Old Man of the Mountain, Franconia, New Hampshire

The Old Man of the Mountain, seen from Profile Lake at the base of Cannon Mountain, around 1890-1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The Old Man of the Mountain was previously featured on this blog many years ago, in a post that showed a closeup of the rock formation, before and after its collapse. Unlike that view, however, this scene here shows not just the rock formation, but also its surroundings, including the east side of Cannon Mountain and Profile Lake at its base. This is, more or less, the view that most visitors would see of the Old Man from the ground, without the aid of binoculars or telephoto lenses.

The iconic granite profile was formed at some point after the last ice age, as a result of erosion at the top of the cliff. It stood 1,200 feet above the surface of Profile Lake, and it was on the side of Cannon Mountain, which rises a total of 4,080 feet above sea level. Cannon Mountain forms the western side of Franconia Notch, an important mountain pass through the White Mountains, and by the early 19th century the Old Man of the Mountain had become a notable landmark for travelers passing through here.

The first recorded mention of the rock formation came in 1805, when a pair of surveyors observed it from near this location. As the story goes, they arrived here at dusk and camped along the shore of the lake. When they awoke in the morning, one of the surveyors looked up from the lake to discover the sun shining on the east-facing cliff, illuminating the stone profile.

Over the next few decades, the Old Man of the Mountain drew the attention of writers and other prominent people. New Hampshire native Daniel Webster famously declared, regarding the rock formation, that “God Almighty had hung a sign out to show that here He makes men.” Although originally from Massachusetts, poet John Greenleaf Whittier wrote extensively about the White Mountains, and he made reference to the Old Man of the Mountain in his 1850 poem, “The Hill-Top,” which includes the following lines:

Beyond them, like a sun-rimmed cloud,
     The great Notch mountains shone,
Watched over by the solemn-browed
     And awful face of stone!

Also in 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne published a short story, “The Great Stone Face.” It was one of several stories that Hawthorne set in the White Mountains, and it included the following description of the formation:

The Great Stone Face, then, was a work of Nature in her mood of majestic playfulness, formed on the perpendicular side of a mountain by some immense rocks, which had been thrown together in such a position as, when viewed at a proper distance, precisely to resemble the features of the human countenance. It seemed as if an enormous giant, or a Titan, had sculptured his own likeness on the precipice. There was the broad arch of the forehead, a hundred feet in height; the nose, with its long bridge; and the vast lips, which, if they could have spoken, would have rolled their thunder accents from one end of the valley to the other.

In time, the Old Man of the Mountain became probably the most recognizable symbol of New Hampshire. Its rugged features paired well with the state’s “Live free or die” motto, and over the years it has appeared on everything from license plates to state highway signs to the 2000 New Hampshire state quarter. It has also appeared in countless paintings, postcards, photographs, and other illustrations over the years. The first photo was one of these, having been taken around the late 19th century by the Detroit Publishing Company, which produced postcards of landmarks across the country.

For more than a century after the first photo was taken, this scene remained essentially unchanged. However, as early as the 1870s, geologists has begun expressing concerns that the same forces of erosion that created the Old Man of the Mountain might soon destroy it. The many cycles of freezing and thawing had caused large cracks to form within the rocks, leading the state to secure it with chains in the 1920s. Then, in 1958, the formation was further reinforced with cement and steel rods. However, these measures ultimately proved to be only temporary solutions, because it finally collapsed on May 3, 2003, nearly 200 years after it was discovered here by the surveyors.

Today, with the exception of the loss of the rock formation, the rest of this scene still looks the same as it did when the first photo was taken. In fact, it is largely the same as it would have appeared in 1805, when the surveying team first spotted the Old Man of the Mountain from near this location. This area is now part of the Franconia Notch State Park, and it is surrounded by the much larger White Mountain National Forest, which preserves most of the land here in New England’s highest mountain range.

Calvin Coolidge House, Northampton, Mass

The house at 19-21 Massasoit Street in Northampton, around 1915-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, George Grantham Bain Collection.

The scene in 2018:

Throughout American history, there have been plenty of presidents who have come from humble beginnings, but few of them lived quite as modestly, both before and after their presidencies, as Calvin Coolidge. He was president throughout most of the Roaring Twenties, yet he had far more in common with his Puritan ancestors than with any characters in an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. In many ways, he was the archetypal frugal Yankee, and one of the most visible examples of this was his choice of a residence here in Northampton. Rather than owning a home, he spent nearly 25 years renting the left side of this duplex, and it was here that he rose in the political ranks from a state legislator to president of the United States.

This two-family home was built around 1901, in a residential development about a mile to the northwest of downtown Northampton. Most of the other nearby houses were built around the same time, and they were generally single-family homes occupied by middle class residents. Calvin and Grace Coolidge moved in several years later, in August 1906, less than a year after they were married and only a few weeks before the birth of their first child, John. They occupied the left side of the house, at 21 Massasoit Street, for which they paid $27 per month for seven rooms and 2,100 square feet of living space.

Although he spent most of his life in Northampton, Calvin Coolidge was a native of Vermont, where he grew up in the family home in Plymouth. However, he came to Massachusetts for college, attending Amherst College and graduating in 1895. From there, he moved to nearby Northampton, the county seat, and began studying law as an apprentice in the firm of Hammond & Field. He was admitted to the bar in 1897, and soon began practicing law while also getting involved in local politics. He served on the city council, was subsequently appointed city solicitor, and then became Clerk of Courts of Hampshire County, where he worked in the old county courthouse.

Coolidge married his wife Grace in October 1905, when he was 33 and she was 26. Two months later, he suffered the only electoral defeat of his career, when he lost a race for school committee. However, the following year he was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, only a few months after moving here to Massasoit Street. He was reelected to the legislature in 1907, but he declined to run for a third term in 1908. This was motivated in part by the birth of his second son, Calvin Coolidge, Jr., in April of that year. Returning to Northampton meant that he could devote his full attention to his law practice, in order to pay for the added expenses of a second child.

However, Coolidge did not stay out of politics for long. In the fall of 1909, he ran for mayor of Northampton, winning by a margin of just 107 votes. He went on to serve two one-year terms in city hall from 1910 to 1911, where he applied his own personal frugality to the city budget. He reduced the city’s debt while also lowering taxes, yet he also managed to increase teachers’ salaries, improve the roads, and make the police and fire departments more efficient. Coolidge’s cost-saving measures included blocking a proposed new city hall, which would have replaced the old building that had stood since 1850. As it turned out, this proved to be a sensible move, because the old building remains in use as city hall more than a century later.

In 1912, Coolidge returned to the State House, this time as a state senator. This began his meteoric rise in state politics, from mayor of a small city to governor of Massachusetts in just seven years. He served four years in the state senate, including the last two years as senate president, and in the fall of 1915 he became the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor. His running mate, Samuel W. McCall, had narrowly lost the gubernatorial race to David I. Walsh a year earlier, but McCall and Coolidge won in 1915. In an early sign of Coolidge’s popularity, he won the lieutenant governor’s race by over 52,000 votes, while McCall was elected governor by just 6,313 votes.

McCall and Coolidge were successfully reelected in 1916 and 1917. In 1918, McCall announced that he would not run for a fourth term, so Coolidge became the Republican nominee for governor. He defeated his Democratic challenger, businessman Richard H. Long, by over 17,000 votes, and he was inaugurated as governor on January 2, 1919. He would go on to win reelection in the fall of 1919, this time defeating Long by a commanding margin of 125,000 votes.

As was the case here in Northampton, Coolidge’s time as governor was marked by fiscal conservativism. The best example of this came in September 1919, when the Boston Police Department threatened to strike. At the time, the city’s police department was directly controlled by the governor, not the mayor, and Coolidge threatened to fire any striking officers. About three-quarters of the police force went on strike anyway, and Coolidge followed through with his threat, famously declaring, “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anyone, anywhere, any time.” The strike caused a temporary increase in crime and violence in Boston, but the National Guard soon restored order while the city hired and trained new officers.

The police strike earned Coolidge national attention. In the days before the strike, many feared that, if the Boston police offers were successful in their strike, it would inspire similar actions across the country, leading to local governments being essentially extorted by their own police. By taking a hard stance against the strikers, and by emphasizing the need for law and order, Coolidge became a hero to many, and he was seen as a rising star within the Republican Party. The strike also contributed to Coolidge’s overwhelming victory in the 1919 election, earning him more than 60% of the statewide vote.

As a result, Coolidge was viewed as a presidential contender in 1920. Warren Harding was ultimately chosen as the party’s nominee at the Republican National Convention in June, but Coolidge was selected as the vice presidential candidate. It was the first election after the passage of the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, and both Harding and Coolidge had been supporters of women’s suffrage. Women voted overwhelmingly for the Republican ticket, resulting in a landslide victory for Harding and Coolidge, who carried 37 states and won over 60% of the popular vote.

Upon becoming vice president, Coolidge and his family moved to Washington, where they lived at the Willard Hotel. However, they would maintain this house as their Northampton residence, throughout Coolidge’s time in Washington. His vice presidency was relatively uneventful for nearly two and a half years, but this all changed when Warren Harding died suddenly on August 2, 1923. Coolidge was visiting his father in Vermont at the time, and he was awakened early in the morning and informed that he had become president. The elder Coolidge, who was a justice of the peace, administered the oath of office to his son in the parlor of his house, and then Calvin Coolidge’s first act as president was to go back to bed.

Coolidge easily won reelection in 1924, winning 35 states and 382 electoral votes in a three-way race between Democrat John W. Davis and Progressive Robert M. La Follette. As was the case in Northampton and in Boston, Coolidge sought to cut taxes and lower spending while also reducing the national debt. He held a laissez-faire attitude toward the economy, and his presidency saw widespread growth and prosperity during what came to be known as the Roaring Twenties. However, his economic policies are sometimes criticized for the role that they may have played in the stock market crash of 1929, which occurred less than eight months after he left office.

Coolidge did not run for reelection in 1928, instead endorsing the candidacy of his commerce secretary, Herbert Hoover. He and Grace left the White House in March 1929, and they returned here to their home on Massasoit Street. The 1930 census listed Coolidge’s occupation simply as “retired,” and at the time they were paying $40 per month in rent, equivalent to about $620 today. They lived alone except for one servant, Alice Reckahn, who had been with the family since 1916 and had cared for the house while the Coolidges were in Washington.

It was certainly a modest home for an ex-president, but this did not seem to bother him. In his autobiography, published in 1929, Coolidge explained why he had lived here for so long, writing:

We liked the house where our children came to us and the neighbors who were so kind. When we could have had a more pretentious home we still clung to it. So long as I lived there, I could be independent and serve the public without ever thinking that I could not maintain my position if I lost my office. I always made my living practicing law up to the time I became Governor, without being dependent on any official salary. This left me free to make my own decisions in accordance with what I thought was the public good. We lived where we
did that I might better serve the people.

However, the location of the house proved to be a problem during Coolidge’s retirement. By this point, he was a prominent public figure, and his house offered little privacy from the many curious people who came down Massasoit Street to see the house. Author Claude M. Fuess, in his 1940 biography Calvin Coolidge, The Man From Vermont, provided the following description of the situation:

But Massasoit Street was sought by a continuous procession of sightseers; indeed Dr. Plummer [Frederic W. Plummer, principal of Northampton High School, who had lived in the unit on the right since about 1918], who still occupied the other side of the house, estimated that, in May, an automobile passed on the average every six seconds, and later in the summer the street was sometimes blocked with cars. The Coolidges did their best to lead a normal life. Mrs. Reckahn continued to act as housekeeper, and the flower garden was turned into a runway for the dogs brought from Washington. The ex-President tried to sit on the porch in the evening as he used to do. But whenever he appeared in public a crowd was sure to gather, and the unceasing demonstrations of popularity wore on his nerves. The house was altogether too near the street, and he soon found his conspicuous position highly distasteful.

As a result, in 1930 the Coolidges purchased a house at 16 Hampton Terrace, located just to the south of downtown Northampton. It was known as The Beeches, and it was situated on a large lot, at the end of a long driveway. From the street, the house was almost entirely hidden by trees, offering a much greater degree of privacy than they had been able to enjoy here on Massasoit Street. Calvin Coolidge lived there for the rest of his life, and he died there in 1933 at the age of 60. Grace remained at The Beeches for several more years, but by the late 1930s she had moved to a house at 11 Ward Avenue, which stands less than a half mile away from their former home here on Massasoit Street.

The first photo shows the Massasoit Street house at some point during the late 1910s, probably when Coolidge was either lieutenant governor or governor. A century later, there have been a few changes, including the removal of the shutters and the balustrade over the porch on the right side, and the addition of a downspout on the front of the house. Overall, though, the exterior remains essentially the same as it did when Calvin Coolidge moved in here as a small-town attorney in 1906, and today it remains in use as a private residence. In 1976, the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places, but the only visible sign of its historical significance is a small plaque on the front porch, which identifies it as having been the home of Calvin Coolidge.

The Elms, Newport, Rhode Island (2)

The garden on the south side of The Elms in Newport, in 1914. Image taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Johnston Collection.

The scene in 2018:

As in the previous post, the first photo here was taken by noted photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston. Her specialties included photographs of gardens, and many of these – including this photo – were hand colored on lantern slides, for Johnston to use in her various lectures. This photo is one of several that she took here at The Elms in Newport, and is shows the meticulously-landscaped garden on the south side of the house. At the time, Newport was still one of the most desirable summer resorts in the country, and The Elms had been built 13 years earlier by coal tycoon Edward Julius Berwind.

The family spent many summers here, and after Edward’s wife Sarah died in 1922, he continued to visit here, accompanied by his sister Julia. She inherited the property after his death in 1936, and it remained her summer home for the rest of her life, until her death in 1961 at the age of 96. Up until this  point, the house was still staffed by an army of 40 servants, long after most of the other massive Gilded Age mansions in Newport had been either demolished, converted to other uses, or preserved as museums. By the early 1960s, such homes had long since fallen out of fashion, and no other members of the Berwind family were interested in taking on the expense of maintaining a 48-room, 60,000-square-foot summer house.

As a result, the house was nearly demolished in 1962 in order to construct a shopping center here on the site. However, several weeks before it was to be demolished, The Elms was instead purchased by the Preservation Society of Newport County and opened as a museum. Both the house and the grounds have been preserved, and it is now one of many historic Newport properties maintained by the Preservation Society. This particular garden scene is not completely identical to its early 20th century appearance, particularly with the lack of hedges in the foreground, but the statue in the distance is still there, as are the ones on the patio to the left. Overall, the scene is still easily recognizable from the first photo, despite more than a century since Johnston captured this view in the first photo.

The Elms, Newport, Rhode Island (1)

The gardens on the south side of The Elms in Newport, in 1914. Image taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Johnston Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The first photo is from a lantern slide that was taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston, who was among the first prominent American women photographers. One of her specialties was garden photography, and in 1914 she took some photos of the gardens at The Elms, the summer estate of the Berwind family in Newport. These photos were taken in black and white, as color photography was still in its infancy at the time, but the resulting glass lantern slides were then hand colored, and Johnston used them in various lectures that she gave to garden clubs, museums, and other organizations.

This scene shows the gardens at the southwest corner of The Elms. The house had been constructed between 1899 and 1901, and it was used as the summer residence for Edward Julius Berwind, a Philadelphia native who had founded the Berwind-White Coal Mining Company. After making his fortune in the coal industry, Berwind joined the many other Gilded Age aristocrats who were building palatial homes here in Newport. He hired noted architect Horace Trumbauer to design the house, which was modeled after the Château d’Asnières, and the grounds were laid out by Ernest W. Bowditch, a landscape architect whose other Newport commissions included the grounds of The Breakers. Overall, the house cost about $1.4 million to build, equivalent to over $40 million today.

The house remained in the Berwind family for over 60 years. Edward and his wife Sarah had no children, but after her death in 1922 and his death in 1936, the property was inherited by his sister Julia. By this point, in the midst of the Great Depression, the heyday of the grand Newport mansions had passed. Such homes were increasingly seen as white elephants from a previous era, and many were either demolished or converted into different uses. However, life here at The Elms remained largely unchanged through all of this, with Julia continuing to spend her summers here, accompanied by 40 servants who ran the house.

The Elms was ultimately one of the last of the large Newport mansions to be staffed by such a retinue servants, and it was also one of the last that was still owned by its original family. This continued until 1961, when Julia Berwind died at the age of 96. Her nephew, Charles E. Dunlap, who was himself in his 70s at the time, then inherited the house. He had no interest in taking on the expense of maintaining the house, though, so he subsequently sold the property to a developer who intended to demolish the house and replace it with a shopping center.

This demolition nearly occurred in 1962, but at the last minute the property was sold to the Preservation Society of Newport County, becoming one of the organization’s many historic house museums here in Newport. Today, The Elms remains open to the public as one of the largest of the Gilded Age Newport mansions. Along with the house itself, the grounds have also been well-preserved during this time, including the sculptures visible here. Overall, very little has changed in this scene, with the gardens still looking much the same as they did when Frances Benjamin Johnston photographed them more than a century ago.

Normal Hall, Westfield, Mass

Normal Hall, the boarding house at the Westfield Normal School, at the corner of Washington and King Streets in Westfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2018:

As discussed in an earlier post, the Westfield Normal School was established in 1838 as a teacher training school in Barre, Massachusetts, where it operated for several years before relocating to Westfield in 1844. Starting in 1846, the school occupied a building a block away from here, at the northeast corner of Washington and School Streets, but for many years it lacked a residential building for students who did not live locally. This problem was not resolved until 1874, when the state constructed the dormitory building in the first photo, which was located here at the northwest corner of Washington and King Streets.

This Second Empire-style building was the work of noted architect Alexander Rice Esty, and it was constructed at a cost of $10,600. It could accommodate up to 130 students, with two per room, and each student paid $3.75 per week, equivalent to about $86 today. The school furnished the rooms, including providing a mattress, pillows, and coverlet, but students were required to bring their own bedding, towels, napkins, napkin rings, and clothes bags. The recommended bedding, according to the school’s 1874 catalog, was four pillow cases, three sheets, and two blankets. These items all had to be marked with their owner’s name, lest they get lost in the laundry.

Aside from students, some of the school’s faculty also lived here, as did John W. Dickinson, who was the principal when the building was completed. He had served as the head of the school since 1856, and he remained in this position until 1877, when he left to become secretary of the state board of education. He later became the namesake of Dickinson Hall, a new residential building that opened in 1903, and the name lives on today with a second Dickinson Hall, located on the present-day campus of Westfield State University.

By the time the first photo was taken in the early 1890s, the normal school was undergoing significant changes, with the construction of a new academic building on Court Street. Later in the 1890s, the old school building was demolished, and replaced with a new training school. During this time, though, Normal Hall remained in use as the school’s boarding house. Room rates had remained largely the same in the intervening years, with female students paying $75 for a 20-week term, or just under $2,200 today. They did have an option to live here without a roommate, although it cost an additional 50 cents per week. Male students were also permitted to live here, at the rate of $80 per term, but at this point the school was still overwhelmingly female, with only 6 men enrolled during the 1892-1893 school year, out of 155 total students.

The 1900 census lists all of the students and faculty who lived here in this building at the time. There were 60 students, all of them female, along with nine female teachers. One teacher had an older woman, presumably her mother, who lived here with her, and there were also seven servants who lived here. The building was supervised by 35-year-old Belle Wilson, who resided here with her husband Charles and their teenaged son Carroll. Charles was a noted marine biologist, and he taught at the normal school for many years, including heading the science department from 1897 until 1932. He is remembered today as the namesake of Wilson Hall, the main science building at Westfield State University.

Normal Hall remained in use until 1903, when Dickinson Hall opened nearby on King Street, in the rear of the new Court Street school building. The old boarding house was subsequently sold to a private owner and converted into an apartment building. It was ultimately demolished at some point in the 20th century, no later than the early 1970s, when construction began on Washington House, a 112-unit apartment building for elderly housing. Although begun by a private developer, it was sold to the Westfield Housing Authority in 1974, shortly before its completion. This building is still standing here today, as shown in the 2018 photo, and it continues to be used as public housing for elderly residents.

Main and Elm Streets, Westfield, Mass

The corner of Main and Elm Streets in Westfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2018:

These two photos show the scene at the northwest corner of Park Square, in the center of downtown Westfield. For the most part, these buildings were constructed in the mid-19th century, when Westfield was in the midst of a long, steady growth in its population. The town had a population of 4,180 in 1850, and it would continue to increase throughout the rest of the century, reaching nearly 10,000 by the time the first photo was taken in the early 1890s. By this point, Westfield was a prosperous manufacturing center, and it was particularly well-known for buggy whips, with the town’s firms ultimately controlling about 99% of the world’s production by the early 20th century.

All of the buildings in this scene were constructed as commercial blocks, with the exception of the three-story, wood-frame building on the far left. Located at the corner of Elm and School Streets, this was built in 1843 as the First Methodist Church. The congregation worshiped here in this building for the next 33 years, and during this time the church had several notable pastors. These included Mark Trafton, who served several stints here in the 1840s and early 1850s before being elected to Congress in 1854, and John Hanson Twombly, who served as pastor here from 1851 to 1853. He later went on to become president of the University of Wisconsin from 1871 to 1874, before returning here to this church in 1874. It was also in this building, in 1862, that Russell H. Conwell gave his first lecture. Although he never served as pastor here, he would go on to become a prominent Baptist minister, and the founder and first president of Temple University.

In 1876, during Reverend Twombly’s second pastorate, the church moved into a new, much larger building nearby on Court Street. The old church was then converted exclusively into commercial use. It had been constructed with storefronts on the ground floor, and its tenants included several different grocery stores. However, after the church relocated, the post office moved into this building, and it remained here until 1912, when a purpose-built post office was constructed on the other side of Park Square.

At some point, the original tower and belfry were removed from the building, but otherwise it still retained much of its Greek Revival exterior by the time the first photo was taken. It would remain largely the same until the 1940s, when it was dramatically altered by the removal of the third floor and gable roof. Now down to two stories, the old church is still standing here today on the left side of the photo, although it is barely recognizable from its historical appearance.

To the right of the church in the first photo is a row of three brick commercial buildings. Furthest to the left was the home of the First National Bank of Westfield. This is the only building from the first photo that no longer exists in any form, as it was demolished around 1930 to build the present-day bank on the lot. To the right of it is another two-story building at 32-34 Elm Street, which was built around 1860. For more than a century, it was occupied by Conner’s, a book, stationery, and gift shop that had been founded in 1867. It moved to this location by the mid-1890s, and it would remain here until it finally closed in 2007. Although Conner’s is gone, the building itself still stands, relatively unaltered from its appearance in the first photo.

Further to the right, at the corner of Elm and Church Streets, is Whitman’s Hall, also known as the Music Hall and the Opera House. It was built in 1855, but it was subsequently expanded in 1870 and renovated again in 1888 and 1904. As the names suggest, the three-story building originally included a public hall. This was used for many different kinds of events over the years, including balls, lectures, concerts, operas, and even prize fights. The building is still standing today, but like the old church it has been heavily altered. The third floor was removed around 1940, and the remaining portion of the building is completely unrecognizable from its original appearance.

On the far right side of both photos is the oldest building in the scene, and possibly the best-preserved of all these historic buildings. It was built in 1842 as the Westfield House Hotel, a boarding house that occupied the upper floors until 1894. The ground floor was used for shops and offices, throughout this time, and during the early 20th century the second floor housed the Westfield District Court. Today, the building stands relatively unaltered on the exterior, and it remains an important landmark on the north side of Park Square.

Overall, despite some significant alterations, most of the buildings from the first photo have survived to the present day in some form. Elsewhere in downtown Westfield, there are a number of other historic commercial buildings that are still standing, and the area is now part of the Westfield Center Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008 and expanded in 2013. Because of how heavily they were altered, neither the old church nor Whitman’s Hall are considered to be contributing properties, but both the Conner’s building and the Westfield House Hotel are listed as such, as is the 1930 First National Bank of Westfield building.