Thomas Bliss House, Longmeadow, Mass

The Thomas Bliss House on Longmeadow Street, on May 5, 1910. Image courtesy of the Longmeadow Historical Society, Emerson Collection.

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The house in 2016:

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This house is so old that it was actually built in Springfield, years before Longmeadow became a separate town. It is one of many historic 18th century homes still standing in Longmeadow, and although its exact date of construction is uncertain, it was built sometime between 1714 and 1758 for Thomas Bliss, on the opposite side of the street. When Bliss died in 1758, his son Henry sold it to Nathaniel Ely, who operated a tavern out of here. It was used as a tavern until 1833 , and was later moved across the street to its present location.

One of the subsequent owners was Dr. Lester Noble, a dentist who played a role in the high-profile 1849 murder of Dr. George Parkman. Along with fellow Longmeadow dentist Dr. Nathan Keep, Noble used dental records to identify Parkman’s badly mutilated body, making it one of the first trials to use dental evidence. Dr. Noble died a few years before the first photo was taken in 1910. At this point, the house was owned by Cora M. Page, and it featured a porch on the front and side, along with several outbuildings behind it. The porch is partially gone now, as are the barns/sheds in the background, but the historic house is still standing, and at possibly 300 years old it is one of the oldest buildings in Longmeadow.

Burnham Tavern, Machias, Maine (2)

Another view of the Burnham Tavern, taken on June 17, 1937. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

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The building in 2015:

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This view shows the rear of Burnham, which as explained in the previous post was built in 1770 and played a role in the planning of the Battle of Machias, one of the first naval battles of the American Revolution.  Today, the building is well-preserved, and is maintained by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution as a museum, complete with period furnishings on the interior.  The first photo shows its appearance when it was documented for the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1937, and its exterior is virtually unchanged in the nearly 80 years since.  The only noticeable difference is the use of painted shingles instead of clapboards; this is actually in keeping with 18th century customs of putting clapboard on the front and shingles on the sides and back.

Burnham Tavern, Machias, Maine (1)

Burnham Tavern in Machias, seen on June 17, 1937. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

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The building in 2015:

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This building is so old that it was built in a different state.  Maine was part of Massachusetts until 1820, and this tavern not only predates Maine statehood, but it also predates the American Revolution by several years.  Despite its remote location on the extreme eastern edge of the United States, it played a role early on in the Revolution, and it remains preserved as a historic landmark over 240 years later.

Burnham Tavern was built in 1770, just seven years after the area was first settled by English colonists.  Five years later, the American Revolution started, and the tavern was used to plan what became the second naval battle of the war.  In June 1775, a group of local militiamen led by Jeremiah O’Brien and Benjamin Foster captured the British schooner HMS Margaretta.  The Margaretta was renamed the Machias Liberty, and in August it and another captured vessel were commissioned as the first two ships in the Massachusetts navy.

In part because of its proximity to the British colonies in present-day Canada, Machias became a base of operations for privateers who captured British merchant vessels during the war.  In response, the British launched an attack in August 1777, with an invasion force of 123 marines and four of the most harmless-sounding ships in naval history: the HMS Rainbow, HMS Blonde, HMS Mermaid, and HMS Hope.  Undeterred by such intimidating ship names, local militiamen and Native American allies drove off the ships, and Machias survived the war without any additional attacks.

The building’s historic significance was already understood by the time the 1937 photo was taken, when it was documented for the Historic American Buildings Survey.  Not much has changed since then, down to the sign hanging on the right side of the building.  It retains much of its 18th century appearance, both on the outside and on the inside, and it is operated as a museum by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

First Church of Christ, Wethersfield, Connecticut

The First Church of Christ in Wethersfield, photographed on July 29, 1940. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

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The church in 2015:

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The First Church of Christ in Wethersfield is one of the oldest existing church buildings in the Connecticut River Valley.  Along with Hartford and Windsor, Wethersfield was one of the original three towns in the colony of Connecticut, and today its Old Wethersfield Historic District includes around 100 colonial-era buildings.  The church was built in 1761, and like many New England churches of the era the main entrance is on the side of the building, with the pews facing the left-hand side of the building instead of the back.  Its steeple also reflects mid-18th century tastes, and it is nearly identical to the one on Old North Church in Boston.

Wethersfield is located along two of the three main routes of the old Boston Post Road, which connected New York and Boston, so over the years this church has had several notable visitors, including future presidents George Washington, who attended a service here on May 20, 1781, and John Adams, who climbed the steeple in 1774 while on his way to the First Continental Congress.  Washington’s visit was part of a five day stay in Wethersfield, when he met with French General Rochambeau at the nearby Joseph Webb House to plan the Siege of Yorktown.

At first glance, the church doesn’t appear to have changed much in the past 75 years, but there are a few differences.  In the 1880s, the church was renovated to bring it more in line with Victorian-era styles, which included long stained glass windows that extended almost from the ground to the roofline.  The building is partially hidden by trees in both photos, but some of the windows are visible in the 1940 photo.  In the early 1970s, the tall Victorian windows were removed as part of an extensive restoration that returned the building to its original 1761 appearance, so today the historic church doesn’t look much different from when John Adams stopped by on his way to Philadelphia, or when George Washington planned the final battle of the American Revolution across the street.

Warner House, Portsmouth, NH

The Warner House, at the corner of Daniel and Chapel Streets in Portsmouth, around 1902. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company.

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The building in 2015:

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Also known as the MacPheadris-Warner House, this historic house is the oldest brick building in Portsmouth and the oldest urban brick house in northern New England.  It was built between 1716 and 1718 for Captain Archibald MacPheadris, one of many 18th century sea captains who helped to bring prosperity to Portsmouth.  His wife Sarah was the sister of New Hampshire Governor Benning Wentworth, and after Captain MacPheadris’s death and Sarah’s remarriage, she moved into her new husband’s house, and Governor Wentworth lived here for much of his time as governor.

Archibald and Sarah’s daughter Mary inherited the house, and in 1760 she married Jonathan Warner, the widower of her late cousin, also named Mary.  Jonathan Warner was the son of Daniel Warner, who built the Buckminster House.  This house remained in the Warner family until the 1930s, when it was sold for the first time since MacPheadris moved in.  An oil company was interested in the property to build a gas station, but in response the Warner House Association was formed to purchase and preserve the house, which it continues to do today.

John Paul Jones House, Portsmouth, NH

The John Paul Jones House at the corner of Middle and State Streets in Portsmouth, around 1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The house in 2015:

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Like the nearby Buckminster House, this historic house is named for someone who only lived here for a few years, in this case Revolutionary War naval hero John Paul Jones.  Jones never actually owned the house, but he lived here as a boarder from 1781 to 1782.  The house was built in 1758 by Hopestill Cheswell, an African-American housewright who was responsible for constructing several other buildings in Portsmouth.  The original owners were Captain Gregory and Sarah Purcell, and following Gregory’s death in 1776, Sarah rented rooms to boarders until she died in 1783.

John Paul Jones rented the room on the second floor on the right-hand side of the building, living here while supervising construction of the USS America on nearby Badger’s Island.  The America was to be the US Navy’s first ship of the line, and the largest warship built in the United States to that point, and Jones was in line to be her first commanding officer.  However, shortly before the America was launched, the French ship of the line Magnifique was wrecked off the coast of Boston, so Congress voted to give the America to France as compensation, and as a gesture of appreciation.  Jones stayed in Portsmouth until the ship was completed, and although he never got to take command, it was probably a good thing, because she was in the French navy for just over three years before being scrapped, due to extensive dry rot caused by using green wood in the ship’s hurried construction.

Unlike the ship that he almost commanded, the house that he lived in still survives, over 250 years after the Purcells first moved in.  The house has a “For Sale” sign in the 1907 photo, and it would change hands at least one more time in 1919, when it was sold to the Portsmouth Historical Society.  Today, it is still owned by the Historical Society, and is open to the public for tours.