In the late 1800s, Northampton’s Freemasons borrowed $110,000 to construct the Masonic Block (25 Main Street) on Lower Main Street. This four-story building, which opened in 1898, featured an elevator powered by Northampton city water pressure.
Although hydraulic elevators were not unusual at the time, this was no ordinary elevator. The walls and ceiling were made of oak and featured ornately carved panels, with stained glass windows at the top. The stairway wound its way around the open hoistway, which was framed by mesh wire. Until it was decommissioned in 2017, the operator-run elevator was in service Monday – Friday, 9 to 5 pm.
The elevator operators were an important part of the social fabric of the building from the start. In his new documentary film The Gilded Cage: Northampton’s Last Water Powered-Elevator, Stan Sherer interviewed former operators and the repair service person who maintained the elevator from the mid-1980s until the end.
The Gilded Cage brings this lost history to life, showing how the safety brake works, how a hydraulic system pushes an elevator, how the elevator counter-weight works, and much more.