Josiah Gilbert Holland House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 115 High Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

During the mid-19th century, this house was the home of author Josiah Gilbert Holland, a noted historian, novelist, poet, and editor who lived in Springfield for much of his literary career. Holland was born in 1819 in Belchertown, Massachusetts, and was an 1844 graduate of the Berkshire Medical College. He moved to Springfield after graduating, where he married his wife, Elizabeth Chapin, and briefly practiced medicine. However, he soon abandoned the profession and turned to writing. He published a weekly newspaper, the Bay State Courier, for six months in 1847, but he and Elizabeth subsequently moved to the south, where he worked as a teacher in Richmond and as superintendent of schools in Vicksburg. He had little professional experience for the latter position, and Vicksburg had little in the way of public schools, but Holland was able to establish a system that was based on public education in northern states.

Holland served as superintendent in Vicksburg for a year and three months, but he and Elizabeth returned to Springfield in the spring of 1849, in order to care for her dying mother. Here, Holland resumed his journalistic career, after Springfield Republican editor Samuel Bowles hired him as an assistant editor of the newspaper. During the early 1850s he wrote History of Western Massachusetts, which was originally printed in the newspaper in serial format before being published in a two-volume book in 1855. The following year, Holland was the keynote speaker at the dedication of the old city hall at Court Square, where he gave an hour-long speech that, among other things, criticized the city’s lack of noteworthy architectural works. He objected to the designs of public buildings as well as private homes, and noted that “a common horse-block has just as many, and just the same, architectural ideas in it” as an entire street full of the city’s finest homes.

Around the time that he gave this speech, though, Holland lived here in this very modest Greek Revival-style home, which had very little architectural distinction of its own. The house was likely built sometime in the late 1830s or 1840s, during the time when this style was common for houses in Springfield. It does not appear in the 1835 map, but it was in existence by 1851, when that year’s map shows it as being owned by an A. Howe. Josiah and Elizabeth Holland likely moved into the house a few years later, and at some point it came to be known as “Buff Cottage.” By the 1860 census the Hollands were living here with their young children Annie, Katie, and Theodore, plus two servants. At the time, the value of Holland’s real estate was listed at $9,000, plus a personal estate of $13,000, for a total net worth equal to about $600,000 today.

During the time that Holland lived in this house, his literary career gained him national attention. His first novel was The Bay Path, a work of historical fiction that was set in early Springfield. It was published in 1857, and was followed a year later by the long narrative poem Bitter Sweet, which was written here in this house. This poem would become one of his most popular works, and was described in 1894 by biographer Harriette Merrick Plunkett as “Dr. Holland’s reflections on the mysteries of Life and Death, on the soul-wracking problems of Doubt and Faith, on the existence of Evil as one of the vital conditions of the universe, on the questions of Predestination, Original Sin, Free-will, and the whole haunting brood of Calvinistic theological metaphysics.” She declared it to be “truly an original poem,” comparing it to the works of Robert Burns or Sir Walter Scott, and cited the praise that it had earned from poet James Russell Lowell. However, the poem, along with many of Holland’s other works, also received its share of criticism from those who found his writing style to be excessively sentimental and moralistic.

Holland’s other works during this period included three collections of essays, Letters to Young People, Single and Married (1858), Gold Foil, Hammered from Popular Proverbs (1859), and Letters to the Joneses (1863), all of which were published under the pseudonym Timothy Titcomb. In 1860, he wrote his next novel, Miss Gilbert’s Career: An American Story, which highlighted the Victorian belief that a woman’s greatest career was to be a wife. The Civil War started a year later, and Holland’s editorial duties at the Republican consumed much of his time throughout the war. He even became the de facto editor-in-chief of the newspaper during part of the war, taking on these responsibilities during Samuel Bowles’s overseas trip to Europe.

As Holland became a more established literary figure, he put some of his newfound wealth into building a new house that was both much larger and more architecturally prominent than his home here on High Street. It was completed in 1862, and was located in the northwestern corner of the city, near the border of Chicopee, on what is now Atwater Terrace. At the time, this part of the city was far removed from the city center and only sparsely populated, so Holland’s choice of a location was puzzling to some. One person is even reported to have questioned “Who would ever want to live there, except some hare-brained poet like Dr. Holland?” The design of the house was unique among the many 19th century mansions in Springfield, featuring a Swiss Chalet-style design, and it was named “Brightwood” because of its painted wooden exterior. This name would later be applied to the entire northwestern corner of the city, and today the neighborhood is still known as Brightwood.

The Holland family would only live at Brightwood for five years, before embarking on a two-year vacation to Europe and then relocating to New York City, but Holland wrote several of his best-selling books while living here in this house. Perhaps the most notable work of his career was Life of Abraham Lincoln, which was published in 1866. A year earlier, Holland had been asked to give a eulogy of Lincoln at a memorial service here in Springfield, held just four days after his assassination. The eulogy proved powerful, and just a month later Holland was traveling to Springfield, Illinois to research Lincoln’s life.

The resulting book was the first lengthy biography of the 16th president, and sold around 100,000 copies. It was one of many such biographies that were published soon after Lincoln’s assassination, most of which were poorly written, but Holland’s book is generally considered to have been the best of these. As described by Allen C. Guelzo in the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Holland’s book was “a landmark Lincoln biography, the first of any substantial length as a biography, the first with any aspirations to comprehensiveness,” and “the first life of the ‘inner Lincoln,’ setting the stage for a genre of Lincoln studies that remains compelling and fruitful to this day.”

After moving to New York, Holland became one of the founders and the first editor of Scribner’s Monthly, which later became The Century Magazine. He continued his role as both editor and author throughout the 1870s, alternating between publishing novels and volumes of poetry. His final book was The Puritan’s Guest, a collection of poems that was published in 1881. He died on October 12 of that year, at the age of 62, and his body was returned to Springfield, where he was interred in Springfield Cemetery, just a short walk from where he once lived here on High Street.

In the meantime, at some point during the 1860s the house here on High Street was sold to Timothy Henry, a livery stable owner who lived here for many years with his wife Julia. He died in 1883, but Julia continued to live here until her death in 1900, more than 30 years after she and Timothy moved into the house. Following her death, however, the house went through a series of owners and residents throughout the early 20th century. It steadily declined until, when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, it was being used as a lodging house. The 1940 census shows that it was being rented for $50 a month by Elizabeth Cody, a 64-year-old widow. She, in turn, rented space to two young women, one of whom worked as a bank clerk while the other was a stenographer.

By the time the first photo was taken, the once-famous resident of the house had long since been forgotten. Although ridiculed by many within the literary community during his lifetime, Holland had nonetheless been popular with the general public throughout the late 19th century. However, by the turn of the 20th century his overly sentimental, melodramatic style and Victorian-era moral lessons had fallen out of fashion, and his works drifted into obscurity.

Ironically, it was a reclusive friend and correspondent of Holland – the Amherst poet Emily Dickinson – who would go on to achieve lasting fame as the area’s preeminent 19th century poet. She died only five years after Holland, having had just a few poems published in her lifetime, yet her posthumously-published work eventually established her place within the Western canon of literature. This proved the exact opposite of Holland’s fame and reputation, who in 1940 was dismissed by biographer Harry Houston Peckham as “the major prophet of the unsophisticated, the supreme apostle to the naive.”

Holland’s two former homes in Springfield did not fare much better than his literary legacy. This house on High Street was evidently still standing as late as the 1960s, since the address was listed in city directories of the period, but at some point in the late 20th century it was demolished and replaced with a parking lot for the Wesson Memorial Hospital, which is located across the street from where the house once stood. However, this house ultimately outlived Holland’s grand Brightwood mansion on Atwater Terrace. After moving to New York, Holland had sold it to industrialist George C. Fisk, and the property remained in the Fisk family until well into the 20th century. It eventually fell victim to the Great Depression, though, and proved too costly for the few surviving family members to maintain, so it was finally demolished in 1940.

70-76 Temple Street, Springfield, Mass

The townhouses at 70-76 Temple Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

Unlike many other large cities in the northeast, Springfield never saw large-scale development of townhouses during the 19th century, with residents preferring detached single-family homes on larger lots. However, there were some townhouses that were built throughout the downtown area, including this block of four houses on Temple Street, which was completed in 1874. The houses are among the city’s finest surviving examples of High Victorian Gothic architecture, and they were designed by local architect George E. Potter, whose other works included the six townhouses at the corner of Maple and Central Streets.

Temple Street itself was developed in the 1870s, on land that had previously belonged to the prominent Morris family, including probate judge Oliver B. Morris and his son George B. Morris, who served as the Clerk of Courts for many years. However, Oliver died in 1871, followed by George a year later, and within a few years George’s son Robert had opened Temple Street through the property. This townhouse block was among the first buildings to be developed on the street, and was constructed at a cost of about $32,000 for the four homes, or about $700,000 today.

The houses were numbered 70, 72, 74, and 76 Temple Street, starting with 70 on the far right. They were jointly owned by Robert Morris and William S. Shurtleff, with Morris living at number 72 and Shurtleff at number 74. Morris had become the Clerk of Courts after his father’s death in 1872, and served in that position until his own death in 1925. Along with this, he was also a directory of the United Electric Light Company and president of the Springfield Five Cents Savings Bank, and in 1901 he published a book, The Birds of Springfield and Vicinity. He and his wife Lizzie lived here in this townhouse for many years, although around 1912 they moved a short distance to the east of here, to a house at 82 Temple Street.

William S. Shurtleff was also a longtime resident of this townhouse block, living at 74 Temple Street until the early 1890s. Shurtleff had served in the Civil War, enlisting as a private but ending up as a colonel. In 1863, he was appointed Judge of Probate and Insolvency, and served on the bench for the next 33 years, until his death in 1896. He also served several terms on the city’s Common Council, and was also the vice president of the state Board of Public Reservations, a founder and vice president of the Connecticut Valley Historical Society, and a director of the City Library Association. During the 1880 census, he was living here with his wife Clara and their daughter Mabel, plus his niece Clara, his brother Roswell, Roswell’s wife Sarah, and two servants.

Although designed as upscale single-family homes, this began to change by the turn of the 20th century. During the 1900 census, Morris’s house was the only one still occupied by a single family, with the other three having been converted into boarding houses. The most crowded of these was 74 Temple, which had three residents, along with a servant and six boarders living here. The subsequent 1910 and 1920 censuses show fewer numbers of boarders in these houses, although this would change dramatically by 1930, perhaps as a result of the Great Depression. During that year, there were eight lodgers in number 70, eleven in number 72, thirteen in number 74, and eight in 76. These residents included a variety of middle class workers, such as a pharmacy clerk, a waitress, a factory inspector, an auto mechanic, several teachers, a chauffeur, an accountant, a traveling salesman, and a milkman.

The first photo was taken later in the decade, only a few years before the 1940 census. By this point, the townhouses were still in use as boarding houses, with similar numbers of residents. As was the case in 1930, the residents held a variety of jobs, and nearly all of them earned under $1,000 a year, or under $18,000 today. By the time the first photo was taken, there was also another building attached to this block, just to the right of 70 Temple Street. This building first appears in city atlases in 1899, and had a plain brick exterior that contrasted sharply with the much more ornate Gothic townhouses that adjoined it. It was numbered 66-68 Temple Street, and during the 1940 census it housed four apartment units in number 66, plus a boarding house with six tenants in number 68.

Today, this addition on the right side is gone, having been demolished sometime in the second half of the 20th century. However, the four original townhouses are still standing, with well-preserved exteriors that have seen few changes since the first photo was taken. The interiors, though, have undergone substantial renovations over the years. The houses had started as single-family homes, before becoming boarding houses, and they are now divided into condominiums, with four units in each of the four houses. Like the Classical High School directly across the street, they are one of a number of historic properties in Springfield that have been converted into condominiums, and today this block of townhouses is part of the city’s Lower Maple Local Historic District.

Radding Building, Springfield, Mass

The Radding Building, at the corner of State and Willow Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The building in 2017:

This eight-story, Classical Revival-style commercial building was built in 1915 by real estate developer Edward Radding, and was one of the largest early 20th century buildings on State Street. It was the work of Boston-based architect Charles R. Greco, and featured decorative elements such as Corinthian columns and pilasters on the first two floors, a variety of carvings on the third floor, and cornices above the third, seventh, and eight floors. Upon completion, the building housed a variety of commercial tenants, and included stores, offices, and assembly halls.

The first photo shows the building as it appeared in the late 1930s. There are a variety of signs in the windows, although only a few are legible. The ground floor storefront on the left side was the State Barber Shop, while the storefront on the right was vacant, with a “For Rent” sign in the window. Directly above this empty storefront was a fur retailer, but none of the other signs are visible from this distance. Only a few years later, in 1943, the Mutual Fire Assurance Company began renting space in the building. This company would later become its primary tenant, and was headquartered here for many years.

Nearly 80 years since the first photo was taken, the exterior of the Radding Building has seen few changes. Because of its level of preservation and its architectural significance, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, and it remains well-preserved today. When the first photo was taken in 2017, it was undergoing major renovations to convert it from an office building to a Holiday Inn Express. This project was completed earlier in 2018, and the hotel now occupies the historic building.

Brewer Building, Springfield, Mass

The Brewer Building at 119-125 State Street, near the corner of Main Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

This four-story commercial block was built in 1893, and featured a distinct Romanesque architectural style, with features such as rounded arches, sandstone trim, and a castle-like turret on the left side. It was owned by businessman and state legislator Edward S. Brewer, and it housed a variety of commercial tenants over the years, with shops on the ground floor and professional offices on the upper floors. During the early 20th century, these included an optician, watchmaker, barber, tailor, jeweler, dentist, and an insurance company.

By the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, tenants included the Surprise Barber Shop on the left side of the ground floor, Dean’s Music House in the storefront just to the left of the arch, and A. I. Blitz Furrier on the second floor. However, just a few years later the building was badly damaged by a fire in 1945. It was not a total loss, but the two upper floors were removed, resulting in its current appearance. The facade was later covered in panels to match mid-20th century architectural trends, although these were removed in 1981 and the exterior was restored. Today, despite the loss of its upper floors, the building still has some resemblance to its 19th century appearance, and even its original outline is still visible on the walls of the neighboring Masonic Building.

Unitarian Church, Springfield, Mass

The Unitarian church at the corner of State and Willow Streets in Springfield, probably sometime in the 1860s. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

 

For nearly 200 years, the Congregational Church was essentially the only church in Springfield. Aside from small groups of religious minorities such as Baptists and Methodists, who arrived at the turn of the 19th century, nearly all of Springfield’s residents were affiliated with the First Church. However, this hegemony began to break apart in the early 19th century, when the New England Congregationalists saw a schism between the traditional Trinitarians and the newer, theologically-liberal Unitarians.

Here in Springfield, the First Church had two fairly liberal pastors throughout much of the 18th century, beginning with Robert Breck, who served from 1736 to 1784. Breck’s ordination had been highly controversial, due to the perceived unorthodox beliefs of the young clergyman. He was popular among the Springfield congregants, but many of the pastors of surrounding towns – including Jonathan Edwards of Northampton – had advised against him, and some of his opponents had Breck arrested for heresy on the day of his scheduled ordination.

The charges against Breck were ultimately dropped, and he was duly ordained, serving the church for nearly 50 years. After his death, he was replaced by another young liberal pastor, Bezaleel Howard, who served for 18 years before announcing his resignation in 1803, due to poor health. He agreed to remain with the church until his replacement was found, but this process likely took longer than Howard had anticipated. By this point, the Unitarian-Trinitarian controversy had become the dominant issue in New England churches, and it took six years – and 37 candidates – before Samuel Osgood was selected as pastor in 1809.

Osgood, a 24-year-old Dartmouth graduate, had been the unanimous choice of the congregation, who had viewed him as being theologically liberal. However, as the divide grew between the two factions, Osgood ultimately favored the orthodox Trinitarian theology, alienating some of the most influential citizens of Springfield in the process. The majority of the church sided with Osgood, but the Unitarians were both vocal and wealthy, and included prominent businessmen such as merchant Jonathan Dwight, Sr. As a result, around 117 Unitarians separated from the First Church in 1819, forming the Third Congregational Society of Springfield. This name came from the fact that Chicopee, home of the Second Congregational Church, was still a part of Springfield at the time.

Later in 1819, the Unitarians moved into this newly-completed church building at the corner of State and Willow Streets. Both the land and the building had been donated by Jonathan Dwight, and the building was designed by local architect Simon Sanborn. It bore a strong resemblance to the new First Church building, which had been completed several weeks earlier at Court Square, and it reflected the Greek Revival style of architecture, which was becoming popular for churches and other public buildings during this era.

The first pastor of the Unitarian church was William B. O. Peabody, who was just 21 years old when he was ordained in October 1820. He served the church for the next 27 years, until his death in 1847, and during this time he also had a successful career as an author. He wrote several books, plus a number of poems and hymns, and he was also a regular contributor to the North American Review literary magazine. None of Peabody’s 19th century successors were able to match his longevity with the congregation, but the second-longest pastorate here in this church building was that of Francis Tiffany, who served from 1852 until 1864, when he left to accept a position as professor of English and rhetoric at Antioch College in Ohio. Like Peabody, he also became a published author, writing a biography of social reformer Dorothea Dix in 1890.

The Unitarians worshiped here in this building for nearby 50 years, but by the 1860s they had begun planning the construction of a new building further up the hill, opposite where the Springfield City Library now stands. In the process, they helped to start the career of Henry H. Richardson, who would become one of the most influential architects in American history. Although he did not have any major commissions at the time, Richardson was allowed to enter the design competition thanks to Chester W. Chapin, a railroad and bank executive who was a prominent member of the Unitarian church. Chapin’s son-in-law had attended college with Richardson, and this connection enabled the young architect to submit his plans for a new church, which were ultimately the ones chosen in the competition. The new building, known as the Church of the Unity, was completed in 1869, and Richardson’s work helped to establish his reputation as an architect.

The other building in the first photo, just to the right of the church, is the Springfield Bank. This brick, two-story Greek Revival structure was built around in 1814, the same year that the Springfield Bank was established as the first bank here in Springfield. It was one of the many business interests of Jonathan Dwight, who was one of its founders and its first president, serving from 1814 to 1817. The building was also the first home of the Springfield Institution for Savings, which was established in 1827. It was the first savings bank in Springfield, and it shared this building with the Springfield Bank until 1849, when it moved into the newly-completed Foot Block at the corner of Main and State Streets. In the meantime, the Springfield Bank remained here in this building until 1863, when it was reorganized as the Second National Bank. This new bank relocated three years later, and the old building later became a store owned by grain merchant John W. Wilder.

Only four years after the Unitarians moved up the hill to their new building, the old church burned down on the night of October 12, 1873. The site was later redeveloped with a large brick commercial building known as the Kirkham and Olmstead Block, which was in turn replaced by the two-story building that is now standing here. However, the old bank building survived well into the 20th century, despite being converted to other commercial use. The 1920 atlas shows it still standing, but it was demolished sometime before 1933, when the Art Deco-style Springfield Safe Deposit and Trust Company building was completed on the site. This building, now the Community Music School, is still here today, and is visible on the far right side of the 2017 photo.

Kennedy Block, Springfield, Mass

The Kennedy Block, at the corner of Main and Taylor Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

This large commercial block was built in 1874, and was owned by businessmen Warren H. Wilkinson and Emerson Wight. It was part of the commercial and industrial development that was occurring in downtown Springfield during the mid-19th century, spurred by the presence of the Boston & Albany Railroad just a few blocks to the north of here. Wilkinson and Wight had owned an earlier building on this site, but it burned down on January 6, 1874, and was replaced with this five-story, Italianate-style building. Wight went on to serve as mayor of Springfield from 1875 to 1878, and in 1879 he purchased Wilkinson’s interest in the building, becoming the sole owner of the property.

One of the building’s original tenants was the Morgan Envelope Company, which had been founded in 1872 by Springfield resident Elisha Morgan. A year later, Morgan Envelope produced the first postcards in the country, after securing a lucrative government contract. At the time, postcards were prepaid, pre-stamped cards that were issued directly by the post office, and Morgan Envelope was the lowest bidder out of 14 companies, submitting a bid of $1.39 7/8 per 1,000 postcards. The company moved into this building upon its completion in 1874, and remained here for the next decade, until moving into its own facility on Harrison Avenue in 1884.

Beginning in 1917, the ground floor of the building was the home of Kennedy’s, a men’s clothing store. The first photo shows the building as it appeared in the late 1930s, with Art Deco-style signage above the storefront, and Kennedy’s remained here at this location until the early 1970s. Since then, many of the large 19th century commercial blocks in downtown Springfield have since been demolished, but the Kennedy Block is still standing with few significant changes to the exterior. The building is now part of the Silverbrick complex, with an interior that has been converted into apartments, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, along with the neighboring Worthington Building on the right side of the scene.