Broadway from Farewell Street, Newport, Rhode Island

Looking north on Broadway from the corner of Farewell Street in Newport, around 1884. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

This view shows the west side of Broadway, looking north from the Colony House at the corner of Farewell Street and Courthouse Way. Although taken more than 130 years apart, not much has changed in these two photos. Like much of downtown Newport, this area has remained remarkably well-preserved since the colonial era, and both photos show an eclectic mix of historic buildings that date as far back as the 17th century.

Perhaps the oldest building in this scene is the one on the far left, at 2-6 Broadway. It was built sometime before 1700, and was once owned by Peleg Sanford (1639-1701), who served as the colonial governor of Rhode Island from 1680 to 1683. Sanford came from a leading Rhode Island family, with his father, John Sanford (c.1605-1653), having briefly served as governor of Newport and Portsmouth in 1653. However, his most notable relative was his grandmother, Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643), the famed religious dissenter whose 1638 banishment from Boston had helped lead to the establishment of Newport.

Peleg Sanford died in 1701, and the house was later owned by his son-in-law, Job Almy, who purchased the property in 1723. The house would remain in the Almy family for over a century, until it was sold in 1827. By this point, the first floor of the house had been converted into a storefront, and the building would see even more drastic changes around 1845, when it was enlarged to its present size. This addition concealed most of its original appearance, although the building retained its overhanging second floor, which was a distinctive feature of many 17th century homes.

By the time time the first photo was taken around 1884, the building was occupied by several commercial tenants, including J. B. Deblois & Son, whose grocery store was located in the corner storefront. In later years, the ground floor was occupied by Lalli’s, a variety store that was in business here from 1923 until 1986. It was during this time that, in 1976, the exterior of the building was restored, giving it more of a 17th century appearance. Today, despite all of these changes, the structure of the original house is still there, making it possibly one of the oldest surviving buildings in Newport.

Aside from the Peleg Sanford House, there are a number of other historic buildings in this scene. Immediately to the right of it is the William P. Shefield House, which was built around 1850, although its exterior has been altered beyond recognition since the first photo was taken. Next, in the center of the scene, is the William H. Stanhope House, at 12-18 Broadway. It was built around 1815 as a private home, and its Federal-style architecture is still recognizable today, despite having been converted to commercial use during the 19th century. Further in the distance, barely visible in the 2017 photo, are two late 18th century homes at 20-24 and 26-30 1/2 Broadway, both of which are also now commercial properties.

Today, the vehicles on the street have changed, and this block of Broadway is now a one way street for southbound traffic, but otherwise the buildings themselves have seen few changes. All of them are now contributing properties in the Newport Historic District, which encompasses much of downtown Newport. The district was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968, because of the survival of so many historic buildings from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

White Horse Tavern, Newport, Rhode Island

The White Horse Tavern at the corner of Farewell and Marlborough Streets in Newport, sometime in the first half of the 20th century. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

Newport has a remarkable number of historic colonial-era buildings, but perhaps the oldest is this building at the northwest corner of Marlborough and Farewell Streets. It was apparently built sometime before 1673, because in that year it was acquired by William Mayes, Sr. The building was much smaller at the time, consisting of two stories with just two rooms, but it was subsequently expanded and, by 1687, was being operated as a tavern.

Mayes was the father of the pirate William Mayes, Jr., whose surname is also spelled May and Mason in historical records. Although well known as a haven for religious minorities, the colony of Rhode Island showed similar tolerance for piracy, often playing fast and loose with the distinction between legitimate privateers and their outlaw counterparts. Mayes was among several prominent Newport residents whose career at sea blurred this distinction, and he enjoyed success as a pirate in the late 1680s and 1690s, during the Golden Age of Piracy.

Many of the most prominent pirates during this era would ultimately meet with violent ends, including fellow Newport pirate Thomas Tew, who was killed in 1695. However, William Mayes ultimately retired from piracy and returned to Newport around the turn of the 18th century. He took over the operation of his father’s tavern around 1703, but this evidently lasted for just a short time, because within a few years the property was owned by his sister Mary and her husband, Robert Nichols.

The White Horse Tavern would remain in the Nichols family for nearly 200 years, and the building continued to serve as an important colonial-era tavern. Prior to the construction of the Colony House in the late 1730s, the tavern was also used as a meeting place for the colonial legislature, which held sessions on a rotating basis in each of the colony’s five county seats. The tavern was later used to house British soldiers during the occupation of Newport in the American Revolution, and at some point after the war the building was expanded to its current size, including the addition of the large gambrel roof.

The Nichols family finally sold the property in 1895, and the old tavern was converted into a boarding house. The building steadily declined throughout the first half of the 20th century, and the first photo was taken at some point during this period, probably around the 1930s or 1940s. However, the property was acquired by the Preservation Society of Newport County in the early 1950s, and was subsequently restored. It was then sold to private owners, and reopened as a tavern. The White Horse Tavern has remained in business ever since, and markets itself as the oldest restaurant in the United States.

Broadway from Spring Street, Newport, Rhode Island

Looking south on Broadway toward the corner of Spring Street in Newport, around 1885. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

These two photos were taken more than 130 years apart, yet they show remarkably little change. In fact, many of these buildings were already old by the time the first photo was taken. Newport had been a prosperous seaport throughout much of the 18th century, but its economy was hit hard by the American Revolution. Its shipping industry never fully recovered, and the city saw very little growth during the first half of the 19th century. The first federal census, taken in 1790, shows 6,719 residents living here, and over the next 50 years Newport saw only a very modest increase in population, with 8,333 by 1840.

This long period of stagnation hurt Newport’s economy, and there was very little new construction during this time. By the time the first photo was taken around 1885, Newport had reinvented itself as a Gilded Age summer resort, with most of this development occurring to the south of the downtown area. As a result, downtown Newport remained remarkably well-preserved, and it now boasts one of the largest collection of 18th and early 19th century buildings in the country, many of which are visible in this scene.

Along with the buildings themselves, Newport has also retained its colonial-era street network, complete with narrow streets, sharply-angled intersections, and oddly-shaped building lots. These photos show the view looking south on Broadway, at the complex intersection of Broadway, Spring Street, Bull Street, and Marlborough Street. Both Spring Street, to the left, and Marlborough Street, on the extreme right, intersect with Broadway at sharp angles, creating triangular-shaped lots on either side of Broadway.

The narrower of these two lots is on the left, between Broadway and Spring Street. Long before the Flatiron Building was constructed on a similarly-shaped plot of land, a small three-story, wood-frame commercial building was built here. It appears to date back to the late 18th or early 19th centuries, and by the time the first photo was taken it was occupied by Cornell & Son, a grocery store operated by William Cornell and his son Rodman. William also lived here in the building, and the 1880 census showed him here with his wife Sarah and their daughter Ellen.

Today, this scene has not undergone few significant changes, and many of the buildings from the first photo are still standing, including the former Cornell building. Newport remains a popular summer resort, and the storefronts in this scene are now filled with a variety of shops and restaurants that cater to tourists and seasonal residents. Because of its level of preservation, and its high concentration of historic buildings, the downtown area now forms the Newport Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968.

First Congregational Church, Holyoke, Mass

The First Congregational Church, at the corner of Hampden and Pleasant Streets in Holyoke, around 1910. Image from Holyoke: Past and Present Progress and Prosperity (1910).

The church in 2017:

Holyoke’s First Congregational Church was established in 1799, as the Third Congregational Church of West Springfield. At the time, West Springfield encompassed the present-day towns of Agawam and Holyoke. The latter was variously known as the Third Parish or Ireland Parish, and was only sparsely settled, with most of its population was located along Northampton Street. The church had only 11 members when it was established, and shared space with the First Baptist Church. Not until 1834 did the Congregational church move into a building of its own, upon the completion of a modest Greek Revival-style church near the corner of Northampton and Dwight Streets.

Holyoke was incorporated as a separate municipality in 1850, and the church became the First Congregational Church of Holyoke. Around the same time, the new town was undergoing a rapid transformation from a small farming community into a major industrial center. However, most of this new development was along the banks of the Connecticut River, far removed from the church on Northampton Street. Despite a significant growth in Holyoke’s population, the church actually declined in membership during this time, with many parishioners leaving to join the newly-established Second Congregational Church, with its more convenient location at the corner of High and Dwight Streets.

Faced with this decline, along with a revolving door of pastors throughout the 1870s and 1880s, the church finally decided to relocate closer to downtown Holyoke. In 1886, the church purchased this lot at the corner of Hampden and Pleasant Streets, and by the end of the following year it had completed a chapel on the site, which is visible on the far right side of both photos. Although still located some distance from downtown Holyoke, the new church was situated in the midst of a new upscale residential development, and within just a few years its membership had more than doubled, from 64 at the time of the 1887 move, to around 160 by 1890.

Church services were held in this chapel until 1894, when the church building itself was completed. The new church was the work of prominent Holyoke architect George P. B. Alderman, and featured a Romanesque-style design that was common for churches of this period. The exterior was primarily brick, with brownstone trim, and included common Romanesque elements such as rounded arches, asymmetrical facades, and a mix of towers and turrets of varying heights. The overall design bore some resemblance to the new Second Congregational Church, which had been completed almost a decade earlier on Maple Street, although that church had been constructed entirely of brownstone instead of brick.

Throughout the 20th century, the First Congregational Church underwent a series of mergers and name changes. In 1961, it became First United Congregational Church after a merger with the German Reformed Church, and then in 1973 it became Grace United Church after merging with Grace Church. The members of Grace United continued to worship here until 1995, when the church merged with the Second Congregational Church, becoming the United Congregational Church of Holyoke. Following this merger, most religious services were held at the former Second Congregational building on Maple Street, but the church retained ownership of the former First Congregational building here on Pleasant Street, which was repurposed as the E. B. Robinson Ecumenical Mission Center. The church still owns the property today, and the historic building is still standing with few exterior changes since the first photo was taken, although it appears to vacant as of the 2017 photo.

Second Congregational Church, Holyoke, Mass

The Second Congregational Church, seen from Maple Street near the corner of Appleton Street in Holyoke, around 1891. Image from Holyoke Illustrated (1891).

The church in 2017:

The Second Congregational Church was established in 1849, at a time when Holyoke was just beginning its transformation into a major industrial center. Prior to this time, the area’s population was centered further up the hill from here, along Northampton Street. The First Congregational Church was located there, but this site proved inconvenient for those who were moving into the newly-developed area along the river. This led to the formation of the Second Congregational Church, which built its first meeting house at the corner of High and Dwight Streets in 1853.

At the time, the church had just 36 members, in a building that could seat 800. However, as Holyoke grew so did the congregation, and by the 1880s it had outgrown the old building. Its location, right at the intersection of two major streets, had also become undesirable because of the levels of noise outside, so in 1885 the church moved into this new building a few blocks away, at the corner of Maple and Appleton Streets. Like many churches of the era, it was built of brownstone and featured Romanesque-style architecture, including an asymmetrical main facade with a tall tower at one corner and a shorter one at the other. The book Story of the Holyoke Churches, published a few years later in 1890, provides the following description:

The church edifice is a most imposing structure. It is built of East Longmeadow stone, with a tower at the northwest corner, 112 feet high. The chapel is at the rear of the church auditorium, with an entrance from Appleton street, its rear elevation being upon High street. Its style is Romanesque. It is undoubtedly as fine a church edifice as there is in the State outside the city of Boston. It will comfortably seat 1,100 persons. All its internal appointments are exceedingly attractive and convenient. It is the pride, not only of the congregation worshiping regularly within its walls, but also of our citizens generally.

In 1912, the Skinner Memorial Chapel was added next to the church, as seen on the far right of the 2017 photo. It was named for the late silk manufacturer William Skinner and his wife Sarah, and was built with funds provided by their children. However, just seven years later, in 1919, the church was almost completely destroyed in a fire. The chapel survived, as did the large tower on the left side, but otherwise only a few fragments from the original building survived. The Boston architectural firm of Allen & Collens, which had designed the chapel, was hired to provide plans for the reconstruction of the rest of the church. The result was a Gothic-style design that matched the chapel, while also incorporating the original Romanesque-style tower.

In 1995, Second Congregational Church merged with Grace United Church, which had itself been formed by a merger of several churches, including First Congregational. Following this merger, it was renamed the United Congregational Church of Holyoke, and its members continue to worship here today. The building itself stands as one of the many historic church buildings in Holyoke, although these two photos illustrate the difference between the original 1885 design and the 1921 reconstruction.

High Street from Essex Street, Holyoke, Mass

Looking north on High Street from the corner of Essex Street in Holyoke, around 1910-1915. Image from Illustrated & Descriptive Holyoke Massachusetts.

The scene in 2017:

In the northern part of downtown Holyoke, much of High Street has remained well-preserved, with entire blocks that have hardly been changed since they were developed in the second half of the 19th century. However, this is not the case further to the south, where newer buildings and vacant lots are a more common sight. This block, between Essex and Appleton Streets, has a small group of historic buildings at its northern end, but the southern part of the block, seen here in the foreground, is hardly recognizable from the first photo.

The most prominent building in the first photo is the eight-story LaFrance Hotel, which occupies much of the right side of the scene. It was built in the first decade of the 20th century, and was originally owned by Louis A. LaFrance, a French-Canadian immigrant who became a prominent figure in Holyoke’s real estate and construction business. The LaFrance Hotel was among his most notable properties, and was designed by local architect William B. Reid. It was also among the tallest buildings in the city, towering above the other commercial blocks on High Street, which generally ranged from two to six stories.

Further in the distance, at the corner of Appleton Street, is a pair of six-story buildings that were constructed a few years earlier in the 1890s. The narrower of these two is the red brick McLean Building, and just beyond it is the yellow brick Senior Block, which extends to Appleton Street. Diagonally across from the Senior Block is the turreted YMCA building, which is visible just to the left of the trolley in the distance of the first photo. This was probably the most historically-significant building in the scene, as it was the place where, in 1895, William G. Morgan invented the game of volleyball.

Today, all of the buildings in the foreground of the first photo have either been demolished or altered beyond recognition, and may of the buildings further in the distance are gone as well. Both the McLean Building and Senior Block are still there, but the historic YMCA building across the street was destroyed in a fire in 1943. The LaFrance Hotel, which later became the Essex House, stood here for many years. However, by the early 2000s it was vacant and in poor condition, with bricks regularly falling onto neighboring buildings. It was slated for demolition in 2014, but the process was expedited by a partial collapse that occurred the day before demolition work was scheduled to begin. The rest of the building was subsequently taken down, and the site is now a vacant lot.