Unitarian Church, Springfield, Mass

The Unitarian church at the corner of State and Willow Streets in Springfield, probably sometime in the 1860s. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

 

For nearly 200 years, the Congregational Church was essentially the only church in Springfield. Aside from small groups of religious minorities such as Baptists and Methodists, who arrived at the turn of the 19th century, nearly all of Springfield’s residents were affiliated with the First Church. However, this hegemony began to break apart in the early 19th century, when the New England Congregationalists saw a schism between the traditional Trinitarians and the newer, theologically-liberal Unitarians.

Here in Springfield, the First Church had two fairly liberal pastors throughout much of the 18th century, beginning with Robert Breck, who served from 1736 to 1784. Breck’s ordination had been highly controversial, due to the perceived unorthodox beliefs of the young clergyman. He was popular among the Springfield congregants, but many of the pastors of surrounding towns – including Jonathan Edwards of Northampton – had advised against him, and some of his opponents had Breck arrested for heresy on the day of his scheduled ordination.

The charges against Breck were ultimately dropped, and he was duly ordained, serving the church for nearly 50 years. After his death, he was replaced by another young liberal pastor, Bezaleel Howard, who served for 18 years before announcing his resignation in 1803, due to poor health. He agreed to remain with the church until his replacement was found, but this process likely took longer than Howard had anticipated. By this point, the Unitarian-Trinitarian controversy had become the dominant issue in New England churches, and it took six years – and 37 candidates – before Samuel Osgood was selected as pastor in 1809.

Osgood, a 24-year-old Dartmouth graduate, had been the unanimous choice of the congregation, who had viewed him as being theologically liberal. However, as the divide grew between the two factions, Osgood ultimately favored the orthodox Trinitarian theology, alienating some of the most influential citizens of Springfield in the process. The majority of the church sided with Osgood, but the Unitarians were both vocal and wealthy, and included prominent businessmen such as merchant Jonathan Dwight, Sr. As a result, around 117 Unitarians separated from the First Church in 1819, forming the Third Congregational Society of Springfield. This name came from the fact that Chicopee, home of the Second Congregational Church, was still a part of Springfield at the time.

Later in 1819, the Unitarians moved into this newly-completed church building at the corner of State and Willow Streets. Both the land and the building had been donated by Jonathan Dwight, and the building was designed by local architect Simon Sanborn. It bore a strong resemblance to the new First Church building, which had been completed several weeks earlier at Court Square, and it reflected the Greek Revival style of architecture, which was becoming popular for churches and other public buildings during this era.

The first pastor of the Unitarian church was William B. O. Peabody, who was just 21 years old when he was ordained in October 1820. He served the church for the next 27 years, until his death in 1847, and during this time he also had a successful career as an author. He wrote several books, plus a number of poems and hymns, and he was also a regular contributor to the North American Review literary magazine. None of Peabody’s 19th century successors were able to match his longevity with the congregation, but the second-longest pastorate here in this church building was that of Francis Tiffany, who served from 1852 until 1864, when he left to accept a position as professor of English and rhetoric at Antioch College in Ohio. Like Peabody, he also became a published author, writing a biography of social reformer Dorothea Dix in 1890.

The Unitarians worshiped here in this building for nearby 50 years, but by the 1860s they had begun planning the construction of a new building further up the hill, opposite where the Springfield City Library now stands. In the process, they helped to start the career of Henry H. Richardson, who would become one of the most influential architects in American history. Although he did not have any major commissions at the time, Richardson was allowed to enter the design competition thanks to Chester W. Chapin, a railroad and bank executive who was a prominent member of the Unitarian church. Chapin’s son-in-law had attended college with Richardson, and this connection enabled the young architect to submit his plans for a new church, which were ultimately the ones chosen in the competition. The new building, known as the Church of the Unity, was completed in 1869, and Richardson’s work helped to establish his reputation as an architect.

The other building in the first photo, just to the right of the church, is the Springfield Bank. This brick, two-story Greek Revival structure was built around in 1814, the same year that the Springfield Bank was established as the first bank here in Springfield. It was one of the many business interests of Jonathan Dwight, who was one of its founders and its first president, serving from 1814 to 1817. The building was also the first home of the Springfield Institution for Savings, which was established in 1827. It was the first savings bank in Springfield, and it shared this building with the Springfield Bank until 1849, when it moved into the newly-completed Foot Block at the corner of Main and State Streets. In the meantime, the Springfield Bank remained here in this building until 1863, when it was reorganized as the Second National Bank. This new bank relocated three years later, and the old building later became a store owned by grain merchant John W. Wilder.

Only four years after the Unitarians moved up the hill to their new building, the old church burned down on the night of October 12, 1873. The site was later redeveloped with a large brick commercial building known as the Kirkham and Olmstead Block, which was in turn replaced by the two-story building that is now standing here. However, the old bank building survived well into the 20th century, despite being converted to other commercial use. The 1920 atlas shows it still standing, but it was demolished sometime before 1933, when the Art Deco-style Springfield Safe Deposit and Trust Company building was completed on the site. This building, now the Community Music School, is still here today, and is visible on the far right side of the 2017 photo.

First Congregational Church, Chicopee, Mass

The First Congregational Church on Chicopee Street in Chicopee, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

Today, this church is known as the First Congregational Church of Chicopee, but the building actually predates Chicopee by several decades. It was completed in 1826 as the Second Congregational Church of Springfield, back when the present-day city of Chicopee was the northern section of Springfield. This section of Chicopee Street, located just east of the Connecticut River, was the site of the earliest settlement in Chicopee, in the second half of the 17th century. For around 75 years, residents of the village had to travel more than five miles to the center of Springfield in order to attend church services, but a new church was established here in 1751. The first meeting house was completed the following year, and stood here until it was replaced with the current church.

The new church came at the request of newly-installed pastor Alexander Phoenix, who agreed to become the pastor of the church only if the old building was repaired or rebuilt. The congregation chose the latter option, spending $4,400 to construct a new church.  The work was done by Alva Whitmarsh and Seba Shepherd, who were associates of noted builder and architect Isaac Damon. Their design reflected the Greek Revival style of architecture, which was becoming popular during this period, particularly for churches and other public buildings, and it also bore a strong resemblance to many of Damon’s own churches, including the First Congregational Church in Springfield.

The first service in the new church was held on January 4, 1826. It was equipped with a stove for heat – something that was still a novelty in many New England churches – but this stove was apparently a source of controversy. Judge E. W. Chapin, in a letter that was read to the church at its annual meeting in 1897, related a story that his mother had told him regarding this stove, writing that “Some woman opposed the innovation, fearing the heat would be too oppressive. The stove, however, was put up, but for some reason no fire was built in it the first Sabbath. This, however, was not known by the woman, who was so overcome by anticipated heat that she was compelled to leave the church during the service.”

In 1841, the church acquired the house immediately to the left of it, in the distance of both photos. This house had been built in 1830 as the home of Silas Stedman, and was later owned by George Hooker before being sold to the church for use as its parsonage. The church was still a part of Springfield at the time, but in 1848 Chicopee was partitioned off as a separate town, and the church became the First Congregational Church of Chicopee. By this point, the main population centers of the town had shifted to the south and east, to the factory villages of Cabotville and Chicopee Falls, but this church building remained in use here at the traditional center of the town.

The first photo shows Chicopee Street as it appeared around 1892, with the church in the center and the parsonage beyond it to the left. Around 125 years later, this scene has not changed dramatically. The trees are gone, the road has been paved, and a newer house now stands on the right side of the church, but overall this scene still looks much the same as it did at the end of the 19th century. Both the church and parsonage remain standing, and both are still owned by the First Church of Chicopee, which continues to worship here nearly 200 years after the building was completed.

Revere House, Brattleboro, Vermont

The Revere House, at the southwest corner of Main and Elliot Streets in Brattleboro, around 1860-1877. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The same location, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene around 2017:

The first photo shows the Revere House, a hotel that was built in 1849 by James Fisk, Sr. Born in Rhode Island, Fisk grew up in Adams, Massachusetts, and as an adult he moved first to Pownal and then to Bennington, Vermont. He became a successful peddler, traveling throughout western New England and eastern New York, where he sold silk dresses and other high-end dry goods. He moved to Brattleboro in 1843, and about six years later he built the Revere House. By this point, the Fisk family included James’s second wife Love, their daughter Mary, and Fisk’s son from his first marriage, James, Jr.

The Fisks moved into the Revere House after its completion, and the younger James, who was about 15 at the time, worked as a waiter here in the hotel. He later joined his father’s peddling business, before becoming a salesman for the Boston-based Jordan Marsh and Company. James, Jr. went on to make his fortune during the Civil War, obtaining contracts with the federal government to supply textiles for army uniforms, while also smuggling scare cotton from the south. With his earnings, he speculated heavily, gaining and losing significant sums in the process.

Fisk eventually became one of the most notorious of the Gilded Age “robber barons.” Using dubious tactics, he and fellow investor Jay Gould managed to gain control of Cornelius Vanderbilt’s Erie Railroad, and in 1869 the two men triggered a nationwide economic panic in an unsuccessful attempt to corner the gold market. However, his career as a financier was cut short less than three years later, when he was murdered by Edward Stiles Stokes, who was a rival for the affections of Fisk’s mistress, Josie Mansfield.

Although Fisk was living in New York City at the time of his murder, his body was returned to Brattleboro for burial. An estimated 5,000 mourners – equivalent to the entire population of the town at the time – were on hand when his funeral train arrived in town at almost midnight, and his body was brought to the Revere House. The next morning, on January 9, 1872, his funeral was held here at the hotel, followed by his burial at the Prospect Hill Cemetery on South Main Street.

By this point, the Fisk family had moved out of the Revere House, and the building burned down only a few years later, in 1877, after a fire broke out in the hotel stables. The site was quickly rebuilt, though, and the current building was completed in 1880 as the home of the People’s National Bank. Unlike the plain Greek Revival-style hotel that preceded it, this building had an ornate design that was based on High Victorian Gothic architecture, and included an elaborate cornice with turrets, along with a highly contrasting exterior of red brick and white marble.

When the first photo was taken, People’s National Bank occupied the left side of the ground floor, with Brattleboro Savings Bank on the right. The upper floors housed professional offices, including the studio of noted local photographer Caleb L. Howe. People’s National Bank remained here until 1923, when they merged with Vermont National Bank, which was located directly across the street from here. After a series of mergers, the name has since come full circle, and the former Vermont National Bank building is now the location of a People’s United Bank branch.

Today, the old People’s National Bank building still stands here at the corner of Main and Elliot Streets. Its appearance has been somewhat altered over the years, most notably with the removal of the upper part of the cornice. However, it still remains a unique example of High Victorian Gothic architecture in downtown Brattleboro, and it is one of the many 19th century commercial buildings that still line Main Street. Along with the rest of the neighborhood, the building is now part of the Brattleboro Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

John Ames House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 398 Maple Street in Springfield, around 1893. Image from Sketches of the old inhabitants and other citizens of old Springfield (1893).

The scene in 2017:

This house was built in 1828 by David Ames, Sr., a prominent paper manufacturer who had previously served as the first superintendent of the Springfield Armory, from 1794 to 1802. He lived in a modest house nearby on Mill Street, at the foot of Maple Street, but in the mid-1820s his son, David Ames, Jr., built a large mansion atop the hill on Maple Street, which came to be known as Ames Hill. Shortly after, in 1828, David Ames, Sr. built this architecturally-similar house for his son John, who was about 28 years old at the time.

John was, along with his brother David, involved with their father’s paper company, and he invented and patented a number of papermaking machines. However, he never actually lived here in this house. It was completed around the same time that he was engaged to be married, and he was supposed to live here with his new wife. The wedding ultimately did not happen, though, and John remained a lifelong bachelor, living in his father’s house on Mill Street until his death in 1890.

In the meantime, this house remained vacant for many years. The grounds occupied the entire triangle of land between Mill, Pine, and Maple Streets, and the house would have been easily visible up the hill when looking out the front windows of the Ames house on Mill Street. Although vacant, it was owned by the Ames family until 1856, when it was sold to Samuel Knox, a lawyer and politician from St. Louis.

Originally from Blandford, Massachusetts, Samuel Knox graduated from Williams College and Harvard Law School, and subsequently moved to St. Louis, where he established his law practice in 1838. He continued to live in Missouri for many years, but in 1856 he purchased this house as a summer residence, and owned it until 1869. During this time, he ran for Congress in 1862, in Missouri’s first congressional district. He lost to incumbent Francis Preston Blair, Jr., but Knox contested the results, and in 1864 he was declared the winner, with less than nine months remaining in his term. He served the rest of his term, but lost re-election in 1864 and subsequently returned to his law practice. He sold this house a few years later, but he would eventually move back to Massachusetts permanently, living in his native Blandford until his death in 1905, and he was buried only a short distance away from here in Springfield Cemetery.

In 1869, this house was purchased by George R. Dickinson. Like the original owner of the house, he was a paper manufacturer, and ran the George R. Dickinson Paper Company in Holyoke. Born and raised in Readsboro, Vermont, Dickinson later moved to Holyoke, and in 1859 he married his first wife, Mary Jane Clark. They had one child, Henry Smith Dickinson, who was born in 1863, but Mary died several days later. The following year, George remarried to Mary’s sister, Harriet, and they had a son, George R. Dickinson, Jr., who was born around the same time that the family moved into this house.

The younger George drowned in 1876 at the age of seven, but his older half brother Henry grew up here in this house, and eventually joined his father in the paper business. Upon George’s death in 1887, Henry inherited this property and also became president of the George R. Dickinson Paper Company. He remained in this role until 1899, when Dickinson Paper was acquired by the American Writing Paper Company, with Henry becoming the company’s vice president.

Along with his involvement in the paper industry, Henry was also active in politics. In 1884, he served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention, and he was also chairman of the Republican City Committee here in Springfield. He subsequently served as a city alderman in 1889 and as president of the board of alderman in 1890, and he served one term each as a state representative in 1891 and mayor of Springfield in 1898.

When the first photo was taken around 1893, Henry and his wife Estella were living here in this house along with his stepmother Harriet. However, in 1894 Harriet remarried, and by the following year Henry and Estella had house of their own at 192 Pearl Street. In the meantime, Harriet and her second husband, William W. Stewart, remained here in this house. However, Estella died in 1902, and he subsequently remarried to his second wife Agnes. By the 1910 census Henry had returned to this house, where he was living with William, Harriet, Agnes, and the four children from his first marriage: George, Henry, Stuart, and Harriet.

Henry died in 1912, and Harriet in 1915, but the house was still in the family as late as 1919, when Henry’s three sons were living here. However, by the early 1920s the house was the home of George A. MacDonald, the president of the Chicopee National Bank. He was living here as late as the mid 1920s, but by the end of the decade the house was being rented by George W. Ferguson, the pastor of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. During the 1930 census, he and his wife May were living here with May’s three teenage sons from her first marriage, along with four servants.

The Fergusons were living here as late as 1933, but by the following year the house was listed as vacant in the city directory. It was evidently demolished soon after, because it does not appear in late 1930s directories or in the WPA images of Maple Street, which were done in 1938-1939. The site was subsequently redeveloped, and it is now the site of a Colonial Revival-style Mormon church, which was built in 1957. There is no longer any trace of the old house here in his scene, but at least one thing from the first photo is evidently still in existence. The carriage house, barely visible in the distance to the right of the house in the first photo, was apparently moved to East Forest Park and converted into a residence, where it still stands at the corner of Ellsworth Avenue and Gifford Street.

Main and Old South Streets, Northampton, Mass

The south side of Main Street, just east of the corner of Old South Street in Northampton, probably sometime in the 1860s. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

The scene in 2017:

The first photo shows the scene along the south side of Main Street in Northampton, sometime around the 1860s. The four buildings here represent a variety of uses and architectural styles, with two mid-19th century brick commercial blocks on the left, a Georgian-style house in the center, and a Greek Revival-style Edwards Church on the right. The most notable of these buildings was the church, which was built in 1833 at the corner of Main and Old South Streets. Formed as an offshoot of the First Church, it was named in honor of Jonathan Edwards, who had served as pastor of the First Church from 1729 to 1750. The congregation worshipped here in this modest wood-frame church for the next 37 years, until it was destroyed by a fire in 1870.

This same fire also destroyed the adjacent Hunt Building, which was built in 1770 as the home of Dr. Ebenezer Hunt. A 1764 graduate of Harvard, Hunt studied medicine in Springfield under Dr. Charles Pynchon, before returning to his native Northampton in 1768. This house was built two years later, with Georgian-style architecture that was similar the home of his second cousin, John Hunt, that still stands on Elm Street. In 1772, Dr. Hunt married his wife Sarah, and they had eight children, two of whom died in infancy. He lived here for the rest of his life, and during this time he was, in addition to practicing medicine, also active in politics. He served for eight years in the state legislature, in both the House and the Senate, and he was a presidential elector for John Adams in both the 1796 and 1800 elections.

Upon Ebenezer Hunt’s death in 1820, the house was inherited by his son David, who was also a physician. At the time, the property extended as far as Old South Street, but in 1833 David sold the corner lot to the Edwards Church, and the church building was constructed soon after. The house remained in the Hunt family after David’s death in 1837, but by the time the first photo was taken it had been converted to commercial use. The storefront signs are not legible in the first photo, but around the 1860s the ground floor housed three tenants, with a crockery store on the left side, a confectionery and fruit store in the middle, and the dry goods store of Robert J. Fair on the right side. By 1870, Fair’s store occupied the entire ground floor, but on May 19, 1870 he lost nearly his entire stock when both the Hunt Building and the neighboring Edwards Church burned.

After the fire, the Edwards Church constructed a new building a few blocks away at the corner of Main and State Streets, and this site here at the corner of Old South Street was soon rebuilt with new brick commercial blocks. The Columbian Building, located on the right side where he church once stood, was completed in 1871, and two years later McCallum’s Dry Goods opened in a new building on the site of the Hunt house. Both buildings are still standing today, although the latter has undergone significant changes over the years and is now Thornes Marketplace. As for the other two buildings in the first photo, it appears that at least one of them is still standing. The building just to the left of Thornes might be the same one from the first photo, minus its top floor, but if so it has been altered beyond recognition from the exterior. However, the building on the extreme left of the first photo appears to still be there, just with major late 19th century alterations.

Grape Street School, Chicopee, Mass

The Grape Street School at the corner of Grape and Elm Streets in Chicopee, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

During the mid-19th century, Chicopee developed into an industrial center, with factories in the villages of Chicopee Center and Chicopee Falls. Although situated less than two miles apart along the Chicopee River, these two villages were largely independent of one another, and for many years each had its own high school. The first high school was built in 1825 on Church Street in Chicopee Falls, and was replaced by a new building 20 years later. In the meantime, though, a second high school was opened in Chicopee Center in 1843, in this school building on Grape Street.

The Grape Street School had been completed a year earlier, and housed a primary school in the basement and the high school on the second floor. At the time, there were just two teachers in the high school, including a principal and an assistant. Thaddeus M. Szetela, in his 1948 History of Chicopee book, describes the layout of the high school: “There was one large assembly hall, equipped with desks for pupils, with a raised platform in front for the principal’s desk. There were blackboards and tables in the rear on which were a few reference books and magazines. There were openings off this platform to the north, three recitation rooms, one a library.”

This building continued to be used for Center High School throughout most of the 19th century. During this time, by far the longest-tenured and most prominent of its principals was George D. Robinson, who took the position in the fall of 1856. A native of Lexington, Massachusetts, Robinson was a 22-year-old Harvard graduate when he began working as principal, and remained here at the school until 1865, when he left to study law. He subsequently became a prominent lawyer and politician, serving as a Congressman from 1877 to 1884, and as governor of Massachusetts from 1884 to 1887.

Chicopee continued to have two high schools up until the fall of 1890, when Falls High and Center High were combined here at the school on Grape Street. A year later, a new high school building was built on Front Street, midway between the two villages, but the old Grape Street School continued to be used as a public school. It was subsequently renamed the Robinson School, in honor of its famous principal, and in 1899 a second school building was completed just to the right of it, known as the Valentine School.

The Robinson School remained in use well into the 20th century, but it was ultimately demolished in 1959 and an apartment complex was later built on the site. However, the neighboring Valentine School was used as a school into the 1980s, and it has since been preserved and converted into apartments. It stands just beyond and to the right of the apartment buildings in the 2017 photo, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.