Northfield Chateau, Northfield, Mass (2)

Another view of the Northfield Chateau, at the end of Highland Avenue in Northfield, in 1963. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The scene in 2017:

As mentioned in the previous post, this mansion was built in 1903 as the summer residence of Francis Robert Schell, a wealthy New York businessman. He and his wife Mary had begun visiting Northfield in 1890, and originally came here because of evangelist D. L. Moody, who lived in the town and ran the nearby Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies. After the death of his father in 1900, Francis inherited a considerable fortune, and used it to build this 99-room mansion. He hired noted architect Bruce Price, who designed the house in a Châteauesque style that gave it the appearance of a French castle, complete with plenty of turrets, arches, and other embellishments.

The house was part of a 125-acre estate that Schell owned here in Northfield, and the family regularly visited here for the next 25 summers, until Francis’s death in 1928. Mary outlived him by more than a decade, but she reportedly refused to stay in the house after his death, instead choosing to spend summers at the adjacent Northfield Hotel. The house was eventually acquired by the Northfield School, and was used as an annex for the hotel, as well as a venue for the school’s prom and other events. Along with this, the basement, which had previously been the servants’ quarters, was converted into a youth hostel. It was still owned by the school when the first photo was taken in 1963, but by this point the 60-year-old mansion was in poor condition, and was too costly for the school to maintain. It was demolished later in 1963, and today the site is an open field next to the Northfield Golf Club.

Northfield Chateau, Northfield, Mass

The Northfield Chateau at the end of Highland Avenue in Northfield, in 1963. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The scene in 2017:

Unlike many other parts of New England, the Connecticut River Valley in Massachusetts was never a major summer resort destination during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As a result, the area saw few of the grand hotels and Gilded Age “cottages” that were built in places like Bar Harbor, the Berkshires, Newport, the North Shore, and the White Mountains. However, one of the exceptions was this 99-room Châteauesque mansion in Northfield, which was completed in 1903 as the summer residence of Francis Robert Schell, a wealthy New York businessman.

Francis Schell and his wife Mary first came to Northfield in the summer of 1890, and stayed at the nearby Northfield Hotel. They originally came because of prominent evangelist D. L. Moody, who lived in the town and ran the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies, but the Schells soon fell in love with the town itself. They continued to return each summer, eventually purchasing a summer house. However, Francis’s father, Robert Schell, died in 1900, leaving him with a substantial fortune, and that same year the Schells began planning a massive house here in Northfield.

The house was designed by noted architect Bruce Price, and featured a style similar to his most famous work, the iconic Château Frontenac in Quebec. It would have blended in well in places like Lenox or Newport, but here in Northfield it stood out as garish and ostentatious, in the midst of a small farming community with otherwise modest houses. The house’s size and style did little to endear Schell to the town, nor did the fact that he enclosed his 125-acre estate with a fence to prevent locals from trespassing on the property. Schell did make at least one major contribution to the town, donating the nearby Schell Bridge over the Connecticut River, although even this was rather self-serving, since it gave him direct access from his house to the railroad station across the river.

The Schells spent many summers here in the house, from its completion in 1903 until Francis’s death in 1928. Mary would continue to visit Northfield after his death, although she reportedly stayed at the Northfield Hotel, being unwilling to return to the mansion without Francis. By this point, though, the house had little resale value, despite the extravagance that went in to its design and construction. The grand summer houses of the Gilded Age were falling out of fashion, a trend that was accelerated by the onset of the Great Depression in 1929.

The house was eventually purchased by the Northfield School, and for many years it was used as the venue for the school’s prom, which became known as “The Chat,” after the chateau. It was also used as an annex for the Northfield Hotel, and at one point the basement was converted into a youth hostel. However, it steadily fell into disrepair, and by the 1960s it was becoming too expensive for the school to maintain. The first photo was taken in 1963, as part of a Historic American Buildings Survey study of the building, and it was demolished later in the year, just 60 years after its completion. Today, the site of the house is an open field adjacent to the Northfield Golf Club, which is located on the former site of the Northfield Hotel.

Revell Hall, Northfield, Mass

Revell Hall, near the corner of Main and Moody Streets in Northfield, around 1891. Image from Picturesque Franklin (1891).

The scene in 2017:

The Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies was founded in 1879 by Dwight Lyman Moody, a prominent Christian evangelist of the late 19th century. Moody was born just up the hill from here, in a house that still stands on Moody Street, and he grew up here in Northfield. As a teenager, Moody moved to Boston in the 1850s, where he worked in his uncle’s shoe store and subsequently converted to the Christian faith. From there, he went on to have a long career as an evangelist, holding revivals across the country and overseas, and becoming a 19th century predecessor to later evangelists like Billy Graham.

Moody returned to Northfield in 1875, purchasing a house on Main Street just to the north of here. Within a few years, he had begun planning for the Northfield Seminary, and in 1878 he and H. N. F. Marshall, a building supply dealer from Boston, purchased this property on the west side of Main Street. The following year, this brick, High Victorian Gothic-style building was constructed on the site. It was named Revell Hall, in honor of Moody’s brother-in-law, the publisher Fleming H. Revell, and it was the first purpose-built school building on the campus. However, since it would not be ready in time for the school’s opening in the fall of 1879, Moody’s house was temporarily used for both classroom and dormitory space, housing the school’s first 25 girls.

Upon completion, Revell Hall was used as classroom building, chapel, and dormitory, but it was soon joined by other building on the campus. H. N. F. Marshall, in his capacity as the school’s treasurer, oversaw the construction of these new buildings, and in 1885 he purchased Revell Hall from the school. He converted it into his house, and that same year he built a carriage house in the rear of the property, which can be seen on the right side of both photos. Over the next few years, he continued to be involved in the school’s growth, contributing his knowledge in construction, as well as his personal wealth, in order to help the Northfield Seminary expand. He would remain here until 1889, when he retired and sold the property back to the school.

The first photo was probably taken only a year or two after Marshall left. By this point, both Revell Hall and the carriage house had been converted into dormitories, and the latter was named Holton Hall in honor of Moody’s late cousin, Fanny Holton, who had been one of the first teachers at the school. Within 20 years, Revell Hall was expanded several times, with additions in 1904 and 1909. Both buildings continued to be used as dormitories until 1962, when Revell Hall was converted into administrative offices and Holton Hall became faculty apartments.

Aside from the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies, which was later named the Northfield School for Girls, Moody also founded the Mount Hermon School for Boys, in the nearby town of Gill, Massachusetts. The two schools were closely connected, but remained separate institutions until 1972, when they finally merged to form the present-day Northfield Mount Hermon School. The combined schools continued to operate both campuses for many years, but in 2005 the Northfield campus was closed, and the school was consolidated at Mount Hermon.

The Northfield property was subsequently sold to Hobby Lobby, which gave it to the National Christian Foundation in 2012. This organization transferred the bulk of the campus to Thomas Aquinas College in 2017, but gave ten of the buildings – including both Revell Hall and Holton Hall – to the Moody Center, which hopes to carry on the legacy of D. L. Moody here on the former campus. Today, despite the early 20th century additions to Revell Hall, neither of these two buildings look much different from when the first photo was taken over 125 years ago, and they stand as well-preserved examples of 19th century school buildings.

Skinner Gymnasium, Northfield, Mass

The Skinner Gymnasium, on the former Northfield campus of the Northfield Mount Hermon School, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2017:

The present-day Northfield Mount Hermon School dates back to 1879, when it was established as the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies. Its founder was the noted evangelist Dwight Lyman Moody, who opened the school near his birthplace in the northern part of Northfield, just a little south of the New Hampshire border. Two years later, Moody established the Mount Hermon School for Boys on a separate campus in nearby Gill, Massachusetts, and the two schools would remain separate institutions for nearly a century.

By the early 1890s, the Northfield school was in need of a gymnasium, in order to promote health and physical fitness among the girls. The result was this building, which was completed in 1895 and named the Skinner Gymnasium in honor of its benefactor, Holyoke textile manufacturer William Skinner. The building had a variety of amenities, including a bowling alley, a swimming tank, and the gymnasium itself, which included an elevated running track. At the time, basketball was just beginning to gain popularity after having been invented a few years earlier, and by the turn of the century the girls were playing here in the gym on intramural teams.

The first photo was taken within about a decade of the building’s completion, and shows its Queen Anne-style architecture, which was common for public and institutional buildings of the era. It also shows some elements of the popular Romanesque Revival style, including the asymmetrical design, the rounded arch over the door, and the use of towers and turrets. However, over time the building would be expanded and altered with several 20th century additions, although this portion was not significantly changed. The first of these additions came in 1930, when a pool was added to the rear of the building. Then, after the completion of a new gymnasium in 1971, this building was converted into a student center, and in 1987 a large library wing was added to the left side, just out of view in the 2017 scene.

The Northfield School formally merged with Mount Hermon in 1972, but continued to use both campuses for many years. This building was used as the student center and, after 1987, the library for the Northfield campus up until 2005, when the school consolidated its operations at the Mount Hermon campus. The Northfield property was subsequently sold to Hobby Lobby, which, in turn, donated it to the National Christian Foundation. Then, in 2017, it was given to Thomas Aquinas College, a Catholic college that is based in California. The school is currently in the process of converting the property into a branch campus, and hopes to open by the fall of 2019.

James Fisk, Jr. Monument, Brattleboro, Vermont

The gravesite of James Fisk, Jr., in Prospect Hill Cemetery on South Main Street in Brattleboro, around 1872-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

This ornate marble obelisk marks the final resting place of James Fisk, Jr., a Vermont native who became a prominent Wall Street financier and, in the process, one of the most notorious of the Gilded Age robber barons. Fisk was born in 1835 in Pownal, Vermont, and was the son of James Fisk, Sr., a peddler who sold silk dressed and other high-end dry goods. The family moved to Brattleboro in 1843, and in 1849 the elder James opened the Revere House, which became a successful hotel at the corner of Main and Elliot Street. James, Jr. was about 15 at the time, and he lived in the hotel with his father, his stepmother Love, and his half-sister Mary.

For some time, the younger James worked as a waiter at the Revere House, but in 1850 he quite literally ran away with the circus, joining Van Amburgh’s Mammoth Circus and Menagerie. His flamboyant, outgoing personality was perfectly suited for the circus, although he primarily performed menial tasks like taking ticket, feeding animals, setting up tents, and cleaning cages. However, his time with the circus gave him valuable business experience. When he returned to Brattleboro a few years later, at the age of 18, he joined his father’s peddling business, where he applied some of the techniques he had learned with the circus, including traveling in brightly-colored wagons and wearing fancy clothing.

Fisk’s success as a peddler led to him being hired as a salesman for the Boston-based dry goods firm of Jordan Marsh & Company. However, his career remained unremarkable until the start of the Civil War. In 1861, he traveled to Washington, D.C., where his personality and business skills helped win him lucrative government contracts to provide textiles for army uniforms. He became a wealthy man, largely because of these contracts, but he also profited from the war in less scrupulous ways, including smuggling cotton from the south and selling Confederate bonds to European speculators.

Near the end of the war, Fisk became a stockbroker, and in 1866 he established his own brokerage firm of Fisk & Belden. He worked closely with Daniel Drew and Jay Gould, two of the most ruthless business tycoons of their era. Fisk followed in their ways, teaming up with them to gain control of the Erie Railroad and prevent Cornelius Vanderbilt from adding it to his railroad empire. To do so, the trio issued fraudulent shares of the company, which Vanderbilt purchased in large quantities. He lost a considerable amount of money in the process – over $100 million in today’s dollars – and, despite the fraud, Drew, Fisk, and Gould were able to retain control after bribing the New York state legislature to legalize the fraudulent shares.

A few years later, in 1869, Fisk and Gould would attempt an even more ambitious scheme to corner the gold market. They managed to drive the price as high as $160 per ounce before President Ulysses S. Grant ordered Treasury Secretary George S. Boutwell to release $4 million in treasury gold. The price of gold quickly plummeted, breaking their corner on the market. Fisk and Gould managed to avoid serious financial losses, but many investors were ruined, and the scheme triggered a nationwide economic panic.

Aside from his questionable business practices, Fisk’s personal life also had its share of scandal. He had married his wife, Lucy Moore, in 1854, not long after he left the circus. They remained married even after his rapid ascent from dry goods peddler to Wall Street tycoon, but she spent most of her time in Boston rather than with Fisk in New York. During this time, Fisk had a mistress, the actress Josie Mansfield, whom he housed in a brownstone on 23rd Street in New York. However, after a few years she fell in love with one of Fisk’s business partners, Edward Stiles Stokes, and she began threatening Fisk with blackmail. Fisk refused to pay, and the love triangle eventually led to Stokes shooting Fisk on the staircase of the Grand Central Hotel, in January 6, 1872. Fisk died the following day, at the age of 36, although not before identifying Stokes as the shooter.

Fisk’s body lay in state on January 8, at the Grand Opera House, where around 20,000 mourners came to pay their respects. On Wall Street, Fisk has been a ruthless businessman, but the poor and working-class of New York admired him for his charity work, and many saw him as the typification of the American Dream: a circus laborer and country peddler who rose to greatness through hard work and determination. That night, his body was returned to Brattleboro, where around 5,000 people – equivalent to the town’s entire population at the time – were on hand when the funeral train arrived at almost midnight. His funeral was held the next morning at the Revere House, and then his body was brought here to Prospect Hill Cemetery for burial.

At the time of his death, Fisk’s estate was valued at just under $1 million, or about $20 million today. Of this, $25,000 was spent on a marble obelisk here at his gravesite. It was designed by prominent sculptor Larkin Mead, a Brattleboro native whose other works of this era included Abraham Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield, Illinois. His design for Fisk’s monument included a bas-relief portrait of Fisk in the center, surrounded on all four corners by partially nude female figures. Each figure symbolized trade and commerce in some way, with one representing railroads, another steamships, a third the stage, and the fourth finance.

The first photo was probably taken soon after the monument was installed, because at this point it did not yet include Fisk’s dates of birth or death. His widow, Lucy, outlived him by 40 years, and she was interned here after her death in 1912. Her inscription was added to the base of the monument, and over the years other members of the family were buried here in this plot, as shown by the many gravestones in the present-day photo.

Overall, though, the monument has not aged well. No longer the brilliant white of the first photo, its marble has been weathered and blackened by nearly 150 years of New England’s climate. Along with this, the bas-relief of Fisk was removed in the early 2000s, leaving a faint shadow in the oval. Souvenir hunters have also caused damage over the years, with Fisk’s admirers occasionally chipping off pieces of the marble. However, as one of Fisk’s friends noted many years later, in an excerpt published by Jay Gould biographer Edward J. Renehan, Jr., these visitors “have made the monument more fitted to commemorate Jim’s career – striking from many aspects, picturesque, but blemished.”

Chapin Street, Brattleboro, Vermont

Looking east on Chapin Street, from the corner of Oak Street in Brattleboro, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene in 2017:

Chapin Street was developed in the mid-1880s, less than a decade before the first photo was taken. The street, which runs one block from Oak Street to Linden Street, was built through land that had once belonged to Dr. Charles Chapin, who lived in a house at the end of the road on Linden Street. Chapin was a Harvard-educated physician, but he was also a businessman who served as a state legislator, a U.S. Marshal, and a director of the Vermont Mutual Insurance Company and the Vermont Valley Railroad. He lived here until his death in 1875, and his wife Sophia died five years later.

Soon after Sophia’s death, the property was sold and subdivided. The old house survived, and still stands today, but the rest of the land became building lots for new houses. The new street was named in honor of Chapin, and was developed around the same time as Williston Street, which runs parallel to Chapin Street on land once owned by merchant Nathan B. Williston. Both streets featured ornate, Queen Anne-style homes, most of which were completed by the time the first photo was taken in the early 1890s. A streetcar line was also built on the street in the 1890s, although this apparently happened after the first photo was taken.

The first photo shows a few people walking along an otherwise quiet residential street. In the foreground, three women walk arm-in-arm along the sidewalk, while a man walks further in the distance. On the left side of the street, a boy appears to be sitting on some sort of a bicycle, and far in the distance a pair of horses are harnessed to a wagon. In the distance, beyond the newly-built homes, is the northern slope of Mount Wantastiquet, which forms a scenic backdrop for much of downtown Brattleboro.

Today, most of the houses are hidden by trees from this view, but all of the ones from the first photo appear to still be standing. Chapin Street remains a well-preserved example of a late 19th century middle class neighborhood, and the houses still retain their decorative exterior designs with multi-colored paint schemes. The street itself has changed somewhat over the years, though. The trolley tracks have come and gone, the street has been widened and paved, and the sidewalk on the left is gone, but overall the scene is still easily recognizable from the first photo.