Rose Cottage, Springfield, Mass (1)

Rose Cottage, on Chestnut Street at the present-day corner of Edwards Street, sometime in the 1800s. Image from A Chronicle of Ancient Chestnut Street (1897).


The scene in 2016:

This house on Chestnut Street was built in 1824, at the time when the street was first being developed. Unlike some of its more elaborate neighbors, this house was a fairly simple, modest Greek Revival-style home. Its original owner was Elisha Edwards and his wife Eunice, who had been married in 1821 and moved in here three years later. They had a total of ten children before Elisha’s death in 1840, including Oliver Edwards, who was born here in 1835. He joined the Civil War as a lieutenant in 1861, but soon moved up the ranks, eventually commanding the 37th Massachusetts at the Battle of Gettysburg and later retiring as a brevet major general. One of Elisha and Eunice’s grandsons, Clarence R. Edwards, was also a prominent general, achieving fame in World War I.

Soon after Eunice’s death in 1875, the house became one of the first to disappear from Chestnut Street. Chester Harding’s nearby estate had been demolished a few years earlier to build Mattoon Street, and the Edwards house, which had been known as Rose Cottage for the many roses that grew up the side of the house, soon fell victim to progress. Edwards Street was laid out through the property, and the old house was directly in its path. Thankfully, though, it was not completely lost to history. Sometime before 1882, the house was moved about a half mile away to 57 Mulberry Street, where it still stands today.

In the meantime, the area that had once been the Edwards’ backyard is now part of the Quadrangle, which houses the city’s museums, including the Museum of Springfield History on the left. Only a handful of homes are still standing on Chestnut Street today, none of which date back to the 19th century. Several were built in the first decade of the 20th century, though, including the house at 73 Chestnut Street, on the right side of the 2016 photo. Built in 1901 as a private home, it is now used for professional offices.

Whistler House, Springfield, Mass

The former home of George Washington Whistler on Chestnut Street near the corner of Edwards Street, sometime in the 1800s. Image from A Chronicle of Ancient Chestnut Street (1897).


The scene in 2016:

Perhaps no house in Springfield has been home to as many historical figures as this one was, so it is perhaps only appropriate that the Museum of Springfield History is now located on the site. The house was built in the 1820s by Simon Sanborn, who built a number of buildings in Springfield during the early 19th century, including the architecturally-similar Alexander House. When this spacious, 20-room house was completed, Chestnut Street was Springfield’s most prestigious residential street, and the home enjoyed unobstructed views of downtown and the Connecticut River in the distance.

Its original owner was James Sanford Dwight, a merchant and member of the prominent Dwight family who died while vacationing in Italy in 1831. Several years after his death, the house was briefly the home of Chester Harding, a notable portrait artist. He was born in Conway, Massachusetts, but he worked as an itinerant painter in the western states, living for a time in Pittsburgh, Kentucky, and St. Louis. After this, he spent time in England, then returned to the US, living in Boston for a few years. By the early 1830s, he was living in Springfield, first renting the Alexander House and then moving into this house. He only remained here for a short time, though, before building a new house just to the left of here, on the site of present-day Mattoon Street.

Despite Harding’s prominence, he would turn out to be only the second most famous artist to reside in the house in the first photo. After he moved out, it was the home of George Washington Whistler and his family from 1839 to 1842. Whistler had been hired as chief engineer for the Western Railroad, which was under construction from Worcester to the New York state line at the time. He achieved fame in his own right as a railroad builder, and left Springfield in 1842 when Czar Nicholas I of Russia hired him to build a railroad from St. Petersburg to Moscow. However, his son James Abbott McNeill Whister, who was just eight when they moved from Springfield, would go on to become one of the most prominent American artists of the 19th century. Although he only spent three years here, it is interesting to consider what influence, if any, their next-door neighbor Chester Harding may have had on the young future artist.

After the Whistlers left, its next resident was Major James Ripley, the commandant of the Springfield Armory from 1842 to 1854. He was third consecutive nationally-prominent figure to live in the house, and earned recognition for his efforts to modernize the Armory. Under his leadership, many new buildings were constructed, including the distinctive Main Arsenal, as well as the nearby Commandant’s House. The latter was completed in 1846, at which point Ripley moved out of his house here on Chestnut Street. Although he left Springfield in 1854, his reforms came just in time. When the Civil War started less than a decade later, the Armory was in an ideal position to meet the wartime demands of the Union army.

The house was later owned by Ethan Chapin. He and his brother Marvin were the co-owners of the Massasoit House, the city’s premier hotel during the 19th century. After his death in 1889, his Chestnut Street home went through several other owners, including Dr. Frederick Sweet and his wife Adeline. However, by the turn of the century, its location was no longer as fashionable as it had been some 75 years earlier, and the house fell into disrepair. It was demolished in the mid-1920s, and although the historical significance of its former residents was recognized at the time, there does not seem to have been any call to preserve it at the time. The site was later redeveloped, though, and it is now the home of the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History, which is seen in the 2016 photo.

Levi B. Taylor House, Springfield, Mass

The house at the southeast corner of Chestnut and Mattoon Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.


The scene in 2016:

In the mid-1800s, this section of Chestnut Street was owned by artist Chester Harding, who had a spacious lot and a large home that was set back from the street. After his death in 1866, though, it was sold to William Mattoon, who subdivided the property and built Mattoon Street through it. Over the next two decades, the street was developed with brick Victorian townhouses on either side, most of which are still standing today as one of the city’s great architectural treasures.

Here at the corner of Chestnut and Mattoon, the house in the first photo was built around the mid-1870s, during the same time that Mattoon Street was being developed. Although it faced Chestnut Street, it matched the adjoining townhouses around the corner with its Second Empire-style architecture.

One of its early residents was Levi B. Taylor, who was living here by 1882 and remained here for the rest of his life. A native of Granby, Massachusetts, Taylor was an inventor and salesman, and for many years he worked as a traveling salesman for the American Knife & Shear Company. He died in 1897 at the age of 58 while in Peoria, Illinois, and the house went through several other owners over the next few decades.

By the time the first photo was taken, Chestnut Street had undergone some dramatic changes. The predominantly residential street had become far more commercial, and most of the 19th century mansions were gone by the 1930s. This house was still standing, although at this point it had been altered to include a storefront, which housed the Bay Path Spa. It was named for Bay Path Institute, which was at the time located directly across Chestnut Street from here, and the store catered to its students until the school moved to its current location in Longmeadow in 1945. The old house was demolished at some point afterward, and in 1959 the current liquor store was built on the site.

Chester W. Chapin House, Springfield, Mass

The Chester W. Chapin House at 149 Chestnut Street, just south of Bridge Street, around 1893. Image from Sketches of the old inhabitants and other citizens of old Springfield (1893).


The scene in 2016:

One of Springfield’s most prominent residents of the 19th century was Chester W. Chapin, a businessman and politician who lived here in this home on Chestnut Street for nearly 40 years. Chapin was born in Ludlow, Massachusetts in 1798, and was the youngest of seven children. The family soon relocated to Chicopee, at the time still part of Springfield, where his father died in 1806, just 10 days before Chester’s eighth birthday. As a young adult, he worked for $1.50 a day, building foundations for the cotton mills in Chicopee, and he later took a job as a clerk for his brother Erastus, who owned the old Parsons Tavern in Springfield.

Chapin soon went into business for himself, and in the early 1820s he opened a store in Chicopee. From here, he went on to make a series of  business investments, starting around 1826 when he purchased an interest in the Hartford to Brattleboro stagecoach line. His portfolio expanded in 1831 when he purchased a steamboat line from Springfield to Hartford, and along with this he also owned large interests in several other steamboat companies.

Stagecoaches and steamboats were soon to become largely obsolete, though, and in 1844 Chapin wisely sold his investments and purchased the Hartford & New Haven Railroad. In 1850, he became president of the Connectict River Railroad, which had just been completed from Springfield north to the Vermont border. With these two railroads, he controlled largely the same transportation corridor that had once been served by his stagecoaches and steamboats, but his most significant role as a railroad executive came in 1854, when he became president of the Western Railroad. Extending from Worcester to Albany, this line was later merged with the Boston and Worcester  Railroad in 1867 to form the Boston and Albany Railroad, and Chapin became the new company’s first president.

Aside from his railroad interests, Chapin founded the Agawam Bank in 1846, serving as its first president and later as a director. He was also a director of the New York Central Railroad, the Springfield Fire and Marine Insurance Company, Springfield Gas Light Company, Chapin Bank, Parsons Paper Company, and a number of other companies. By the 1860s, he was among the wealthiest men in the city, as seen in his 1865 income of $78,886, equivalent to over $1.2 million today. Only two other residents of the city, pistol manufacturers Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson, had a greater income that year.

Chapin built this house on Chestnut Street in 1844, the same year that he started investing in railroads. Like most of the other mansions on the street in this era, its design was heavily influenced by the Greek Revival style, but it also shows elements of Italianate architecture, such as the overhanging eaves and the cupola, which would become more popular by the middle of the century. Because this area of Springfield was still sparsely developed, the house was on a large lot that extended behind it, almost all the way to Spring Street.

During the time that he lived in this house, Chapin also served one term in the US House of Representatives, from 1875 to 1877, before being defeated in his re-election bid. He was one of only two Democrats to represent Springfield in the House prior to the mid-20th century. For years, Western Massachusetts was a Republican stronghold, and no other Democrats would be elected to Congress from Springfield’s district until Foster Furcolo in 1949.

Chapin died in 1883 at the age of 84, and the house was owned by his family for the next 30 years. By the early 1900s, though, the property, with its large backyard, was valuable commercial real estate. It was demolished in 1913, and Winter Street was developed through the lot. Here along Chestnut Street, the Willys-Overland Block was built on the left side, and another brick commercial block was built on the right side, where a parking lot is located today.

Harris Block, Springfield, Mass

The Harris Block, at 454-472 Bridge Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.


The building in 2016:

As mentioned in previous posts, Chestnut Street transitioned from a residential to commercial neighborhood in the early 1920s. The home of Daniel Harris once stood just to the right of here, but in 1923 it was dismantled and moved to Westerly, Rhode Island. His name lived on, though, with the Harris Block. This two-story commercial building was built in 1925 at the corner of Chestnut and Bridge Streets, and formed part of the northern side of the newly-developed Apremont Triangle.

When Bridge Street was extended east of Chestnut Street in the early 1920s, it crossed Daniel Harris’s old lot and connected with Pearl Street. This formed a roughly isosceles triangle between the three streets, with a small park in the center that was named in honor of the 104th Infantry, a Springfield-based unit that fought at Apremont during World War I.

Three of the buildings fronting the triangle, including the Harris Block, were designed by architect Samuel M. Green. All three had similar designs, and were two stories tall, with large storefront space on the first floor. This made them ideal for car dealerships, and the Apremont Triangle soon became the center of the city’s automobile industry. Here in the Harris Block, the corner storefront was originally a Rolls-Royce showroom, and their Springfield branch offices were also located in the building.

By the time the first photo was taken, Rolls-Royce was no longer in the building, and the corner storefront was instead a pharmacy. Over the years, car dealerships have moved to more spacious lots outside of downtown, but all of the early 20th century buildings at the Apremont Triangle are still standing, including the Harris Block. Because of this, all of these buildings were added to the Apremont Triangle Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Willys-Overland Block, Springfield, Mass

The Willys-Overland Block at the corner of Chestnut and Winter Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.


The building in 2016:

As mentioned in the previous post, Chestnut Street was once home to some of Springfield’s wealthiest residents. However, by the early 1900s the city’s commercial center was growing east from Main Street, and this area around the corners of Chestnut, Bridge, and Pearl Streets became the center of the city’s automotive business. Springfield played a pioneering role in early automobile manufacturing, starting with Charles and Frank Duryea. In the 1890s, they developed the country’s first gasoline-powered car here in Springfield, just a few blocks away on Taylor Street. In the years that followed, other automobile companies came to the city, drawn by its manufacturing tradition and large pool of skilled workers.

In the first few decades of the 20th century, Springfield was home to many car manufacturers. The Knox Automobile Company was headquartered in the city, and other companies had branches, including Rolls-Royce and Willys-Overland. Unlike Rolls-Royce, the Toledo-based Willys-Overland no longer exists, but its legacy in Springfield lives on in this building, which they built in 1916. The first floor housed their showroom, and the rest of the building had a service station along with a thousand-car garage.

The company remained here for just five years, but the building continued to be used for automotive-related purposes. In the first photo, the upper floors were the Kimball Garage, serving the Hotel Kimball, which is located diagonally across Chestnut Street from here. However, it has since been neglected for many years. It was damaged in a November 2012 natural gas explosion that leveled an adjacent building and shattered most of the windows in the Willys-Overland Block. Although listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building’s future is uncertain, and in 2015 the City Council established it as a one-building historic district, in an effort to protect it from possible demolition.