John Carter Brown Library, Brown University, Providence, RI

The John Carter Brown Library on the campus of Brown University, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The library in 2016:

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The John Carter Brown Library is one of seven libraries at Brown University, featuring an extensive collection of rare, colonial-era books published in the Americas. Its origins trace back to the private collection of John Carter Brown, who was a member of Providence’s prominent Brown family. His father, Nicholas Brown, Jr., was the donor for whom the school was named, and many other family members played an important role in the founding and development of the school.

After his death in 1874, John Carter Brown left his collection to his son, John Nicholas Brown. He, in turn, left instructions in his will to establish a library with the collection, to be named in memory of his father. Although his will did not stipulate a location, the library trustees chose Brown University, and it opened in 1904, four years after his death.

Like many other early 20th century libraries, the building is an example of Beaux-Arts architecture, and was designed by Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, the firm that would go on to design Brown’s John Hay Library a few years later. The library’s opening in the spring of 1904 coincided with the completion of a nearby gate, which was donated by John Nicholas Brown’s widow and named for her late husband.

Today, the front facade of the library is unchanged from the first photo, but its holdings have significantly increased over the years. A new addition was completed in 1990, and named the Caspersen Building in honor of the parents of its benefactor, Finn M. W. Caspersen. The library now has over 50,000 books from the 19th century and earlier, along with thousands of rare maps, prints, manuscripts, and other documents.

John Hay Library, Brown University, Providence, RI

The John Hay Library at the corner of Prospect and College Streets in Providence, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The library in 2016:

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The John Hay Library is one of several libraries at Brown University. The building was designed by the prominent Boston architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, and opened in 1910 as the school’s primary library. It was built in part with funds from Andrew Carnegie, and is named for John Hay, an 1858 graduate of Brown who had served as US Secretary of State from 1898 until his death in 1905.

It remained in use as main library until 1964, when the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library opened just to the left of here, on the other side of College Street. Today, the John Hay Library is used to house the special collections, rare books, and the University Archives. Among its more unusual holdings are several anthropodermic books, which are books bound in human skin. The library also has an extensive collection of letters and other manuscripts from horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, a Providence native who lived nearby and often visited the library.

Washington and Court Streets, Boston

The northwest corner of Washington and Court Streets in downtown Boston in 1891. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

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The scene in 2015:

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Boston’s first skyscraper was the Ames Building, which was completed in 1893 and was the tallest building in the city aside from the steeple of the Central Congregational Church. The first photo was taken shortly before these buildings were demolished to make way for the Ames Building. One of them in the distance to the left appears to already be in the process of demolition, and several of the others feature reminders of their impending doom, including a sign on the corner that reads “Our entire stock to be sold at a sacrifice. Summer and winter underwear selling at half price.” Further down Washington Street to the right, another sign reads, “Building coming down. Carpets & furniture at your own price. No offer refused.”

The Ames Building was designed by the Boston architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, and its design reflects the older Romanesque Revival style, which was popular in the 1870s and 1880s, but had largely fallen out of fashion by the turn of the century. In other ways, though, the building represented a transition between the old and the new. Two major limits to early skyscrapers were stairs and structural support; buildings beyond a certain height were impractical because of the amount of climbing to reach the top and the thickness of the walls that would be necessary to support the weight of the upper floors. To solve the first problem, the 13-story Ames Building included modern elevator technology. However, while the 1880s saw the introduction of skyscrapers with a steel skeleton, the Ames Building was instead built with load-bearing masonry walls, which explains the thickness of the granite base. Today, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it still stands as the second tallest load-bearing masonry building in the world, after Chicago’s Monadnock Building.

South Station, Boston

South Station around the time that it opened in 1899. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The same view around 1905, after the construction of the Atlantic Avenue Elevated. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

Transportation

South Station in 1956, during construction of the Dewey Square Tunnel. Image courtesy of Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

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South Station in 2014:

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These four photos reveal the changes that have taken place here at South Station over the past 115 years.  While the building itself (or at least most of it) has remained essentially the same, its surroundings have continually changed.

Before 1899, four different railroads had terminals in the general vicinity of the present-day station.  To make things simpler, South Station was built, and all four lines were rerouted to it.  A few years later, in 1901, the Atlantic Avenue Elevated was built, as seen in the second photo.  The rapid transit line included a station at South Station, which can be seen on the far right of the 1905 photo.

The third photo shows the result of changes in the way people travel; the Atlantic Avenue Elevated closed in 1938, and was demolished four years later.  Even South Station was seeing a severe drop in passengers in postwar America, as cars became the primary method of travel.  However, Boston’s colonial-era street network was not particularly accommodating to large number of cars, so the Central Artery was built in the 1950s.  Most of the Central Artery was elevated, but it was put underground for a few blocks near South Station, and was known as the Dewey Square Tunnel.

The Dewey Square Tunnel, which is seen under construction in the 1956 photo, turned out to be a foreshadowing of things to come; part of Boston’s infamous Big Dig involved putting the entire Central Artery underground.  Today, the tunnel is still there, directly underneath where I was standing when I took the photo.  It is the only existing part of the Central Artery; the remainder of the 1950s-era expressway was demolished upon completion of the Big Dig.

Today, South Station has been trimmed a bit – notice that the facade on both sides is shorter than in the first two photos.  This was a result of demolition in the 1960s, at a time when many railroads were cutting back or eliminating passenger service.  However, today South Station is a busy transportation center again – it is the busiest railroad station in New England and the sixth busiest in the country, and it is the northern terminus of the Northeast Corridor, the busiest rail line in the country.