Worcestory Lesson: Worcester Gas Light Co., impact and legacy

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Cyanide. Arsenic. Asbestos. Coal tar.

All very nasty substances discovered in the ground at the future Worcester Regional Transit Authority maintenance garage on Quinsigamond Avenue. The land was the site of a former manufactured gas plant built in the 19th century in Worcester’s big wave of expansion.

Worcester Gas and Light Company

Courtesy Worcester Historical Museum

The former Worcester Gas and Light Company

While today we burn natural gas for cooking and heating, in the 1800s coal was liquefied to produce a flammable gas. It was then piped underground to businesses and homes to provide an alternative to burning coal or wood, two fuels that were dirty and labor intensive to use.

The gas was also used for lighting and for street lamps throughout the city, replacing older oil-burning lamps that required refilling and maintenance. As anyone who has opened up the walls of an older house knows, gas was installed before electricity.

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