George Fordyce Blake, 1919

Bronze Portrait Relief

From humble beginnings, an inventor’s mind started to work in the clay pits where he labored in the wet muck making bricks in Medford, MA. Getting the water out of the work area would change the working conditions and increase production, he thought. George Blake (1819-1904), born in Maine into a large family of eight children, started to mull over ideas for how he might accomplish this goal. His first of many inventions was here in 1862, a pump that removed the water from the work pits, greatly improving the process of making the bricks. Spurred on by his success, he formed the George F. Blake Manufacturing Company in 1864 to produce these pumps, and established himself in a shop on Province Street in Boston. The shop soon expanded, producing water meters, brick presses, and other brick making equipment all invented by Blake. It was an upward climb from there. The huge manufacturing conglomerate he built in East Cambridge is now on the Register of Historic Places. It was once the second largest concern of its kind in the country, making a diverse line of pumps for every imaginable use. Guggenheim funded much of the growth. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worthington_Corporation

Blake ManufacturingThe last of the buildings constructed in this complex, which once comprised over six acres, was the Third Machine Shop, built of the new concrete construction materials in keeping with the style of the times with steel beams and an industrial face with large windows. It was there in Machine #3 that the portrait relief of the founder was installed on a brick entry wall. Those spacious open buildings have now been restored and made into luxury apartments, but the portrait has gone missing.

William H. Blake (unconfirmed grandson) had taken over as the president of the company before the death of his grandfather, so it can be presumed that it was he who commissioned the portrait in honor of George F. Blake. It must have been a handsome memorial at a cost equivalent in 2017 of $12,135.

Since Blake was no longer alive and there is no photo of the bas-relief for reference, Allen presumably used the following two portraits to create the likeness. The face is certainly the same although at different ages and Blake is facing in the same direction in both, confident and handsome with his mutton chops, a prosperous businessman.

George Fordyce Blake was born in Farmington, Maine, 20 May 1819. His parents were Thomas Dawes and Martha Norton Blake. He married at age 25. Sarah Silver Skinner (1821-1856) bore him two children before her death. His second marriage was at age 38 to Martha Jane Skinner (1835-1897) who bore him four more children. Census reports list his residence in 1850 as Cambridge, occupation Engineer, in 1860 in Medford as a machinist, 1870 and 1880 in Belmont as Steam Pump Manufacturer, and 1900 as Retired in Boston. He died July 2, 1904 at age 85 and was buried in Cambridge at Mt. Auburn Cemetery.

Blake and Knowles Steam Pump Company National Register District was listed on June 13th, 1997 on the National Register of Historic Places in Cambridge #97000561. The building where the portrait was installed is at 195 Binney Street, one of the boundary streets of the district. In 1879, Blake also acquired rights to the Knowles pump, and finally in 1897 the two companies merged to become the Blake & Knowles Steam Pump Works. By 1889, the company was designing and manufacturing a greater variety of pumping machinery than any other firm. Blake began construction of its buildings on the Cambridge site in 1889. A series of manufacturing buildings were erected between 1889 and 1918 and remained in use by the company and its successor/parent company, the Worthington Pump and Machinery Company, until 1927.

“Front view 3/4 life size. Head and shoulders encircled with branches of oak leaves. Gum wood frame. Set in brick wall at Cambridge factory for $950.”(Allen Diary)
Size, signature and other markings unknown.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *