Essex County Registry of Deeds and Probate Court, Salem, Mass

The Essex County Registry of Deeds and Probate Court, on Federal Street in Salem, around 1909-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The courthouse in 2017:

As mentioned in an earlier post, Federal Street is the site of four Essex County courthouse buildings, representing a wide range of architectural styles, from mid-19th century Greek Revival to 21st century Postmodernism. The oldest of these, just out of view on the far right of this scene, was built in 1841, and was followed by a second courthouse in 1862, which can be seen in the distance on the right side of these photos. However, both of these buildings were subsequently dwarfed by the much larger Registry of Deeds and Probate Court building, which was completed in 1909 and is seen here in these two photos.

The Classical Revival-style courthouse was the work of Clarence H. Blackall, a prominent turn-of-the-century architect whose other works included a number of theaters in Boston. This style of architecture was particularly popular for public buildings of the era, and features a granite exterior with a large pediment above the main entrance, supported by six Ionic columns. Other classical elements include the carving above the door, which includes the head of a woman who is wearing a Greek helmet, presumably symbolizing Athena.

Today, this scene looks essentially the same as it did when the first photo was taken a century ago. The building was used by the Registry of Deeds and the Probate Court for many years, and was expanded from 1979 to 1981 with a large addition to the rear. More recently, it was joined by a new county courthouse, which was completed in 2012 and stands just out of view on the left side of the scene. The two 19th century courthouses were subsequently closed, but this courthouse underwent a major renovation that was completed in 2017. This $50 million project included preservation of the original 1909 structure, along with the demolition and reconstruction of the 1979-1981 addition, and the building now houses the Essex County Probate Court and Family Court.

Tabernacle Congregational Church, Salem, Mass

The Tabernacle Congregational Church, at the corner of Washington and Federal Streets in Salem, around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

The Tabernacle Congregational Church had its origins in 1735, when a large group of parishioners, including the pastor, broke away from the First Church of Salem. Following the split, both churches claimed to be the true “First Church,” and the dispute was not resolved until 1762, when the colonial legislature forced the newer church to give up their claim to the name. As a result, the congregation became the Third Church of Salem, although it later came to be known as the Tabernacle Congregational Church.

Its first meeting house burned down in 1774, and was replaced three years later by a new one, located here at the corner of Washington and Federal Streets. In 1812, Samuel Newell, Adoniram Judson, Samuel Nott, Gordon Hall, and Luther Rice were ordained here as the first foreign missionaries from the United States, prior to their departure overseas for India. The building would remain in use for many years afterwards, but it was demolished in 1854 to build the church that is shown in the first photo.

This church building was designed by noted Boston architect Richard Bond, and had an Italianate-style design that was popular for churches of this period. It included a tall steeple that rose 180 feet above the street, and the sanctuary of the church could seat some 1,050 people, which was more than double the membership at the time. Including furnishings, it was built at a cost of $21,400, or about $600,000 today. However, the church made most of this money back in short order. In keeping with customs of this period, the pews were sold to parishioners, with prices that ranged from $25 to $60 in the galleries, and $40 to $250 on the main floor. Through this sale, held in 1854 on the day of its dedication, the church brought in $16,119.48 in revenue.

The 1854 church stood here until 1922, when it was demolished to build the present-day building. This was the third consecutive church building to stand on this site, and incorporated elements of the 1777 structure. This included the tower, which was modeled after the one that had been added to the earlier church in 1805. The new church was designed by Boston architects Philip Horton Smith and Edgar Walker, and it was completed in 1923. It has remained in use by the congregation ever since, and the exterior has been well-preserved after nearly a century since its completion. It is now part of the Federal Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Pickman-Derby Mansion, Salem, Mass

The mansion at the corner of Washington and Lynde Streets in Salem, around 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

The house in the first photo was built in 1764, although it was extensively modified over the years. It was one of Salem’s finest 18th century mansions, and was home to some of the city’s most prominent residents, starting with merchant Benjamin Pickman (1707/8-1773). Originally from Boston, Pickman later came to Salem as a young man, where he became a prosperous merchant, with ships that were involved in trade with the West Indies. He also served as a colonel in the militia, a member of the colonial legislature and governor’s council, and as a judge.

Pickman was about 56 years old when he built this house on Washington Street. He apparently lived here for the rest of his life, until his death in 1773, although historical records do not seem to specify. According to these sources, the house was “left by him to his son, Clarke Gayton Pickman,” leaving some ambiguity as to whether he personally lived in this house upon its completion, or simply had it built and then gave it to his son, a practice that was not uncommon among wealthy families of this period.

Either way, his son Clarke (1746-1781) ultimately acquired the house, where he lived with his wife Sarah and their four children. However, he died young, at the age of 35, and his four children had even shorter lives. Both of his sons, Clark and Carteret, died in childhood, and his two daughters, Sally and Rebecca, only lived to be 20 and 28, respectively. Sarah only lived in this house for about a year after Clarke’s death, and sold the property in 1782.

The next owner of this house was Elias Hasket Derby (1739-1799), who was probably the wealthiest of Salem’s many merchants. During the late 18th century, Salem was the seventh-largest city or town in the country, as well as the richest on a per capita basis, and Derby played a large role in this prosperity. The ships of his fleet were among the first American vessels to trade with China, and his shipping empire also included extensive trade with India, Mauritius, Sumatra, Europe, and the West Indies. Some 50 years after his death, he was even referred to as “King Derby” in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s introduction to The Scarlet Letter. In this lengthy polemic against his hometown, Hawthorne laments the decline of the once-prosperous city, equating Derby with the Salem’s golden age.

Upon purchasing this house in 1782, Derby soon set about renovating it. He hired noted local architect Samuel McIntire, who made alterations to the original design. This included the addition of the cupola, which provided Derby with a view of the waterfront and his incoming ships. However, Derby soon began planning for a new house, and in the 1790s he hired Charles Bulfinch to design a mansion a little south of here, on the present-day site of the old town hall. Derby moved into this new house upon its completion in 1799, but he did not get to enjoy it for long, because he died later in the year.

In the meantime, this house on Washington Street was acquired by Derby’s son, John Derby (1767-1831). Like his father, he was also a merchant, but he was involved in other business interests here in Salem, such as the Salem Marine Insurance Company and the Salem Bank. His first wife, Sally, died in 1798, leaving him with three young children. However, in 1801 he remarried to Eleanor Coffin, and the couple had eight children of their own.

Among their children was Sarah Ellen Derby, who married John Rogers and had nine children. Their oldest son, also named John Rogers (1829-1904), was born here in this house, and later went on to become a prominent sculptor. He specialized in small, mass-produced plaster statues, known as Rogers Groups, and these inexpensive pieces of artwork found their way into many homes across the country and overseas.

John Derby died in 1831, and the house was subsequently sold to Robert Brookhouse. It would remain a single-family home throughout the 19th century, although it steadily declined over the years. This reflected the declining prosperity of Salem as a whole, which had peaked in its prominence as a seaport around the turn of the 19th century. It slowly dropped off the list of the ten largest cities in the country, and by the time Hawthorne published The Scarlet Letter in 1850 it had become a shadow of its former glory.

In 1898, the mansion was sold and converted into a commercial property. It became the Colonial House hotel, as shown in the first photo a little over ten years later. The ground floor had two storefronts, with the Colonial House Cafe on the left and a bar on the right. Just to the left of the hotel is a nickelodeon, an early movie theater that, as the signs in front indicate, cost a nickel for admission. These were common during this period, in the early years of film, and the sign above the entrance advertises “Moving Pictures and Illustrated Songs.”

Only a few years after the first photo was taken, the property was sold to the Masonic lodge. The historic 150-year-old mansion was demolished in 1915, and the present-day Masonic Temple was built on the site. This large, Classical Revival-style building was completed in 1916, and featured stores and offices on the lower floors, while the upper floors were used by the Freemasons for office space and meeting rooms. The building was badly damaged by a fire in 1982, which caused over a million dollars in damage to the upper floors, but it was subsequently restored and is still standing. Along with the other nearby buildings, it is now part of the Downtown Salem Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Radding Building, Springfield, Mass

The Radding Building, at the corner of State and Willow Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The building in 2017:

This eight-story, Classical Revival-style commercial building was built in 1915 by real estate developer Edward Radding, and was one of the largest early 20th century buildings on State Street. It was the work of Boston-based architect Charles R. Greco, and featured decorative elements such as Corinthian columns and pilasters on the first two floors, carvings in between windows on the third floor, and cornices above the third, seventh, and eight floors. Upon completion, the building housed a variety of commercial tenants, and included stores, offices, and assembly halls.

The first photo shows the building as it appeared in the late 1930s. There are a number of of signs in the windows, although only a few are legible. The ground floor storefront on the left side was the State Barber Shop, while the storefront on the right was vacant, with a “For Rent” sign in the window. Directly above this empty storefront was a fur retailer, but none of the other signs are visible from this distance. Only a few years later, in 1943, the Mutual Fire Assurance Company began renting space in the building. This company would later become its primary tenant, and was headquartered here for many years.

Nearly 80 years since the first photo was taken, the exterior of the Radding Building has seen few changes. Because of its level of preservation and its architectural significance, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, and it remains well-preserved today. When the first photo was taken in 2017, it was undergoing major renovations to convert it from an office building to a Holiday Inn Express. This project was completed earlier in 2018, and the hotel now occupies the historic building.

Hampden Savings Bank Building, Springfield, Mass

The Hampden Savings Bank building at 1665 Main Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

The Hampden Savings Bank was established in 1852, and its headquarters was located in several different buildings in downtown Springfield during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From 1899 to 1918, it was in the Fort Block, at the corner of Main and Fort Streets, but in 1918 the bank moved into this new headquarters, located a block away on the other side of Main Street. The building was designed by local architect Max Westhoff, and featured a Classical Revival-style design that was popular for banks in the early 20th century.

The first photo, taken in the late 1930s, shows the Hampden Savings Bank building, along with portions of the surrounding buildings. On the far left is the Chapin National Bank, which was built in 1917 and heavily altered on the Main Street side around the early or mid-1930s. On the right side is the Olmsted-Hixon-Albion Block, which extends all the way to the corner of Taylor Street. Originally built in the 1860s and 1870s as three separate buildings, the interiors of these commercial blocks were connected in 1927. However, the exteriors remained largely unchanged, giving the appearance of three different buildings, although only two of these sections are visible in this scene.

Hampden Savings Bank was located in this building until 1952, when a new headquarters was built a few blocks away on Harrison Avenue. The bank remained there until 2015, when it was acquired by Berkshire Bank, which continues to have a branch location in the Harrison Avenue building. In the meantime, this building on Main Street was later converted into law offices, although its exterior has hardly changed since the first photo was taken almost 80 years ago. It is now vacant, but there are currently plans to restore its interior and convert it into a recreational marijuana shop.

Chapin National Bank Building, Springfield, Mass

The corner of Main and Lyman Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

The Chapin National Bank was established in 1872 by Chester W. Chapin, a railroad magnate, businessman, and future Congressman who was among the leading citizens of Springfield during the 19th century. The bank was located here, at the southeast corner of Main and Lyman Streets, but the original building was replaced in 1917 with the present-day structure. It was designed by the New York architectural firm of Mowbray and Uffinger, which specialized in banks during the early 20th century, and it featured a Classical Revival design. Its appearance has been altered over the years, but it originally had four columns on the Main Street facade, matching the ones that still stand on the Lyman Street facade to the left.

The bank was gone by the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s. By this point, the Main Street facade had been reconstructed, although it seems unclear whether the columns were removed, or simply hidden by the new exterior wall. One of the tenants during this time was the Lorraine Spaghetti Palace, a restaurant that was located in the left storefront. In later years, the building became the Playtown Amusement Center, which opened in 1967. This arcade remained here until it closed in the 1990s, although the old sign is still visible on the left side of the building.

Today, the exterior of the building has not changed significantly since the first photo was taken. Despite the altered Main Street side of the building, it still stands as a good example of early 20th century bank architecture, and its Lyman Street facade remains well-preserved. It is one of a number of historic late 19th and early 20th century buildings along this section of Main Street, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.