Gay Mansion, Suffield, Connecticut

The house at 222 North Main Street in Suffield, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library, WPA Architectural Survey Collection.

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The house in 2017:

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One of the finest 18th century homes in Suffield is the Gay Mansion, which was built in 1795 for Ebenezer King, Jr. He was a very wealthy man, with a net worth of reportedly over $100,000 (nearly $1.5 million today), and this is reflected in his Federal-style mansion. Around the same time that this house was built, King was an investor in the Suffield, Cuyahoga, & Big Beaver Land Company. This company, comprised of a number of other Suffield men, owned entire townships in the Western Reserve, a section of northern Ohio that was, at the time, claimed by Connecticut.

Unfortunately for King, he eventually lost much of his money, and had to sell his mansion in 1811. It was purchased by William Gay, a prominent lawyer and the son of Ebenezer Gay, who had been the longtime pastor of the Congregational church. Aside from his law practice, William Gay was also the postmaster of the town for 35 years, and for much of that time the post office was located here in his living room. After his death in 1844, two of his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, continued to live here. They never married, and after their deaths in the 1880s the house was inherited by the children of their sister Deborah.

The house remained in the Gay family for over 100 years, and by the start of the 20th century it was still filled with old family heirlooms and other antiques. It was even featured in a Good Housekeeping article in 1907, because of its extraordinary level of preservation on both the inside and outside. In 1916, it was sold to Daniel R. Kennedy, Jr., the pastor of the Congregational Church, and he was still living here a couple decades later when the first photo was taken. Very little has changed in the appearance of the house, and it is now owned by Suffield Academy and used as the residence of the headmaster.

Harvey Bissell House, Suffield, Connecticut

The house at 82 North Main Street in Suffield, around 1935-1939. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library, WPA Architectural Survey Collection.

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The house in 2017:

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Harvey Bissell was originally from Windsor, but around 1815 he built this house in the center of Suffield. It features Federal-style elements that were often seen in upscale homes of the day, including the ornate lintels over the windows, the quoins on the corners, and the Palladian window above the front door. The house also once had a two-story front porch, as seen in the first photo, although it is unclear whether this was an original part of the design. This porch as gone by 1939, when the house was photographed for HABS.

A year after the completion of the house, Harvey Bissell married Arabella Leavitt, and the couple had six children, one of whom died young. He was a storekeeper here in Suffield, but he and his family later moved to Hartford, Vermont. The 1850 census lists him as a farmer, with real estate valued at $40,000, equivalent to over $1.1 million today. He died that same year at the age of 63, and Arabella later moved to Lawrence, Kansas with several of her children.

Now over 200 years old, the house has undergone significant changes in recent years. In 2011, a large addition was built in the back of the original building and became Suffield Commons, a luxury apartment complex for seniors. The architecture of the addition matches the Bissell House, and the original 1815 section has been renovated into a restaurant.

Henry Sterns House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 48 Madison Avenue in Springfield, around 1893. Image from Sketches of the old inhabitants and other citizens of old Springfield (1893).

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The house in 2017:

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Henry Sterns was born in 1794 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, but came to Springfield as a young child. He went on to become a prosperous merchant, and in 1826 he married into the prominent Dwight family. His wife, Sophia, was the daughter of the late James Scutt Dwight, who himself had been a wealthy merchant. The following year, the couple moved into this house, which at the time was located closer to Central Street.

The house is built of brick, with a relatively simple Federal-style design that was typical for the time. It was designed by Simon Sanborn, a prolific master builder who constructed a number of buildings in early 19th century Springfield, including the Alexander House. At the time, the Maple Hill section of Springfield was lightly developed, and Sterns’s home was situated on a large lot on the north side of Central Street. Covered in trees, the land became known as Sterns’s Woods, and abutted the land that would later become Springfield Cemetery.

Sterns lived in this house for the rest of his life, during which time he continued to be a successful businessman, and eventually served as treasurer for the Springfield Institution for Savings from 1849 to 1858. He died in 1859, and within the next decade Springfield experienced a rapid population growth. With increasing demand for new houses, the property was subdivided. Two new streets, Sterns Terrace and Madison Avenue, were developed, with one on either side of the house. Around 1870, the house itself was moved to the back of the lot, and became 48 Madison Avenue. The Charles L. Goodhue House, which still stands at 216 Central Street, was later built on the original site of the Sterns House.

By the time the first photo was taken, the house was in its new location, and was the home of jeweler William W. White and his wife Ellen. He died in the 1890s, and by the 1900 census Ellen was living here with her daughter and granddaughter. She also rented to boarders, and four were living here at the time. Among them was a newspaper editor, a proofreader, and an inspector at the Armory.

The old house has since seen a number of other owners, but it is still standing, nearly two centuries after Henry and Sophia Sterns moved in. Very little has changed with the exterior, and its plain design stands out in a neighborhood otherwise dominated by far more elaborate homes from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The city has very clearly grown up around the house, but it survives as a reminder of a long-lost time when Springfield’s wealthy residents lived on large, wooded estates on the outskirts of the downtown area. It is one of the oldest buildings in the city, and it is part of the city’s Maple Hill Local Historic District.

The Maplewood, Pittsfield, Mass (2)

Another view of The Maplewood, seen from the corner of North Street and Maplewood Avenue in Pittsfield, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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This view shows several of the buildings at The Maplewood, a resort hotel in the Berkshires that had once been a private school for girls. As mentioned in the previous post, a school was established here as early as the 1820s, with several of the buildings dating back to this time period. By 1884, though, the Maplewood Young Ladies Institute had closed, and the buildings were converted into a hotel.

The hotel closed in 1936, and most of the buildings were demolished by 1940. The property was redeveloped, and modern commercial building now stands on the site at the corner of North Street and Maplewood Avenue. The hotel’s only surviving building is one of the original 1820s Federal-style school buildings. It is partially visible in the distance of the first photo, on the eastern side of the property, and today it still stands on the other side of the trees in the distance. After having been used first as a school and then as a hotel, it has since been redeveloped into condominiums.

Park Square, Pittsfield, Mass (3)

Facing north across Park Square in Pittsfield, around 1900. Image from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and Vicinity (1900).

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Park Square in 2016:

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It is hard to tell in the present-day photo because of the trees, but all three of these historic buildings on the north side of Park Square are still here today. In the center is Pittsfield’s old town hall, a plain brick Federal-style building that was completed in 1832. After Pittsfield became a city in 1891, it remained in use as city hall until 1968, when the city government moved a few blocks away to the old post office.

The old town hall is flanked on either side by stone Gothic Revival churches, both of which were designed by prominent architects. To the left is the First Church, which was designed by Leopold Eidlitz and built in 1853 on the site of an earlier 18th century church building. On the other side is St. Stephen’s Church, designed by the Boston firm of Peabody and Stearns. Although architecturally similar to the First Church, it is significantly newer, having been completed in 1889.

Today, all three of these buildings are well-preserved and relatively unchanged from when the first photo was taken. The two churches are both still in active use, and the old town hall is now an office building for the Berkshire Insurance Group. In 1975, the buildings were added to the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Park Square Historic District.

First Church, Deerfield, Mass

The First Church of Deerfield on Old Main Street, around 1891. Image from Picturesque Franklin (1891).

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The church in 2016:

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Deerfield’s Old Main Street is a remarkably well-preserved New England village, with a number of historic homes and other buildings dating back to the 18th and early 19th centuries. The entire village is included in the Old Deerfield Historic District, which is listed as a National Historic Landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. One of the most prominent buildings in the district is the First Church of Deerfield, also known as the Brick Church. Although not as old as many of the nearby homes, the church has been at the center of the village for nearly 200 years.

It was built in 1824 and designed by architect Winthrop Clapp, although it was virtually a copy of the Second Congregational Church in Greenfield, which had been built in 1819 about three miles away. The Greenfield church had been designed by Isaac Damon, whose other works included churches in Springfield, Northampton, and Southwick. Although he did not actually design the Deerfield church, his influence is still evident, and it bears a strong resemblance his other churches.

Damon’s Greenfield church has long since been demolished and replaced with the present-day building, but the Deerfield church is still standing. Its interior was restored to its original appearance in 1916, and today the building still houses an active Unitarian-Universalist congregation. The brick exterior has remained essentially the same as it was when it was built, and its surroundings have also changed very little, with the village still retaining its appearance as a small, colonial-era community.