First Baptist Church, Newport, Rhode Island

The First Baptist Church, seen from the corner of Spring and Sherman Streets in Newport, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

Settled in the 1630s as a haven for religious minorities, Rhode Island is home to some of the oldest Baptist congregations in the United States, including Roger Williams’s First Baptist Church in America, which was founded around 1638 in Providence. Around the same time, Baptist minister John Clarke started holding services in Portsmouth, on the northern end of Aquidneck Island, but he subsequently moved to Newport, on the southern end of the island, where he lived for the rest of his life. Here, he founded what would become the First Baptist Church of Newport, and he became an important figure in colonial Rhode Island, including obtaining the Rhode Island Royal Charter from Charles II in 1663.

Also known as the Second Baptist Church in America, this congregation would occupy several different meetinghouses over the next few centuries, first on Tanner Street and then, starting in 1737, at this lot on Spring Street, near the corner of Sherman Street. The 1737 church stood here until 1846, when the current Greek Revival-style church building was constructed, but the old church was moved to Sherman Street and stood there until it was demolished in 1929. In the meantime, in 1885 the church built a Queen Anne-style parsonage, which is seen here on the left side of this scene.

The 1846 church building remained mostly unchanged until 1938, when Rhode Island was hit by a Category 3 hurricane. Newport avoided a direct hit, but the storm still caused considerable damage, including destroying the original steeple of the First Baptist Church. A few years later, in 1946, the church merged with the Second Baptist Church, which had been formed as an offshoot of the First Baptist in 1656. The combined congregation, named United Baptist Church, sold the Second Baptist building and used the proceeds to restore this church, which was rededicated in 1950.

The restoration included a new steeple, which is of the same design as the original but smaller, which gives the building a somewhat disproportional appearance today. Otherwise, very little has changed in this scene, although it is hard to tell in the 2017 photo because of the large tree – perhaps the same one from the first photo – that mostly obscures the view of the church. Both the church and the parsonage are now contributing buildings in the Newport Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968.

William Watts Sherman House, Newport, Rhode Island

The William Watts Sherman House on Shepard Avenue in Newport, sometime in the late 1870s. Image courtesy of the Cornell University Library, Andrew Dickson White Architectural Photographs Collection.

The house in 2017:

William Watts Sherman was born in Albany in 1842, and later moved to New York City, where he became a physician. However, he left the medical practice to enter his father’s banking firm of Duncan, Sherman & Company, and became a wealthy businessman. In 1871 he married Annie Wetmore, the daughter of prominent merchant William Shepard Wetmore. Originally from Vermont, Wetmore had been among the early summer residents in Newport, and built his Chateau-sur-Mer mansion on Bellevue Avenue in 1852.

A few years after their marriage, the Shermans built their own house on part of Annie’s late father’s property, just to the south of Chateau-sur-Mer on the opposite side of Shepard Avenue. For the design, they hired Henry H. Richardson, a recently-established architect who was already well on his way to becoming one of the most influential in American history. He is best known for pioneering the Richardsonian Romanesque style that was prevalent throughout the late 19th century, and designed a number of churches, railroad stations, libraries, and other public buildings. He did not design many private residences, but the Sherman house would become one of his most important works and would help to inspire the Shingle style of architecture that would go on to become ubiquitous in New England resort communities such as Newport.

Completed in 1876, the Sherman house was unlike anything that had been built in Newport up to this point. Most of the earlier homes had designs that were based on Greek, Italian, or French styles, but for this house Richardson blended elements from traditional English and American architecture, giving it a unique appearance that stood out among the other summer cottages in Newport. The house’s exterior, particularly the use of wooden shingles on the upper floors, proved highly influential, and the house became a prototype for Shingle-style architecture of the 1880s and 1890s. Richardson himself designed very few other houses, though, and  it would be two of his former assistants, Charles McKim and Stanford White, who would go on to create some of the finest Shingle-style homes.

Stanford White was involved in the design of the house, and he would play a larger role a few years later, when his firm of McKim, Mead & White was hired to design a large addition to the house. Built on the left side of the scene, this new wing substantially enlarged the house, while matching Richardson’s original exterior. The first photo here shows the house as it originally appeared, sometime before construction on the addition began in 1879. It was completed two years later, with Stanford White providing interior designs for both a parlor and a library in this wing.

William and Annie Sherman had two daughters, Georgette and Sybil, who were born in the early 1870s. However, Annie died in 1884 at the age of 35, and the following year William remarried to Sophia Augusta Brown, the 18-year-old daughter of the late John Carter Brown II. A member of the prominent Brown family of Providence, John Carter Brown II was the son of Nicholas Brown, Jr., the namesake of Brown University, and John himself would later leave leave his mark on the university when his rare book collection became the basis for the John Carter Brown Library. Curiously, William Sherman’s oldest daughter, Georgette, would later marry Sophia’s older brother, Harold Brown, making William Sherman both a brother-in-law and father-in-law to his daughter’s new husband.

With his new wife, William Watts Sherman had two more daughters, Irene and Mildred, and around 1890 they expanded the house again, adding a ballroom that was designed by local architect Dudley Newton. He continued to spend summers here until his death in 1912, and Sophia owned the house until her death more than 30 years later, in 1946. By this point the massive Gilded Age mansions of Newport had fallen out of fashion, and the mid-20th century saw many of these landmarks demolished or converted into other uses. In the case of the Sherman house, it became the Baptist Home of Rhode Island, a retirement home that opened in 1950.

Because of its architectural significance, the house was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1970, and it is also a contributing property in the Bellevue Avenue Historic District, which is likewise a National Historic Landmark. In 1982, the property was purchased by Salve Regina University, whose campus includes many other historic mansions in the area. It is now a dormitory for sophomore students, and still stands as one of Newport’s finest architectural treasures, with hardly any differences between these two photos aside from the 1879-1881 addition on the left side.

Edmond H. Smith House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 75 Mulberry Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This house was built in 1889 for Edmond H. Smith, a tobacco dealer with the firm of Hinsdale Smith & Company. His father, Hinsdale, had entered the tobacco business as a young man in 1840, and Edmond subsequently joined the firm as a partner, along with his cousin, Enos Smith. He and Enos took over control of the company after Hinsdale’s death in 1893, and by the early 20th century it was a major producer of tobacco, with locally-grown tobacco from its farms in Feeding Hills in addition to imports from Sumatra and Havana.

Edmond married his first wife, Annie Parker, in 1882, and about seven years later they moved into this newly-completed house on Mulberry Street. By this point they had four young sons, who were all born within a four-year span from 1884 to 1888: Bradford, Theodore, James, and Rodney. They would have a fifth son, Edmond, who was born in 1896, but Annie died during the birth and young Edmond only lived for a few months. Two years later, Edmond remarried to Cora W. Atkinson, and they had one child, Julia, who was born in 1902.

By the 1910 census, Edmond and Cora were living here with the five children, plus Edmond’s elderly mother-in-law from his first marriage, Sophia Parker. Edmond’s four sons were in their 20s at this point, and the two younger boys were students at Colgate University. Bradford, the oldest, had graduated from Colgate in 1908, and Theodore from Dartmouth in 1910. All four sons had moved out of the house by the next census in 1920, with James serving as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps during World War I.

Edmond died in 1932, and the house sat vacant for several years. However, by the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s it had been converted into a rooming house. The 1940 census shows that the house was owned by Eva B. Chevalier, a 48-year-old widow who lived here and rented rooms to seven women, whose ages ranged from 19 to 63. Aside from the oldest, who was presumably retired, they all had working-class jobs. Some of the job descriptions were fairly straightforward, such as a hairdresser and a telephone operator, but others were a little more enigmatic, such as “child nourishment” for “school lunch project,” “cutter” for “canning project,” and “presentation leader” for “first aid arts and crafts.”

The house continued to be used as a rooming house throughout the 20th century, but both it and the surrounding neighborhood steadily declined. By the 1990s the house was in serious disrepair, but it was purchased in 2001 and restored to its original appearance, around the same time as the restoration of the long-vacant house next door to the left. Today, both houses stand as good examples of late 19th century residential architecture in Springfield, and they are part of the city’s Ridgewood Local Historic District.

Hannah E. Griffin House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 175 Mill Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This house was built around 1890, and was originally the home of Hannah E. Griffin, an elderly widow whose son, Solomon B. Griffin, was the managing editor of the Springfield Republican. According to the 1899 city atlas, Solomon owned the house, although he and his wife Ida were living on Round Hill at the time, with Ida’s mother. During the 1900 census, Hannah was 80 years old, and was living in this house with her unmarried daughter Mary, as well as a servant. Hannah lived here until her death in 1903, and the following year Solomon built his own house on an adjacent lot, which is visible in the distance on the left of both photos.

Solomon’s sister Mary continued to live here until the late 1910s, and by 1920 the house was the home of Solomon’s son Courtlandt and his newlywed wife, Alice. Courtlandt was a salesman for the Carew Manufacturing Company, a paper manufacturer in Holyoke, and he and Alice lived here for several years, before moving to Sumner Avenue around 1924. The house was subsequently rented to Charles C. Ramsdell, the vice president of the  Gilbert & Barker Manufacturing Company, a West Springfield-based company that made gasoline pumps, oil burners, and similar equipment. He and his wife Marguerite lived here until around 1927, but by the end of the decade they had moved to an apartment at the Hotel Kimball on Chestnut Street.

This house sat vacant for several years, but by the early 1930s it was being rented by Dr. Arthur Edgelow, an English-born physician who lived here with his mother Caroline, his wife Cybel, and their four young daughters: Carol, Catherine, Honour, and Margaret. They were still living here when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, and the 1940 census shows them paying $80 per month in rent, while also employing two maids. However, the family only lived here for a few more years before moving to a house on Oxford Street in the Forest Park neighborhood.

Over the years, the house declined to the point where, by the early 2000s, it was tax-foreclosed and vacant. The house remained abandoned and boarded-up until 2015, when it was purchased from the city and restored. At some point over the years the porches had been enclosed, so part of the restoration included rebuilding these to match their original appearance, and today the house does not look much different from how it looked when the first photo was taken nearly 80 years ago.

Veranus Casino, Chicopee, Mass

The Veranus Casino, at the southwest corner of Springfield Street and Casino Avenue in Chicopee, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

This section of Chicopee was developed in the late 19th century by Frank E. Tuttle and James L. Humphrey, who had purchased 50 acres of land between Springfield and Hampden Streets, just to the south of the center of Chicopee. The development was named Veranus, in honor of Veranus Chapin, who had once owned a farm here, and the centerpiece of this new neighborhood was the Veranus Casino, which was located here at the corner of Springfield Street and Casino Avenue.

The Queen Anne-style casino building was completed in the early 1890s, right around the time that the first photo was taken. It was operated by the Veranus Casino Company, with Frank E. Tuttle as vice president and his father-in-law, George M. Stearns, as president. Unlike the modern sense of the word, a late 19th century “casino” did not generally involve gambling, and the term was instead used for places that offered a variety of recreational activities. As described in the Boston Daily Globe after the company was established in 1890, the casino would be used for “social, literary, artistic, and educational purposes,” and upon completion the building would include a 400-seat auditorium.

The book Picturesque Hampden, published in 1892, includes a lengthy account of the Veranus neighborhood, and describes the casino as “a combination of theater and clubhouse, pleasantly located on Springfield street. It is tastefully and substantially built, in the modern style of architecture, from original designs by F. E. Tuttle, which were perfected by architect F. R. Richmond of Springfield.” The book then describes the interior of the building:

The clubrooms are located in the front portion of the building. They consist of handsome and roomy parlors, one each on the two first floors, both being connected with the kitchen in the basement by a dumb-waiter; a ladies’ dressing-room on the second floor; a gentlemen’s smoking-room and a billiard-room on the third. All of these rooms are attractively finished and adorned with rich and tasteful furniture, in which comfort is the evident consideration, instead of magnificence and costliness. The clubrooms are open to members every day in the year, from 10 a. m. to 10 p. m., and are in charge of a gentleman and lady who reside in the building. On Wednesday evening of each week, special receptions are held here by the club families and their children, and on Sunday evenings they all gather here to sing sacred songs, a piano and psalm books being provided. Harmless amusements are also to be found in the rooms at all times, and light refreshments are served therein to all members and their immediate friends who may desire.

Despite such fanfare, though, the Veranus Casino lasted for barely two decades. In 1913, the same year that Frank Tuttle died, the casino was sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, and the property appears to have subsequently become part of Elms College, which is located across the street from here. The fate of the building seems unclear, although according to the city assessor’s office the current house on the site was built in 1926. If accurate, this would suggest that the casino was probably demolished around this time.

Simeon E. Walton House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 80 Cornell Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This house is known locally as the “Peter Proud House” for its role in the 1975 film The Reincarnation of Peter Proud, but the house was already nearly a century old when it made its brief Hollywood appearance. It was built in 1888, and was originally the home of Simeon E. Walton, a carpenter and builder who, according to an 1892 advertisement in the city directory, specialized in hardwood mosaic floors. This likely explains the interior of the house, which is still covered in fine hardwood floors, as well as wood paneling on the walls. He and his wife Ella had previously lived in a different house in the McKnight neighborhood, at 77 Clarendon Street, but they moved here after this house was completed and lived here until around 1910, when they moved to Agawam.

During the 1910 census, the house was owned by William Patton, a real estate developer whose properties included the Patton Building, which still stands at 15-19 Hampden Street. He was 52 years old and unmarried, and he rented part of this large house to Frederick and Mary Simmons, who were in their late 60s at the time. They lived here with their son, Frederick Jr., but both Frederick and Mary died of pneumonia in January 1914, less than a week apart. Their son continued to live here for a few more years, but he died in 1918 at the age of 50.

After Frederick’s death, his sister Emma and her husband, George B. Church, moved into this house, along with their two teenaged daughters, Dorothea and Mary. William Patton continued to live here during this time, and George worked as a secretary for his real estate company. However, William died in 1925, and George and Emma subsequently moved to their own house on Morningside Park, in the Forest Park neighborhood.

This house stood vacant throughout the late 1920s, and was not occupied again until the early 1930s, when it was the home of Philip Decoteau, a French-Canadian immigrant who owned a shoe repair business on Oak Street in Indian Orchard. He and his wife Emily were in their 60s at the time, and they lived here with their sizable family, which included at least six of their adult children, plus a son-in-law, daughter-in-law, and several grandchildren. They were still living here into the late 1930s, but by 1939 the house was vacant and for sale, as indicated by the sign in the front yard of the first photo.

The house’s moment of fame came in 1975, when it was featured in the supernatural film The Reincarnation of Peter Proud. The movie was an adaptation of the 1973 novel of the same name, which was written by Springfield native Max Ehrlich, and much it was filmed here in Springfield. In the movie, the title character (played by Michael Sarrazin) is a college professor in California who suffers from recurring nightmares that, as it turns out, are flashbacks from a previous life. Seeking answers, he travels to Springfield, where he discovers many of the landmarks from his dreams, including this house, which had been his home in his previous life.

Today, the house still stands on Cornell Street, and still retains much of its Victorian-era elegance, although it has undergone some significant changes over the years. Even before the first photo was taken, the original clapboard exterior was replaced with stucco, and during the 1940s the interior was divided into several different apartments. The original tin roof, visible in the first photo, is also gone, except for the top of the spire. However, it remains a prominent house in a neighborhood that is filled with fine Victorian homes, and it is now part of the McKnight Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.