George Kibbe House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 1030 Worthington Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This Italianate-style home is the oldest in the city’s historic McKnight neighborhood, predating the area’s large-scale development by two decades. It was built around 1850, at a time when this section of Springfield was sparsely settled. A few of Springfield’s wealthy residents built estates on large lots here, including George Kibbe, who was the original owner of this house. He and his younger brother Horace were the owners of the Kibbe Brothers Company, a Springfield-based candy company that was, for many years, located in the Union Block at the corner of Main Street and Harrison Avenue. From here, they distributed candy to retailers throughout the region, utilizing horse-drawn wagons that traveled on regularly-scheduled routes across New England.

George Kibbe lived in this house for many years, along with his wife Sarah and their daughters Sarah and Georgiana. A third daughter, Emily, died in 1853 at the age of six, only a few years after the family moved into the house. During the time that the family lived here, the area began to undergo significant transformation. Land that had once been on the outskirts of the city became one of Springfield’s most desirable residential neighborhoods, and by the 1880s a number of other large mansions were built along this section of Worthington Street. George only lived to see the very beginning of these changes, though, because he died in 1882, at the age of 64.

After George Kibbe’s death, part of his land was subdivided and developed. Bowdoin Street was extended north through the property,and a number of new homes were built here by the late 1880s. Kibbe’s old house remained, though, and was sold to Sigmund Levison, a businessman who owned a prosperous millinery company in Springfield. He was born in Germany and came to the United States as a young man, where he worked for his uncle’s millinery company. After his uncle retired in 1879, Levison purchased the Springfield branch of the business and operated it for many years.

In 1894, Levison made some alterations to the house, bringing it more in line with architectural tastes of the era by adding the classical details that are now part of the exterior. His first wife, Eleanore, died in 1916, and two years later he remarried to Edith Wilson, who was 24 years younger than him. After Sigmund’s death in the late 1920s, Edith remained in the house for another decade or so, and in the 1930 census she was living here with her 80-year-old mother and a servant.

In 1937, shortly before the first photo was taken, the house became an Odd Fellows lodge. In the 1970s, it became a VFW post, but this eventually closed as well. Today, its exterior appearance has changed little since the 1930s, and it stands as the oldest building in the McKnight neighborhood. Within the past few decades, several different owners have purchased the house with the intention of restoring it, but as of now it remains vacant.

James C. Ingersoll House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 79 Bowdoin Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The house in 2017:

The Ingersoll family has a long history here in the McKnight neighborhood, which predates the large-scale development of the area by many decades. In the mid-1840s, Major Edward Ingersoll purchased property on the north side of Worthington Street as his estate. He landscaped the property, which became known as Ingersoll’s Grove, and owned it for about 20 years. During this time, Major Ingersoll was the paymaster and storekeeper of the U.S. Armory, a position he held from 1841 to 1882. Near the end of his life, long after he had sold his estate on Worthington Street, the property was purchased and developed by William and John McKnight, and the street Ingersoll Grove was named in his honor.

Major Ingersoll and his wife Harriet had six children, including James C. Ingersoll, who moved into this house when it was built around 1874. It was only a short walk from his father’s old estate, although at this point the neighborhood was changing rapidly from what it would have looked like during his childhood at Ingersoll’s Grove. James Ingersoll’s house was part of the first wave of large-scale development in the neighborhood, and as a result its architecture is significantly different from most of the later homes. Unlike the highly ornamented Queen Anne homes that would follow, Ingersoll’s house had simpler Italianate architecture, and was built near the end of this style’s popularity.

James and Ellen Ingersoll moved into this house soon after their marriage in 1873, and they raised three children here, Robert, Elizabeth, and Raymond. They lived here for many years, and during this time James worked as a bookkeeper. Robert married Florence Bradley, the daughter of toy manufacturer Milton Bradley, and the couple later moved into the neighboring house at 69 Bowdoin Street. Raymond never married, and lived with his parents for the rest of their lives. According to the census records, he worked as a lithographer for a toy company, presumably Milton Bradley. Ellen died in 1925, and James in 1937, more than 60 years after he moved in.

When the first photo was taken, Raymond was still living here, and the 1940 census indicates that he also rented space in the house to two lodgers. He lived in this house for his entire life, until his death in 1960 at the age of 79. At some point in the mid-20th century, the house was covered in asbestos siding, but it otherwise retained most of its Italianate design, including the bracketed cornice. It was restored in the 1980s, though, and today it looks essentially the same as it did when the Ingersoll family lived here. Along with the other houses in the area, it is part of the McKnight Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

William B. Harris House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 39 Madison Avenue in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The house in 2016:

This house dates back to the 1870s, and was the home of William B. Harris, a civil engineer who lived here with his wife Rebecca and their three children: Charles, Helen, and John. Both Charles and Helen lived here with their parents well into adulthood. William and Rebecca appear to have died between 1910 and 1920, because by the 1920 census Charles, age 51, and Helen, age 47 were living here alone.

Subsequent residents of this house included William and Gladys Langston, who were living here in 1930, followed by George and Ellie Chamberlain, who were living here in the late 1930s when the first photo was taken. In the nearly 80 years that have followed, very little has changed with the house. It still retains its distinctive features, such as the porch on the left, the bay windows, and the Italianate brackets under the eaves. Along with the rest of Madison Avenue, it is part of the city’s Maple Hill Historic District.

31-33 Madison Avenue, Springfield, Mass

The duplex at 31-33 Madison Avenue, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The building in 2016:

This Italianate duplex was built in 1869 for brothers Henry and Seth Avery, both of whom were merchants in the city. Henry, the older brother, was a tailor, and he lived in house number 31 on the right, with his wife Sarah. Seth, who lived on the left with his wife Elizabeth, was also involved in selling clothing, and according to the 1870 city directory he was a “Dealer in Hats, Caps, Furs, Furnishing Goods, Umbrellas, Trunks, Bags, &c.”

The two brothers lived here for the rest of their lives. Seth died in 1904, while Henry lived to be 93 years old before his death in 1912. After Seth died, the house on the left was sold to John and Mary McGillicuddy, Irish immigrants who lived here with their five children. All five children were still living here as late as the 1920 census, when the youngest was 23 years old. John lived here until his death in the 1930s, and Mary was still living here as late as the 1940 census.

After Henry’s death in 1912, the house on the right was sold to Leslie Goldthwait, a banker who lived here with his wife Florence and, by 1920, their young children Leslie, Jr. and Susan. By 1930, 78 year old widow Anna Howe was living here, along with her daughter Alison and their Irish servant, Bridie Bresnahan. They were no longer here in 1940, and the house does not appear to have been listed in that year’s census. It was likely vacant, as indicated by the “For Sale” sign in the front yard of the first photo.

Not counting the much older Sterns house, which was moved to its current site in the 1870s, this duplex is the oldest building on Madison Avenue. Nearly 150 years after it was built, its exterior remains well-preserved, with an Italianate architectural design that is relatively unusual for Springfield. Along with the rest of the street it is on the outer edge of the city’s Maple Hill Local Historic District.

Thomas Colt House, Pittsfield, Mass

The Thomas Colt House at 42 Wendell Avenue in Pittsfield, around 1900. Image from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and Vicinity (1900).

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The house in 2016:

This house was built in 1866 by Thomas Colt, an industrialist who was, at the time, one of the largest paper manufacturers in the state. In 1856, he had purchased a paper mill on the eastern edge of Pittsfield, in the neighborhood that later became known as Coltsville. The business was soon successful, and a decade later he built his house here. It had a prime location just a short walk away from downtown Pittsfield, and the 15-room Italianate mansion cost an estimated $40,000 for him to build.

Unfortunately for Colt, he did not get to enjoy it for very long. The nation’s economy, particularly in the north, was booming in the years following the Civil War. However, it was followed by the Panic of 1873, which caused a serious economic recession. Many wealthy businessmen lost their fortunes, including Thomas Colt, whose factory soon closed. By 1874, he was a half million dollars in debt – over $10 million today – and he died two years later.

The house was subsequently owned by Alexander Joslin and his family, and later by Simon England, a businessman who owned the England Brothers store in Pittsfield. In 1937, he donated the home to the Women’s Club of the Berkshires, and this organization became, by far, the house’s longest owner. They remained here until 2011, and sold the house the following year. It is now the Whitney Center for the Arts, and it is a contributing property in the Park Square Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Customshouse, Providence, RI

Looking down Weybosset Street from Westminster Street in Providence in 1868, with the U.S. Customshouse in the background. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.


The scene in 2016:

In the first photo, this scene is dominated by the U.S. Customshouse, a domed, three-story granite building that had been completed just 11 years earlier, in 1857. It was designed by Ammi B. Young, during his time as Supervising Architect of the Treasury. His works included many prominent buildings, such as the old Vermont State House, part of the Treasury Building in Washington, DC, and the Custom House in Boston.

Young designed the custom houses in Boston and Providence about 20 years apart, and the two buildings reflect a shift in architectural tastes during the time. Although both were constructed of granite, Boston’s earlier building was Greek Revival, but by the time Providence’s Customshouse was built, Italianate architecture was far more common. Gone were the massive columns and triangular pediments, replaced instead with design elements such as arches, window cornices, and quoins on the corners.

When the first photo was taken, the Customshouse was surrounded by an assortment of low-rise commercial buildings, many of which were wood and probably dated back to the early 19th century. However, over time these buildings disappeared, and were replaced by much taller skyscrapers, dwarfing the old Customshouse. The first of these skyscrapers was the Banigan Building, built in 1896 on the left side of the present-day scene. It was followed in 1913 by the even taller Turk’s Head Building on the right side of the photo, which was constructed on a triangular lot and bears some resemblance to New York’s Flatiron Building.

Because Providence was a major port in New England, the Customshouse served an important function housing the offices of the city’s Collector of Customs. However, despite its name, the building also included the city’s main post office, a federal courtroom, and the offices of the federal District Attorney. Consequently, while Providence’s skyline was growing, so was the need for space in the old building.

The problem was solved in 1908, with the completion of a new Federal Building at Exchange Plaza. Even this new building was not enough, though. After sitting vacant for more than a decade, the old Customshouse was reopened in 1921 to provide additional space for federal offices. It remained in use until 1989, and was later sold to the State of Rhode Island. Today, it is used as offices for the State Courts System. Along with the turn-of-the-century skyscrapers around it, the 160 year old building is now part of the Customshouse Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.