Flatiron Building, Holyoke, Mass

The corner of Main and Race Streets in Holyoke, around 1891. Image from Holyoke Illustrated (1891).

The scene in 2017:

Long before the more famous Flatiron Building was built in New York City, Holyoke had one of its own. At only four stories, it was much shorter than the skyscraper in New York, but it was built on a similar triangular-shaped plot of land here at the corner of Main and Race Streets. It was completed sometime in the 1870s, and was originally owned by the Parsons Paper Company. Although formally known as the Parsons Block, it had acquired the nickname of the Flatiron Building by the early 1890s, a decade before the one in New York was completed.

The Parsons Paper Company was the oldest paper mill in the city, and had a factory a few blocks away on Gatehouse Road. The company rented space in the Flatiron Building to a variety of commercial tenants, including several stores on the ground floor. Among these was the C. E. Ball & Co. drugstore, which occupied the prominent storefront at the “point” of the building when the first photo was taken. The business later became the drugstore of Charles E. Bardwell, and was located here in this building during the early 20th century.

Also visible in the first photo, just above the second story windows, is a sign advertising the architectural firm of D. H. & A. B. Tower, which had its offices here in the building. The firm was comprised of brothers David H. and Ashley B. Tower, and they specialized in designing factories, including paper mills. Their works included many of the factory buildings here in Holyoke, but they also designed buildings across the country and internationally, with some as far away as Europe, Brazil, and India. The brothers were in business together from 1878 until 1892, when Ashley purchased his brother’s interest in the firm. He would continue to have his offices here in the building for several more years, but moved the firm to New York City in 1897. A sketch in Picturesque Hampden, published in 1892, provides a description of the offices here in Holyoke:

Mr. Tower’s office itself is one of the best possible for its purposes. It is located in what is known as the “Flatiron Block,” at the junction of Main and Race streets, a few rods from the Connecticut River railroad, and occupies the norther portion of the second story. On the eastern side, with entrance near the head of the stairway, is the suite of apartments occupied by Mr. Tower and his draughtsmen and assistants, beyond which is a private apartment or consultation room. A long-distance telephone is at hand in a convenient closet. The draughtsman’s room is on the west side of the block, into which one steps directly from the general offices, and is one of the finest apartments for the purpose imaginable.

In 1899, the Parsons Paper Company was acquired by the American Writing Paper Company, a trust that included many of the paper mills in Holyoke and elsewhere. The Flatiron Building became the corporate headquarters, and its offices were located here throughout the first half of the 20th century. During this time, American Writing Paper sought to compete with other paper trusts, including International Paper, which had been formed a year earlier in 1898. At one point, American Writing Paper produced about 75 percent of the country’s fine paper, but the company was ultimately plagued by many years of mismanagement and labor problems. Its offices remained here in this building until 1952, and by the 1960s the assets of the once-powerful company were liquidated.

Different sources give conflicting dates for when the Flatiron Building was demolished. This may have occurred in either the 1950s or 1960s, but, according to city records, the present-day building on the site was constructed in 1953, suggesting that the Flatiron Building was demolished soon after American Writing Paper relocated its offices. Today, very little is left from the first photo. The former location of the Flatiron Building is now the site of two nondescript one-story buildings, and most of the buildings on the left side of Main Street are also gone, except for a few in the distance near the corner of Dwight Street. Near the center of the photo is the Hotel Hamilton, which was also once owned by the Parsons Paper Company. The historic building is still standing, but it has been altered over the years, and it is now boarded up and abandoned.

Robert B. Johnson Buildings, Holyoke, Mass

The buildings at 195-201 High Street in Holyoke, around 1891. Image from Holyoke Illustrated (1891).

The buildings in 2017:

According to the National Register of Historic Places inventory for the North High Street Historic District, these adjoining three-story brick buildings were built around 1880. However, they may actually date back to about a decade earlier, since they are mentioned in directories from the early 1870s. They were originally owned by Robert B. Johnson, an insurance agent whose offices were located here in the building. He also rented space to other tenants, including the Holyoke Savings Bank on the left side and the Holyoke National Bank on the right, as seen in the first photo. Above the arched entryway in this photo is a sign for “R. B. Johnson &  Son,” and hanging from the second floor is a sign for  “M. O. Hastings Dentist.”

Aside from his insurance business, Johnson was also involved in both of these banks. He served as treasurer of the Holyoke Savings Bank from 1866 until his death in 1899, and he was also the first vice president of the Holyoke National Bank, upon its establishment in 1872. He later became the president of the bank in 1896, and served in that role for the last three years of his life. Following his death, his son Charles W. Johnson succeeded him as treasurer of the savings bank, and he also carried on the insurance business here in the building on the left side.

The Holyoke National Bank was located here until the early 1910s, when it moved to a new location at the end of the block, at the corner of Dwight Street. Then, in 1915 the savings bank purchased both buildings, allowing it to double its available space by expanding into the side that had been vacated by the national bank. However, the savings bank was only here for another decade or so, before moving into a new building that still stands a few blocks away at 143 Chestnut Street, at the corner of Suffolk Street. Later renamed Vanguard Savings Bank, it would remain at the Chestnut Street location until 1992, when it was absorbed by Fleet Bank.

In the meantime, the bank’s former location on High Street is still standing, although both of these buildings have seen some changes over the years. The ground floor has been significantly altered, with three different doors instead of the central arch, and the building on the left side has lost much of the ornamentation above the third floor. However, both buildings are still easily recognizable from the first photo, and they are among the many historic late 19th century commercial blocks that still stand here on this part High Street.

High Street from Hampden Street, Holyoke, Mass

Looking south on High Street from the corner of Hampden Street in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

Much of High Street in Holyoke has been remarkably well-preserved over the years, particularly this block on the west side of the street, between Hampden and Dwight Streets. It consists primarily of brick, three and four-story commercial blocks that were built in the second half of the 19th century, during the early years of Holyoke’s development as a major industrial center. The scene had largely taken on its present-day appearance by the time the first photo was taken in the early 1890s, and today the only significant difference is a noticeable lack of horse-drawn carriages.

According to district’s National Register of Historic Places listing, the one-story building in the foreground was built in the mid-20th century, but it seems possible that it might actually be the same one from the first photo, just with some major alterations. Either way, this is the only noticeable change in the buildings on this block. Just beyond this building are two matching three-story buildings, located at 169-175 High Street. These are perhaps the oldest buildings in the scene, dating back to around 1855, and have a fairly plain exterior design, unlike the more ornate building further down the street.

To the left of these two buildings is the four-story Dougherty’s Block, at 177-179 High Street. This was built sometime around the late 1880s, and was probably the newest building in the first photo. Beyond it is the 1870 Taber Building, with its distinctive ornate pediment above the third floor. However, the most architecturally-significant building in this scene is the Second Empire-style Caledonia Building at 185-193 High Street. It was built in 1874, and was originally owned by Roswell P. Crafts, a businessman who went on to become mayor of Holyoke in 1877 and from 1882 to 1883. The building was later owned by the Caledonian Benefit Society, which provided aid for Scottish immigrants.

Beyond the Caledonia Building, most of the other buildings also date to between 1850 and 1880. These include, just to the left of the Caledonia Building, the Johnson Building at 195 High Street and the R.B. Johnson Block at 197-201 High Street, both of which date back to around the 1870s. Further in the distance is the 1850 Colby-Carter Block at 203-209 High Street, and the c.1870 Ball Building at 211-215 High Street. The only noticeable change in this section is the six-story Ball Block, at the corner of Dwight Street. It was completed in 1898, a few years after the first photo was taken, and is visible on the far left side of the 2017 photo.

More than 125 years after the first photo was taken, this section of High Street survives as a good example of Victorian-era commercial buildings, representing a range of architectural styles from the plain brick buildings of the 1850s, to the more ornate styles of the 1870s and 1880s. Holyoke is no longer the thriving industrial city from the first photo, having experienced many years of economic stagnation since the mid-20th century. However, this has probably contributed to the survival of so many 19th century buildings, since there has been little demand for new construction, and today these historic buildings and streetscapes are among the city’s greatest assets.

School of the Immaculate Conception of Notre Dame, Holyoke, Mass

The former School of the Immaculate Conception of Notre Dame, on Chestnut Street opposite Hampden Park in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

Holyoke grew into a major industrial center during the second half of the 19th century, and the jobs in the mills attracted large numbers of immigrants, particularly the Irish and French Canadians. Most of these immigrants were Catholic, in a region that had previously been almost entirely Protestant, and they soon set about establishing Catholic churches and other religious institutions. The first of these churches was St. Jerome’s, which was established in 1856. Two years later, the parish constructed a church building that still stands at the corner of Hampden and Chestnut Streets, just out of view to the right of this scene.

In 1869, St. Jerome’s Parish opened its first parochial school, the School of the Immaculate Conception of Notre Dame. It was originally an all-girls school, and was located in a wood-frame building that was moved to this site. That same year, the Convent of Notre Dame was completed just to the right of the school. It housed the nuns who taught at the school, and can be seen in the center-right of both photos, with its central tower and Second-Empire style architecture. Then, in 1872, the St. Jerome’s Institute was established as a school for boys, and was located on the other side of Hampden Street, at the corner of Elm Street.

The original Immaculate Conception building was replaced in 1883 by a much more substantial brick school building, which stands on the left side of both photos. It was designed by architect Donat R. Baribault, with an Italianate-style design that included a symmetrical front facade and a tower above the main entrance. By 1890, around the time that the first photo was taken, it had an enrollment of about 550 girls, and the principal of the school was also the sister superior at the adjacent Convent of Notre Dame.

The Immaculate Conception School later became the St. Jerome High School, and in 1963 it merged with several other parish high schools in the city to form Holyoke Catholic High School. The old 1883 school building became part of the Holyoke Catholic campus, and remained in use until 2002, when the school relocated to Granby. Holyoke Catholic has since merged with Cathedral High School in Springfield, and the consolidated school has been known as Pope Francis High School since 2016.

Today, most of the historic 19th buildings from the St. Jerome’s Parish are still standing, including the former Holyoke Catholic buildings. Although they were boarded up for more than a decade after the school moved to Granby, the buildings have since been converted into the Chestnut Park Apartments. This work was completed in 2015, and now there is hardly any difference between these two photos, which were taken 125 years apart. The buildings are now part of the Hampden Park Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

Classical and High School, Salem, Mass

The Classical and High School at 5 Broad Street in Salem, around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

This scene shows two historic school buildings on Broad Street in Salem. The older of the two is the Oliver Primary School in the distance on the left, which is discussed in more detail in the previous post. It was completed in 1819, and in the early years it served as the home of the Latin Grammar School and the English High School. These two schools were later renamed the Fisk and the Bowditch Schools, respectively, and in 1854 they were merged into the Bowditch School.

At the time, the Bowditch School taught boys, with a separate Saltonstall School for girls. However, these two schools were merged in 1856 to form the Salem Classical and High School, and moved into a newly-completed building on the right side of the scene. This ornate, Italianate-style school was designed by local architect Enoch Fuller, and was dedicated on March 18, 1856. The ceremonies included an address by former principal Henry K. Oliver, who would go on to have a successful political career as the state treasurer, and as mayor of Lawrence and Salem, among other state and local offices.

By 1868, the school had a total enrollment of 173, including 85 boys and 88 girls. However, there was evidently a significant amount of turnover throughout the school year, because the high school had, on average, only 117 students enrolled at any given time. This was just under half of the building’s total capacity at the time, which was listed at 238 seats during that year’s annual school report. The first photo was probably taken around this time, and it shows a group of children standing on the sidewalk, apparently posing for the camera. Somebody of them look fairly young, and may have attended school at the old high school building in the distance, which had been converted into a primary school by this point.

Today, neither of these two buildings are still used as schools, but both are still standing without any major exterior changes. The Oliver Primary School in the distance has lost its original balustrade along the roof, and the old doorway has become a window, but otherwise it retains much of its original early 19t century appearance. The newer building is also still standing as an excellent example of an Italianate-style high school building, and it is now occupied by the Salem Council on Aging. Both buildings, along with the surrounding neighborhood, are now part of the Chestnut Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

First Baptist Church, Salem, Mass

The First Baptist Church, at 54 Federal Street in Salem, around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The site of the church in 2017:

The first Baptist minister in Salem was none other than Roger Williams, who briefly served as pastor of the First Church in the 1630s, immediately prior to his famous banishment in modern-day Rhode Island. However, it would be some 170 years before a Baptist church was formally established here in Salem, when 24 parishioners formed the First Baptist Church in 1804. The following year the church installed its first pastor, 25-year-old Brown graduate Lucius Bolles, and around the same time construction began on a permanent church building here on Federal Street, just east of North Street.

The diary of William Bentley, the prominent Unitarian minister of the East Church in Salem, provides an interesting perspective on the early history of this church. At the time, Baptists were a religious minority in Massachusetts, where nearly all churches were Congregational Bentley’s diary reveals hostility toward the Baptists. For example, on January 9, 1805, the day when Reverend Bolles was ordained, Bentley wrote:

A very rainy day & the day designated for the public ordination of a Baptist Minister in Salem. It was a dark day, because we were afraid of the uncharitableness of this Sect which has been the most illiterate in New England. All the ministers were invited. The Tabernacle was opened for the services. I did not attend. No Congregational minister of the Town was present. Dr. Stillman of Boston preached.

A month later, there was a tone of sarcasm when he wrote that “It is said that Mr. L. Bolles does not incline to dip [baptize] in the very cold weather as it too much endangers the health of the Spectators. The public owes him many thanks.” Then, on April 14, following the baptism of 10 more new members, Bentley complained of the Baptists luring members away from the established Congregational churches, writing:

It is said that the Clergy of the Town are about to print a refutation of the Baptists as the Baptists consider as free plunder all the members of their churches & rebaptise all who have been sprinkled at any age or baptised in any form in infancy. This superstition has all its fury at present in this place. Its violence must burst. Still like a storm, it may be short & leave many a wreck on the shore especially when many are too nigh to escape. I cannot think our Clergy equal to the controversy.

The brick, Federal-style Baptist church was completed later in 1805, and was dedicated on January 1, 1806. On that day, Bentley wrote, “This day was appointed to dedicate the New Baptist Brick Meeting House in Salem & to ordain Charles Lowell in the West Church in Boston. I preferred to employ the fine weather in a visit to Boston.” However, later in the same entry he gave some begrudging praise to Bolles:

In Salem, Mr. Bolles preached at the dedication & as usual in such occasions gave the concourse some history of his newly gathered Church. Its rapid progress in fifteen months since his first mission to Salem, is an honour to his perseverance & an example to his Superiors.

Notwithstanding Reverend Bentley’s scorn, the Baptists grew at a rapid pace upon completion of this church building. The congregation more than doubled in size in 1806, and by 1813 it had over 300 members. The church evidently welcomed all races, with Bentley noting in one 1810 entry that “8 young females & one Negro man” were baptized here. Earlier in 1810, he had also commented on how Thomas Paul, the pastor of the First African Baptist Church in Boston, had previously preached here at the church. He was apparently well-received at the church, but was ridiculed by some townspeople and was denied a seat inside the stagecoach:

[I]n the past actually the Negro Minister Paul preached repeatedly in the Close Baptist Meeting House accompanied & assisted by their Pastor. In consequence one family only discovered displeasure, but the wags of the town put a paper of dogrel rhymes in print & distributed them through the town. The Stage refused the Negro Minister a passage in the Stage within, but offered him a seat with the driver, which he angrily refused.

Over the next few years, the church did experience some fluctuations in its size, as many of the members left to form Baptist congregations in the neighboring towns. However, the church remained strong, and during its first 20 years it added 512 members. Reverend Bolles remained in the pulpit until 1826, when he resigned because of poor health and his new responsibilities as corresponding secretary of the Foreign Mission Board in Boston.

The first major changes to the church building came a year later in 1827, when it was expanded and a tower was added above the front entrance, as seen in the first photo. Further changes occurred around 1850, when the original Federal-style design was given Italianate details, such as the quoins on the corners and the arches above the windows. It was remodeled again in the late 1868, was damaged by a fire on October 31, 1877, and then repaired the following year. Although undated, the first photo was probably taken before the fire, and perhaps even before the 1868 renovations.

Much of the tower is cut off in the first photo, but by the turn of the 20th century it consisted of three stages, topped by an almost absurdly oversized illuminated clock. However, the tower was ultimately removed in 1926 due to the cost of maintenance, dramatically altering the exterior appearance of the building. It continued to be the home of the First Baptist Church throughout the 20th century, though, and despite the many changes it still retained significant historic value as the oldest surviving church building in the city.

Today, the historic church building is still standing, although no longer in its original location. The site was needed in order to build the new Essex County courthouse, so the congregation sold the property and relocated to a different church building on Lafayette Street in 2007. The following year, in December 2008, the 1,100-ton brick church was moved a couple hundred feet to the west, to the corner of Federal and North Streets. The exterior was restored and repointed, and the interior was converted into a law library for the new courthouse, which opened in 2012 as the J. Michael Ruane Judicial Center. The photo below shows the church at its current location, a little to the left of where it had once stood.