THE CURVED WINDOW WALL OF THE WHETSTONE STATION RESTAURANT and BREWERY
By Wayne Carhart
The Whetstone Station Restaurant and Brewery, with its curved deck, is sitting on one of the round foundations of Brattleboro’s two former gasholder tanks. These tanks supplied gas that lit the homes and streets of Brattleboro at the end of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The other gasholder tank was in front of the gas manufacturing building that was just across Bridge Street until 2012. Before electricity, gas was considered a superior kind of lighting over candles and oil lamps because it was piped into buildings, which provided an uninterrupted source of fuel. There was no longer a need to carry a lantern at night because the streets were illuminated by gaslight.
The Brattleboro Gaslight Company ran a gas manufacturing, storage, and distribution operation, enabling Brattleboro to enjoy its very own gaslight era. The gas was manufactured in the gasworks building by heating coal in ovens, which was captured. The gas moved through pipes to the gasholder tank. Additional pipes (street mains) ran below the street level to the street lamps, homes, and commercial buildings. The use of the gas was measured, for billing purposes, by gas meters.
In order to accommodate the uneven demand for gas use, storage for the gas was needed. This was done with large moving tanks. The gasholder tank was similar to a huge iron pot placed upside-down in a large pool of water. The water formed a seal so when the gas entered the tank via the pipes from the gashouse, it would remain in the tank. The tank moved up and down with the aid of counterweights, pulleys, and tracks. The stored gas was forced out of the tank, through the mains, and into the buildings and street lamps, where it was burned in gaslights. Gasholder tanks were encased in a round brick building with a conical-shaped roof with a cupola. The building was several stories high, had few windows, and generally only one door. The cupola allowed for the exhaust of any escaping gas and the brick shell served to protect the pulleys and tracks from the weather.
You can see a completely restored gasholder tank in Northhampton, Massachusetts, just off Main Street.