Wells Block, Springfield, Mass

The building at 250-264 Worthington Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2018:

This brick, four-story Italianate building was built in 1876 by Abner B. Abbey, a coal and lumber dealer. However, the expense of the building ended up being too much for him, and the following year it was sold at a foreclosure auction to Jerome Wells, a merchant from Chicopee who was also the president of the First National Bank. He rented the building to both commercial and residential tenants, with two storefronts on the first floor and apartments on the three upper floors.

During the 20th century, the upper floors were used primarily as a boarding house, which in 1916 was named the Avon Hotel. By the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, the hotel was being run by Clara LeDuc, who rented rooms to 10 boarders. Based on the 1940 census records, they held a range of working-class jobs, including several restaurant workers, a theater custodian, a machinist, a painter, a cotton mill knitter, a boiler maker’s helper, and a photographer. Of those who were employed full-time, their salaries ranged from the machinist, who made $740 per year ($13,400 today), to the painter, who made $1,400 ($25,300 today). Along with the boarders, Clara also lived here with her father Adalard Demers and her husband, William, who earned $1,450 as a steamfitter at the Armory.

The 1940 census also shows at least one other boarding house that was located here in the building. It was run by Nettie Laurance, a 56-year-old widow whose niece, Dorathy Bickford, lived here with her and worked as the housekeeper. They had eight tenants at the time, most of whom had jobs similar to those in the Avon Hotel. Below these two boarding houses, the two ground floor storefronts were occupied by linoleum dealers Cunningham & O’Shaughnessy on the left, and paint dealer A.E. Hale & Co. on the right. Other nearby stores included the Reliable Shoe Repairing Company in the one-story building on the left, and the Wells & Wells gift shop on the far right.

In 1946, the upper floors were badly damaged by a fire, and they were largely vacant for many years. However, the ground floor remained in use during this time, and for much of the late 20th century the storefront on the left was the home of the Budget Box thrift store. More recently, though, this section of Worthington Street has been reinvented as downtown Springfield’s dining district, and both of the storefronts in this building now house restaurants. Overall, the building’s exterior appearance has not changed much since the first photo was taken some 80 years ago, and both it and the neighboring building to the right are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Mohican Building, Springfield, Mass

The building at 254-262 Bridge Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2018:

This two-story commercial building was built around 1909, and it housed the Mohican, a meat and grocery store whose name is prominently visible on the cornice. During its early years, the store was run by James J. Shannon, an Irish immigrant who worked as the manager from as early as 1913 until at least 1930. However, the property itself was owned by the Trinity Real Estate Trust, which was affiliated with the neighboring Trinity Methodist Church. This church had stood just to the right of the store until 1922, when it was demolished following the congregation’s move to Forest Park.

The first photo was taken at some point in the late 1930s. By then, the store was managed by Grant M. Harris, a Holyoke resident who was only about 30 years old at the time. There are a number of signs in the windows, advertising prices for various meats and other products, including cheese for 23 cents a pound, hamburg meat for 19 cents, and steak for 31 cents. Above the storefront is a large Art Deco-style sign that was probably added to the building at some point in the 1920s or 1930s.

The Mohican store evidently closed in the late 1950s, and the site subsequently became Saint Francis of Assisi, a Roman Catholic chapel. According to city records, the current building on the site was constructed in 1958. However, it does not seem clear whether this is a completely new building, or if the old grocery store was heavily altered with a new, mid-century facade. Either way, this building is still standing today, and it still serves as the Saint Francis of Assisi Chapel.

Tarbell-Watters Building, Springfield, Mass

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

The scene in 2018:

This building was constructed in 1924, as part of the post-World War I development of the Apremont Triangle area. Originally a residential neighborhood, this area became predominantly commercial by the early 20th century, with new buildings centered around a small triangular park that was bounded by Chestnut, Pearl, and Bridge Streets. Many of these new buildings were associated with the automobile industry, including this one, which was originally the home of the Tarbell-Watters Company, an automobile parts company.

The building was the work of local architect Harry L. Sprague, and its design featured neo-Gothic architecture, particularly on the fifth floor and cornice. However, it also included modern features, such as a steel frame and large windows. The Tarbell-Watters occupied the ground floor, and the upper floors were rented as office space. Originally, the building consisted of just the five-story section, but several years later it was expanded to include the two-story section on the right side.

By the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, the building still housed the Tarbell-Watters Company, and many of the upper floor offices were rented by physicians. The company evidently went out of business sometime around the early 1950s, but its building is still standing today, with hardly any major changes except for the altered storefronts on the first floor. Along with the other early 20th century buildings nearby, it is now part of the Apremont Triangle Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Abel Howe House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 45 Pearl Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2018:

The mid-19th century was a time of considerable growth for Springfield, which nearly tripled in population between 1820 and 1840. This led to the opening of a number of new streets in the downtown area, including Pearl Street, which originally extended one block from Chestnut Street west to Spring Street. This particular house, located at what would eventually become the corner of Mattoon Street, was the first to be built on the new street. It was completed in 1847, and was originally the home of Abel Howe, a mason who evidently designed and built the house himself. The exterior was built of brick, and it featured a square, Italianate-style design, with a flat roof and wide overhanging eaves above the third floor.

Howe lived here until at least the early 1850s, but by the end of the decade he had moved to a house nearby on Salem Street. By about 1868, this house on Pearl Street was owned by Dr. Nathan L. Buck, a physician who, during the 1870 census, was living here with his wife Elmira and their two children, Fred and Nellie. At the time, his real estate was valued at $15,000 ($300,000 today), and his personal estate at $11,000 ($220,000 today). This wealth would have put him well within Springfield’s middle class, although these figures were lower than those of most of his neighbors.

The Buck family was living here as late as 1877, and Dr. Buck also had his medical practice here in the house. He was still listed as the owner of the property in the 1882 city atlas, but he evidently rented it, because he does not appear in the 1880 census or in any subsequent city directories. Instead, another physician, Dr. John Blackmer, was living here from about 1878 to 1883. Like Dr. Buck, he had his offices in the house, and during the 1880 census he was living here with his wife Ellen, daughter Nellie, son John, and a servant.

By 1885, the house was owned by Mary Shaw, a widow who was about 60 years old at the time. A native of Coventry, England, she and her husband Joseph immigrated to the United States in 1860, and by 1866 they were living in Springfield, where Joseph established himself as a brewer. He died in 1875, but Mary outlived him by more than 30 years. The 1900 census shows her living alone at this house on Pearl Street, but she evidently moved out soon after, because the subsequent city directories list her at a variety of different addresses until her death in 1906, at the age of 83.

The house was still owned by the Shaw family by 1910, but by this point it had been converted into a boarding house. Although there was just one resident in this large house during the 1900 census, the 1910 census showed 24 boarders living here. Nearly all were unmarried men in their 30s and 40s, and most held working-class jobs such as a carpenter, plumber, painter, tile layer, bookkeeper, and several chauffeurs, salesmen, and machinists. Six of them were immigrants, and most of the other boarders had previously lived in a different state before moving to Springfield.

By the 1920 census, the house was still in use as a boarding house. It was run by James and Mary Alexander, and they rented rooms to 24 boarders. James was an immigrant from Greece, and Mary from England, and many of their tenants were also immigrants, including people from Canada, Ireland, Greece, Russia, Holland, and Switzerland. The Alexanders would continue to keep a boarding house here until as late as 1939, around the time that the first photo was taken, but they are not listed on the following year’s census. Instead, the 1940 census shows Thomas and Katherine Van Heusen living here and running the boarding house. They paid $85 per month in rent, and in turn they rented rooms to 19 boarders.

Up until this point, the exterior of the house had retained much of its original appearance, despite having been used as a boarding house throughout the first half of the 20th century. However, in 1948 it underwent a major renovation to convert it into a commercial property. The porch was replaced by a new storefront, the overhanging waves were removed, a third story was added to the rear section, and many of the first floor windows were bricked up, among other alterations. The building is still standing today, but because of these changes its exterior bears little resemblance to its original appearance. Despite this, though, it survives as one of the oldest buildings in the area, and it is a remnant of the many upscale homes that once lined this block of Pearl Street.