Interior of Old First Church, Springfield, Mass (2)

The interior of Old First Church from the balcony, around 1940. Image courtesy of the Springfield College Archives and Special Collections, Cliff Smith YMCA Postcard Collection.

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The church in 2015:

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The interior of Old First Church was shown in an earlier post, with a photo that was taken around 1915. At the time, the interior design was from an 1881 remodel, but in 1924 many of the Victorian changes were undone and it was restored to an early 19th century appearance. The c.1940 photo here reflects these changes, and it remains mostly the same today. There is a different organ, which was installed in 1958, the steps up to the pulpit have moved, and most of the pews to the left and right of the pulpit are gone, but there have been no major alterations since 1924.

The church was built in 1819, and after nearly 200 years it is the oldest church building still standing in the city. However, the First Church congregation itself no longer exists. With declining membership and high maintenance costs, they disbanded in 2007, and the city purchased the historic building. They regularly rent it out it out for special events, and since 2009 it has also been used by WellSpring Church for their Sunday services.

Southwick Congregational Church, Southwick Mass

Southwick Congregational Church on College Highway in Southwick, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

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The church in 2015:

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If this historic church in Southwick resembles a scaled-down version of Springfield’s Old First Church, there is good reason for that – both were designed by Northampton architect Isaac Damon, and out of all of his surviving work, Southwick is probably the closest thing to a twin of Springfield’s.  The belfry design on the two churches is nearly identical, and the rest of the steeple design here in Southwick looks like a miniature of the one on Old First Church.  Both churches also have a triangular portico supported by four columns, although again Southwick’s is on a smaller scale.  Some of Damon’s other churches included the old Northampton church, which burned in 1876, the First Congregational Church in Blandford, and Southwick’s Methodist Episcopal Church, both of which still exist.  Southwick’s church was founded in 1773, and the present-day building was built in 1824 to replace the first, which had burned the year before.  Nearly two centuries later, it has survived with few alterations, and it doesn’t look much different from its appearance in the early 1890s.

Old Church and Courthouse, Northampton Mass

Looking up Main Street from Pleasant Street in Northampton, toward the old church and courthouse in 1864. Photo from Reminiscences of Old Northampton (1902).

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The location in 2015:

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The 1864 photo is one of the oldest existing photographs of downtown Northampton, and none of the buildings from that scene survive today, 151 years later.  To the left in the 1864 photo is the old church, which was built in 1812.  It was Northampton’s fourth meeting house, and it replaced the 1737 building that had been built during the pastorate of Jonathan Edwards.  It was from here that the influential pastor and theologian helped to spark the Great Awakening revival that spread across the American colonies and in Europe, but by the turn of the century the town was in need of a new building.  The 1812 church was designed by Northampton architect Isaac Damon, who just a few years later would design Old First Church in Springfield, 15 miles to the south.  However, while Old First Church survives to this day, the Northampton church seen in the 1864 photo burned in 1876, and was replaced two years later by the current brownstone church.

On the far right of the 1864 photo is the old Hampshire County Courthouse.  I don’t know when it was built, but it is virtually identical to the 1821 Hampden County Courthouse, seen on the far left of the 1882 photo in this post.  Because of its similar appearance, the Hampshire County Courthouse was probably built around the same time, shortly after some major changes to the county’s borders.  Originally, Hampshire County included all of Western Massachusetts, but it was steadily broken up into multiple counties, beginning in 1761 when Berkshire County was established to the west.  Then in 1811, Franklin County was created in the northern part of the Connecticut River Valley with Greenfield as the county seat, and a year later Hampden County split off to the south, with Springfield as the county seat.  I don’t know what happened to the old courthouse seen here, but it was gone by 1886, when the present-day Hampshire County Courthouse opened on roughly the same spot at the corner of Main and King Streets.

In between the two prominent buildings in the 1864 scene is a relatively small commercial block, the Whitney Building.  The photograph was actually commissioned by George D. Eames, the owner of the building, and was probably intended to advertise the building’s prominent location in town.  Part of the building housed the offices of the Hampshire Gazette, and the newspaper was published in the basement.  This is evidently the reason for the large sign on the building that reads “Caloric Printing Establishment.”  The Whitney Building was demolished in 1876, and a bank building was put in its place.  Today, the 1916 Northampton Institute for Savings building occupies the site where the Whitney Building once stood.

Old First Church, Springfield

The view of Old First Church in Springfield, Massachusetts from Court Square, around 1908. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

Churches

The same view in 2013:

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Old First Church has been one of Springfield’s most prominent landmarks for nearly 200 years.  It is Springfield’s fourth meeting house, all of which have been located on or around present-day Court Square.  The current building was completed in 1819, and was home to the First Church of Christ until 2007, when the congregation disbanded.  During that time, the church hosted notable guests including Daniel Webster, abolitionist John Brown, singer Jenny Lind, and evangelist D.L. Moody.  In 1848, the body of former president John Quincy Adams lay in state in the center aisle, as he was being brought back to Quincy from Washington, D.C.

After the congregation disbanded in 2007, the City of Springfield purchased the historic building, and rent it out for various events.  Note the missing railing near the top of the steeple – it was removed following damage from the June 1, 2011 tornado. Otherwise, the exterior of the building remains much the same as it was over 100 years ago.  To the right, barely visible in the 2013 photo, is a brick structure that appears very different.  Physically attached to the church, it was gutted and renovated in 1947, which among other things included removing most of the Victorian-era windows and details.

2014 note: the railing near the top of the steeple was restored in October 2014