CFM Bench Room. Great to see all the natural light.
Piano technology and repair classroom
Great new common space for students to gather, have lectures, display work etc.
Entryway to the carpentry department
NBSS Alumni Association touring the new facility
Jewelry making and repair department bench space
Jewelry making and repair department work area
Nice view from the atrium.
Great indoor space for big lectures etc. I love seeing the old exterior facade exposed inside of the building.
As a graduate of the Preservation Carpentry Program and workshop instructor at the school, the old building will always hold a special place in my heart, but I am happy to see this new building come together as it took an incredible amount of work by the school and its many supporters to pull of this move.
You can learn more about the history of the school here and here.
Tool chests come in all shapes and sizes — from the hand built traditional joiner’s chest, to a mail order gentleman’s chest, to the plastic fantastic junk you find in big box stores today. Depending on what kind of work you do the number of tools you have in your chest may vary, but at some point I think all traditional craftsmen (and craftswomen) wonder how many tools they can actually fit inside their primary chest.
How many tools can you fit into your tool chest? Don’t worry, if you want to cram in a few extra items before we start counting I’m willing to wait.
How many tools did you to fit in your chest? How about 500 tools?! That’s right, the tool chest shown here once belonged to Alexander Forbes who was a cabinet maker and Pullman car builder from Cleveland Ohio contained over 500 traditional woodworking tools.
This tool chest is currently on display at the Winterthur Museum and Gardens in Delaware and is part of the 400 Years of Massachusetts Furniture display at the museum.
On the wall behind the chest you will see over 100 tools on display from this chest that dates to about 1880. The tools look like they are in exceptionally good shape and would be right at home on my own workbench. This set is representative of the kinds of tools a cabinetmaker would use to make many of the pieces on display in this exhibit.
Don’t let the painted and time worn exterior finish fool you, the interior of the chest was well laid out and carefully constructed with mahogany tills proudly inlaid and showing off the woodworking skills of Alexander Forbes. He apparently also had incredible spacial relation skills to fit that many tools into that fairly average sized chest and to it in such a way that the tills etc do not get beat up in the process. Having said that I assume he likely only crammed all the tools in there for longer trips; I would think for efficiency purposes he’d likely partially unpack/deploy tools just to make enough room in the chest to access all the tools he’d need on a daily basis.
The display also went to great lengths to explain how craftsmen learned their trade, how they used various woods and how many pieces were constructed.
Prominently on display was the partial dressing table shown above which was put together by Steve Brown who is an instructor in the Cabinet and Furniture Making program at the North Bennet Street School in Boston. This carefully constructed sample piece concisely shows the progressive steps it took to make a piece like the period dressing table shown to the left of the tool-chest I’ve been admiring.
Moving beyond the intro, the display shows representative samples of ‘Boston’ style furniture in the collection and the wide variety of the objects created by Massachusetts Bay craftsmen during the last 400 years.
From simple utilitarian stools to high style chest pieces you get a feel for the design elements that representative of the work coming out of Boston and the surrounding area. You will need to visit the exhibit in person to fully experience the depth and variety of style I am talking about.
Beyond this exhibition which runs through October 6, 2013, there is a LOT more to see and explore at Winterthur. They offer several tours to parts of the house that are not part of the regular admission, including customized tours you can request, so I highly encourage you to schedule some tours of the other floors when you visit. In the fall I heard thy will also have an exhibit on the costumes of Downton Abbey which will be interesting to see along with all the great furniture, architectural elements (many rooms are furnished with the interior trim that was salvaged from historic homes around the country), and beautiful gardens.
If you’d like to learn more about Winterthur, please check out their website here. And if you’d like to learn more about ‘400 Years of Massachusetts Furniture’ which is a series of events throughout the year at a consortium of museums and cultural institutions you can learn more about it here. At the least you’ll learn how to efficiently pack tools in your tool chest….
The Alvah Kittredge House in Roxbury Massachusetts is a great example of high style Greek Revival architecture in Boston and a tangible link to the city and the nation’s early history.
The Greek Revival Style was most popular in the United States during the second quarter of the 19th century. (Approximately 1820-1850) During this time period the population and economy was also growing by leaps and bounds. The United States was still a young nation and many folks wanted to show off their new found affluence. During this period of great optimism there was a strong belief in the American Democracy and many associated the ideals of the new nation with those of early Greek Democracy. Around this time, access to Greece and the designs of antiquity were also coming into the mainstream as influential citizens like Thomas Jefferson read books like ‘The Antiquities of Athens‘, Benjamin Latrobe and others built out Hellenistic monuments and public buildings in Washington D.C. and other large east coast cities, and builder’s guides like Asher Benjamin’s ‘The Practical House Carpenter’ proliferated the tool chests of local joiners and carpenters. Given this atmosphere many folks wanted to have their own building look like a Greek temple. For most of the ‘middling’ Americans, especially those in more rural and western locales the scale and details would be simplified down to keeping classical proportions and greatly simplifying details to meet their budgets — pilasters instead of columns, simplified moldings or even flat boards attempting to echo the pediment and other design elements of a Greek temple.
In places with money — like public buildings and mansions — the builders could afford to go big with design elements like a colonnaded portico and carved relief details in the pediment etc. The Alvah Kittredge house is a great example of a high style Greek revival home which reflected the wealth of its original owner, and of Boston and the US in general at that time. Not only is the house unusual given how the city has grown up around this once grand country estate, but the scale of the front facade needs to be seen in person to be properly appreciated. The two story portico with its double hung windows and high ceilings required wide and detailed moldings in order to be the appropriate scale for such a magnificent home.
This 8 inch wide molding was made by hand using traditional wooden molding planes likely on site and from eastern white pine. This is not the sort of thing you can buy at a local big box store, or millworks supply company. The best way to replicate this sort of casing is to make it from the same materials and in the same manner as the original joiner….
I started by capturing the molding profile via molding comb or profile gauge which aids in transferring the profile to the newly prepared stock.
Next by using traditional wooden molding planes I carefully set in all the major transitions in the profile
Many of these planes I use date back to the time period when the Kittredge house was actually built and yields results that simply cannot be duplicated by machine. The original handwork had variations and facets which catch the light differently when compared to stock that is milled by a machine.
The end result is a near identical match that will help insure that future generations living in the Kittredge house will be able to enjoy it’s many details in much the same way as Alvah did when the house was first built.
If you’d like to learn more about how to make traditional moldings, please check out the related article ‘Master Carpenter Series:Traditional Molding’ I wrote for FineHomebuilding which can be found here (There is also a related video series which you can find on www.finehomebuilding.com/extras for the Sept 2013 issue)