The Heat Is On

We learned a lot about Kimball working on the feature about the iconic dining hall, but there was still one tidbit for us to discover: When Kimball Hall was built in 1935, the architects created the structure around the existing central boiler room and chimney. Why? The College had invested in creating its first central boiler room to provide heat to the growing campus, and relocating it was not an option. 

Retired plant engineer Dennis Shea told us that when the College decided to create its first central boiler room in the early 1900s, Stewart Boiler Works of Worcester cast the massive doors (above). At one point five boilers were in operation, using coal to heat the campus. “We converted to oil, but when WWII broke out, oil was in shortage and we converted back to coal,” Shea says. After the war ended, it was back to oil. No. 6 oil, to be exact. “No. 6 oil is a very heavy crude oil, almost like tar. You had to keep it heated to about 130 degrees in tanks underground, then it had to be heated even more when you got to the boiler,” Shea explains. “It was nasty stuff if you got it on you. And that’s what the school was burning until we converted to natural gas, which is much more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.” Shea, who served the College for 50 years, also notes that Holy Cross made the switch from oil to gas “long before a lot of other schools.”

When the original boiler room doors  were scheduled to be demolished several years ago, it was Shea who recognized that they were an important part of Holy Cross history, and arranged to have them saved and mounted in the basement of Kimball. They stand as a testament to all the behind-the-scenes work that takes place every day to keep the campus running. The heating system is something “people don’t even realize is there … all they know is that in the winter, when they come in, it’s warm,” says Shea, who is a treasure trove of College history, and eagerly told HCM that before the original boiler room was built, pot-bellied stoves were used for heat in the original campus buildings. “There were chimneys poking up through the roof all over the place in Fenwick!” he says. ■