Today, July 3, 2012 is the Centennial of New Bedford City Hall. On this date in 1912, the City Property Committee officially received from the contractor the newly rebuilt and expanded City Hall, which had been badly burned in a fire in 1906.
High above today’s festive celebration hosted by Mayor Jon Mitchell is a remarkable frieze in the building’s pediment. It is the work of a mostly forgotten sculptor and stone carver, Timothy J. McAuliffe of Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1912, he was a highly regarded sculptor of public monuments and buildings, examples of which may still be seen throughout New England today.
McAuliffe was born in 1856; the same year the original municipal building was erected. He came to America from his native Ireland in 1872 and worked as a clerk while
studying art in Boston. For a time, he worked in the Boston Terracotta Works. He married Ann Boyle of Worcester in 1879 and
there they settled. He established a studio at 91 Foster Street and later at 6 Barton Place, where he continued his work until his death in 1922.
McAuliffe executed hundreds of ornamental carvings for churches and public buildings throughout New England and New York. His works include Worcester Classical, Emanuel Episcopal Church in Newport, Rhode Island, St. Patrick’s Church in Great Barrington, and the Congregational Church in Worcester (in which he did all the exterior stonework and interior plasterwork.) He was also commissioned to execute scores of busts, bas-reliefs and public memorials.
Architect Samuel C. Hunt, who oversaw the vast remodeling and expansion of city hall, called for an elaborate neo-classical design. McAuliffe’s pediment is the building’s crowning glory, featuring a multitude of intricately carved elements.
On July 1st, 1910, McAuliffe noted the completed project in his order book: “Received an order from the Connecticut Steam Brownstone Company to execute modeling and carving on the Municipal Building of New Bedford, Mass. $1,790.00. Paid.”
New Bedford spared no expense to make its new City Hall a proud symbol of the city’s meteoric growth. Mayor Charles Ashley allocated $450,000 for the building’s massive expansion.
A photoengraving in the Evening Standard (Feb. 1, 1910) shows McAuliffe’s clay model for his high-relief frieze, the composition of which bears a close resemblance to an early tourism postcard advertising Old Home Week and Textile Carnival in 1907.
Like the postcard, the frieze combines themes of the city’s maritime history and its major enterprises: the fisheries, manufacturing and transportation. The billowing smoke of mill chimneys form a flourish over the seal. To the east a train races off, as the engineer appears to be sounding the whistle, with factories crowded in the background. The locomotive’s side panel reads NHRR (New Haven Rail Road) and the date 1909. To the west whaleships cram the wharves, onto which the sculptor carved 75 whale-oil casks. In 1912, the sun was setting on whaling, while manufacturing and transportation looked toward the dawn of a new day.
McAuliffe carved himself into the pediment… not as the engineer in the driver’s seat, but as a laboring immigrant coal stoker, in the steamer-tender behind the locomotive!