Martin Van Buren House, Kinderhook, New York

The Martin Van Buren house in Kinderhook, New York, around 1910. Image from The Village Beautiful, Kinderhook, N. Y. (1910).

The house in 2018:

Martin Van Buren was born in 1782 in Kinderhook, a small village in upstate New York about 20 miles south of Albany. He was the first American president to be born as a U. S. citizen, as all previous presidents had been born as British subjects prior to the Declaration of Independence. He came from an old Dutch family that traced its roots back to the former colony of New Amsterdam, and he grew up speaking Dutch as a child, making him the only president to learn English as a second language. Van Buren was born in his father’s tavern on Hudson Street, which is no longer standing, but he spent his later life in this house on the Old Post Road, residing here from 1841 until his death in 1862.

Although Van Buren is generally considered to be one of the more obscure American presidents, he was a shrewd politician who helped to form the basis for the modern Democratic Party. He held a number of political offices during his career, beginning in 1806 when he was elected as the fence viewer for Kinderhook. Despite its decidedly modest-sounding name, fence viewers played an important role in settling disputes between landowners, and Van Buren was subsequently appointed as a surrogate of Columbia County, which involved dealing with wills and estates.

In 1812, Van Buren was elected to the state senate, and he went on to serve as a senator until 1820. For part of this time he was also the attorney general of New York, serving in that capacity from 1816 to 1819. During his time in state politics, Van Buren became a powerful figure, and he was instrumental in setting up a New York political machine that came to be known as the Albany Regency. As a result of his influence, in 1821 the state legislature elected Van Buren to the United States Senate, choosing him over the incumbent Nathan Sanford.

Van Buren remained in the Senate until 1828, when he was elected governor of New York. He took office in Albany on January 1, 1839, but his term was very brief. During the fall elections, Van Buren had allied himself with Andrew Jackson, and in the process he had united former Democratic-Republicans in support of a single candidate, thus avoiding a repeat of the four-way debacle that had occurred in 1824. This move formed the modern Democratic Party, and Van Buren was rewarded in March 1829, when Jackson appointed him as his secretary of state. As a result, he resigned as governor on March 12, and he joined the Jackson’s cabinet later in the month.

After two years as secretary of state, Van Buren was appointed as minister to the United Kingdom in 1831. It was a recess appointment, and he traveled to London while Congress was still out of session. However, upon reconvening in early 1832, the Senate ultimately rejected his nomination, forcing Van Buren to return. Vice President John C. Calhoun had cast the tiebreaking vote against Van Buren in hopes of ruining his career, but it ended up having the opposite effect. Van Buren’s return to America put him in contention for the vice presidential nomination in the 1832 election, and in May the Democratic National Convention chose him to replace Calhoun on the ticket.

Andrew Jackson easily defeated Henry Clay in the general election, and Van Buren was inaugurated as vice president on March 4, 1833. Over the next four years, he remained one of Jackson’s most important advisors, and after Jackson declined to run for a third term, Van Buren became his logical successor for the 1836 election. He ran essentially unopposed for the Democratic nomination, and was the party’s unanimous choice at the convention. He went on to win the fall election, with the nascent Whig Party splitting their voters among four different candidates.

Despite his successful political career prior to the presidency, Van Buren’s single term as president was mediocre at best. It was largely defined by the Panic of 1837, an economic recession that began only months after he was inaugurated. His response to the crisis was largely ineffective, leading his Whig opponents to ridicule him as “Martin Van Ruin” during his 1840 re-election bid. This recession, combined with the growing strength of the Whig Party, doomed him in the general election, and he lost in a landslide to William Henry Harrison.

After leaving the White House in 1841, Van Buren returned home to Kinderhook, where he had purchased this house two years earlier. The home, originally known as Kleinrood, had been built around 1797 by Peter Van Ness, a judge on the Court of Common Pleas. Van Ness was in his early 60s at the time, and he was a veteran of the American Revolution, having served as a colonel in the state militia. He died here in 1804, and his son William Peter Van Ness subsequently inherited Kleinrood. William was also a judge, serving at the federal level as a United States District Court judge from 1812 until his death in 1826, at the age of 48. He owned this house for most of his time on the bench, but he ultimately lost it at auction in 1824, when it was sold to pay for a lawsuit judgment against him.

Kleinrood was purchased by William Paulding Jr., a former congressman who went on to serve as mayor of New York City from 1825 to 1826, and 1827 to 1829. Paulding lived in New York City, and he already had a summer residence in Tarrytown, so he never actually lived here. However, he owned Kleinrood for the next 15 years, including the house and the surrounding 137 acres. He evidently made few improvements to the property during this time, and it was in poor condition by the time he sold it to Martin Van Buren in 1839 for $14,000.

Prior to purchasing this property, Van Buren had never owned a house of his own. Nevertheless, he gladly took on the challenge of managing and improving a large farm, perhaps hoping to emulate earlier presidents such as Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson, all of whom were famous for their grand estates. Van Buren soon set about making changes and improvements, including changing the name from Kleinrood to Lindenwald. He also built stables and other outbuildings, and he made some alterations to the interior of the house. The most dramatic change inside the house was the removal of the original staircase, creating a central hall on the first floor that could be used for banquets and other large events.

When he moved into the house in 1841, Van Buren did not envision it as his retirement home. He was 58 years old at the time, and he hoped that he would be able to recapture the White House in 1844. However, he failed to receive enough votes at the Democratic National Convention, in part because of his opposition to the annexation of Texas, and the party’s nomination ultimately went to James K. Polk. By the next presidential election, Van Buren had drifted even further from the party that he had founded, becoming a strong opponent of slavery. In 1848, he received the nomination of the Free Soil Party, and in the general election he received more than 10% of the popular vote, although he did not win any electoral votes. However, his candidacy likely cost Democrat nominee Lewis Cass the election by splitting the vote and allowing Zachary Taylor to win.

In the meantime, Van Buren continued to improve Lindenwald, he and steadily grew the property through additional land acquisitions. The house itself also underwent an expansion, which occurred in 1849 after his youngest son, Smith Thompson Van Buren, moved into the house with his family. For this work, Smith hired noted architect Richard Upjohn, who designed an addition on the rear of the house. The most notable feature of this addition was a five-story Italianate-style tower, which stands on the left side. Overall, though, Upjohn’s alterations were probably not among his best works. The result of his work was a rather muddled blend of architectural styles, with the house featuring elements of Federal, Gothic, and Italianate architecture.

Martin Van Buren had been a widower since the death of his wife Hannah in 1819, at the age of 35. Smith’s wife Ellen similarly died young in 1849, shortly after they moved to Lindenwald and before the addition was completed. However, while the former president never remarried, his son Smith married for a second time in 1855, to Henrietta Eckford Irving. Smith and Henrietta continued to live here at Lindenwald until 1862, when Martin Van Buren died here in his bedroom on the second floor. Smith and his family subsequently moved to Beacon, New York, and the house was sold out of the family in 1864.

Over the next decade, Lindenwald continued to be operated as a working farm, although it changed hands three more times by 1874, and none of these owners personally lived here. Then, in 1874 it was purchased by brothers Adam and Freeman Wagoner, who lived in the house and ran the farm. Adam ultimately gained sole possession of the property, and he owned it until 1917. The first photo was taken during his ownership, showing the exterior of the house as it appeared in the early 20th century. Both the house and the surrounding grounds were well-maintained, and the house was flanked by tall white pines on either side of the photo.

After Wagoner sold Lindenwald in 1917, it went through several more ownership changes over the next 40 years. During this time, most of the land was sold off, leaving only 13 acres by 1945. The condition of the house itself also declined, and it was altered in the late 1950s by the addition of a two-story columned porch on the front. This porch was vaguely reminiscent of the one at Mount Vernon, but it hardly matched with the rest of the house, and instead only added to the architectural confusion of its design. The owner who added the porch was an antique dealer, and around the same time he also opened a shop here on the property.

The house steadily deteriorated until 1973, when it and the surrounding 13 acres were purchased by the National Park Service. A year later, the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site was established here, and the house was subsequently restored to its appearance when Van Buren lived here. It opened to the public in 1988, and more than 30 years later it continues to be run by the National Park Service, with few significant differences in its appearance since the first photo was taken over a century ago.

Day & Jobson Block, Springfield, Mass

The building at the northwest corner of Main and Cypress Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2018:

This three-story Italianate-style commercial block was built sometime around the 1850s, and it featured a distinctive faux-stone exterior that was actually made of wood. It was owned by Day & Jobson, a local lumber company that had a planing mill and lumber yard was located a few blocks away, at the corner of Liberty Street (present-day Frank B. Murray Street) and Chestnut Street. The building consisted of a mix of apartments on the upper floors, with retail space on the ground floor, and most of the early commercial tenants sold groceries.

During the late 1860s, there were at least four different stores on the ground floor. Starting on the left side of the building, at the corner of Cypress Street, was A.F. & H.L. Niles, which sold “Teas, Coffee, Butter, Lard, Fish” and other groceries. Right next door was Alonzo Camp, who described himself in the 1869 city directory as “Dealer in Choice Family Groceries and Provisions, Foreign and Domestic Fruits, &c.” Further to the right was John Fox, who specialized in butter and eggs, and to the right of him was butcher John L. Rice & Co., who is listed in the 1869 directory as “Dealer in Fresh and Salt Beef, Pork, Hams, Sausages, Tripe, Poultry, &c. Butter, Cheese, Eggs, Lard, West India Goods, and Family Groceries, and Vegetables of all kinds in their season.”

By about 1876, the corner store – which was numbered 196 Main Street at the time – had become a drugstore, operated by Daniel E. Keefe. He was later listed as a physician in city directories of the 1880s, but his office was still located here, and he also lived here in this building. However, by the early 1890s Dr. Keefe had moved his practice elsewhere, and this storefront was again used as a pharmacy, this time by T. Edward Masters. Over the next few years, several more druggists would occupy this space, including John J. Carmody and Hiram P. Comstock.

In 1912, this corner drugstore was acquired by Charles V. Ryan. A Springfield native, Ryan was born in 1872 as the son of Irish immigrants, and he went on to attend Cathedral High School and the Massachusetts School of Pharmacy. In 1895, when he was just 22 years old, he opened up his own drug store here in the North End, only a block north of this site. He remained there for the next 17 years before relocating to this building, where he would carry on the business for several more decades.

Ryan was still running the drugstore here when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s. The photo also shows several other stores that were located in the building, including Paushter & Co. furriers and tailors, Becker’s Shoes, and the Lucille Dress Shop. Ryan died only a year or two later in 1940, at the age of 68, but his family carried on the business for many more years, starting with his son, Charles V. Ryan, Jr., and then his grandsons, Donald and Robert Ryan. Another grandson, also named Charles V. Ryan, was not directly involved in the drugstore business, but he had a successful political career, serving as mayor of Springfield from 1962 to 1967, and 2004 to 2008.

It was during Ryan’s first stint as mayor that the city’s North End underwent a major urban renewal project. Nearly every building along the Main Street corridor, between the railroad arch and Memorial Square, was demolished during the 1960s, and many of the streets themselves were altered or eliminated. This building was razed sometime around 1967, and the drugstore relocated across the street to the Northgate Center, where it remained until it was acquired by CVS in 1994.

In the meantime, the site of the old building was redeveloped as the new headquarters of the Springfield Union and Springfield Daily News, which opened around 1969. These newspapers subsequently merged to become the Union-News, and in the early 2000s it was renamed the Springfield Republican, reflecting the historical name of the newspaper. The Republican offices are still located here today, although the newspaper recently announced that it is looking to sell the property or lease some of the space to other businesses, since the building contains more office space than the newspaper needs at this point.

Apollos Marsh House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 276 Union Street, at the corner of School Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2018:

This house was built around 1822, as the home of Apollos Marsh. He was in his late 20s at the time, and he moved in to the house within a few years after his 1819 marriage to Catharine Warner. The house was constructed by Simon Sanborn, a master builder who was responsible for many of Springfield’s early 19th century homes, although the exterior would have looked significantly different than its appearance in these two photos. Marsh would go on to become the first superintendent of Springfield Cemetery, a position that he held from 1841 until his death in 1869, but it seems unclear as to how long he lived here in this house. The 1835 map of Springfield shows that this property was owned by a Charles Ball, and the first Springfield directory, published in 1846, lists Marsh as living on Elm Street.

In the absence of street numbers during the mid-19th century, the subsequent ownership of this house is difficult to trace. However, by 1854 it was the home of Abijah W. Chapin, the city’s postmaster. He lived here with his wife Sarah, although she died in 1857 at the age of 39. The 1860 census shows him living here with his young sons Frederick and Edmund, and it lists the value of his real estate at $4,000, plus another $5,000 for his personal estate, for a combined total equivalent to about $260,000 today.

Chapin was still living here a decade later, and by then he had remarried to his second wife, Elizabeth, and had another child. No longer the postmaster, Chapin was instead an insurance agent in the firm of Chapin & Lee. His net worth had substantially increased during this period, with the 1870 census assessing his real estate at $40,000, and his personal estate at $7,000. Together, this was equivalent to nearly $1 million today. He and Elizabeth had one more child, who was born later in 1870, but within a few years the family would move out of this house and relocate to Deerfield, Massachusetts.

At some point in the 1850s, probably during Chapin’s ownership, this house underwent a major expansion with an addition to the rear. The third floor may have been added during this project as well; the Italianate-style rounded arches on the windows were almost certainly not part of the original 1822 design of the house, but they were fashionable by mid-century when this renovation occurred. The house was further expanded around the 1870s, with a narrow addition on the right side that brought the house almost all the way to the sidewalk on School Street.

By the mid-1870s, this house was owned by George H. Deane, a steam pump manufacturer in the firm of G. H. Deane & Co. The 1880 census shows him living here with his wife Maria, their children Charles and Isabella, Charles’s wife Mary, and two granddaughters, along with two servants. By this point, George had become the city auditor, but Charles was still involved in the family’s steam pump business. The Dean family would continue to live in this house until around 1885, and by the following year Charles was residing at 78 Maple Street, while George was at 18 School Street.

This house was subsequently owned by John A. Murphy, a partner in the stationery firm of Taylor, Nichols & Co. He was living here by the late 1880s, along with his wife Henrietta – who was known as Etta – and their daughter Ritta. He lived here for the rest of his life, until his death in 1915 at the age of 65. During this time, he had a successful career in the paper manufacturing business. Taylor, Nichols & Co. became the Murphy-Souther Company, and then he eventually purchased the entire business, which was renamed the John A. Murphy Company. In addition to this, he served on the city’s board of aldermen from 1889 to 1891, and he was the board’s president in 1891.

Following Murphy’s death, Ritta’s husband, Joseph L. Pitman, succeeded his father-in-law as president of John A. Murphy Company. During the 1920 census, they were living in a nearby house at 43 School Street, along with their daughter Henrietta and Ritta’s mother Etta. However, this house on Union Street remained in the family, and by 1922 they were all living here again. Etta Murphy died in 1934, but the Pitmans were still in this house when the first photo was taken about five years later. Joseph was still in the paper business, but by this point he was the president and treasurer of Colonial Papeteries Inc.

Ritta died in 1950, and Joseph in 1952, but their daughter Henrietta continued to live here for many years while working as a secretary for a patent and trademark law firm. Her husband, David E. Hoxie, died in 1973, and by the end of the decade she was retired. She sold the house in 1980, nearly a century after her grandfather had purchased it, and she moved to Vermont, where she died in 2004.

Today, the exterior of the house is not very different from its appearance when the first photo was taken some 80 years ago. At some point after the first photo was taken, the house was covered in asbestos siding, but this was removed during a 1980s restoration. Along with the other nearby homes, it is now part of the Lower Maple Local Historic District, and, at nearly 200 years old, it stands as one of the oldest surviving buildings in the city.

66 School Street, Springfield, Mass

The house at 66 School Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2018:

According to city records, this house was built in 1851, and its Italianate-style architecture seems to suggest that this date is accurate. However, the house does not appear on the 1851, 1870, or 1882 city maps, suggesting that it may have been moved to this site during the late 19th century. If it was in fact moved, this most likely occurred in 1888, when the 66 School Street address first appears in city directories. The ornate turret was probably added to the right side around this same time, creating an unusual blend of Italianate and Queen Anne architectural styles.

The 1888 directory shows that this house was the home of Sarah Hurd, a high school teacher who lived here for about two years. By 1893, it was owned by Atkins E. Blair, a pork dealer in the firm of A. C. Hunt & Co. The 1900 census shows him living here with his wife Harriet, their daughter Rachel, Harriet’s father Charles Simons, and two servants.

The Blair family would continue to live here for many years. Rachel married her husband, Charles D. Bowers, in 1924, in a ceremony that was held here at the house. The couple moved into his house, which was up the hill from here on Union Street. However, by the 1930 census, Rachel was again living here on School Street, while Bowers was listed as living at the YMCA on Chestnut Street. They were still married at the time, but they would subsequently divorce.

In the meantime, Atkins Blair died in 1927, leaving an estate that was valued at around $180,000, or nearly $2.7 million today. However, Harriet was still here when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, and the 1940 census shows her and Rachel as the only two residents of the house. Harriet lived here until her death in 1951, at the age of 90, and Rachel moved out and remarried soon afterward.

Since then, the exterior of the house has remained well-preserved, with few changes since the first photo was taken some 80 years ago. The neighboring house at 62 School Street was demolished sometime around the 1960s or 1970s, but otherwise many of the surrounding buildings are still standing from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These properties, along with this house, are now part of the city’s Lower Maple Local Historic District.

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.