Mills-Stebbins Villa, Springfield, Mass

The house at 3 Crescent Hill in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This Italian villa-style house was completed in 1851 on Crescent Hill, atop a ridge near the corner of Maple and Pine Streets. It was the work of Henry A. Sykes, a notable local architect from Suffield, Connecticut. His career was cut short when he died in 1860 at the age of 50, but he was responsible for architecturally-significant houses, churches, and other buildings throughout the Connecticut River Valley. However, this house was perhaps his magnum opus. It reflected the Italian villa style that was just starting to become popular for upscale American homes, and it was later praised by architectural historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock as “one of the finest nineteenth century houses in America.”

The original owner of this house was John Mills, a lawyer and politician who was born in 1787 in Sandisfield, Massachusetts. He never attended college, but he studied law in Granville under future county sheriff John Phelps, and was admitted to the bar in 1812. He subsequently lived in Southwick, and in addition to his law practice he also served in the state senate from 1823 to 1827, including as the senate president from 1826 to 1827. In 1826, he was also part of a six-man commission that established the current Massachusetts-Connecticut border, finally resolving a long-standing dispute that dated back to the 1640s.

One incident during Mills’s time in the state senate, which may be apocryphal, came in 1824, when the Marquis de Lafayette visited the Massachusetts State House. Lafayette shook hands with each member of the state legislature and, upon reaching Mills, supposedly clasped his hands and declared, “My dear friend, I recollect you in the Revolution.” Mills, of course, was born five years after the war ended, and was the youngest of the state senators. However, he was also prematurely bald, which evidently made him look much older than he really was.

In 1835, Mills was appointed U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, a position he held until 1841. During this time, in 1836, he moved to Springfield, where he lived in a house on Howard Street. He returned to the state senate in 1842, and then from 1843 to 1844 served as the state treasurer and receiver-general. In 1848, he was nominated for lieutenant governor by the newly-established and Free Soil Party, a third party that was mainly focused on preventing the spread of slavery. He and his running mate, Salem mayor Stephen C. Phillips, were roundly defeated in the general election by incumbent Whig governor George N. Briggs and lieutenant governor John Reed, Jr., but they managed to finish second in the three-way race, ahead of the pro-slavery Democratic candidate.

Around 1849, Mills commisssioned Sykes to design this house, which was completed two years later. At the time, Crescent Hill and the neighboring Ames Hill were just starting to be developed, but by the end of the 19th century this area would become the city’s most prestigious neighborhood, with its proximity to downtown and its sweeping views of the river valley. John Mills was in his early 60s at the time, and was largely retired from public life by then. However, he did serve a single term in the state house of representatives in 1851, and in 1855 he became president of the Hampden Mutual Fire Insurance Company.

During the 1855 state census, Mills was living here in this house with his wife Emily and three of their children: John, Sarah, and Isaac. Isaac’s wife Ann and their daughter also lived here, and the family employed three Irish-born servants who lived here. However, John sold this house two years later, and he and Emily moved to Byers Street, where they lived with their daughter Sarah and her newlywed husband, Roswell G. Shurtleff. The Mills family did not entirely leave Crescent Hill, though, because in 1859 Isaac and Ann moved into a new house across the street from here, at the corner of Crescent Hill and Pine Street.

John Mills died in 1862 at the age of 74, by which point this house on Crescent Hill was owned by by John B. Stebbins, a wealthy merchant who was a business partner of hardware store owner Homer Foot. Stebbins was a native of Springfield, and was among the original students at Springfield High School when it opened in 1828, but after leaving school he moved to Hartford, where he worked as a clerk in a grocery store. However, he soon returned to Springfield, and found work as a clerk in Homer Foot’s hardware store. After a few years here he moved again, this time to New York City, and worked as a clerk in another hardware store, but in 1839 he returned to Springfield for good, returning to his position with Foot, with the promise that he would be be given an interest in the firm.

Homer Foot kept his promise, and in 1842 Stebbins became a partner in the company. A year later he married his wife Maria, and the couple first lived on Elm Street, and then at the corner of Main and Emery Streets, and finally on Byers Street before purchasing this house from John Mills in 1857. They had a total of seven children: John, Mary, Elizabeth, Annie, Fannie, Maria, and an unnamed child who died shortly after birth. Mary also died in infancy, but the five surviving children all lived here in this house with their parents.

Aside from Foot’s store, Stebbins was also involved in a number of other companies, serving as a director and, at various times, as president of the Springfield Institution for Savings, the Holyoke Water Power Company, the Ludlow Manufacturing Company, and the Hampshire Paper Company. In the process he became a wealthy man, with the 1870 census listing his real estate as being worth $73,000, plus a personal estate worth $30,000, for a total net worth of more than $2 million in today’s dollars. He was also involved in politics, serving as a city alderman in 1853, a member of the school committee from 1865 to 1869 and in 1873, and as a state legislator in 1883.

His wife Maria died in 1891, and John died in 1899, but this house remained in the Stebbins family for many years. Of the five children who survived to adulthood, neither Annie nor Maria ever married, and they lived here for the rest of their lives. The 1920 census shows them living here with their nephew, 48-year-old John, who was the son of their brother John. Maria died in 1928, and by 1930 Annie was living here alone, aside from two servants. She would remain here until her death in 1939, around the same time that the first photo was taken.

After Annie’s death, the house was inherited by her nephew Carl Stebbins, the oldest son of her brother John. He had grown up in this house with his parents and grandparents, but he later moved to Tacoma, Washington, before eventually returning to Springfield. By the 1940 census he was 70 years old, and was living here with his wife Grace, their daughter Grace, and his wife’s sister, Rebecca Birnie. He lived here until his death a decade later, and his wife remained here until her death in 1961, more than a century after the Stebbins family first moved into this house.

Their daughter Grace sold the property in 1962, and the house remained vacant for a number of years. During this time the interior was vandalized, but by the early 1970s it had new owners and was carefully restored. The house was individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and the following year it became part of the Ames Hill/Crescent Hill Historic District, which encompasses the many historic 19th and early 20th century homes in the neighborhood. Today, the house shows some changes from its 1930s appearance, including different first-floor windows on the left side, but overall it still stands as one of the grandest and most architecturally-significant houses in the city.

Round Hill Road from Elm Street, Northampton, Mass

Looking up Round Hill Road from Elm Street in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

The scene in 2017:

By the mid 19th century, this area around Round Hill had become home to some of Northampton’s leading residents, including attorney Charles P. Huntington, who built the house on the left side of the photo in 1841. Born in 1802 in Middletown, Connecticut, Huntington later moved with his family to Hadley, where he attended Hopkins Academy before entering Harvard, where he graduated in 1822. He later attended the short-lived Northampton Law School, and while in Northampton he married his wife Helen Mills in 1827. He practiced law in North Adams for some time, but later returned to Northampton. From 1842 to 1850, he also served as the first president of the Northampton Institution for Savings, and in 1855 he became the namesake of the town of Huntington, Massachusetts. Formerly named Norwich, the town was renamed in his honor after he helped to resolve a boundary issue with surrounding towns.

Charles and Helen had seven children together before her death in 1844 at the age of 37. The oldest of their children, Helen Frances “Fanny” Huntington, later married Josiah Philips Quincy of Boston. Both his father and his grandfather had been mayors of Boston, and Josiah and Helen’s oldest son, Josiah Quincy VI, would also become mayor of Boston, serving from 1896 to 1900. In the meantime, Charles Huntington remarried in 1847 to Ellen Greenough, the younger sister of noted sculptor Horatio Greenough. Together, Charles and Ellen had two more children, who grew up here in this house. In 1855, Charles was appointed as a judge to the Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston, and soon after the family left Northampton and moved to Boston, where he lived until his death in 1868.

This house was then sold to William Silsbee, the pastor of the Unitarian Church. He lived here for several years, but in 1864 he sold it to Merritt Clark, a tailor who owned a shop on Main Street for many years. Originally from Milford, Connecticut, he came to Northampton as a teenager in 1846 and apprenticed in the tailor shop of Charles Smith & Co. He later purchased the business, and by the 1870 census he had become a wealthy man, with a listed net worth of $50,000, or nearly $1 million today. He and his wife Sarah never had any children, but his nephew Orman Clark was his business partner for many years, followed by Orman’s son Howard after Orman’s death in 1891. Merritt remained a part of the company for the rest of his life, and he continued to live here in this house until his death in 1919, when he was about 90 years old.

The house remained in the family for several more decades, with Merritt’s niece Mary Clark living here until her death in 1939. It was later acquired by the Mary A. Burnham School in 1965, but three years later the school merged with the Stoneleigh-Prospect Hill School in Greenfield. The house has since reverted to private ownership, and it is still standing today, although it is completely hidden from view by the trees in the 2017 scene. Overall, besides the trees, very little has changed with this view in the 125 years since the first photo was taken. Many of the historic 19th century homes around Round Hill are still standing today, although the Luther Bodman House – just out of view on the right side of the first photo – has since been demolished and replaced with Smith College’s Helen Hills Hills Chapel.

Luther Bodman House, Northampton, Mass

The Luther Bodman House, at the corner of Elm Street and Round Hill Road in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

The scene in 2017:

This elegant Italianate-style mansion was built around the 1860s, and was designed by prolific Northampton architect William Fenno Pratt. It was the home of Luther Bodman, a banker who served as president of the Hampshire County National Bank and the Hampshire County Savings Bank, and during the 1870 census he was living here with his wife Philena and two of their children, Ellen and Clara. At the time, his real estate was valued at $15,000, plus a personal estate of $100,000, giving him a total net worth equivalent to over $2.2 million today.

Luther Bodman lived here until his death in 1887, and Philena died in 1894, around the same time that the first photo was taken. However, their daughter Clara remained here until around 1949, shortly before her death in 1951 at the age of 92. The property was subsequently acquired by Smith College, and in 1954 the house was demolished in order to make way for a new college chapel. The Colonial Revival-style building was completed the following year, and was a gift of Helen Hills Hills, a 1908 Smith graduate. Named the Helen Hills Hills Chapel in her honor, it remains here today, and continues to be used by Smith College as a chapel.

First Church Parsonage, Northampton, Mass

The First Church parsonage, at 74 Bridge Street in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

The house in 2017:

This house was built in 1866, and was the work of William Fenno Pratt, a local architect who designed a number of buildings in Northampton during this era. Upon completion, the house served as the parsonage for the First Church, which was located about a third of a mile west of here in the center of Northampton. Zachary Eddy was the pastor of the church at the time, but the following year he was succeeded by William S. Leavitt, who served from 1867 to 1881. It was during his pastorate, in 1876, that the old church burned down, and was replaced a year later by the present church building.

Herbert W. Lathe lived here during his pastorate from 1882 to 1891, followed by Henry T. Rose, who was the pastor of the church around the time that the first photo was taken. He lived here with his wife Grace and their daughter Helen until his retirement in 1911, and the house continued to be used as the parsonage for several more pastors. Based on listings in the city directory, it appears that John W. Darr was the last one to reside in the house, until he moved to California in the late 1920s.

Around 1930 the house was sold to Frank W. Tomaszewski, a Polish immigrant who owned a garage on Masonic Street. He lived here for the rest of his life, until his death in 1975, and the house remained in his family for many years. At some point it became the Historic College Inn, and in the early 2000s a garage in the back of the property was demolished and replaced with a modern carriage house-style building, seen in the back left of the present-day photo. The only other significant change to this scene was the addition of solar panels to the roof of the house, but otherwise it remains well-preserved in its original 19th century appearance.

Smith Charities Building, Northampton, Mass

The Smith Charities Building on Main Street in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

The building in 2018:

Smith Charities is perhaps one of the most unusual charitable organizations in the country, and its origins date back to the death of its benefactor, Oliver Smith, in 1845. Born in nearby Hatfield in 1766, Smith was a farmer who came from modest means, but over time he became one of the wealthiest men in the region. A sort of Scrooge-like figure, Oliver Smith was a lifelong bachelor who had a reputation of being a miser. He made a fortune by investing in land in Ohio, and maintained his wealth through frugal living, rarely spending money on himself or others. He did make several charitable contributions during his lifetime, but his most significant bequest came after his death, when he left his $370,000 estate to establish Smith Charities.

Under Oliver Smith’s will, his estate was to be administered by three trustees, who would be chosen by elected representatives from eight towns in Hampshire and Franklin Counties: Amherst, Deerfield, Greenfield, Hadley, Hatfield, Northampton, Whately, and Williamsburg. The will also specified how the money was to be used. Part of it was to be used to help the poor and needy of these eight towns, including paying for apprenticeships, providing marriage portions for young women, and supporting widows. Another portion of his estate was to be set aside to accumulate interest for 60 years and, upon maturity in 1905, was to be used to establish an agricultural school in Northampton. This school, now the Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, is still in existence, and still bears his name today.

Despite the public-mindedness of his bequests, his will did not meet with universal approval. The Springfield Republican questioned, “How much wiser and better could he have disposed of is money in his life time, for the benefit of others, and at the same time added to his own happiness,” while the Hampshire Gazette gave an even more pointed rebuke, arguing that someone cannot be truly benevolent if he waits until after his death to give away money. Others, reflecting the conservative New England work ethic inherited from their Puritan ancestors, were skeptical of such a charitable organization, fearing that it would encourage laziness among the poor.

Smith’s will was even less popular with his relatives, who, being thus disinherited, contested the will, claiming that one of the three required witnesses was not of sound mind. The resulting legal battle became a public spectacle, with each side retaining the services of high-profile attorneys. Former Massachusetts Senator Rufus Choate represented Smith’s relatives, while his successor in the Senate, Daniel Webster, represented the will’s executors, and the two argued the case in the old Hampshire County Courthouse at the corner of Main and King Streets. Webster ultimately prevailed, the will was upheld as valid, and Smith Charities was subsequently established.

In 1865, the organization built this two-story building on Main Street as its headquarters. It was designed by prolific Northampton architect William F. Pratt, and features an elaborate Italianate-style brownstone exterior. The second-story windows have since been replaced, but otherwise the building’s appearance has not changed much, and it still houses Smith Charities, which continues to provide support for people in the eight towns that Smith listed in his will.

Despite criticism from many of his contemporaries, Smith proved far-sighted in his plans, and the charity has given out millions of dollars since his death, far more than his initial bequest. His name lives on in both Smith Charities and Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, but not, as one may have assumed, in Smith College. The college is instead named for his niece, Sophia Smith,   who was the daughter of his brother Austin. Sophia had inherited a fortune from her father after his death in 1861, and she, perhaps following her uncle’s example, willed the money for charitable purposes, stipulating that it be used to establish a college for women.

Main Street from Masonic Street, Northampton, Mass

Looking west on Main Street from near the corner of Masonic Street in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

The scene in 2017:

This scene, on the western end of Main street, was at the outer edges of downtown Northampton for most of the 19th century, and it was not fully developed into its present-day form until the 1870s and 1880s. The oldest building in the first photo is the Edwards Church, located directly in the center of the photo. This congregation was established in 1833 as an offshoot of the First Church, and was named in honor of Jonathan Edwards, the prominent theologian who had served as the pastor of the First Church from 1729 to 1750. The first permanent home of the new congregation was a church at the corner of Main and Old South Streets, but this building was destroyed in a fire in 1870 and, a few years later, the church completed a new building a few blocks to the west, as seen in the first photo.

Around the same time that the new church was built here, Smith College was established on a site just beyond the church, where Main Street divides into West and Elm Streets. The school’s first building, College Hall, was completed in 1875, and can be seen in the distance on the left side of both photos. Like many of the other 19th century buildings on the campus, College Hall was the work of the Boston-based architectural firm of Peabody and Stearns, and was designed in the High Victorian Gothic style that was popular at the time, particularly for schools and other institutional buildings.

The newest buildings in the first photo were the five brick commercial blocks in the foreground on the right side. Known as the Daley Blocks, these buildings were completed around 1886-1887 and were originally owned by Patrick J. Daley, an Irish native who owned a dry goods store in Florence. As the first photo shows, the three buildings in the middle were built with the same architectural style – red brick, with light-colored lintels and sills – but paint and other alterations have obscured these details on the buildings to the left and the right.

Today, aside from these minor changes to the Daley Blocks, the only significant difference in this scene is the Edwards Church. The old church building from the first photo stood here for over 80 years, and during this time it was the home church of Calvin Coolidge and his family, as well as the site of his funeral in 1933. However, by the 1950s it was in in need of serious repairs, and the congregation voted to build a new church rather than renovate the old one. As a result, it was demolished and replaced with the current church building, which was completed in 1958 on the same site as the old church.