Elm Street, Northampton, Mass

Looking northwest on Elm Street near Bedford Terrace in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

The scene in 2017:

The first photo shows three 18th and early 19th century homes that once lined the eastern side of Elm Street, directly opposite the campus of Smith College. Starting on the far right, closest to the camera, was the Stoddard House, which was probably built sometime in the mid to late 18th century. Not to be confused with The Manse, an architecturally-similar home that was owned by Solomon Stoddard (1736-1824) and still stands on Prospect Street, this Elm Street house appears to have been owned by his son, Solomon Stoddard (1771-1860). The latter was the great-grandson of yet another Solomon Stoddard (1643-1729), a prominent theologian who had served as pastor of the Northampton church from 1672 until his death in 1729.

The younger Solomon Stoddard was a 1790 graduate of Yale, and he subsequently studied law under Northampton attorney, U.S. senator, and future Massachusetts governor Caleb Strong. Stoddard went on to have a successful career as a lawyer, and also served in a variety of roles in local government, including register of deeds, town clerk, chief justice of the court of sessions, court clerk, and state representative. He and his wife Sarah had eight children, and they lived here in this house until Sarah’s death in 1852 and Solomon’s death in 1860. The house was later sold to Smith College in 1885, and by the time the first photo was taken it was in use as residential building for students.

Just to the left of the Stoddard House, in the center of the first photo, is another 18th century home that was later converted into a Smith College residence. Supposedly built in 1710 by Isaac Clark, the house remained in his family for several generations, and by the mid-19th century was owned by Clark’s great-grandson, Justin Smith. Upon Smith’s death in 1880 he left half of the property to Smith College, under the condition that his sister, Mary Smith Tenney, would be allowed to live there for the rest of her life. During this time, she ran the house as an off-campus residence for Smith College students, and after her death the school took over the property and continued to operate it as a residential building, named the Tenney House.

The third building in the first photo, on the far left of the scene, was also a private home that later became part of Smith College. Built sometime in the early 19th century, this house was originally the home of Enos Clark, a church deacon who lived here until his death in 1864. The property remained in his family for several more decades, but in 1886 it was sold to Mary L. Southwick, who enlarged the house and converted it into another off-campus residence for Smith College students. Known as the Southwick House, it operated into the 20th century, but it was later purchased by the Burnham School, a college preparatory school for girls. The house remained part of the school campus until 1968, when Burnham merged with the Stoneleigh-Prospect Hill School in Greenfield, and it was then sold to Smith College and converted into the Duckett House.

Today, of the three buildings in the first photo, only the Duckett House remains. It is still in use as a Smith College residential building, housing 37 students, and it is connected to the adjacent Chase House, which is just out of view in the distance to the left. As for the other two historic houses, both the Stoddard House and the Tenney House were demolished in the mid-1930s to build the Alumnae House, which was completed in 1938. This building, with its two wings in the center and right side of the photo, is still standing today, and is still in use by the college.

Nathaniel Parsons House, Northampton, Mass

The Nathaniel Parsons House on Bridge Street in Northampton, around 1914. Image from Early Northampton (1914).

The house in 2017:

Northampton has a remarkable collection of colonial-era homes, but one of the oldest is this house on Bridge Street. It has been significantly expanded over the years, but the original part of the house has, at various times, been estimated to be as old as 1658 and as recent as 1730. However, more recent dendrochronological analysis of the home’s timbers has provided an approximate date of 1719 for the oldest section of the house.

This plot of land was originally owned by Joseph Parsons, one of the founders of both Springfield and Northampton. He and his wife Mary came to Northampton in 1655, just a year after the first European settlers arrived, and they would live here for about 25 years. During this time, however, Mary repeatedly faced accusations of witchcraft, brought by members of the Bridgman family. Joseph won a slander suit against the Bridgmans in 1656, but the accusations continued and in 1675 Mary was put on trial for witchcraft. She was ultimately acquitted, but soon after she and Joseph returned to Springfield, where they lived for the remainder of their lives.

Despite this controversy, other members of the Parsons family remained here in Northampton. Their son Jonathan subsequently owned this lot, and apparently built a house here, but the existing house was built by his son Nathaniel, who was born in 1686. Nathaniel married his first wife, Experience Wright, in 1714, but she and their infant child died the following year. He evidently built this house a few years later, but would not remarry until 1728, when he married Abigail Bunce. They had five children together, although two of them, Abigail and Jerusha, were twins who both died soon after they were born. Their other three children all lived to adulthood, and included a daughter, Experience, and two sons, Elisha and Nathaniel.

When built, this house was much smaller. It was only one room deep, and had two rooms on the first floor and two on the second. It would remain this way for most of the 18th century, even as the family continued to grow in size. The older Nathaniel died in 1738, but Abigail outlived him by 50 years and lived here in this house with her children and grandchildren. Experience lived here until her first marriage in 1754, then returned after her husband’s death two years later and lived here until her second marriage in 1768. Elisha lived here until his marriage in 1770, and he may have continued living here as late as 1779, and the younger Nathaniel lived here for the rest of his life, even after his 1768 marriage to Sarah Hunt. For a far more comprehensive account of the house and the people who lived here, see this website.

At some point in the late 18th century the house was finally expanded, with a lean-to on the back that included a new kitchen. Abigail died in 1789, but Nathaniel and Sarah continued to live here, with Nathaniel having purchased his siblings’ shares of the house. They had nine children, although, as was the case with his parents, two were twins who died in infancy. Their other seven children were Nathaniel, Luther, Sally, Abigail, Mary, Persis, and Eunice, and they all grew up here in this house. The two oldest later owned the house, and sold it upon Nathaniel and Abigail’s deaths in 1806 and 1807.

Around 1808, the house was purchased by the Wright family, and was jointly owned by Chloe Wright and her stepson Ferdinand Hunt Wright. The house was further expanded soon after. An ell was added to the house, and the lean-to roof was removed in order to add a second floor above the late 18th century addition. Hunt, as he was known, married Olive Ames in 1811, and they had three children: Elzabeth, Roxana, and Mary. He died in 1842, and by about 1850 Olive had moved out, although she continued to own her half of the house and rented it to George and Lydia Sergeant. In the meantime, Chloe Wright lived in her half of the house until her death in 1854, and her daughter Fannie appears to have lived here until her death in 1869.

The Wright family retained ownership of the house for many years, living here at various times while also renting part of it to tenants. Olive and her daughter Roxana had returned to this house by the 1880s, and both lived here for the rest of their lives, until Olive’s death in 1889 and Roxana’s in 1909. The first photo was probably taken several years later, by which point the house was owned by three of Mary’s children: Anna, Arthur, and Edgar Bliss. Anna, who was unmarried, lived here from 1910 until her death in 1941, and in her will she left the house to Historic Northampton, which continues to own the property today.

More than a century after the first photo was taken, this view of the house has undergone a few minor changes, including the removal of the shutters and the small front porch. The porch was undoubtedly a 19th century addition, though, so today the house looks more historically accurate than it did when the first photo was taken. The Parsons House is now one of three owned by Historic Northampton, although it is currently closed to the public for renovations.

For a more detailed history of this house and the people who lived here, please see this article.

Elm Street from Henshaw Avenue, Northampton, Mass

Looking northwest on Elm Street from near the corner of Henshaw Avenue in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

The scene in 2017:

A lot has changed here on Elm Street in more than 120 years, but one prominent landmark that remains is the Hunt/Henshaw House, seen here on the right side of both photos. Many sources give a construction date of around 1700-1710, with Jonathan Hunt as the original owner. Hunt did indeed live here at the corner of present-day Elm Street and Henshaw Avenue, but more recent research seems to indicate that the current house on the lot was built in 1751 by his son, John Hunt. A wealthy landowner and a militia captain, John Hunt lived here with his wife Esther Wells, and their large, elegant Georgian-style house reflected the family’s economic and social prominence.

After John Hunt’s death in 1785, the house was inherited by his daughter Martha, who lived here with her husband, Samuel Henshaw. Originally from Milton, Massachusetts, Henshaw was a pastor-turned-lawyer who came to Northampton in 1788. He later became a judge of probate, then a judge on the Court of Common Pleas, and also served as a trustee of Williams College from 1802 until his death in 1809. Like the Hunts, the Henshaws were also a prominent family, and their oldest daughter Martha married Isaac Chapman Bates, a lawyer and politician who went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1827 to 1835, and in the Senate from 1841 to 1845. Martha and Isaac were married here in this house in 1807, in a double wedding ceremony that also included Martha’s sister Sarah and her husband, Ebenezer Hunt.

The older Martha continued to live here in this house long after Samuel Henshaw’s death, until her own death in 1842. The house was later owned by Sidney E. Bridgman, a local bookseller who lived here in the late 19th century, and by the turn of the 20th century it was owned by Ruth Sessions. The daughter of Episcopalian bishop Frederic Dan Huntington, Ruth was an author who published poems, short stories, and articles, and later in life she published a memoir, Sixty Odd, in 1936. Ruth was also the mother of prominent composer Roger Sessions, and the 1910 census shows him living here in this house as a 13-year-old boy, shortly before he entered Harvard University to study music.

Ruth Sessions converted this house into a boarding house for students at Smith College, which is located right across the street from the house. Sometime before 1916 she added a large wing to the rear of the original 18th century house, which significantly expanded its capacity while preserving the historic appearance of the house. In 1921 she sold the property to Smith College, and it was named Sessions House in her honor. Nearly a century later, it remains in use as student housing, and it is the oldest of the school’s 35 residential buildings.

Aside from the Hunt/Henshaw House, the most prominent feature in the 1894 scene is the large elm tree in the center of the photo. John Hunt had planted elm trees in his front yard in 1753, and this tree could very well have been one of them. It is no longer standing, perhaps a victim of Dutch Elm Disease in the mid-20th century, but there is another elm tree that now towers over the house, on the right side of the present-day scene. Such large elm trees are rare, since most die of Dutch Elm Disease long before reaching this size, but it still stands as one of the few survivors on the eponymous Elm Street, which was once lined with many of these trees.

Thames and Mill Streets, Newport, RI

The southeast corner of Pelham and Mill Streets in Newport, around 1885. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

 

The scene in 2017:

 

The first photo shows a mix of old, wood-frame commercial buildings on the east side of Thames Street, just south of Mill Street. The building on the left may have been the oldest in the scene, and probably dated back to the mid or late 18th century, with a large gambrel roof that commonly seen in Newport buildings of this era. It may have originally been built as a house, but by the time the first photo was taken it housed a variety of businesses, including the Newport Daily Observer newspaper, which had its offices in the storefront on the left side, and Edward Otto’s tailor shop, which was located on the right side. At the corner of the building, there is also a large sign for Child & Co. photographers, which had their studios here in the building.

Just to the right is a tall, narrow commercial building with a large clock hanging from the second floor. According to the National Register of Historic Places inventory, it was built sometime between 1741 and 1758, but was renovated in the 1850s. It does not seem clear how much is left from the original 18th century structure, but it was likely a single-family home that, like many other colonial-era Thames Street buildings, was converted into commercial space in the mid-19th century. By the 1860s, the ground floor of the building was the site of H.W. Pray’s watchmaking and jewelry business, and in 1873 the business was acquired by Edwin C. Blaine. He was still running the business here when the first photo was taken, and the watch sign became a longtime feature here on Thames Street.

To the right of Blaine’s store was another old commercial building that probably dated to the 18th or early 19th century. The building is too far from the camera to read any signs, but city directories of the mid-1880s show that it was the home of Richard Swan’s piano and organ business. However, the old building was demolished soon after the first photo was taken, and in 1894 it was replaced by the current three-story brick building. Known as Music Hall, it was owned by liquor dealer Dennis W. Sheehan, and early tenants included James A. Eddy’s grocery store and William H. Hilton’s hairdresser shop.

Of the three buildings in the first photo, only the Blaine building in the middle is still standing. Blaine operated his shop here until his death in 1904, and his son Joseph W. Blaine subsequently took over the jewelry business. He would run it for nearly 50 years, before finally selling it in 1952, a year before his own death. The store would remain here for many more years, still bearing the Blaine name, before finally closing sometime in the 1970s, after more than a century in business. However, the building is still there, with an exterior that is essentially unaltered. Even the storefront is mostly unchanged, and a large clock still hangs from the second floor, as a reminder of the watch and jewelry business that was once here.

Vernon House, Newport, RI

Vernon House at the corner of Clarke and Mary Streets in Newport, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The house in 2017:

This house is perhaps Newport’s finest surviving Georgian-style house, with an exterior appearance that dates back to around 1759. However, the house itself is actually significantly older, having been built sometime in the late 17th or early 18th centuries. The first recorded owner was William Gibbs, a painter who moved from Boston to Newport in the early 1700s and was living in this house by 1708. Whether he built the house himself or purchased it from a previous owner is unclear, but the architecture of the original structure suggests that it was built sometime around 1700.

William Gibbs lived here until his death in 1729, leaving an estate valued at about 2,300 pounds. His daughter Elizabeth, whose husband William Gardner had been lost at sea three months earlier, inherited the property, remarried in 1732 to James Martin, and then died in 1735. This sequence of events set up an interesting legal battle after her death. Under English law at the time, her father’s property would have gone to her husband, and then to their children. However, if her husband – who had been missing for three months – died before her father, Elizabeth herself would have inherited it, and the property would have gone to her second husband after her death. Martin argued that, by all accounts, Gardner was dead before Gibbs’s death in 1729, but he ultimately lost his case and the property remained in the Gibbs-Garnder family until 1744.

The house was subsequently owned by a Patrick Grant and by Charles Bowler, the Collector of Revenue in Newport, who purchased it around 1753. In 1759, Charles sold it to his son, Metcalf Bowler, a prominent merchant who was among he wealthiest men in colonial Rhode Island. Shortly after purchasing the house, Metcalf had the house expanded and renovated to its current Georgian-style appearance. There are no surviving records of who the architect was, although tradition suggests that it may have been Peter Harrison, the prominent colonial-era architect who designed several buildings in Newport during the mid-18th century, including the Redwood Library, Touro Synagogue, and the Brick Market.

Metcalf Bowler was active in Rhode Island politics, particularly in the years leading up to the American Revolution, when Newport’s shipping industry was in its golden age. He served as one of Rhode Island’s delegates to the Stamp Act Congress in 1765, as speaker of the colonial legislature from 1767 to 1776, and was appointed to the state supreme court in 1776. However, during this time he was also a paid informant for the British army, working as a spy for General Henry Clinton, apparently in order to safeguard his property during the British occupation of Newport. His role as a spy was not discovered until the 20th century, but the war was devastating for Newport’s shipping industry and Metcalf Bowler lost much of his fortune as a result.

Bowler only lived in this house until 1773, when he sold it to William Vernon, another merchant who was involved in the American Revolution. However, unlike Bowler, Vernon remained loyal to the Patriot cause, and in 1777 the Continental Congress appointed him as president of the Eastern Navy Board, effectively making him the de facto equivalent of Secretary of the Navy. In this position, he worked to develop the fledgling American navy, and he even loaned his own money – at little or no interest – to the perpetually cash-strapped government, to enable them to meet some of the many pressing wartime demands.

During the American Revolution, Vernon was directly associated with some of the leading figures of the era. His son William traveled to France in 1778 under the care of John Adams, who was also traveling with his own son, 11-year-old John Quincy Adams. Then in 1780, after the British occupation ended, the Comte de Rochambeau arrived in Newport with 5,500 French soldiers, who remained here while awaiting deployment against the British. Rochambeau used Vernon’s house as his headquarters, and during this time his visitors included the Marquis de Lafayette and George Washington, with Washington arriving here in March 1781 to meet with Rochambeau. Several months later, in June, the French soldiers departed Newport for Virginia, for a campaign that ultimately led to the decisive American and French victory at Yorktown in October.

In the years following the American Revolution, William Vernon continued to live here in this house. His son Samuel served in the war, and in 1784 married his cousin Elizabeth Almy. The couple lived here with his father, and had eleven children, nine of whom survived infancy. In the meantime, the younger William remained in France for many years, where he became a favorite in the court of Louis XVI. He remained in France through the French Revolution, but returned to Newport in 1796, bringing with him a significant collection of paintings that included a copy of the Mona Lisa that is reputed to have been painted by Leonardo da Vinci himself.

Both of the Vernon brothers were prominent men in Newport, with Samuel running a prosperous merchant business and serving as president of the Newport Bank and the Newport Insurance Company, while William was the secretary of the Redwood Library for many years. They inherited the property after their father’s death in 1806, owning it until William’s death in 1833 and Samuel’s a year later. However, the house would remain in the Vernon family until it was finally sold in 1872, 99 years after William Vernon purchased it from Metcalf Bowler.

For the rest of the 19th century, the house was used as offices. Tenants included prominent geologist Raphael Pumpelly, as well as architect Clarence S. Luce, both of whom had offices in the building in the early 1880s. In 1912, about a decade after the first photo was taken, the house was purchased by the Charity Organization Society, who did some restoration work. It was later the home of the Family Service Society until the 1960s, when it was sold and again became a private residence.

Because of its historic and architectural significance, Vernon House was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968. Since then, it has been well-preserved, and there are hardly any noticeable differences between the photos aside from minor details such as the shutters, which may not have been original to the house anyway. The house remained privately owned until 2009, when it was donated to the Newport Restoration Foundation. This organization has preserved a number of historic properties in downtown Newport, and it continues to own Vernon House and rent it out as a residence.

Governor’s Carriage, Newport, Rhode Island

A group of men pose in front of the Old Colony House in Newport, around 1880. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

The Providence Public Library’s information on this photo does not provide any context for the first photo, aside from the title of “Governor’s Carriage Newport” and the approximate date of 1880. It does not seem clear, for example, why this carefully-posed photo would include the governor’s carriage yet not the governor himself, but it was taken in front of the Colony House, which at the time functioned as one of Rhode Island’s two state houses, with the other being located in Providence.

As mentioned in an earlier post, the Colony House was built in 1741, and was the work of Newport architect Richard Munday. The exterior was heavily influenced by the work of Christoper Wren, and the interior featured an open hall on the first floor and legislative chambers on the upper floor. For many years, Rhode Island did not have a fixed capital city, with the legislature instead holding sessions on a rotating basis in each of the state’s five county seats. When in Newport, the legislature met here in this building, and continued doing so even after 1854, when the rotation was reduced to just Providence and Newport.

This unusual arrangement continued throughout the 19th century, and the building was still in use by the state government when the first photo was taken around 1880. The practice of alternating legislative sessions finally ended in 1900, though, and Providence became the state’s sole capital city. For the next 26 years, though, the building was used as the courthouse for Newport County, until the current county courthouse was completed in 1926. Located directly to the right of the Colony House, the new courthouse was built with a Colonial Revival style that bears strong resemblance to its predecessor, and the two buildings still stand side-by-side at the eastern end of Washington Square.

Although no longer used as either a state house or as a county courthouse, the building is still owned by the state, and has been a part of several important events over the years. In 1957, President Eisenhower – who spent several summers here in Newport while serving as president – gave a short speech from the front steps here, and 40 years later both the exterior and interior of the building were used for scenes in the 1997 film Amsted, which was set in 1840s New Haven but filmed here in Newport because of the city’s well-preserved historic downtown.

Today, the Colony House is considered a landmark of Georgian-style architecture, and it is one of the best-preserved public buildings of its era in America. The building was already around 140 years old when the first photo was taken, and nearly 140 years have elapsed since then, but there is essentially no difference in its appearance between the two photos. In recognition of this, it was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1960, and the building is currently operated as a museum by the Newport Historical Society.