Josiah Day House, West Springfield, Mass (1)

The Josiah Day House on Park Street in West Springfield, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The house in 2016:

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This house is the oldest existing building in West Springfield, and probably the oldest brick building in Hampden County. It was built by Josiah Day in 1754 as a rare example of a brick saltbox-style house, and is probably the oldest such house in the United States. The house actually predates West Springfield itself, which had been settled in 1660 as part of Springfield, but was not actually incorporated as a separate town until 1774. By this point, the village on the west side of the river, with its fertile soil for farming, had grown larger and more prosperous than Springfield itself, and for many years its residents had been calling for separation.

Josiah Day was one of the residents who had petitioned the colonial General Court of Massachusetts for separation from Springfield, but he never lived to see West Springfield become its own town. He died in 1770, and his son Aaron inherited the house. Aaron and his wife Eunice moved into the house after their marriage in 1775, just months before the start of the American Revolution.

Although far removed from any major battles, the Day house nonetheless saw several important events relating to the war. In January 1776, Henry Knox passed in front of the house along his journey from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston. He and his men were hauling 60 tons of cannons to fortify Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston, and just two months later these guns forced the British to evacuate Boston. Two years later, the Day House saw the results of another American victory in the war. Following the British defeat at Saratoga, General Riedesel and his Hessian troops were captured and marched to Boston, and along the way they stopped and encamped here in West Springfield on October 30 and 31, 1777, on the common in front of the house.

The closest that the Day House came to witnessing direct military action came nearly a decade later, during Shays’ Rebellion. This uprising, which took place in western Massachusetts in 1786-1787, was the result of high taxes and foreclosures against farmers in the region, and during this time the rebels succeeded in closing courthouses to prevent foreclosure cases from coming to trial. Although Daniel Shays of Pelham was the primary leader of the uprising, Luke Day of West Springfield was also one of the leaders. Luke and Aaron Day were second cousins, and while planning for the assault on the Springfield Arsenal, the climactic event of the rebellion, Luke trained his soldiers on the common in front of the house. According to local tradition, he also used his cousin’s house as his headquarters while he planned the attack.

In the meantime, Aaron and Eunice Day continued living in this house for decades. In 1810, they expanded the house with a wooden addition in the back for their oldest son, Aaron, Jr., who had married Anne Ely that year. Eunice died in 1818 and Aaron, Sr. in 1827, and the house was passed down to the younger Aaron. He and Anne raised their six children here, and Lydia, their last surviving child, lived in the house until her death in 1897. A few years later, the house was sold by the Day family after four consecutive generations of ownership.

While so many other colonial buildings in the area were being demolished around the turn of the 20th century, the Day House was purchased by the Ramapogue Historical Society, around the same time that the first photo was taken. This early effort at historic preservation has been successful, and today the house is still owned by the society. It is open to the public as a museum, and the interior is furnished with antiques from the 18th and 19th centuries, many of which had once belonged to members of the Day family.

Frary House, Deerfield, Mass

The Frary House on Old Main Street in Deerfield, around 1900-1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2016:

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The Old Deerfield Historic District is a National Historic Landmark, which is the highest level of recognition on the National Register of Historic Places. The well-preserved New England village features 53 historic buildings, with over 30 that date back to the American Revolution or earlier. Among these is the Frary House, seen here in these photographs.

When the first photo was taken, the house was believed to have been built in 1698 by Samson Frary, one of the original settlers of Deerfield. However, dendrochronology has since shown that it was built around 1758, although it is possible that portions of the house may date back to 1698. If so, it would make it one of possibly two houses that predate the 1704 Indian attack on the village. Either way, though, the house is unquestionably old, and historically significant.

The left side of the building is the oldest, and dates back to about 1758, when it was owned by Salah Barnard. He operated a tavern out of the house, and in 1775 Benedict Arnold stopped here on his way north to capture Fort Ticonderoga. The American Revolution had started just weeks earlier, and Deerfield had a large number of loyalist residents, yet Arnold managed to acquire provisions for his men here at the tavern while at the same time maintaining the secrecy of his mission.

The most significant change to the building came around 1795, when Barnard added a larger tavern to the right side of the building. Like many other New England taverns of the era, it not only provided food, drink, and lodging for visitors; it also served as the social center of the town, and would have been used as a meeting place for a variety of local events. Salah Barnard died the same year that the addition was completed, and his son Erastus inherited the building and operated the tavern for the next ten years, until he moved away from Deerfield.

The property was eventually purchased in 1890 by Charlotte Alice Baker, a descendant of Samson Frary, the building’s purported original owner. She hired the Boston architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge to restore it to its original colonial appearance, and the work was complete by the time the first photo was taken. Today, the Frary House/Barnard Tavern is owned by Historic Deerfield, a museum that owns a number of historic properties in the village.

Along with the Frary House and Barnard Tavern, this scene shows one other historic home. Just to the right of the tavern is the Nims House, which predates the Frary House by over a decade The original house on this site was built around 1685 by Godfrey Nims, but was destroyed in the 1704 Indian raid. It was rebuilt in 1710, and portions of this house might still be standing, but most of the present-day home dates back to sometime between the 1720s and 1740s. It remained in the Nims family until the 1890s, and it is now owned by Deerfield Academy, who uses it for faculty housing.

Wadsworth House, Cambridge, Mass

The Wadsworth House on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, around 1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The house in 2016:

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The Wadsworth House is the second-oldest building at Harvard, after the nearby Massachusetts Hall. It was built in 1726 for college president Benjamin Wadsworth, who lived here until his death in 1737. For over a century, eight additional Harvard presidents lived here, with the last being Edward Everett, who was president here from 1846 to 1849, in the midst of a lengthy political career that included serving as a Congressman, Governor of Massachusetts, Ambassador to the United Kingdom, US Senator, and US Secretary of State. However, the most prominent resident of this house was George Washington. It served as his first headquarters when he arrived in Cambridge to take command of the Continental Army in July 1775, and he stayed here for two weeks before moving into the John Vassall House on Brattle Street.

Although no longer the home of the Harvard president, the Wadsworth House is still part of the campus and is used for offices. Over the years there have been some additions to the side and back, but overall the nearly 300 year old building remains an excellent example of early 18th century Georgian architecture.

Christ Church, Cambridge, Mass

Christ Church on Garden Street in Cambridge, on October 25, 1929. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leon Abdalian Collection.

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The church in 2016:

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This church, which is also visible in the previous post, is the oldest existing church building in Cambridge. It was completed in 1761 and designed by Peter Harrison, who was the first formally trained architect to work in the future United States. It is one of only a few existing buildings that he definitely designed, along with King’s Chapel in Boston and several others in Newport, Rhode Island. Like King’s Chapel, and unlike most colonial New England churches, Christ Church was Anglican, and was intended to serve the town’s small but wealthy Anglican population along with students at nearby Harvard. Early in the American Revolution, Cambridge served as George Washington’s headquarters during the Siege of Boston. Many of the Anglicans here were Loyalists who fled the city, and the church closed for several years. However, George and Martha Washington, who were Anglicans themselves, did attend a service here in 1775.

The building reopened in 1790, and along with the Washingtons, the church has seen a number of other distinguished visitors. In 1879, Harvard student Theodore Roosevelt taught Sunday School here until a new pastor asked him to stop, because he was Dutch Reformed rather than Episcopalian. Nearly a century later, the church was more accommodating to Martin Luther King, Jr., who held a press conference here after Harvard refused to allow him to use one of their buildings.

Aside from an 1857 expansion to accommodate its growing congregation, the church has remained true to Harrison’s original design, and over 250 years later it is still in use as an Episcopalian church. Because of its historical and architectural significance, it has been designated as a National Historic Landmark, which is the highest level of recognition on the National Register of Historic Places.

Old Burying Ground, Cambridge, Mass

The Old Burying Ground in Cambridge, across from Harvard Yard, around 1899. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The cemetery in 2016:

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Cambridge was first settled in 1631, just a year after Boston, at a location a little further up the Charles River from Boston. Originally given the creative name of Newe Towne, the settlement centered around the Harvard Square area, and this was the town’s only cemetery for nearly 200 years. The first burials here date back  to around 1635, but headstones were not common at the time, so the oldest one still standing is dated 1653.

Most of the headstones here are from the late 17th and 18th centuries, with very few after the early 19th century. Because it was the town’s only cemetery, the burials here represent people from all classes and walks of life. Some of the prominent citizens have more elaborate monuments, such as the table stone in the foreground, which marks the grave of Colonel John Vassall, who died in 1747.

Today, the historic gravestone remains essentially unchanged since the first photo was taken some 117 years ago. In the background is Christ Church, one of two churches that borders the cemetery on either end. It was built in 1760, and although partially hidden by trees in the 2016 scene, it is still standing as one of the few surviving works of prominent colonial architect Peter Harrison.

Massachusetts Hall, Cambridge, Mass (2)

Another view of Massachusetts Hall at Harvard University, taken around 1886. Image from Harvard and Its Surroundings (1886).

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The building in 2016:

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As explained in more detail in the previous post, Massachusetts Hall is the oldest building still standing at Harvard, and has housed many notable figures over the years, including future president John Adams. While the previous post shows the south side of the building, this scene is of the north side, with the Johnston Gate partially visible in the distance. The building was originally a dormitory, but by the time the first photo was taken it had been converted into offices and lecture rooms. Today, the exterior looks the same, as does the section of Matthews Hall visible on the far left. Inside, though, the first three floors are now used for administrative offices, including those of the university president, and the top floor is a dormitory for 14 students. Like the rest of the dorms at Harvard Yard, it is used exclusively for freshman housing.