Old Union Station, Springfield, Mass

The old railroad station on Main Street in Springfield, around 1870-1885. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

Railroads first came to Springfield in 1839, with the opening of the Western Railroad from Worcester to Springfield, and the line terminated here at a wooden, Egyptian Revival-style railroad station on the west side of Main Street. The railroad was later extended west through the Berkshires, and Springfield became an important midway point on the route between Boston and Albany. The original station stood here for 12 years, but in 1851 it was destroyed in a fire after sparks from a passing locomotive ignited the building.

A new station was soon built on the same site, as seen in the first photo. Like the first station, trains passed directly through the building, although this one was less flammable, having been built with brick and iron. Architecturally, this new station was unremarkable, resembling a large shed rather than a grand union station, but it was designed by railroad engineer George William Whistler, the older brother of the famous painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Their father, George Washington Whistler, had briefly lived in Springfield in the early 1840s, and had been the chief engineer of the Western Railroad during the construction of route through the Berkshires.

The new station was joined in the late 1860s by a new office building for the Western Railroad, which was located just north of the station on the right side of the first photo. A striking architectural contrast compared to the plain railroad station, this granite Second Empire-style building was one of the earliest works of Henry H. Richardson, who would go on to become one of the most important architects in American history. Although very different from his later Romanesque Revival buildings, this design reflected his education in France’s École des Beaux Arts, and it helped to establish him as a notable architect.

In 1867, around the same time that Richardson received his commission for the building, the Western Railroad merged with the Boston and Worcester Railroad, forming the Boston and Albany Railroad. Both the station and the office building became part of the new railroad, but by this point it was obvious that the station, less than 20 years old, was already obsolete. As a union station, it served not just the Boston and Albany, but also the Connecticut River Railroad, and the Hartford and New Haven Railroad. Because of this, essentially all rail traffic from the four cardinal directions had to pass through this station, and Springfield’s rapidly growing population was straining the station’s capacity.

Along with overcrowding, the station’s location also caused problems, since the railroad tracks crossed Main Street just to the east of the station, as seen in the first photo. The busy railroad traffic meant that the Main Street crossing gates were closed as often as they were open, with an 1872 observer noting that the gates closed 66 times during one four-hour span from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. This  caused a significant disruption to the busy pedestrian, carriage, and trolley traffic in downtown Springfield, but the problem persisted for several decades, with neither the city nor the Boston and Albany Railroad wanting to pay the expense of lowering the grade of Main Street or raising the grade of the railroad.

Because of this impasse, the old station remained in use well into the 1880s, since the railroad was unwilling to build a new station until the tracks were raised above street level. It was not until February 1888 that the two sides reached a compromise, with the railroad agreeing to spend $200,000 to raise the tracks and build a stone arch over Main Street, while the city would spend $84,000 to lower Main Street by four feet, and would settle any damage claims by adjacent property owners. Most significantly, though, this project meant the construction of a new railroad station, which would be built across the street from here on the east side of Main Street.

The old railroad station was demolished in the spring of 1889, but the platforms and two waiting rooms were left standing until the new station opened in July. Like the older railroad office building, the new station was based on the designs of Henry H. Richardson, although he died before construction began, and his successors made some significant alterations to his original plans. The entire project was finished once the railroad arch was completed in 1890, finally eliminating the long-problematic grade crossing on Main Street.

Despite all of these changes, the Boston and Albany office building remained standing well into the 20th century, and continued to be used even after the railroad was acquired by the New York Central in 1900. The building was finally demolished in the late 1920s, around the same time as the 1889 railroad station. Despite being less than 40 years old, this station had become obsolete as quickly as its predecessor, and in 1926 it was replaced by the current Union Station on the same site. However, the stone arch is still here, and still serves as an important downtown landmark on Main Street.

Patton and Loomis Block, Springfield, Mass

The corner of Main and Hampden Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

Prior to the mid-19th century, Springfield’s commercial development was largely confined to the area around Court Square, extending only a few blocks to the north and south along Main Street. The opening of the Western Railroad in 1839, with its depot a half mile north of Court Square, did attract some businesses and industries to the northern part of downtown, but it would not be until the 1860s that Main Street began to take on its current form. As devastating as the Civil War was to the country at large, it brought significant growth to the city, thanks in large part to an influx of workers at the Armory, Smith & Wesson, and other war-related industries. The population boom also resulted in increased development along Main Street, as vacant lots and old houses were replaced with modern commercial blocks.

This particular site, at the southwest corner of Main and Hampden Streets, was purchased by William Patton in 1857. Originally from Warehouse Point in East Windsor, Connecticut, Patton started his career as the archetypal Yankee peddler, selling notions – small household articles like buttons, mirrors, scissors, hardware, and assorted novelties – from a cart, traveling throughout New England in the process. In 1848, he opened a store here in Springfield, but he also employed peddlers who continued selling his goods throughout the region. This proved profitable, and Patton also invested in real estate, including this property on Main Street. In 1864, he built this four-story commercial block and moved his store into the ground floor. He had his offices on the second floor, and he also rented part of the building to other tenants.

William Patton ran his store in this building until 1875, when he retired from the business and focused his attention on his real estate holdings. These included several downtown commercial properties as well as an entire street – named Patton Street – in the North End, and by his death in 1898 William Patton was one of the richest men in the city. His son, William, Jr., succeeded him in the real estate business, but in the early 1900s this property was sold to another developer, Frank L. Dunlap. In 1909, Dunlap modernized the building’s appearance, spending $15,000 to replace the old 1864 facade with one that conformed to early 20th century architectural tastes. This new facade extended for a short distance along the Hampden Street side of the building, but the rest of this side was left unaltered, providing an interesting contrast betwee the two architectural styles.

By the time the first photo was taken, the building’s ground floor tenants included Albert Furniture on the left, P & Q Clothes in the center-right, and Sarnoff-Irving Hats on the corner. In the 1950s, a modern glass and aluminum storefront was added to the building, although this was later removed and the first floor was restored to its early 19th century appearance. Today, the Patton and Loomis Block remains well-preserved as one of the many historic commercial buildings that still line this section of Main Street, and in 1983 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Fort Block, Springfield, Mass

The northwest corner of Main and Fort Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

The name of this building, the Fort Block, comes from its location on the site of a brick, colonial-era house that had served as a fort during the 1675 Indian raid on Springfield. Built around 1660, the house was probably the only brick building in 17th century Springfield, and this rare luxury reflected the wealth and social prominence of its owner, John Pynchon. He was the son of William Pynchon, who had been the principal founder of Springfield and had built a lucrative trading business here on the colonial frontier. However, William caused controversy with the 1650 publication of his book, The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption, which was declared heretical by Puritan leaders in Boston. As a result, William Pynchon returned to England in 1652, and John succeeded him as both a merchant and as a leader of colonial Springfield.

In 1675, during King Philip’s War, a group of Indians attacked Springfield, killing four residents while burning 25 houses and 35 barns. John Pynchon also lost a corn mill and a sawmill, but his fortified house survived the attack, with its two-foot-thick brick walls providing shelter for many of the town’s residents. In subsequent years, the house became a Springfield landmark, with its role in the Indian raid becoming a part of local lore. It would remain in the family for more than 150 years, and the final owner was William Pynchon (1776-1847), the great-great-great grandson of John Pynchon. The house was one of several early colonial buildings in Springfield that survived into the 19th century, but it was ultimately demolished in 1831.

Following the demolition, the property remained in the Pynchon family for several more decades, and it was finally sold in the late 1850s to the Springfield Fire and Marine Insurance Company. Established in 1849, it was the first insurance company in Springfield, although it lacked permanent offices until 1858, when this commercial block was built on the site of the old Pynchon house. Originally, the building had an Italianate design that was similar to many other commercial buildings of this era and this style can still be seen on the left side along Fort Street. However, the Main Street facade was altered before the first photo was taken, and bears little resemblance to its mid-19th century appearance.

Along with the insurance company, this building also housed the John Hancock Bank, which leased the ground-floor storefront on the right side of the building. Both businesses would remain here for many years, and in 1886 the Springfield Fire and Marine Insurance Company expanded the building along Fort Street in order to accommodate the growing company. However, in 1905 the company built a new headquarters at the corner of State and Maple Streets, and this building was subsequently sold. Early 20th century tenants included Hampden Savings Bank, which was located here from 1899 to 1918; the Bay Path Institute, which moved out in 1922 and later became Bay Path University; and the Springfield Union, whose offices were located here from 1909 until the newspaper was acquired by the Springfield Republican in 1926.

The two other buildings in this scene, on the right side of both photos, are nearly as old as the Fort Block. They were both built in 1864, although, like the Fort Block, they were heavily altered in the early 20th century. The Patton and Loomis Block on the far right, at the corner of Hampden Street, had its facade rebuilt in 1909, and the Loomis Block in between was similarly renovated in 1912, with a new yellow brick facade and a fifth floor. The owners of the Fort Block did likewise about a decade later, adding a new facade on the Main Street side in order to modernize the appearance of the building. However, the older Italianate-style appearance was retained on the Fort Street side, and can be seen on the left side of both photos.

By the time the first photo was taken about 80 years ago, these three buildings had assumed their present-day appearance, and very little has changed in this view since then. All of the Main Street businesses are long gone, including Roxy Clothes, Regal Shoes, and Bowles Lunch, but the Fort Block is still the home of the Student Prince, one of Springfield’s oldest restaurants. Established in 1935 on the Fort Street side of the building, this German restaurant was only a few years old when the first photo was taken, although it is not visible in the first photo. Since then, it has expanded to include much of the ground floor of the Fort Block, and it remains in business as a popular restaurant in downtown Springfield.

Whitney Building, Springfield, Mass

The building at the southwest corner of Main and Worthington Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

The skylines of American cities underwent dramatic changes at the end of the 19th century, thanks in large part to new developments in engineering and construction. Prior to this time, the height of commercial buildings was limited by a variety of practical factors, not least of which was the difficulty in supporting upper floors. Load-bearing masonry walls worked well for low-rise buildings, but taller buildings required increasingly thick exterior walls, sacrificing valuable ground-floor retail space in order to build higher. Such buildings could reach impressive heights, such as Chicago’s 17-story Monadnock Building, which was completed in 1894, but here in Springfield most masonry buildings did not exceed four or five stories.

By the late 19th century, though, inexpensive steel helped to revolutionize the way buildings were constructed. With steel frames, buildings were no longer limited to the capacity of load-bearing masonry, enabling the rise of modern skyscrapers. The first of these, the 10-story Home Insurance Building in Chicago, was completed in 1885, and it did not take long for the trend of steel-frame skyscrapers to reach Springfield. This location at Main and Worthington Streets has previously been the site of a brick, two-story commercial block that burned in 1893. Its owner, Andrew Whitney, soon set out on an ambitious project to replace it by building a six-story steel building that would become the first steel-framed building in Springfield and among the first in New England.

Construction on the building in 1894, although it would not ultimately be completed for another three years. Historian George C. Kingston, in his book William Van Alen, Fred T. Ley and the Chrysler Building, attributes this delay to a combination of factors, including the new style of construction, concerns from city officials, and the fact that Whitney, a real estate developer from Fitchburg, designed the building himself, instead of hiring a professional architect. As a result, the building did not conform to architectural trends of the era, instead featuring a relatively plain exterior without the classically-inspired ornamentation that was common at the time. However, despite local fears that the walls were too thin to support the six-story building, it was completed in 1897 and would stand here for more than 75 years.

A 1913 building directory shows a wide variety of tenants here. On the ground floor, the Main Street facade had two storefronts, with Miner & Co. cigars, magazines, soda, and confectionery in one, and W. L. Douglas shoe company in the other. There were another seven stores on the Worthington Street side, including a barber shop, a jewelry store, and a haberdasher. Above these shops, the upper five floors housed offices, which were served by two elevators – another late 19th century development that helped make skyscrapers a practical reality. These offices included attorneys, dentists, physicians, realtors, and other professionals, for a total of 50 individuals and corporations that had offices here in the building.

By the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, first-floor tenants included jeweler P. B. Richardson on the left side, Clear-Weave Hoisery Stores in the center, and the Stearns Curtain Shop in the storefront on the corner. The building would stand here for several more decades, but it was severely damaged by a fire in December 1974, and was demolished the following year. Several years later, the entire block along Main Street between Bridge and Worthington Streets was redeveloped, and a new federal building was constructed here in 1981. The government sold the property in 2009, following the completion of the new federal courthouse on State Street, but the old building underwent a significant renovation and is now used for offices.

Main and Vernon Streets, Springfield, Mass

The corner of Main Street and Vernon Street (now Boland Way) in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

Located in the midst of Springfield’s central business district, this scene has long the site of commercial buildings. The first photo shows a small Art Deco-style building that was probably built only a few years earlier. At the time, downtown Springfield was the retail center of western Massachusetts, and this scene shows a few of the many shops that lined Main Street in the late 1930s. The most prominent of this buildings’s three tenants was Bell Shops, a women’s clothing store that occupied the corner storefront. Just to the right was Morse and Haynes, a shoe store that had been in business here in Springfield since 1895 and, according to its advertisement in the 1939 city directory, sold shoes, hosiery, and rubber footwear, and also repaired shoes. The first photo also shows another shoe store, Thom McAn, which was located right next to Morse and Haynes on the right side of the building.

Both Bell Shops and Thom McAn were still located here into the mid-1960s, as indicated in city directories of the era. However, the building was demolished by the end of the decade to make way for Baystate West, a massive redevelopment project that encompassed the entire block between Main Street, Vernon Street, Bridge Street, and East Columbus Avenue. Completed in 1970, it included a two-story mall, a parking garage, a hotel, and a 29-story skyscraper that was, by far, the tallest building in Springfield at the time. Today, this scene has not significantly changed since 1970, although Baystate West has since been renamed Tower Square. The present-say view shows the main entrance to the mall, with the parking garage located directly above it. In the distance on the left is the hotel, formerly a Marriott, and on the right is a portion of the tower, which is now the second-tallest in the city after the completion of the adjacent Monarch Place in 1987.

Forbes & Wallace, Springfield, Mass

The Forbes & Wallace department store on Main Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

For just over a century, Forbes & Wallace was one of Springfield’s leading businesses, with its department store located here at the corner of Main and Vernon Streets. The company was established in 1874, when Scottish immigrant Andrew Wallace formed a partnership with Alexander B. Forbes, a dry goods merchant here in Springfield. They rented space in an earlier building that stood at this same location, and within a decade the two men had built the company into, as described in the 1884 King’s Handbook of Springfield, “the largest and most prominent wholesale and retail dry-goods house in Massachusetts, excepting only some of those in Boston.”

By this point, Forbes & Wallace had purchased the entire building, modifying it to meet the needs of the company’s growing business, but around 1905 the old building was demolished and replaced with a new Classical Revival-style building that is seen in the first photo. Only a portion of this massive building is visible in this scene, though. The eight-story, L-shaped structure extended for a significant length along Vernon Street (today Boland Way), and wrapped around the Haynes Hotel so that part of the building fronted on Pynchon Street. Over time, the company’s complex would come to fill almost the entire city block, including its own parking garage on the western side, and the department store remained a Springfield landmark for many years.

Alexander Forbes has retired from the business in 1896, but Andrew Wallace remained with the company until his death in 1923, nearly 50 years after he had established it. His son, Andrew B. Wallace, Jr., and later his grandson, Andrew B. Wallace III, both succeeded his as president of the company, which remained in the Wallace family for many years. The first photo was taken in the late 1930s, during the time when downtown department stores still dominated retail shopping. Aside from Forbes & Wallace, this section of Main Street also feature its largest competitor, Steigers, along with a variety of smaller stores. The scene in the first photo shows Main Street lined with parked cars, and the blurred figures on the sidewalk and in the street give the impression of a busy shopping district.

In the decades that followed, though, suburban malls began to eclipse downtown stores, and Forbes & Wallace followed this trend, opening satellite stores at the Eastfield Mall on Boston Road and the Fairfield Mall in Chicopee. Around the same time, downtown Springfield underwent several large-scale projects aimed at urban renewal, including the construction of the 371-foot, 29-story Baystate West building, which was located directly opposite Forbes & Wallace on the north side of Vernon Street. Now known as Tower Square, this project was completed in 1970, and included a shopping mall that was connected to Forbes & Wallace via a skywalk.

The Baystate West mall evidently did little to revive Forbes & Wallace, though, and the store ultimately went out of business in 1976. The building sat vacant for the next few years, and it was finally demolished in the early 1980s to make way for Monarch Place, a skyscraper that is just out of view on the left side of this scene. Completed in 1987, it is currently the tallest building in the city, and the original site of Forbes & Wallace at the corner is now a small plaza. There is a small replica facade on the left side, partially visible from this angle, but otherwise there is no trace of the old department store. Today, the only building left from the first photo is the Haynes Hotel, which stands as the only 19th century structure amid a variety of 20th century urban renewal projects.