George M. Stearns House, Chicopee, Mass

The house at 111 Springfield Street in Chicopee, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The house in 2017:

This house was built around the early 1830s, and appears to have originally been owned by Rodolphus Kinsley, a locksmith who held several patents for door locks and latches. At the time, the house was significantly smaller, with relatively plain Greek Revival-style architecture, and likely would have only consisted of the central portion of the house. In 1834, the house was temporarily used as the first home of the Third Congregational Church, which later built its own church building just down the street from here, and by the mid-1850s maps show that the house was owned by a S.F. Williams.

The most prominent owner of this house was George M. Stearns, a lawyer and politician who was living here by the 1870 census, along with his wife Emily and their two young daughters, Mary and Emily. Born in 1831 in Stoughton but raised in rural Rowe, Massachusetts, Stearns came to Chicopee as a 17-year-old in 1848 and studied law under John Wells, a lawyer who later became a judge on the state Supreme Court. Stearns was subsequently admitted to the bar in 1852, and became Wells’s law partner for several years.

Aside from his law practice, Stearns also held several political offices, including serving a term in the state House of Representatives in 1859 and in the state Senate in 1871. In 1872 he was appointed as District Attorney for the Western District of Massachusetts, and in 1886 Grover Cleveland appointed him as U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. He was also involved in the Democratic Party, and served as a delegate to both state and national party conventions.

George and Emily Stearns ultimately outlived both of their daughters, and they were still living here when the first photo was taken in the early 1890s. By this point the house had been significantly altered from its 1830s appearance, including wings on both the left and right side, and the original part of the house was modified with a two-story bay window to the left of the front door. These changes helped to give the house more of an ornate Queen Anne-style appearance, although it still retained some of its original Greek Revival features.

George Stearns died in 1894, several months after he and Emily moved to Brookline, Massachusetts, and this house went on to have a number of different residents over the following years. By the 1900 census it was the home of Alexander Acheson Montgomery-Moore, an Irish immigrant who was the proprietor of the Kendall House hotel in the center of Chicopee. He lived here with his wife Lillian and their infant son Cecil, along with Lillian’s mother Nancy. The family did not live here in this house for long, and by 1909 they were living in Bermuda. Young Cecil would go on to have a distinguished career in the Royal Air Force. He served as a fighter pilot during World War I, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross in the process, and during World War II he was a major, in command of both the Bermuda Volunteer Engineers and the Bermuda Flying School.

In the meantime, by the 1910 census this house was being rented by George S. Ball, who worked as a machinist for Spalding. He and his wife Ina were both in their early 50s at the time, and they lived here with their three children, who were all in their 20s. The oldest, Laura, worked as a trimmer for the Ames Sword Company, William was a shipping clerk for the Stevens-Duryea car manufacturing company, and the youngest, Susie, was a stenographer.

By the 1920 census, the house had become a boarding house, owned by French-Canadian immigrant Elzear X. LaBelle. He and his wife Josephine lived here with their children Leo, Eva, and Edward, and the census shows 11 boarders living here with them. The boarders were all men, mostly in their early 20s, and included two immigrants from Ireland and three from Greece. Most were employed in area factories, including five who worked in a rubber shop and two who worked as die makers in a forge shop, but there were also two firemen, a barber, and a pool room clerk.

The LaBelles were still here in 1930, this time with seven boarders, six of whom were men. They were a wide range of ages, from 27 to 71,  and all were either single or widowed. All but two were immigrants, including one from Scotland, one from Northern Ireland, one from Quebec, and two from Greece, and their jobs included working for a sporting goods company, an electric light company, a rubber factory, a shoe shine parlor, and a restaurant.

The building remained a boarding house for many years, but the exterior has not significantly changed during this time, and it is now a contributing property in the Springfield Street Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. The house was undergoing a significant renovation when the first photo was taken and, when complete, the interior will include 16 units for low-income housing.

Morris House, Smith College, Northampton, Mass

Morris House on the campus of Smith College in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

Morris House in 2018:

As mentioned in the previous post, the identical Lawrence House and Morris House were both completed in 1892, filling a need for student housing at the rapidly-growing Smith College. Although the school had opened less than 20 years earlier, in the fall of 1875, with an enrollment of just 14 students, this had grown to 636 by 1892. Morris House, seen here in these two photos, was named after one of these early students, Kate Morris, who was one of eleven women in the school’s first graduating class in 1879. Three years later she became the first to earn a Ph.D. from Smith, and she would subsequently become the first alumna to serve on the school’s Board of Trustees.

Like Lawrence House, Morris House was designed by Hartford-based architect William C. Brocklesby, and in more than 125 years there have been few changes to the building’s exterior. The small dormer windows on the long side of the building have been replaced by larger ones, and the decorative bargeboards under the gables are gone, but otherwise it looks essentially the same as it did when the first photo was taken. It remains in use as one of the 35 residential buildings at Smith College, and currently houses 68 students on its four floors.

Lawrence House, Smith College, Northampton, Mass

Lawrence House on the campus of Smith College in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

Lawrence House in 2018:

When Smith College opened in the fall of 1875, there were just 14 students enrolled in the school. However, over the next few decades the school saw dramatic growth, resulting in a number of new buildings on campus in the 1880s and 1890s. In the six year period from 1886 to 1892, for example, enrollment grew from 247 to 636, and in 1892 two new dormitories were added to accommodate this influx. The two identical buildings, Lawrence House and Morris House, were both designed by William C. Brocklesby, a Hartford architect who was responsible for many of the campus buildings during this period, and they were named in honor of two Smith College alumnae: Elizabeth Crocker Lawrence, class of 1883; and Kate Morris, class of 1879.

Lawrence House, seen here in these two photos, became a cooperative house in 1912, with students receiving discounted tuition in exchange for doing one hour of chores each day. The 62 spots here were highly competitive, requiring high academic standing as well as an interview with the dean, and former resident Constance Jackson, writing for The Smith Alumnae Quarterly in 1922, noted that “it is considered a stroke of luck by most of the college to achieve Lawrence House.” At the beginning of the school year, students were assigned temporary jobs, but they later submitted their preferences for permanent jobs. As Jackson described in her article:

Later, when academic schedules are definitely settled, each student gives the head of the house a card bearing her first, second, and third choice for a permanent task, as well as her “pet aversion.” Needless to say these are never assigned! The freshmen are but little concerned for they have already been informed by upper classmen who have achieved the dignity of sweeping and setting up tables, that the dinner dishes constitute their particular destiny.

Jackson went on to explain how:

The work is never a burden in any sense, for the hour each day spent at one’s particular task is a wholesome change from the academic atmosphere. The interest which everyone takes in the well-being of the house as a whole is truly remarkable and far different from the attitude commonly seen in the houses where the duties of keeping up appearances fall to maids. A scrap of paper in the hallway, a bit of dust on the stairs, is noticed and immediately removed by whomever sees it first – not because it is a duty but because it reflects on the common home which we have all come to love.

Lawrence House remained a cooperative house for many years, and during this time its most famous resident was Sylvia Plath, who lived here from the fall of 1952 until her graduation in the spring of 1955. Although best known for her 1963 novel The Bell Jar, Plath has already written many short stories by the time she moved into Lawrence House, and several of these had been published in magazines. While at Smith College she also served on the editorial board of the school’s literary magazine, the Smith Review, and in 1953 she was selected as a guest editor for Mademoiselle. However, her college years were also marked by increased depression, and her time at Lawrence House was interrupted in 1953, when she spent six months in a psychiatric hospital after her first suicide attempt.

Today, Lawrence House is no longer a cooperative house, but it remains in use as one of 35 residential buildings on the Smith College campus, housing 68 students. The exterior has seen few changes, although at some point in the mid-20th century the dormer windows on the long sides of the building (not visible from this angle) were significantly altered. Otherwise, both Lawrence House and its twin, Morris House, remain very much the same as they did when they were completed over 125 years ago.

Francis R. Richmond House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 20 Greenleaf Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This house was built in 1893, and was originally the home of Francis R. Richmond, a prominent local architect. He was born in Shelburne Falls, but he later came to Springfield, where he began his architectural career with the firm of Gardner & Gardner. He later partnered with B. Hammett Seabury to form Richmond & Seabury, and their firm’s works in the 1880s included the Tapley School, the Jefferson Avenue School, and the chapel and gate for Oak Grove Cemetery. However, in 1890 they dissolved the partnership, and Richmond went into business for himself. Over the next 17 years, he designed buildings such as the South Main Street School, the North Main Street Fire Station, the Memorial Church Parish House, and several downtown commercial blocks, including the Homestead Building on Worthington Street.

Francis and his wife Laura had six children, although two died young, before the family moved into this house. The other four children were still living here during the 1900 census, with 20-year-old Mabel working as a schoolteacher, while 18-year-old Alice was a milliner. The two youngest, Florence and Otis, were 13 and 12, respectively, and both were attending school at the time. Francis died seven years later, from what his death certificate listed as “chronic melancholia & chronic gastritis,” but the rest of the family, plus Alice’s husband George Allen, were still living here in this house during the 1910 census.

The house would remain in the Richmond family until Laura’s death in 1919, and by the following year it was owned by Erving R. Gurney, the chief engineer for the Springfield-based Knox Motor Company. He and his wife Edith were both in their early 40s at the time, and had six children children who were in their teens and early 20s: Georgianna, William, Dorothy, Marguerite, Alice, and Edith. They lived here for several years, but by 1924 they had moved to New York.

The house was subsequently sold to William J. Warner, who was living here by about 1925 along with his wife Minnie and their children, Janet and Allen. At the time, he was the sales manager of the Hampden Glazed Card and Paper Company, but in the late 1920s he became the vice president of the Marvellum Company in Holyoke. Then, in 1931, this company established the Beveridge-Marvellum Company, with Warner as president and general manager. He continued to live here until as late as 1936, but by 1937 the family had moved to a house on Bellevue Avenue, in the northern section of the Forest Park Heights neighborhood.

By the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, the house was owned by Homer R. Feltham, the head of the real estate department for the Springfield Safe Deposit and Trust Company. During the 1940 census, he was earning $4,200 for his yearly salary – a considerable sum at the time – and he lived here with his wife Mildred, their daughters Barbara and Virginia, and his father, William H. Feltham, who owned the William H. Feltham & Son real estate and insurance business. Homer later became the vice president and mortgage officer of the Springfield Institution for Savings, and he and Mildred lived in this house until they sold the property in 1957.

Since then, the house has undergone some exterior changes. The second-floor porch has been enclosed, and many of the Queen Anne-style architectural details are gone, including the scalloped shingles on the second floor, the balustrade on the left side, the dentils above the first and second floors, and the balustrade on the third floor. Overall, though, the house has been well-maintained, and it is now part of the Forest Park Heights Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Charles W. Rannenberg House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 90 Garfield Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This house was built in 1893, and is among the oldest of the homes in the Forest Park neighborhood, which was developed around the turn of the 20th century as an upscale suburb just to the south of downtown Springfield. It was originally owned by Charles W. Rannenberg, a traveling salesman who lived here with his wife Caroline and their two children, Gertrude and Karl. Gertrude died in 1905, at the age of 22, from diabetes, but the rest of the family continued to live in this house for many years.

Karl married his wife Pauline in 1917, and they lived here with his parents and raised four children of their own: Norma, Karl, Paul, and Arlene. Karl’s mother Caroline died in the 1920s, and Charles died in 1936, only a few years before the first photo was taken, but the rest of the family was still living here as late as 1939, along with Pauline’s mother, Lillie Beaune. However, by the 1940 census they had moved across the street and were renting the house at 77 Garfield Street. They would later purchase that house, and lived there until their deaths in the late 1960s.

Nearly 80 years after the first photo was taken, this house has remained well-preserved, with only a few minor changes. The small porch on the right side is gone, the second-floor porch is now enclosed, and the chimneys have been altered, but otherwise the house retains its original Queen Anne-style appearance. Along with the rest of the neighborhood, this house is now part of the Forest Park Heights Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Nathan H. Harriman House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 162 Sumner Avenue in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This house was built in 1892, and was among the first homes to be built in the Forest Park Heights development of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was originally the home of Nathan H. Harriman, a Baptist pastor and evangelist, but he did not live here for very long. Around 1895, he moved to Tacoma, Washington to become the pastor of the First Baptist Church, although he only held this position until early 1897, when he resigned after a period of erratic behavior.

According to a January, 1897 Boston Globe article, Harriman “startled his congregation Friday by announcing to them that he would not preach to them again until they had cast out the demons that were in them.” During this time, Harriman spent about 10 days “fasting on crackers and cheese and walking the floor nights wrestling with the devil,” and many believed that the fasting had caused his mind to become “unbalanced,” resulting in the strange behavior. Regardless of the cause, though, Harriman ultimately resigned from the church about a month later, and subsequently returned to New England.

In the meantime, this house was sold to Robert W. Smith, a boot and shoe dealer who operated a store in the Masonic Building at the corner of Main and State Streets. He was 38 years old during the 1900 census, and lived here with his wife Laura and their four children: Linda, Robert, Walter, and Edith. However, they were only here for a few years, because they sold the house in 1901 and moved to a home on Riverdale Street in West Springfield.

The next owner of the house was Theodor Geisel, a brewery owner who is best known today as having been the paternal grandfather of Dr. Seuss. Born in Germany in 1840, Geisel became a jeweler, and he later immigrated to the United States in 1867. He settled in Springfield, and worked for a time for the Rumrill Chain Company before entering the brewing industry in 1876. At the time, Americans were just beginning to develop a thirst for German lager-style beer, and many German immigrants across the country – including such figures as Adolphus Busch, Adolph Coors, Frederick Miller, and Frederick Pabst – found brewing to be a lucrative business.

Here in Springfield, Geisel partnered with fellow German native Christian Kalmbach, and they purchased the brewery of Oscar Rocke – yet another German immigrant – on State Street, at the present site of the MassMutual headquarters. The original brewery had a capacity of about a thousand barrels per year, but Kalmbach and Geisel soon expanded the facility, which was producing some 40,000 barrels a decade later. Then, in 1893, Geisel purchased Kalmbach’s share in the brewery, renaming it the Highland Brewing Company. Geisel, in turn, sold the company to the Springfield Breweries Company in 1898, although he remained there as a manager until 1901.

Theodor Geisel married his wife, Christine Schmaelzle, in 1871, and they had seven children, two of whom died in childhood. The family lived on Boston Road near the brewery for many years, but they finally moved in 1901, around the same time that Theodor left his position as a manager. The Geisels then purchased this house on Sumner Avenue, where Theodor and Christine lived with their two youngest surviving children: Adolf and Christine. Dr. Seuss’s father, Theodor R. Geisel, does not appear to have lived here in this house with them, since the move occurred the same year that he married his wife, Henrietta Seuss.

In 1902, the elder Theodor and his son Theodor established a new brewery, the Liberty Brewing Company, located near the corner of Liberty and Chestnut Streets. That same year, Theodor Seuss Geisel, the future Dr. Seuss, was born at his parents’ house on Howard Street. Then, in 1906, Theodor and Henrietta moved to Forest Park, to a house on Fairfield Street only a few blocks away from here. Young Dr. Seuss would have undoubtedly made many visits to his grandparents house here on Sumner Avenue, although his grandmother Christine died in 1908 when he was just six years old.

After his wife’s death, Theodor continued to live here in this house, along with his daughter Christine and her husband, James L. Wallace, whom she married in 1910. They had two children, Theodor and Richard, and Christine also served as a caretaker for his father as he got older. He retired from the brewery business in the early 1910s, selling Liberty Brewery to Springfield Breweries, in what turned out to be fortuitous timing on his part. The Eighteenth Amendment, which established nationwide prohibition on alcoholic beverages, was ratified in 1919, bringing about the demise of the vast majority of America’s breweries. As for Theodor himself, he did not live long enough to see Prohibition enacted; he died on December 5, 1919, at the age of 79, just six weeks before Prohibition went into effect on January 17, 1920.

James and Christine inherited the house after Theodor’s death, and they continued to live here with their sons. They were still here when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, with James working as a manager for a paper company in Holyoke, Theodor working as a civil engineer, and Richard working as a switchboard operator. The two sons later moved out, but James and Christine lived here for the rest of their lives, until Christine’s death in 1961 and James’s in 1965.

After more than 60 years in the Geisel family, this house has seen few significant changes, and it looks essentially identical to its appearance when the first photo was taken nearly 80 years ago. For the most part, the other surrounding houses have also sbeen well-preserved, including the William May House on the left, and today these houses make up part of the Forest Park Heights Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.