City Hall, Pittsfield, Mass

The Post Office building, which later became City Hall, on Allen Street in Pittsfield, around 1910-1930. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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City Hall in 2016:

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For many years, it was common for post offices, even in relatively large cities and towns, to be located within commercial buildings rather than in separate buildings. Springfield, for example, did not get its first purpose-built post office until 1890. Here in Pittsfield, the post office had been located in the Berkshire Life Insurance Company building until 1910, when this post office opened on Allen Street.

Its classical revival architecture was designed by James Knox Taylor, who, as Supervising Architect of the Treasury was responsible for designing government buildings across the country. Its design was fairly standard for post offices of the era, but its location was somewhat unusual. It is located at the corner of Allen and Federal Streets, two relatively minor side streets a block away from the far busier North and East Streets. However, it served its purpose well, and was used as a post office for over a half century until it closed in 1966.

After the post office left, the building was renovated into City Hall, replacing the much older building a block away, which had served as the seat of Pittsfield’s municipal government since 1832. It has remained in use ever since, and has now been City Hall for almost as long as it had been a post office. The original interior has been somewhat altered over the years, but exterior is essentially unchanged from the first photo, aside from the significant addition in the back.

Rhode Island State House, Providence, RI

A view of the southwest corner of the Rhode Island State House, around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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The first photo was taken only about a year after the completion of the Rhode Island State House. As mentioned in an earlier post, it was the state’s first purpose-built capitol building, and was designed by the prominent architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White. Today, it is still in use as Rhode Island’s capitol, with legislative chambers for the General Assembly, as well as offices for the governor and other state officers. Nothing in its exterior appearance has changed, and the only differences in the two photos are the trees in the foreground and the Transportation Department building in the distance on the left.

Union Trust Company Building, Providence, RI

The Union Trust Company Building, at the corner of Westminster and Dorrance Streets in Providence, 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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The Union Trust Company was a Providence-based bank that dated back to 1851, when it was founded as the Bank of America. Unrelated to the present-day bank of the same name, it was renamed the Union Trust Company in 1894, and a new corporate headquarters was soon in the works. Reflecting both the prominence of the bank, as well as the aspirations of the rapidly-growing city of Providence, the elegant 12-story skyscraper was completed in 1902.

The most significant change to the building came in 1920, when it was expanded along the Westminster Street side, nearly doubling its depth. Otherwise, its exterior has seen few changes. As for the Union Trust Company, it remained here until it was merged into the Industrial National Bank in 1957. In the years that followed, the ground floor continued to be used as a branch office for the bank, but today this elegant bank area is now a restaurant, The Dorrance. The rest of the building was used as offices for many years, but the upper floors of the historic building are now in the process of being converted into apartments.

Rhode Island State House, Providence, RI

The south side of the Rhode Island State House in Providence, 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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Rhode Island is known for having the smallest land area of any US state, but despite its diminutive size, it had an unusual state capital situation for many years. Providence had been the capital of colonial Rhode Island for over a century, but starting in 1776 the legislature alternated sessions between the five county courthouses, effectively giving the state five capital cities. While much larger states managed to make do with just one capital city, this arrangement continued until 1853, when the rotation was reduced to just two, Providence and Newport. Having joint capitals was not unique to Rhode Island – neighboring Connecticut did the same for many years – but Rhode Island continued the practice until 1900.

At this point, when the legislature was in Providence, they were still meeting in the small colonial-era courthouse on Benefit Street. It hardly compared to the far grander capitol buildings other New England states such as Connecticut and Massachusetts, so in 1895 construction began on the present-day Rhode Island State House. It was built on Smith Hill, a hill that overlooks downtown Providence on the other side of the Woonasquatucket River. Its architecture resembles the US Capitol Building, with wings on either side for the two legislative houses and a large rotunda in the center, and it was designed by the prominent firm of McKim, Mead and White in their distinctive Classical Revival style.

The Rhode Island legislature began meeting in the new building in 1901, although it was not completed until 1904, after nearly a decade of construction. Today, the area around the State House has seen some dramatic changes. Interstate 95 now passes just west of here, and just to the east is the Northeast Corridor, the busiest passenger rail line in the country. To the southwest is Providence Place, a large shopping mall with adjacent parking garages. However, here on the State House grounds, very little has changed. The grounds retain a park-like atmosphere, and the historic building itself is still the seat of Rhode Island’s state government.

Harris Block, Springfield, Mass

The Harris Block, at 454-472 Bridge Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The building in 2016:

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As mentioned in previous posts, Chestnut Street transitioned from a residential to commercial neighborhood in the early 1920s. The home of Daniel Harris once stood just to the right of here, but in 1923 it was dismantled and moved to Westerly, Rhode Island. His name lived on, though, with the Harris Block. This two-story commercial building was built in 1925 at the corner of Chestnut and Bridge Streets, and formed part of the northern side of the newly-developed Apremont Triangle.

When Bridge Street was extended east of Chestnut Street in the early 1920s, it crossed Daniel Harris’s old lot and connected with Pearl Street. This formed a roughly isosceles triangle between the three streets, with a small park in the center that was named in honor of the 104th Infantry, a Springfield-based unit that fought at Apremont during World War I.

Three of the buildings fronting the triangle, including the Harris Block, were designed by architect Samuel M. Green. All three had similar designs, and were two stories tall, with large storefront space on the first floor. This made them ideal for car dealerships, and the Apremont Triangle soon became the center of the city’s automobile industry. Here in the Harris Block, the corner storefront was originally a Rolls-Royce showroom, and their Springfield branch offices were also located in the building.

By the time the first photo was taken, Rolls-Royce was no longer in the building, and the corner storefront was instead a pharmacy. Over the years, car dealerships have moved to more spacious lots outside of downtown, but all of the early 20th century buildings at the Apremont Triangle are still standing, including the Harris Block. Because of this, all of these buildings were added to the Apremont Triangle Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Willys-Overland Block, Springfield, Mass

The Willys-Overland Block at the corner of Chestnut and Winter Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The building in 2016:

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As mentioned in the previous post, Chestnut Street was once home to some of Springfield’s wealthiest residents. However, by the early 1900s the city’s commercial center was growing east from Main Street, and this area around the corners of Chestnut, Bridge, and Pearl Streets became the center of the city’s automotive business. Springfield played a pioneering role in early automobile manufacturing, starting with Charles and Frank Duryea. In the 1890s, they developed the country’s first gasoline-powered car here in Springfield, just a few blocks away on Taylor Street. In the years that followed, other automobile companies came to the city, drawn by its manufacturing tradition and large pool of skilled workers.

In the first few decades of the 20th century, Springfield was home to many car manufacturers. The Knox Automobile Company was headquartered in the city, and other companies had branches, including Rolls-Royce and Willys-Overland. Unlike Rolls-Royce, the Toledo-based Willys-Overland no longer exists, but its legacy in Springfield lives on in this building, which they built in 1916. The first floor housed their showroom, and the rest of the building had a service station along with a thousand-car garage.

The company remained here for just five years, but the building continued to be used for automotive-related purposes. In the first photo, the upper floors were the Kimball Garage, serving the Hotel Kimball, which is located diagonally across Chestnut Street from here. However, it has since been neglected for many years. It was damaged in a November 2012 natural gas explosion that leveled an adjacent building and shattered most of the windows in the Willys-Overland Block. Although listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building’s future is uncertain, and in 2015 the City Council established it as a one-building historic district, in an effort to protect it from possible demolition.