17-19 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston

The houses at 17 and 19 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, sometime in the 1870s. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The houses in 2017:


These houses were built on a lot that had been purchased in 1866 by attorney William H. Gardiner. A member of a prominent Boston family, his father John Sylvester John Gardiner had been the rector of Trinity Church from 1805 to 1830, and William had studied law under Harrison Gray Otis in the early 1800s. He was nearly 70 when he purchased this property in the Back Bay, and he had his house built on the right side, at 17 Commonwealth. The house was completed in 1867, and that same year he sold the remaining two-fifths of the lot to Thomas C. Amory, who built his own house here on the left, at 19 Commonwealth.

Like Gardiner, Amory was an attorney, but he was also a poet, author, and historian who published a number of books in the 1870s and 1880s. His house here was completed in 1868, and it was designed by Henry Van Brunt, a young architect who later went on to become one of Boston’s leading architects of the era. It matches the Second Empire-style design of its neighbors, and although narrower than the surrounding homes, it is one story taller, with a fifth floor under the mansard roof.

Both Gardiner and Amory died in the 1880s, and these two houses went on to have a number of subsequent owners in the next few decades. Probably the most notable of these was William Phillips, who owned 17 Commonwealth from 1930 to 1942. Phillips was a diplomat whose career included serving as Assistant Secretary of State and Under Secretary of State, as well as ambassador to Belgium, Canada, and Italy. Because of the nature of his diplomatic work, though, he and his wife Caroline did not live here very much, and instead rented it out to other tenants.

Both of these houses are still standing today, although they have been modified over the years. In the early 1920s, the front entrance of 19 Commonwealth was lowered to the ground floor, the steps were removed, and the old doorway became a window. About a decade later, similar work was done to 17 Commonwealth, shortly after William Phillips purchased the property. Later in the 20th century, both houses were converted into condominiums, and today each house is divided into three individual units.

For more detailed historical information on these houses, see the Back Bay Houses website for 17 and 19 Commonwealth.

Loomis House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 220 Maple Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The house in 2017:

Since the 1880s, Springfield has been known as the “City of Homes,” and features hundreds of historic late 19th and early 20th century houses with a variety of architectural styles. Despite this, though, very few of these were designed by nationally-recognized architects. One of the exceptions was this house on Maple Street, which was designed by the Boston firm of Ware & Van Brunt. Their works were primarily Gothic in style, and the two men had previously designed Harvard’s Memorial Hall, which is considered one of the finest examples of High Victorian Gothic architecture in the country.

While Memorial Hall was still under construction in Cambridge, Ware & Van Brunt was hired by Frances Loomis to design a house for her on Maple Street, near the top of the hill that overlooks downtown Springfield and the Connecticut River. The actual construction was done by Chauncey Shepard, an architect and builder who, nearly a half century earlier, had designed and built the nearby David Ames, Jr. House. Shepard built the Loomis house from 1873 to 1874, and he died the following year, at the age of 78.

Frances Loomis was the widow of Calvin Loomis, a cigar manufacturer who had moved from Vermont to Springfield in 1853 and opened a business along with W.H. Wright, who later took over the company. Calvin Loomis died in 1866, and Frances died in 1877, just three years after moving into this house. The house was subsequently owned by Frank L. Wesson, the son of Smith & Wesson co-founder Daniel B. Wesson. He lived here with his wife Sarah and their children, but he was killed in a railroad accident  in Hartford, Vermont on February 5, 1887. He was 34 at the time, and was one of more than 40 people killed when his train stuck a broken rail and fell off a bridge over the White River.

The house remained in the Wesson family for many years, although it does not appear to have been occupied in either the 1900 or 1910 censuses. By 1920, though, it was the home of Frank’s oldest son Harold, who was living here with his wife Helen along with a servant. The couple’s only child, also named Helen, was born in 1908, but died when she was just three days old. Harold eventually became the president of Smith & Wesson, and was still living here in 1930, although by the 1940 census he and Helen had moved to Longmeadow.

The house appears to have been vacant again in 1940, but was later owned by Joseph Loeffler, who added the two-car garage to the front of the house in 1946. Otherwise, the exterior has seen few changes. Like most of the neighboring homes, it sustained heavy damage from the June 1, 2011 tornado, but it was restored. It is an excellent surviving example of the city’s grand 19th century mansions, and is part of the Ames/Crescent Hill Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Old Union Station, Worcester, Mass

Worcester’s old Union Station, seen around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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This building was Worcester’s original Union Station, serving the Boston & Albany Railroad along with several other railroads. It was completed in 1875 in a Gothic Revival style designed by the Boston architectural firm of Ware & Van Brunt. Along with the usual passenger station amenities, it included a train shed over the tracks, along with a 212-foot clock tower at the corner of the building.

The station served Worcester for over 35 years, but by the early 20th century the city’s busy railroad traffic made it necessary to elevate the tracks through downtown. This, in turn, required a new station, which opened in 1911 just west of here. Most of the old station was demolished at this point, but the tower itself was saved. Unlike the two towers of the new station, which had do be taken down just 15 years later because of their deteriorated condition, the old 1875 tower stood here until 1959, when it was demolished to build Interstate 290.

Today, the 1911 Union Station, with replica towers, is still standing just to the right of the rotary, and in the distance the highway passes over the spot where the original station once stood. The only remnant from the first photo is the railroad itself, which can be seen on the right side of the photo, with MBTA commuter rail passenger cars passing over the bridge in the distance.