Public Library, Worcester, Mass

The Worcester Public Library on Elm Street, around 1905-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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Prior to the mid-19th century, public libraries were almost unheard of in the United States. However, by the late 1850s many cities were establishing their own libraries, including Worcester in 1859. It began with about 10,000 books, donated from the Worcester Lyceum and the private collection of Dr. John Green, and was originally housed on the third floor of a commercial block at the corner of Main and Foster Streets.

In 1862, the library moved into its first permanent home on Elm Street, the building on the right side of the first photo. In the following decades, though, the library’s collections outgrew this original space, and in 1891 it was expanded to the east with the massive addition on the left side of the photo. This addition was designed by Worcester architect Stephen Earle, with a Romanesque style design that bore no relation to the more Italianate-based style of the original building.

The Worcester Public Library remained here until 1964, when it moved to its current location on Salem Street. The century-old building here on Elm Street, along with its 1891 addition, were then demolished, and the site was redeveloped as a parking garage.

Mechanics Hall, Worcester, Mass

Mechanics Hall on Main Street in Worcester, around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

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The building in 2016:

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Mechanics Hall is a concert hall and a prominent landmark in Worcester. It was built in 1857 by the city’s Mechanics Association, with prominent local architect Elbridge Boyden designing the Italianate structure. With a seating capacity of nearly 2,000, it was by far the largest public hall in the city during the second half of the 19th century, and it attracted many prominent speakers and performers.

In 1868, Mechanics Hall was a stop on Charles Dickens’s tour of the United States. He had previously visited Worcester in 1842, when he was still a young writer, but when he returned to America for his 1867-1868 tour he was an international celebrity. His tour featured sell-out crowds in venues across the northeast, and when he visited Boston there were even people who out overnight on the sidewalk to buy tickets. Here in Worcester, he probably had a similar reception, and in his March 23 performance at Mechanics Hall his audience heard him read A Christmas Carol and part of The Pickwick Papers.

Over the years, the concert hall has seen many other notable performers. It fell into decline in the mid-20th century, though, and was threatened with the possibility of demolition. All of the surrounding buildings from the first photo have since disappeared, but Mechanics Hall has survived. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, and later in the decade it was restored to its former appearance. Today, the third-floor hall remains in use for a variety of events, including, appropriately enough, a 2012 reading of A Christmas Carol by Gerald Dickens, the great-great-grandson of Charles Dickens.

Main Street, Worcester, Mass

Looking north along Main Street from just south of Pleasant Street, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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Taken just across Main Street from the previous post, this scene shows the buildings along the east side of Main Street, many of which are still standing some 110 years after the first photo was taken. Most prominent in this view is Harrington Corner, the four-story commercial block on the right side at the corner of Front Street. This Italianate brick building was designed by local architect Elbridge Boyden and completed in 1850, several years before his more famous Mechanics Hall was built a few locks away in the distance. When the first photo was taken, it had several businesses in the ground-level storefronts, including D.H. Eames Men’s & Boys’ Clothing, and Bemis & Co. Fine Shoes. The upper floors had professional offices, with signs showing offices for a stock broker, architect, and even Whittemore’s Dancing Academy on the top floor. Today, the building is somewhat altered, but is still standing as a prominent historic landmark in downtown Worcester.

Beyond Harrington Corner on the right side of the street, starting closest to the foreground in the first photo, is the Piper Block, the Richmond Block, and the Clark Block, all of which were built in the 1850s. Today, these buildings are still standing, but they were heavily altered in the second half of the 20th century with drastically different Main Street facades, leaving only the two upper floors of part of the Clark Block still recognizable from the first photo. Even further in the distance on the right side are several other historic buildings, including the 1871 Grout’s Block and the 1857 Mechanics Hall. The left side of the photo has seen more changes, but a few buildings are still standing, including the 1869 Rogers Building, in the foreground at the corner of Pleasant Street, and the 1897 State Mutual Building further in the distance.

Main Street, Hartford, Connecticut (2)

Looking north on Main Street from State Street in Hartford, on January 30, 1904. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

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Main Street in 2016:

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These photos were taken from nearly the same spot as the ones in the previous post, just looking a little further to the left. This view shows the commercial development along the east side of Main Street north of State Street, including the mid-19th century Exchange Block on the right. Beyond it, there are several other buildings from around the same time period, all of which have long since been demolished. The site of these buildings has since been redeveloped into State House Square, which now stands on the right side of the photo.

Most of the other buildings from the first photo have since been demolished, but a few are still standing. The tall building in the center of the first photo was built only a few years earlier, in 1898, and was the home of the Sage-Allen department store. The company closed in 1994, and for almost a decade the building’s fate was in limbo, but its facade was ultimately preserved and incorporated into a new development.

Another prominent building, which has survived more or less intact from the first photo, is the Cheney Building at the corner of Temple Street, just beyond the Sage-Allen Building. This brownstone building was designed by prominent architect Henry Hobson Richardson and completed in 1876, and for many years it was the Brown-Thomson department store. A third department store, G. Fox, was also located along this section of Main Street. Their building, barely visible in the first photo beyond the Cheney Building, burned in 1917, and was replaced with their much larger flagship store, which is still standing in the distance of the 2016 photo.

Exchange Block, Hartford, Connecticut

The Exchange Block at the northeast corner of Main and State Streets, on December 6, 1903. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

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The scene in 2016:

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This location at the corner of Main and State Streets, directly opposite the Old State House, has long been an important commercial center for the city. Known as the Exchange Block, it dates back to the 1830s, when it replaced an earlier building destroyed in a fire. By 1903, when the first photo was taken, the signs here indicate a wide range of businesses and professional offices, including a coal company, cigar store, clothing store, tailors, lawyers, a real estate broker, a dentist, and a physician.

The oldest portion of the building appears to be the section in the center, with Greek Revival architecture that likely dates back to the 1830s. The left side of the building has more of an Italianate design, and was probably built or renovated around the 1850s or 1860s. This part of the building was demolished in the 1920s, and everything else from the first photo was gone sometime between the 1930s and 1984, when construction began on State House Square, the office building that now stands on the site here.

Union House, Springfield, Mass

The former Union House/Chandler Hotel building on the right side of the photo, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The scene in 2016:

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The building on the right side of this scene is one of the oldest existing commercial blocks in downtown Springfield, although much of it will soon be demolished as part of the MGM Springfield casino project. When it opened as the Union House in 1846 it was one of the finest hotels in the city, and it was built for Jeremy Warriner, who had previously operated a tavern a block away at the corner of Main and State Streets. His old tavern had been popular in the stagecoach days, but with the opening of the railroad a half mile away, his inconventiently located, colonial-era building faced stiff competition from modern hotels like the Massasoit House.

Here at the corner of Main and Bliss Streets, his new hotel was actually slightly further from the railroad, but it was at least in a modern building. Within a few years, the hotel had attracted some prominent guests, including President James K. Polk, who stayed overnight here in 1847, accompanied by future president James Buchanan, who was Secretary of State at the time. In 1849, author Sara Jane Lippincott, who wrote under the pen name of Grace Greenwood, visited the hotel and later raved about the quality of the meals here, explaining “I am not about to attempt a description of Warriner’s dinner, with their endless succession of delicious dishes, their inimitable sauces, and exquisite puddings and pastry. For this I have neither time nor talent sufficient.”

However, the Massasoit House continued to draw guests with its convenient location next to the railroad station, and “Uncle Jerry” and “Aunt Phoebe” Warriner retired from the hotel business a few years later. The building continued to be used as a hotel through several changes in ownership, and by the 1880s it had become Chandler Hotel, a name that would remain until it closed in 1933. During this time, the building was extensively renovated, to the point where very little is left from the original 1846 structure.

The first photo was taken soon after the hotel closed, and at the time the first floor was being used as a drugstore. Most recently, it was the home of Glory Shoes, but the upper floors have been vacant for years and are in poor condition. Most of the building will soon be demolished except for the Main and Bliss Street facades, which will be incorporated into the casino design. As for the other buildings in the first photo, the Metropolitan Furniture Company was one of several furniture companies that were once located in the South End. This building was either demolished or trimmed down to one floor at some point, because there was a one-story commercial building here that was demolished as part of the casino project, along with the one on the far left side of the first photo.