Gas lamps to turn off by day

June 3, 2011
By

After decades of shining a perpetual, 24-hour-a-day light, City of Boston gas lamps will soon turn off during the day, Bryan Glascock, head of the City’s Environment Department told the Gazette.

Glascock told the Gazette that the city this year plans to begin installing automatic shut-offs run by sunlight-detecting photo cells on the gas lamps.

Mission Hill is home to at least seven of the city’s about 2,800 gas-powered streetlights.

According to a history of city street lighting on the City of Boston’s website, gas lamps were first installed in the city in 1828 and the first electric light was installed in 1882. City streets were lit by a mix of gas and electric lights by the middle of the 20th century.

Clock-operated switches that turned the lights off during the day were installed in city gas lamps in 1922, putting an end to the then-standard practice of lighting them daily. The city stopped installing gas lamps in 1948, but began installing them again in historic neighborhoods in 1962.

Since 1960, the relatively few remaining lamps have been fed by a constant flow of piped-in natural gas.

The shut-offs are being paid for in part by a federal grant and will cost about $750 a piece, Glasscock said—$600 to purchase and $150 to install.

The city currently pays $1.3 million a year—$484 per lamp—a year to keep them lit. The shut-offs will cut those costs by 52 percent, Glascock said.

This year, the city plans to spend $450,000 from a federal grant to install shut-offs on 600 lamps for a savings of $140,000 a year, Glascock said. Eventually shut-offs will be installed on all the lamps, he said.

Glascock said the gas lamps remain in use, despite the significant cost, because they are popular with residents and significant to the city’s history.

According to a “Historic Mission Hill” tour pamphlet published by Friends of Historic Mission Hill, there are gas lamps near the corner of Wigglesworth and Tremont streets; Calumet Street heading up from Brigham Circle; the intersection of Calumet and St. Alphonsus streets; Cherokee Street; Folsom Street; and Shepard Street. Many of those lamps are not right on the street, but located in alleys and yards.

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