Chateau-sur-Mer, Newport, Rhode Island

Chateau-sur-Mer on Bellevue Avenue in Newport, around 1903. Image from Seventy-five Photographic Views of Newport, Rhode Island (1903).

The scene in 2018:

Beginning in the mid-19th century, Newport underwent a dramatic transformation from a sleepy colonial-era seaport into one of the most desirable summer resort communities in the country. Bellevue Avenue, and the surrounding area here at the southern end of the island, would eventually become famous for its many Gilded Age mansions, which served as summer residences for prominent families such as the Astors, Vanderbilts, and Belmonts.

Among the first of these grand mansions was Chateau-sur-Mer, which was located on the east side of Bellevue Avenue, near the corner of what is now Shepard Avenue. Its Italianate-style design was the work of local architect Seth Bradford, who designed several other mid-century summer homes in Newport, and the exterior was constructed of granite from nearby Fall River, Massachusetts. The original owner of the house was William S. Wetmore, a prosperous merchant who had made his fortune in the Old China Trade. Wetmore had retired from active business in 1847 when he was just 46 years old, and by this point he had accumulated a net worth of around a million dollars, or about $27 million today.

Wetmore lived here at Chateau-sur-Mer until his death in 1862. He and his wife Anstiss had three children, although their oldest, William, Jr., had died in 1858. Of their two surviving children, their son George inherited this house, while their daughter Annie received a parcel of land on the southern side of the estate, where she and her husband William Watts Sherman would later build a house of their own.

George Peabody Wetmore married his wife Edith in 1869, and beginning the following year the house was renovated and expanded by prominent architect Richard Morris Hunt. His work was inspired by the French Second Empire style, which was popular in America during this time, and it reflected his training in France at the École des Beaux-Arts. By this point, Hunt was already a well-established architect in Newport, but he would subsequently go on to design some of its largest, most opulent mansions, including The Breakers, Marble House, Ochre Court, and Belcourt.

Wetmore went on to have a successful career as a politician. Unlike most of the other wealthy Newport residents, who only lived here during the summer months, he was a year-round resident, and was a prominent figure in Rhode Island politics. He served as governor from 1885 to 1887, and represented the state in the U. S. Senate from 1895 to 1907, and 1908 to 1913. In addition, he was involved in a variety of civic organizations, including serving as a trustee of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale and the Redwood Library and Athenaeum here in Newport, and as president of the Newport Casino.

In the meantime, Chateau-sur-Mer would continue to see renovations to both the interior and exterior, including work by noted architects Ogden Codman and John Russell Pope in the early 20th century. George Wetmore lived here until his death in 1921, and his wife Edith died in 1927. Their two daughters, Edith and Maude, also went on to live here for the rest of their lives. Like her father, Maude was also involved in politics, and although she never held elected office, she was very active within the Republican Party, including serving as president of the Women’s National Republican Club and as a delegate to several National Conventions. She and her sister Edith were also advocates for historic preservation here in Newport, and worked to help preserve several important historic buildings.

Chateau-sur-Mer was one of the first of the grand mansions, and it was also one of the last to still be owned by its original family. Maude Wetmore died in 1951, leaving the house to Edith, who died in 1966. Neither of the sisters had married, so there were no other Wetmore heirs to inherit the property. Even if there had been, these types of summer homes had long since fallen out of fashion, and were generally regarded as expensive white elephants from a bygone era.

Many of the grand Newport mansions were demolished during the mid-20th century, while others were converted into institutional use, such as the nearby estates that now form the campus of Salve Regina University. However, Chateau-sur-Mer was ultimately preserved in its historic appearance, both on the interior and exterior, and in 1969 it was acquired by the Preservation Society of Newport County. It is now one of nine historic properties that are owned by the organization and open to the public for tours, and, as these two photos show, very little has changed in this view since the first photo was taken nearly 120 years ago. Because of its historic and architectural significance, the house was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2006, becoming one of 18 individual buildings in Newport to be recognized as such.

Main and Bridge Streets, Springfield, Mass

The northeast corner of Main and Bridge Streets in Springfield, Mass, around the 1860s or 1870s. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2018:

Up until the mid-19th century, the commercial center of Springfield was along Main Street in the immediate vicinity of Court Square, where most of the important stores, banks, hotels, and other businesses were located. This began to change with the arrival of the railroad in 1839, when a railroad station opened on Main Street, about a half a mile north of Court Square. A second commercial center soon sprung up near the station, with a particular emphasis on hotels and restaurants for travelers.

By 1850, Springfield was experiencing steady growth, but its population was still under 12,000 people at the time, and the Main Street corridor in the downtown area was still not fully developed. There were plenty of businesses and large buildings clustered around Court Square and the railroad station, but the blocks in between consisted of just a few commercial buildings, interspersed by homes, churches, and vacant lots. It would not be until the city’s post-Civil War population boom that this entire section of Main Street would be lined with larger buildings.

The first photo was taken sometime soon after the end of the war, and it shows a couple of the modest, wood-frame buildings that once stood along this part of Main Street. They were located at the corner of Bridge Street, about halfway between Court Square and the railroad station, and they would have been the first things that an eastbound traveler to Springfield would see on Main Street, after coming across the old covered bridge and walking up Bridge Street. Dwarfed by a massive tree – probably an elm – on the left side, these small, two-story buildings were probably constructed sometime in the 1850s. By the time the first photo was taken, they housed, from left to right, sign painter James C. Drake, wholesale cigar dealer C.H. Olcott, and stove dealer Edmund L. DeWitt.

These buildings stood here until the mid-1880s, and they were probably among the last surviving wood-frame buildings on Main Street in the downtown area. However, they were demolished to make room for the Fuller Block, a large five-story brick building that was completed in 1887. Like the other new commercial blocks that were constructed in the late 19th century, it housed retail shops on the ground floor, with professional offices on the upper floors. However, it featured a unique Romanesque-style design that incorporated Moorish elements, such as the horseshoe arches above the fifth floor windows, and a large onion dome that originally sat atop the right-hand corner of the roof.

Today, some 150 years after the first photo was taken, there are no surviving landmarks except for the streets themselves. However, the Fuller Block that replaced these older buildings is still standing, and aside from the loss of the onion dome its exterior has remained well-preserved. It is one of the finest 19th century commercial blocks in the city, and in 1983 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Wells Block, Springfield, Mass

The building at 250-264 Worthington Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2018:

This brick, four-story Italianate building was built in 1876 by Abner B. Abbey, a coal and lumber dealer. However, the expense of the building ended up being too much for him, and the following year it was sold at a foreclosure auction to Jerome Wells, a merchant from Chicopee who was also the president of the First National Bank. He rented the building to both commercial and residential tenants, with two storefronts on the first floor and apartments on the three upper floors.

During the 20th century, the upper floors were used primarily as a boarding house, which in 1916 was named the Avon Hotel. By the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, the hotel was being run by Clara LeDuc, who rented rooms to 10 boarders. Based on the 1940 census records, they held a range of working-class jobs, including several restaurant workers, a theater custodian, a machinist, a painter, a cotton mill knitter, a boiler maker’s helper, and a photographer. Of those who were employed full-time, their salaries ranged from the machinist, who made $740 per year ($13,400 today), to the painter, who made $1,400 ($25,300 today). Along with the boarders, Clara also lived here with her father Adalard Demers and her husband, William, who earned $1,450 as a steamfitter at the Armory.

The 1940 census also shows at least one other boarding house that was located here in the building. It was run by Nettie Laurance, a 56-year-old widow whose niece, Dorathy Bickford, lived here with her and worked as the housekeeper. They had eight tenants at the time, most of whom had jobs similar to those in the Avon Hotel. Below these two boarding houses, the two ground floor storefronts were occupied by linoleum dealers Cunningham & O’Shaughnessy on the left, and paint dealer A.E. Hale & Co. on the right. Other nearby stores included the Reliable Shoe Repairing Company in the one-story building on the left, and the Wells & Wells gift shop on the far right.

In 1946, the upper floors were badly damaged by a fire, and they were largely vacant for many years. However, the ground floor remained in use during this time, and for much of the late 20th century the storefront on the left was the home of the Budget Box thrift store. More recently, though, this section of Worthington Street has been reinvented as downtown Springfield’s dining district, and both of the storefronts in this building now house restaurants. Overall, the building’s exterior appearance has not changed much since the first photo was taken some 80 years ago, and both it and the neighboring building to the right are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Abel Howe House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 45 Pearl Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2018:

The mid-19th century was a time of considerable growth for Springfield, which nearly tripled in population between 1820 and 1840. This led to the opening of a number of new streets in the downtown area, including Pearl Street, which originally extended one block from Chestnut Street west to Spring Street. This particular house, located at what would eventually become the corner of Mattoon Street, was the first to be built on the new street. It was completed in 1847, and was originally the home of Abel Howe, a mason who evidently designed and built the house himself. The exterior was built of brick, and it featured a square, Italianate-style design, with a flat roof and wide overhanging eaves above the third floor.

Howe lived here until at least the early 1850s, but by the end of the decade he had moved to a house nearby on Salem Street. By about 1868, this house on Pearl Street was owned by Dr. Nathan L. Buck, a physician who, during the 1870 census, was living here with his wife Elmira and their two children, Fred and Nellie. At the time, his real estate was valued at $15,000 ($300,000 today), and his personal estate at $11,000 ($220,000 today). This wealth would have put him well within Springfield’s middle class, although these figures were lower than those of most of his neighbors.

The Buck family was living here as late as 1877, and Dr. Buck also had his medical practice here in the house. He was still listed as the owner of the property in the 1882 city atlas, but he evidently rented it, because he does not appear in the 1880 census or in any subsequent city directories. Instead, another physician, Dr. John Blackmer, was living here from about 1878 to 1883. Like Dr. Buck, he had his offices in the house, and during the 1880 census he was living here with his wife Ellen, daughter Nellie, son John, and a servant.

By 1885, the house was owned by Mary Shaw, a widow who was about 60 years old at the time. A native of Coventry, England, she and her husband Joseph immigrated to the United States in 1860, and by 1866 they were living in Springfield, where Joseph established himself as a brewer. He died in 1875, but Mary outlived him by more than 30 years. The 1900 census shows her living alone at this house on Pearl Street, but she evidently moved out soon after, because the subsequent city directories list her at a variety of different addresses until her death in 1906, at the age of 83.

The house was still owned by the Shaw family by 1910, but by this point it had been converted into a boarding house. Although there was just one resident in this large house during the 1900 census, the 1910 census showed 24 boarders living here. Nearly all were unmarried men in their 30s and 40s, and most held working-class jobs such as a carpenter, plumber, painter, tile layer, bookkeeper, and several chauffeurs, salesmen, and machinists. Six of them were immigrants, and most of the other boarders had previously lived in a different state before moving to Springfield.

By the 1920 census, the house was still in use as a boarding house. It was run by James and Mary Alexander, and they rented rooms to 24 boarders. James was an immigrant from Greece, and Mary from England, and many of their tenants were also immigrants, including people from Canada, Ireland, Greece, Russia, Holland, and Switzerland. The Alexanders would continue to keep a boarding house here until as late as 1939, around the time that the first photo was taken, but they are not listed on the following year’s census. Instead, the 1940 census shows Thomas and Katherine Van Heusen living here and running the boarding house. They paid $85 per month in rent, and in turn they rented rooms to 19 boarders.

Up until this point, the exterior of the house had retained much of its original appearance, despite having been used as a boarding house throughout the first half of the 20th century. However, in 1948 it underwent a major renovation to convert it into a commercial property. The porch was replaced by a new storefront, the overhanging waves were removed, a third story was added to the rear section, and many of the first floor windows were bricked up, among other alterations. The building is still standing today, but because of these changes its exterior bears little resemblance to its original appearance. Despite this, though, it survives as one of the oldest buildings in the area, and it is a remnant of the many upscale homes that once lined this block of Pearl Street.

94-98 Elliot Street, Springfield, Mass

The houses at 94-98 Elliot Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2018:

These three brick townhouses were constructed around 1870, at the corner of Elliot and Salem Streets. The lot had been purchased by Benjamin F. Farrar, a local mason who built the houses and then sold them to new owners. The one on the far left, at 94 Elliot Street, became the home of William Mattoon, who would soon develop Mattoon Street, located just around the corner from here. In the middle, 96 Elliot Street was sold to Harriet Wright, a widow who was in her mid-40s at the time. On the right side, at the corner of Salem Street, 98 Elliot Street was sold to William H. Wright, a wealthy tobacco dealer who had no apparent relation to Harriet Wright.

As it turned out, none of these three original residents would live here for very long, and by the 1880 census all three homes had new owners. On the left side was Hiram C. Moore, one of the city’s leading studio photographers. He previously had a partnership with his brother Chauncey, but by 1880 he was in business for himself, with a studio at the corner of Main and Bridge Streets. That year’s city directory included an advertisement for his business, which was proclaimed as “the place to get all the latest novelties in the Photographic Art, being the largest and best appointed gallery in the county. The only place where those beautiful crystal pictures are made, and also the only place where instantaneous pictures are made of the little ones.”

Moore’s neighbor to the right, in the middle house, was Zenas C. Rennie, who was living here in 1880 with his wife Margaret, their two children, a boarder, and a servant. He had been an officer during the Civil War, eventually earning the rank of major, and after the war he entered the insurance business. By 1880 he had moved to Springfield, where he worked as the city’s general agent for the Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York, with his office in the same building as Moore’s studio.

Also during the 1880 census, the house furthest to the right was the home of druggist William H. Gray. He was a partner in the H. & J. Brewer pharmacy, located at the corner of Main and Sanford Streets, and he would later become the vice president of the Springfield Five Cents Savings Bank. In 1880, he was living here with his wife Sarah and their three-year-old son Harry, in addition to two boarders and a servant. The family would live here for at least a few more years, but by 1883 they had moved into a newly-built house on Madison Avenue.

Twenty years later, the 1900 census shows that Hiram Moore was still living here in the house on the left, along with his wife Jennie, three children, and a servant. He was still working as a photographer, but the city directory also listed his occupation as “patent rights and novelties.” Next door, the middle house was owned by real estate agent Orson F. Swift, who lived here with his wife Cornelia and their daughter Kate. However, in a sign of things to come, the house on the right had become a rooming house, with the 1900 census showing five residents living here.

By the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, all three of these houses – along with many of the 19th century townhouses around the corner on Mattoon Street – had been converted into either apartments or rooming houses. The 1940 census shows that Hiram Moore’s former house on the left had been divided into four units, with a total of nine residents. The other two houses were used as rooming houses, with seven people living in the middle house and nine in the house on the right. Curiously, one of these tenants in the latter house was Herbert Wilson, who was listed as being employed by the WPA Building Survey. This almost certainly referred to the Depression-era project that documented and photographed every building in the city. The first photo was taken as part of this survey, and perhaps may have even been taken by Wilson himself.

Today, this scene is not significantly different from when the first photo was taken some 80 years earlier. After having gone from upper middle class single-family homes to Depression-era rooming houses, these three houses are still standing today, with exteriors that have been well-preserved. The nearby townhouses on Mattoon Street have similarly been restored, and collectively these houses – along with a number of other historic properties in the area – are now part of the Quadrangle-Mattoon Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Church Street Houses, New Haven, Connecticut

A group of houses and other buildings on Church Street, looking north toward the corner of Elm Street in New Haven, probably around 1904. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library, Herbert Randall Survey of New Haven and Environs.

The scene in 2018:

The first photo shows a group of mid-19th century buildings that once lined the east side of Church Street, directly opposite the New Haven Green. Starting on the far right, at 179 Church Street, is a three-story building that was known as the Law Chambers. Located directly adjacent to the county courthouse, which stood just out of view to the right, this building housed offices for a number of lawyers. Their names were listed on placards on either side of the front door, and some are legible in the photo, including Frederick L. Averill, William L. Bennett, John A. Doolittle, Hobart L. Hotchkiss, and Charles F. Mitchell. These names help to provide the likely date of the first photo; according to city directories, 1904 appears to be the only year that all five of these men had offices here.

To the left of the Law Chambers, in the center of the photo, is an elegant Italianate-style home at 185 Church Street. By the turn of the 20th century, New Haven was undergoing rapid population growth, and most of the old mansions along the Green were giving way to new commercial and governmental buildings. However, this house was still standing when the first photo was taken. Based on its architecture, it was probably built sometime around the 1850s, as it features many Italianate details that were common during this era, including brackets under the eaves, quoins on the corners, and a tower with tall, narrow windows on the top floor. By the time the first photo was taken, it was the home of James English, a businessman who served for many years as president of the United Illuminating Company. The 1900 census shows him living here with his wife Clementina, along with a lodger and three servants.

Further to the left is a group of attached rowhouses. Only two are visible in the photo, but there were a total of four, which extended as far as the corner of Elm Street. The one closer to the camera was 187 Church Street, and during the 1900 census it was the home of Dr. Henry W. Ring, a physician who lived here with his wife Maud and two servants. To the left of his house was another physician, Dr. William G. Daggett, who lived in 189 Church Street and also had his medical practice there. Curiously, this house is missing the exterior wall of the top two floors in the first photo. This may have been renovation work, as later photographs suggest that the building’s facade was rebuilt at some point in the early 20th century.

Daggett, Ring, and English were all still living here on Church Street during the 1910 census, but this would soon change. Daggett died later in the year, and by 1911 his widow was living on Orange Street. English also moved out of his house by 1911, and was living in a house on St. Ronan Street. His house was demolished soon after, because by 1913 the 10-story Chamber of Commerce building had been constructed on the site. Ring was the last to relocate; the 1913 city directory shows him living here and practicing medicine out of the house, but by 1914 he had moved to the Hotel Taft, although he continued to have his office here in his former house.

Today, all of the buildings from the first photo have since been demolished, along with the Chamber of Commerce building that had replaced the English house. Much of the scene is now occupied by the northern part of City Hall, which was constructed in the 1980s. Its alternating pattern of light and dark bands was designed to match the exterior of the old City Hall building, which had been mostly demolished except for its brownstone facade. On the left side of the present-day scene is an 18-story office building that had originally been constructed in the mid-1970s, as the home of the New Haven Savings Bank.