WORCESTER – The Graham, Putnam & Mahoney Funeral Parlors conduct business at 838 Main St. in what was originally known as the Lucius Knowles House.

The three-story Victorian home with more than 20 rooms was built in 1870 for Knowles and his family. One of the leading industrialists in the city, Knowles achieved prominence as an inventor and manufacturer of looms. He and his brother Frank B. Knowles founded L.J. Knowles & Brother Loom Works in Warren in 1863. Three years later, they moved the loom manufacturing business to Worcester. In 1897, they merged with Crompton Loom Works to form Crompton & Knowles Loom Works. The merger settled a dispute between Crompton and Lucius Knowles, whose patents fixed a defect in Crompton's loom design.

The company revolutionized the textile industry. First housed on Green Street, the company later moved to a five-acre industrial complex on Illinois and Grand streets. Table Talk Pies announced in January that it will build a new headquarters on the former Crompton & Knowles complex.

By World War II, Crompton & Knowles and Draper Corp. in Hopedale were the world's largest producers of textile looms. Crompton & Knowles employed as many as 4,000 people in Worcester. When loom sales plummeted, the company continued to thrive by diversifying, moving into chemicals, plastics, auto parts, packaging machinery and bowling pin setters. In 1962 Crompton & Knowles became the first Worcester company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. It had 11 plants worldwide and 5,000 customers. The company moved its headquarters to Manhattan in 1970 and left Worcester entirely in 1980.

Knowles died in 1884 of heart disease while visiting his brother Frank in Washington, D.C. Frank ran the company after his brother’s death.

Graham, Putnam & Mahoney president Peter A. Stefan began working at 838 Main St. in 1959 after high school, left for a while and then returned for good in the 1970s. So he knows the building well and he took pride in showing the rooms to this reporter. He pointed out that the first and second floors had laundry chutes, but the third floor, where the servants lived, did not.

“Which tells that their laundry wasn’t mixed in together,” he said.

Most of the rooms on the first and second floors have fireplaces, but none on the third floor does.

Stefan said when he removed the carpeting from the dining room, he found electric buttons on the floor that were long ago used to ring bells to call for the servants.

“It’s a beautifully constructed building,” Stefan said. “They told me it took 11 years to build it. It’s unreal. What a building. Every room is different.”

Knowles’ initials, “L.J.K.,” are carved into the mahogany support column for the staircase leading to the second floor.

A framed history of the building hanging on the wall in the front lobby calls the house one of the city’s best examples of Second Empire architecture, despite the application of aluminum siding in 1968.

A music room designed by Stephen C. Earle was added to the building around 1880 to provide Knowles’ daughter with a place to play the harp. Earle’s other designs include the original Worcester Art Museum, Bancroft Tower, Clark Hall at Clark University and Boynton Hall at WPI.

The music room and its alcove originally contained stained glass skylights and windows bearing portraits of musicians and artists, but fell into disrepair and were covered. The room is now used for wakes.

Stefan said he replaced other stained glass windows because they didn’t keep out the cold.

“I managed to salvage a few of them,” he said, “but stained glass, nobody fixes it and it’s worth nothing.”

Stefan said he uses the former kitchen as an embalming room. He estimated he handles 500 funerals and cremations a year.

Customers are greeted by lion heads protruding from the bottom of each of the two front doors. Most rooms have mahogany or oak doors, paneling and crown molding.

Knowles was known to have had an extensive art collection. Stefan said he believes a statue of a woman sitting in a chair and holding a tambourine and a copy of Thomas Gainsborough’s 17th-century painting of Mary Graham framed above a mirror are left over from when Knowles lived in the home. An old apple press remains in the basement.

Graham, Putnam & Mahoney dates back to 1864, when most Worcester funeral homes were located downtown. Stefan said William Graham purchased the Lucius Knowles House in 1915 or 1916.

Stefan hasn’t heard from any of Knowles’ relatives and admits he doesn’t know much about him.

“I don’t even have a picture of the guy,” he said. “I don’t have a picture of Graham either.”

Knowles’ son, Lucius J. Knowles, later ran the company and his former home, Knollwood, is located on the campus of Notre Dame Academy on Salisbury Street. The younger Knowles also had a park constructed near alongside Coes Pond for his employees. That land now belongs to the Knights of Columbus and Botany Bay, a development of single-family homes, condos and apartments.

Knowles and his son are buried in Rural Cemetery in Worcester.