Kennedy Block, Springfield, Mass

The Kennedy Block, at the corner of Main and Taylor Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

This large commercial block was built in 1874, and was owned by businessmen Warren H. Wilkinson and Emerson Wight. It was part of the commercial and industrial development that was occurring in downtown Springfield during the mid-19th century, spurred by the presence of the Boston & Albany Railroad just a few blocks to the north of here. Wilkinson and Wight had owned an earlier building on this site, but it burned down on January 6, 1874, and was replaced with this five-story, Italianate-style building. Wight went on to serve as mayor of Springfield from 1875 to 1878, and in 1879 he purchased Wilkinson’s interest in the building, becoming the sole owner of the property.

One of the building’s original tenants was the Morgan Envelope Company, which had been founded in 1872 by Springfield resident Elisha Morgan. A year later, Morgan Envelope produced the first postcards in the country, after securing a lucrative government contract. At the time, postcards were prepaid, pre-stamped cards that were issued directly by the post office, and Morgan Envelope was the lowest bidder out of 14 companies, submitting a bid of $1.39 7/8 per 1,000 postcards. The company moved into this building upon its completion in 1874, and remained here for the next decade, until moving into its own facility on Harrison Avenue in 1884.

Beginning in 1917, the ground floor of the building was the home of Kennedy’s, a men’s clothing store. The first photo shows the building as it appeared in the late 1930s, with Art Deco-style signage above the storefront, and Kennedy’s remained here at this location until the early 1970s. Since then, many of the large 19th century commercial blocks in downtown Springfield have since been demolished, but the Kennedy Block is still standing with few significant changes to the exterior. The building is now part of the Silverbrick complex, with an interior that has been converted into apartments, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, along with the neighboring Worthington Building on the right side of the scene.

Powers Institute, Bernardston, Mass

The Powers Institute on Church Street in Bernardston, around 1891. Image from Picturesque Franklin (1891).

The scene in 2017:

Massachusetts has long had a strong reputation for its educational system, with public schools dating back to the early days of the colonial era, but it was not until the second half of the 19th century that public high schools became common across the state. Prior to then, public high schools were typically only found in larger cities and towns, but many smaller towns were served by private schools, which were often founded by local benefactors. Here in Bernardston, the Powers Institute was established in 1857, two years after the death of Bernardston native Edward Eppes Powers. In his will, Powers gave the town 100 shares of the Franklin County Bank, which were valued at $10,000. Half of the income from this investment was to be used to support the town’s public elementary schools, while the other half was to be used to open a high school.

This Italianate-style school building was built in 1857 for the Powers Institute, on land that had been donated to the town by other benefactors. It served as a quasi-public high school throughout the 19th century, providing free education for Bernardston residents while charging tuition for out-of-town students. In 1860, Cushman Hall was built on the other side of Church Street, and was given to the town as a boarding house for tuition students. By the 1870s, the cost of tuition was $8 per term (around $180 today), and board was $4 per week, although students also had the option to self-board in furnished rooms that were provided for 35 cents per week.

During its peak in the 1860s, the school had several hundred students per year. However, the enrollment steadily dropped over the next few decades, eventually reaching just 61 students in 1891. By around the turn of the century, it had become more of a standard public school, and the state began subsidizing the tuition of out-of-town students, provided that they lived in a town that was too small to support its own high school. In this new role, the Powers Institute would continue to serve as the town’s public middle and high school for many years, but it finally closed in 1958, when Bernardston students began attending the Pioneer Valley Regional School in nearby Northfield.

After the Powers Institute closed, the old school building became the home of the Bernardston Historical Society, which runs a museum here. It is hard to tell from the first photo because of all the trees in the foreground, but the exterior of the building has not seen any significant changes over the years, and it stands as a rare example of a mid-19th century Italianate school building in the Connecticut River Valley. Because of this, the school building, along with Cushman Hall and the neighboring Cushman Library, is now part of the Powers Institute Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.

Main Street from High Street, Brattleboro, Vermont (2)

Looking north on Main Street from the corner of High Street in Brattleboro, probably around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo is from an undated stereocard, and could have been taken anytime around 1865 to 1885. However, it may have been taken in the earlier end of that range, since the First Baptist Church is not visible on the left side of the photo. This church was completed in 1870, and its absence seems to suggest that the photo was taken before this year, although it is possible that it could be hidden by trees. Either way, this photo shows Main Street as it appeared in the second half of the 19th century, when Brattleboro was developing as a small but prosperous mill town in the southeastern corner of Vermont.

On the extreme right side of the first photo is the corner of the town hall, which was built in 1855 and stood here for nearly a century before its demolition in 1953. Further in the distance on the right is the Centre Congregational Church, which was initially built in 1816 on the town common. In 1842, the church was dismantled, moved, and reconstructed here on Main Street, where it originally featured a Greek Revival-style design that included a columned portico and a steeple above it. However, this steeple was destroyed in a windstorm in 1864, and was subsequently rebuilt with a new design that also eliminated the portico.

The first photo shows the 1864 steeple, possibly only a few years after it was completed. This steeple was damaged in a fire in 1929, but it was repaired and now looks essentially the same as it did when the first photo was taken. Today, the church is the only identifiable photo from the first photo that still survives. The buildings on the left side of the present-day scene date back to around the late 1920s, replacing the old Jonathan Hunt House that once stood on this lot. On the other side of the street is the old W. T. Grant department store, which was built in the mid-1950s to replace the old town hall. Overall, this section of Main Street has undergone far more changes than other parts of downtown Brattleboro, but some of these buildings – including the two churches – are now contributing properties in the Brattleboro Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Town Hall, Brattleboro, Vermont (2)

The town hall on Main Street in Brattleboro, seen from the corner of High Street in May 1937. Image taken by Arthur Rothstein, courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA/OWI Collection.

The scene in 2017:

As mentioned in the previous post, the old Brattleboro town hall was built in 1855, and over the years it was used for town offices and town meetings, but it also housed the library, police department, post office, and county clerk’s office, along with several different commercial tenants. The meeting hall was also used for concerts and other performances, and in 1895 the building was expanded with the addition of an auditorium that was originally known as the opera house. The building hosted a number of notable speakers throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including Henry Ward Beecher, Frederick Douglass, Horace Greeley, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Mark Twain.

During the early 20th century, movies began to eclipse live performances in popularity, and by the 1920s the opera house in the town hall was converted into a movie theater, known as the Auditorium. The first photo, taken in 1937, shows the front entrance of the building, the the marquee advertising Night Must Fall, starring Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell. At the time, the Auditorium was the only movie theater in town, following the a March 15, 1937 fire that destroyed the Princess Theatre on Elliot Street. However, it would soon face new competition from new, modern theaters. Later in 1937, the building next door on the right side of the photo was converted into the Paramount Theatre, and a year later the Latchis Theatre opened a little south of here on Main Street.

This new competition hurt the older Auditorium, which entered a steady decline in the following years. The building continued to be used as the town hall during this time, but in 1951 the town offices were moved to the old high school building, located just north of here on Main Street. The old town hall was mostly demolished two years later, and a W. T. Grant department store was built on the site. However, parts of the exterior brick walls of the town hall were left standing, and were incorporated into the new one-story building. Part of the old wall can be seen on the right side of the building in the present-day photo, with light-colored bricks that contrast with the darker bricks of the front part of the building.

Town Hall, Brattleboro, Vermont

The old town hall on Main Street in Brattleboro, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene in 2017:

The Brattleboro town hall was built here on Main Street in 1855, and served a wide variety of roles during its 98 years of existence. Aside from the town offices, this building housed the police department, post office, county clerk’s office, and library, and its hall was used for town meetings, concerts, theatrical performances, and other public events. The town also rented space in the building to private tenants, and over the years these included a bookstore, a dry goods store, and lawyers’ offices. Another tenant was William Morris Hunt, a prominent artist who had lived across the street from here as a child in the 1820s and early 1830s. He subsequently spent many years in Europe, but returned to Brattleboro for about a year in 1856, living in his old boyhood home and renting studio space here in the town hall.

The first photo was taken around 1894, nearly 40 years after the building was completed. The town hall had not changed much at that point, but about a year later it underwent an extensive renovation and expansion, which added an 875-seat opera house to the building. Like the original meeting hall in the building, this opera house was used for a variety of live performances, but by the early 1920s it had been converted into a movie theater, known as the Auditorium. Over the next few decades, though, the theater steadily declined, especially as newer, purpose-built movie theaters opened in downtown Brattleboro. In 1937, the building just to the right of the town hall was converted into the Paramount Theatre, and a year later the Latchis Theatre opened a few blocks to the south.

In the meantime, the building remained in use as the town hall until the early 1950s. However, in 1951 a new high school building opened in the southern part of town, leaving the old downtown school building vacant. The school was then converted into town offices, and the old town hall was sold. It was mostly demolished in 1953, although some of the exterior walls were left standing and were incorporated into the W. T. Grant department store, which was built on this site. This store is now long gone, but the one-story building remains, and still has some of the original walls of the town hall.

Aside from these walls, the only other surviving feature from the first photo is the building on the far right. Built around 1850, this commercial block is distinctive for its Main Street facade, which is made of granite blocks. The building was substantially altered when it was converted into the Paramount Theatre in 1937, including a large addition to the rear, a flat roof to replace the original gabled roof, and metal panels that covered the granite exterior. The building was gutted by a fire in 1991, but it was subsequently restored and is still standing today. Now that it no longer has the metal panels or the theater marquee, it looks more like its original appearance than it did for most of the 20th century, and despite the many changes it is still recognizable from the first photo.

Main Street from High Street, Brattleboro, Vermont

Looking north on Main Street from the corner of High Street in Brattleboro, in May 1937. Photo taken by Arthur Rothstein, courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA/OWI Collection.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo was taken in May 1937 by Arthur Rothstein, a prominent photojournalist who worked for the Farm Security Administration during the 1930s. Like the other photographers of this New Deal-era agency, Rothstein traveled around the country, documenting rural life during the Great Depression. In 1936 he visited Oklahoma, where he took one of the most iconic images of the Dust Bowl, and the following year he was in Vermont, where his images included this scene on Main Street in the downtown Brattleboro. The photo shows rows of cars parked along the street, with a mix of houses, businesses, and public buildings on the east side of the street.

Probably the oldest building in this scene is the Centre Congregational Church, with its prominent steeple in the middle of both photos. The church was originally built in 1816, and was located a little north of here on the town common. However, in 1842 the building was dismantled and reconstructed here on this site, with a design similar to the old building. The new church was dedicated in 1843, and included a steeple and a columned portico at the front of the building. This steeple was destroyed in high winds in 1864, though, and it was rebuilt with a new Italianate-style design that omitted the columns at the front entrance. In 1929, the steeple was damaged in a fire, but was repaired and has not seen any other significant changes since the first photo was taken.

The other notable building in the first photo is the town hall, which is on the right side of the scene. Built in 1855, this building saw a variety of uses, including as town offices, post office, library, and the police department, and it also housed commercial tenants over the years. In 1895, the building was renovated, and an 875-seat opera house was added to it. By the time the first photo was taken, the opera house had the less-glamorous name of Auditorium, and was used primarily as a movie theater, with the marquee advertising Night Must Fall, starring Robert Montgomery. However, the auditorium fell into decline as newer theaters opened on Main Street in the late 1930s, and in 1951 the town offices moved just up Main Street to the old high school, leaving this building vacant. It was mostly demolished two years later, and a W. T. Grant department store was built on the site. However, portions of the exterior walls of the old town hall were left standing, and were incorporated into the new building.

More than 80 years after the first photo was taken, this scene has not significantly changed aside from the loss of the old town hall. The W. T. Grant building that replaced it is still there, although the old department store has long since given way to new retail tenants. The church is also still there, as is the three-story granite building on the far right, which was built around 1850 and was later converted into the Paramount Theatre soon after the first photo was taken. Today, these 19th century buildings are now part of the Brattleboro Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.