Old coal-fired electricity plant is now a solar-powered catering business


Old coal-fired electricity plant is now a solar-powered catering business
The 1897 coal-powered electricity generating station for Northborough’s trolley line is now a solar-powered catering business. (Photo/Normand Corbin)

NORTHBOROUGH – These columns about reincarnated antique properties recognize owners of historic buildings who appreciate the old architecture and have invested in successful reuse options. With creativity, historic properties can be kept away from the wrecking ball. Today’s property at 43 Hudson Street was originally built as a power generating station for trolleys and was transformed into the home for Peppers Artful Events Catering.

This large brick building was built in 1897 as the coal-powered electricity generating station for the new Worcester and Marlborough Street Railway Company that passed through the center of Northborough. The street railway is what first brought electricity to Northborough. This trolley line lasted for nearly 30 years until the automobile became the preferred mode of transportation.

The next long-term occupant was the O’Neill Brothers Ice Company that thrived in the 1930s and 1940s. Its literature identifies it as “Dealers in Ice.” Certainly providing ice for home ice boxes was a key part of the business. Ice boxes were used prior to electric refrigeration to keep perishable food from spoiling at home. It appears the ice was made on site as the current owners mentioned evidence of an old well on the property and ice-making pits within the building.

By 1938, they were selling “Coolerator” refrigerators manufactured at The Coolerator Company in Duluth, Minnesota. A receipt in the Northborough Historical Society archives has one sold to Mr. Fred Proctor in April of 1938 for $52. Following the usage of the building by the O’Neill Brothers, it housed a variety of industrial businesses including a warehouse, a car service garage, a machine shop, a sheet metal shop and a painting contractor business.

Old coal-fired electricity plant is now a solar-powered catering business
The former electricity generating station at 43 Hudson Street as it looked in 1967. (Photo/Northborough Historical Society)

The Peppers catering business was started in Northborough Center by Susan Lawrence in 1988. When their lease was up, Susan and her husband John started looking for a new location. They became curious about the old worn brick building at 43 Hudson Street. They purchased the building in 1995 after approaching the owner to see if he was interested in selling. Susan and John said that they were very fortunate to select E. J. Cross Construction as the contractor because they did a remarkable job transitioning the property into a catering facility. E. J. Cross Construction was formerly of Worcester and they closed after 100 years with their final project being the Peppers project. One expensive unexpected challenge did occur within the first year of relocation. A buried petroleum product tank was found to be leaking. It was removed along with the contaminated soil at a cost of $ 80,000, a bit of a financial challenge during their early days in the new facility.

Asked if they would do it again, the Lawrences’ answer was a resounding yes. They have found owning a historic building to be fascinating. The building is like a treasure hunt; they have found old blueprints and other historic items. In the basement are the remnants of the original coal-fired electricity generator from the early trolley days.

Over the years the Lawrences have invested heavily in green technologies. The roof is painted white to help keep the building cool, solar panels have been installed and the red awnings over the main windows have been replaced with a solar hot water system. The building has been brought full circle regarding power generation, from a coal-powered electric generation station to a solar powered catering business.

Thank you, Susan and John for preserving a piece of Northborough history for the community.

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