Holy Name Catholic Church, Machias, Maine

The Holy Name Catholic Church in Machias, around 1904. Image from Narrative of the Town of Machias (1904).

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The church in 2015:

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Machias was first settled by English colonists in the 1700s, and although they established a Protestant church relatively quickly, it took some time before there were enough Catholics to sustain a church here. Traveling priests would often visit Machias in the early 1800s, but it wasn’t until 1845 that the town had its own Catholic church.

The original church burned down in 1875, but it was soon rebuilt and is still standing today.  Compared to the town’s Congregational church, this one is relatively simple on the exterior.  It wasn’t originally built with a steeple, but one was later added to the right, as seen in the 2015 photo. Otherwise, it looks essentially the same as it did when the first photo was taken over 100 years ago.

Centre Street Congregational Church, Machias, Maine

The Centre Street Church in Machias, around 1904. Image from Narrative of the Town of Machias (1904).

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The church in 2015:

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The town of Machias is one of the easternmost places in the United States, so this remote fishing village seems like a strange place to have one of the state’s few examples of early 19th century Gothic Revival architecture.  The Centre Street Congregational Church has stood here overlooking the town since it was completed in 1837, and it was built based on designs by Richard Upjohn, a British-born architect who designed Gothic Revival churches throughout the United States.  Upjohn is better known for works such as Trinity Church at the corner of Broadway and Wall Street in New York, the Church of the Covenant in Boston, and the Connecticut State Capitol in Hartford, but this church in Machias predates all of those.

Since its completion nearly 180 years ago, the church has been remarkably well-preserved.  The only major exterior changes have been a clock in the tower, which was added in 1870, and stained glass windows, which were added in 1899, a few years before the first photo was taken.  The church even has its original bell, which was purchased used in Boston and originally came from Paul Revere’s foundry.  Today, the historic building is still a major focal point in the town, and the 2015 photo shows the setup for the Machias Wild Blueberry Festival, a town-wide festival that is sponsored by the church.

Alexander House, Springfield, Mass

The Alexander House on State Street in Springfield, around 1905. Image from Springfield, Present and Prospective (1905).

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The site in 2015:

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The Alexander House was one of many elegant homes that once lined this section of State Street between Chestnut Street and the Armory.  Most of them have long since been replaced, but the Alexander House is still standing, just in a different location.  Its history is explained in more detail in this post, which shows is current appearance around the corner from here, but it was built in 1811 and is one of the oldest existing buildings in the city.

Former owners of the house included portrait artist Chester Harding as well as former Springfield mayor Henry Alexander, Jr., for whom the house is named.  However, its future was threatened in the early 2000s, when a new federal courthouse was proposed for this location.  So, the house was moved about 100 yards away, behind the courthouse on Elliot Street.  The large trees that once stood in front of the house couldn’t be moved, though, so architect Moshe Safdie literally built around them, designing the courthouse so that the trees could be saved as a central element.

State Street, Springfield, Mass

The view looking west on State Street from Myrtle Street in Springfield, around 1913. Image from Progressive Springfield, Massachusetts (1913).

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State Street in 2015:

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The first photo shows roughly the same section of State Street as the one in this post, just taken from the opposite direction.  In the early 1900s, the elm-lined State Street was primarily residential, with a number of single-family homes on either side.  Also in the photo, on the right, is the ivy-covered facade of the First Baptist Church, which was built in the late 1880s.  The congregation merged with another Baptist church around the time the photo was taken, and the building later became St. Paul’s Universalist Church.  It was later demolished, and today there is a parking lot on the site.

By the early 1900s, the street was still unpaved, but automobiles were still fairly rare anyway.  Instead, the trolleys of the Springfield Street Railway carried much of the city’s traffic, and at least three appear to be visible here on the busy State Street corridor.  Their days were numbered, though, because within a couple decades most trolley networks around the country had been replaced with buses.  In Springfield, these buses eventually came under the control of the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority, and they still operate many lines along this part of State Street, as seen in the 2015 photo.

John Brown’s Fort, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

The fire engine house at the Harpers Ferry Armory, more commonly referred to as “John Brown’s Fort,” as seen around 1860. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Civil War Collection.

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The same view in May 1939. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA/OWI Collection.

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The scene in 2015:

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This small, seemingly nondescript building was built in 1848 at the entrance to the Harpers Ferry Armory, and was used as a guard house and fire engine house.  Normally, such a building would not be the subject of an 1860s stereocard, but it gained widespread fame just a few years earlier, due to its role in John Brown’s raid on the armory.

On October 16, 1859, northern abolitionist John Brown led a group of 22 men who attempted to take the armory and start a slave rebellion. They succeeded in taking the armory, and took a number of Harpers Ferry citizens hostage, but the plan quickly unraveled and they ended up barricading themselves in this building, surrounded by local militiamen and other armed townspeople.  Eventually, Colonel Robert E. Lee, still fighting in the US Army at the time, led a detachment of Marines, who succeeded in taking the building and capturing John Brown and most of his men.

To many northern abolitionists, John Brown was a hero, but to southern slaveowners he was a dangerous radical and a criminal. He was executed on December 2 in nearby Charles Town, but the failed raid helped to set the Civil War in motion a little over a year later.  The first photo was probably taken within three years of the raid, and in it the building still bears some of the scars from the fight.

Unlike most of the armory buildings, this one actually survived the war, and over time it became a tourist attraction and a symbol of the abolitionist movement. However, many residents feared that it would become a major draw for African-Americans to visit the town, so they were looking for ways to get rid of it.  Finally, in 1891 the owners decided to dismantle the fort and reassemble it at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  It was a colossal failure at the exposition, though; the move cost $60,000, and just 11 people paid the 50 cent admission fee to view the fort.

The fort underwent further dismantlings and reconstructions, before eventually moving to its present-day site about 150 feet to the right of here.  However, it doesn’t have much real historic value, because of the number of times it has been reconstructed and the amount of original materials that has been lost over time.

After the fort was moved from here, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad built new railroad embankments through the site of the fort, so today it is at a substantially higher elevation than it was in the first photo.  The monument, seen in the last two photos, was added by the railroad and marks the original location.

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia (2)

The town of Harpers Ferry, photographed around 1862. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Civil War Collection.

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The view in 2015:

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These two views of Harpers Ferry are remarkably similar, considering how much damage the small town sustained during the Civil War.  The Library of Congress estimates that this photo was taken around 1860, which seems a little too early.  This photo is half of a stereocard from a series called “War Views,” and since the war didn’t start until 1861, it seems unlikely that it was taken before then.  Instead, it was probably taken around 1862; the tents in the foreground were part of a “contraband camp” that the Union army established on the grounds of the former armory in March 1862 to house escaped slaves from the Confederacy.

A number of notable buildings are visible here, with the most prominent being the Armory fire engine house, better known as “John Brown’s Fort,” seen in the center of the photo and explained in more detail in this post.  To the left of the “fort” is the Gerard Bond Wager Building, a three and a half story brick building that was completed in 1838.  Prior to the Civil War it was used as a grocery and dry goods store, and it is still standing today and is operated by the National Park Service as a museum.

Beyond the Gerard Bond Wager Building is St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, which was built in 1833 and is still standing today, although with some extensive alterations.  It survived the Civil War, but it was renovated in 1896 to bring its exterior in line with the then-popular Neo-Gothic architectural style.  The original brick walls were replaced with granite, the steeple was removed, and a new asymmetrical facade was built with a taller steeple on the left side.

Another church in the original scene was St. John’s Episcopal Church, seen on the top of the hill to the right.  It was built in 1852 and sustained damage during the war, eventually being repaired in 1882.  However, it was subsequently abandoned in 1896, and today the picturesque ruins are still there, although they are hidden from view by the trees in the 2015 photo.

The last of the prominent historic buildings in these two photos are the four in a row next to each other, seen just below St. John’s Episcopal Church.  All four are still standing today, and the left-most of these is the Harper House, which is the oldest surviving building in the lower town.  It was completed in 1782 by Robert Harper, the town founder who not coincidentally operated a ferry here.  He died the same year it was completed, and it was later used as a tavern, a private residence, and by the start of the Civil War as a tenement house, accommodating up to four families.  To the right of the Harper House is Marmion Hall, which was completed in 1833, and the last two buildings to the right were built in the 1840s as the Marmion Tenant Houses.  These last two were, prior to the war, rented out to armory workers, who were just a short downhill walk away from their jobs.

Today, railroad tracks cover much of the former armory site, and nearly all traces of the historic site are long gone.  However, the town that grew up here because of the armory is, for the most part, preserved in its pre-1860s appearance.  Much of the lower town is now part of the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, and is run by the National Park Service.