Old State House, Hartford, Connecticut

The Old State House in Hartford, seen from the Main Street side around 1907, during its time as Hartford City Hall. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2016:

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The Old State House in Hartford is one of the oldest existing buildings in the city. It was completed in 1796, and its design is generally credited to prominent architect Charles Bulfinch as one of his early commissions. Just a few years later, he would design the present Massachusetts State House, and he would later play a role in designing the US Capitol.

At the time, Connecticut actually had two capital cities, with the legislature meeting alternately between Hartford and New Haven. It may seem somewhat unusual for one of the smallest, most densely-populated states in the country to have two capital cities, each complete with its own capitol building, but the arrangement was not unheard of. Similarly-sized New Jersey had two capitals in colonial times, and, not to be outdone despite its small size, Rhode Island had five capitals in the early 19th century, with the legislature rotating through each of the state’s five county seats.

Here in Connecticut, ease of transportation thanks to railroads meant that it was unnecessary to have redundant capitals just 35 miles apart, but the location of the capital city still carried significant symbolic value. In the end, Hartford won out over New Haven. In 1875, it was designated as the sole capital city, and three years later a new, much larger capitol building was completed at Bushnell Park.

When its days as a capitol ended, the old building became Hartford City Hall. It served in this role until 1915, when the current Municipal Building was completed. Since then, it has been threatened with demolition several times over the years, but it remains standing as a relic of Connecticut’s history, and it is listed as a National Historic Landmark on the National Register of Historic Places.

First Harrison Gray Otis House, Boston

The First Harrison Gray Otis House, on Cambridge Street in Boston, on October 23, 1911. Image courtesy of the City of Boston Archives.

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The house in 2015:

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At the end of the 1700s, Cambridge Street was lined with the homes of wealthy Bostonians, including lawyer and politician Harrison Gray Otis. His house was designed by Charles Bulfinch and completed in 1796 while Otis was serving as the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts. Later that year, he was elected to Congress, where he served two terms in the House of Representatives.

The house is an excellent example of Federal architecture, designed by one of the most prominent American architects of the era, but Otis only lived here for less than five years. In 1800, Bulfinch designed a second home for him, on Mount Vernon Street on Beacon Hill, but again he only lived there for a few years before moving into his third and final Bulfinch-designed home in 1806, on Beacon Street across from Boston Common. Likewise, Otis changed jobs almost as frequently as he changed houses. After two terms in the House of Representatives, he served in the Massachusetts state legislature from 1802 to 1817, including as the state Senate President for several of those years. From 1817 to 1822, he served in the U.S. Senate, and then from 1829 to 1832 he finished his political career as the mayor of Boston.

All three of his houses are still standing today, but the first one here on Cambridge Street has seen a number of changes, as the two photographs show. During the 19th century it became a boarding house, and a one-story addition was built for storefronts. Other more minor alterations included the removal of the original Palladian window and the lunette window above it, and the addition of dormers on the roof, a storm porch at the front door, and a bay window on the second floor.

A few years after the first photo was taken, the house was purchased by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, which is now called Historic New England. They restored it and undid many of the 19th century alterations, and in 1924 the house was moved back 40 feet to its current location to allow for Cambridge Street to be widened. Since then, it has been restored further, and aside from serving as Historic New England’s headquarters, it is also open to the public as one of their many historic house museums. It is next to another historic landmark, the Old West Church, which was built just a few years after the house and can be seen on the right side of both photos.

Parkman House, Boston

The Parkman House at Bowdoin Square in Boston, in 1880. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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Bowdoin Square in 2015:

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The Bowdoin Square area was once a prominent residential neighborhood, and these two attached granite houses were built around 1816 by Samuel Parkman, a wealthy merchant who hired Charles Bulfinch to design them. Samuel Parkman’s daughter Sarah lived in the house to the left, along with her husband, Edward Blake, Jr., who died in 1817, shortly after they moved in. Sarah lived here until her death in 1847. Parkman himself lived in the house to the right until he died in 1824, and another daughter, Elizabeth, lived here with her husband, Robert Gould Shaw, until around 1840.

Both the Parkman and Shaw families were prominent in Boston’s 19th century upper class. Samuel Parkman’s grandson was Francis Parkman, a noted author and historian, and Robert Gould Shaw was one of the wealthiest men in the city. When he and his wife left this house in 1840, they moved to the other side of Beacon Hill, to a house overlooking Boston Common at the corner of Beacon and Joy Streets. By 1846, he had an estimated net worth of a million dollars, much of which he had inherited from his father-in-law. Shaw’s grandson and namesake, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, would go on to achieve fame as the commanding officer of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, one of the first all-black units to fight in the Civil War.

The two houses stood here at Bowdoin Square until the early 1900s, when they were demolished and replaced with a commercial building. This building is no longer standing either, nor is anything else from the 1880 photo. The entire West End section of the city, aside from a few buildings, was demolished in the late 1950s as part of an urban renewal project, similar to what was done at nearby Scollay Square around the same time, Even the road networks were changed, and today Bowdoin Square bears essentially no resemblance to its earlier appearance.

New South Church, Boston

New South Church at the corner of Summer and Bedford Streets in Boston, around 1855-1868. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The scene in 2015:

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Not to be confused with the Old South Meeting House, or the New Old South Church, this church at the corner of Summer and Bedford Streets was known as the New South Church. It was octagonal in shape and made of granite, and it was designed by Charles Bulfinch, a prominent early American architect who designed a number of buildings in Boston, including the Massachusetts State House, the expanded Faneuil Hall, and Boylston Market.

When the church was completed in 1814, this neighborhood in the present-day financial district was an upscale residential area. A few block away on Franklin Street was Bulfinch’s famous Tontine Crescent, and here on Summer Street there were also a number of high-end townhouses. Daniel Webster lived in a house at the corner of Summer and High Street, just a few steps back from where these photos were taken, and although he died before the first photo was taken, this would have essentially been the view he would have seen whenever he left his house.

By the 1860s, though, Boston was running out of land, and this area was eyed for redevelopment. Most of the townhouses were taken down as the neighborhood shifted from residential to commercial, and in 1868 the New South Church was also demolished and replaced with a bank. The new building didn’t last long, though; it was destroyed in the Great Boston Fire of 1872, and the present-day Church Green Building was completed the following year. Although the historic church is long gone, its eventual replacement has become historic in its own right. Despite being in the heart of the Financial District, it has survived for nearly 150 years, and it is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Boylston Market, Boston

Boylston Market, at the corner of Boylston and Washington Streets in Boston, around 1870. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The scene in 2015:

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Boylston Market was built here in 1810, and it was designed by noted architect Charles Bulfinch. It functioned as a market on the first floor, and a meeting space and performance hall on the third floor, known as Boylston Hall. Both the building and the street were named for Ward Nicholas Boylston, a Boston philanthropist who gave substantial donations to Harvard in the early 19th century. Prior to its construction, the city’s primary marketplace was Faneuil Hall, which was a considerable distance away from here. At the time, this area was in the southern end of the city, and some of its residents, including future president John Quincy Adams, formed the Boylston Market Association to built the market here

Aside from its use as a marketplace, the building was also used by organizations such as the Handel and Hadyn Society, which held concerts in the third floor hall, and the New England Anti-Slavery Society, which held conventions in the same hall. In 1859, it was expanded, and in 1870 it was moved 11 feet south away from Boylston Street. This is presumably why the building to the left in the first photo, home of the White Bear Billiard Room, has a sign that reads “Building to be Torn Down.”

Although moving the large brick building was a significant undertaking, Boylston Market was demolished just 17 years later, in 1887. It was replaced by the Boylston Building, which served much the same function as its predecessor, with retail space on the first floor and warehouse and office space on the upper floors. As seen in the 2015 photo, it is still standing today, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There is at least one surviving element from the original building, though. The cupola was saved, and it now forms the steeple of the Calvary Methodist Church in the nearby town of Arlington.

Franklin Street, Boston (1)

Looking down Franklin Street toward Arch Street from Hawley Street in Boston in 1858. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.

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The same view down Franklin Street, between 1859 and 1872. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.

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Franklin Street in 2014:

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Franklin Street in Boston was originally laid out in the 1790s by noted architect Charles Bulfinch, and included row-houses on both sides of a sweeping curve, as seen in the first photo. Known as the Tontine Crescent, this was an upscale neighborhood in the first half of the 19th century, but by the 1850s the city was expanding commercially. The row-houses were demolished, and replaced with the commercial buildings in the second photo. These didn’t last too long, though – they were destroyed in the Great Boston Fire of 1872. Today, it is still a major commercial center, part of the Downtown Crossing shopping district, but many of the buildings that are still standing along Franklin Street were the ones constructed in 1873 in the immediate aftermath of the fire. In addition, the street still retains its distinctive curve that was laid out over 200 years ago.