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Brockton Edison Building


The Brockton Edison Electric Illuminating Company Power Station is a complex of four adjoining brick buildings, varying in size and ranging in date from 1883 to circa 1920s. The complex consists of the original central power generating station (1883), presently home to Old Colony Planning Council, and three subsequent additions (ca. 1885-1893, 1907, ca. 1920s).

Brockton Edison Building Today

The Brockton station was designed to power a downtown commercial and manufacturing area with 7,000 lights. Service was through direct current at 110 and 220 volts. Initial equipment included two boilers, two steam engines, three dynamos, and underground wiring. Brockton was a prosperous and progressive city as illustrated by its locally-funded, roughly contemporary grade separation of the main rail line with a viaduct and bridges, and could afford to invest in the more expensive underground wiring which saved its famous elm trees. Thus the Brockton station became the first in the country to prove the viability of a three-wire (110/220 volt) underground distribution system. The steam-powered Brockton Edison plant served nine commercial customers on opening day and within a year had 108 residential, commercial, and industrial customers.

The original structure, sited at the corner of Montello and Lincoln Streets, was designed by Frank J. Sprague, chief engineer to Thomas A. Edison. The one-story, high-ceilinged structure, is built of brick with a granite foundation (rising approximately one foot above grade level), is approximately 42 feet wide, 85 feet long and 22 feet high. As was necessary in a building intended to house machinery capable of producing electricity on a commercial scale, it was almost entirely fireproof, with brick walls and iron columns, while only the roof was timber framed.

The First Brockton Edison Building

Exterior decorative elements reflected a contemporary (1883) Italianate style with arched brick windows, door openings, door drip-moldings, granite window sills, a regular series of raised brick pilasters (widening to a V shape at the top), a raised brick cornice which defines window and door bays all around the structure, and large decorative brackets tucked under the roof's projecting eaves.

Three additions were made to the original station, the first addition enlarged it with a two-story brick building, notable for a large round furnace in the southeast corner. The signature brick smoke stack replaces a smaller free-standing earlier metal one and remains a local landmark though it was trimmed to its present height of approximately 15 feet above the roof line in 1923. This was built immediately to the south of the original structure, and an interior wall was removed to create one large open space. It originally contained a larger boiler room, new engine room, and Brockton Edison Company offices on the second floor. (The timber framing remains but the floor has been removed, allowing a continuous view of the roof structure throughout the two combined buildings.)

Thomas Alva Edison

These two structures, the original generating plant erected under the supervision of Thomas A. Edison in 1883 and the first addition built between 1885-1893, are those owned by Old Colony Planning Council Regional Management and Operation, Inc.

The second (1907) addition, was built immediately to the west of the first addition, and like it, fronts on School Street. This is also of brick and two stories tall. Its ground floor housed the rotary converters and transformers after Edison switched from direct current to alternating current and the station was converted to a transmission substation in 1907. The second floor held a stock room, the meter department, a testing room, and additional offices. The building has its own entrance on School Street and now houses the Metro South Chamber of Commerce.

The third (1920s) addition was a two story brick ell built immediately west of the original structure fronting on Lincoln Street. It contained facilities for maintaining lines and for operating a major transformer.

The Brockton station is associated with a number of electricity industry firsts in addition to having the first three-wire underground distribution system. In 1884 the station lit its first residential customer, the home of a Colonel Whipple on nearby Green Street. This was the first residence in the city to be lit from a central generating station. Then Brockton's City Theatre opening in 1884 was the first American theater to be served by a central generating station. (Two years before, Edison had supervised the installation of an isolated power station in the basement of Boston's Bijou Theatre; but the City Theatre was the first to be lit by electricity produced off the premises.) The Central Fire Station on Pleasant Street in Brockton was the first in America to be electrically lighted; its alarm system was wired so that when an alarm sounded, the entire building automatically lit up and the horses were freed from their stalls. The central location of the Brockton station also encouraged the development of the city's electric railway system.

The Old Colony Planning Council (OCPC) purchased the buildings (original and first addition) and restored the building with Massachusetts Historic Commission support and guidance in 1987-1988. OCPC moved into the building in July of 1988.