George J. Brooks Library, Brattleboro, Vermont

The George J. Brooks Library on Main Street in Brattleboro, around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

George Jones Brooks was born in 1818 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but when he was three years old his family relocated to Chesterfield, New Hampshire, directly across the river from Brattleboro. He grew up there, and subsequently worked at a store in Brattleboro, before heading west around the age of 20. He first settled in Hillsboro, Illinois, where he was a farmer for about 12 years. Then, in 1850, he joined the thousands of other young men who were flocking to San Francisco after the discovery of gold in California.

Unlike most of the other migrants, though, Brooks was not looking to get wealthy through gold, but rather through paper. His brother, Horace Brooks, was a wholesale paper manufacturer in New York, and he suggested that George open a business in San Francisco. Like almost every other commodity, paper was in short supply in the still-primitive boomtown, and in later years Brooks would tell of times when every scrap of paper on the west coast was located in his store. This scarcity, combined with his virtual monopoly, earned him significant profits, and by the time Brooks left the paper business in 1862 he had become a wealthy man.

Brooks eventually returned to Brattleboro, where he built the elegant Brooks House hotel, which still stands just a little south of here. Then, in 1885, he purchased the former Francis Goodhue House here on Main Street, in order to build a library on the site. The old house was soon demolished, and construction began on the first permanent home of Brattleboro’s public library, which had previously been located in the Town Hall. Upon completion, the building was presented to the town as a gift, but unfortunately Brooks did not live to see it finished; he died on December 23, 1886, just weeks before the dedication ceremony.

Like many other public buildings of the era, the George J. Brooks Library featured Romanesque Revival architecture. It was the work of Maine architect Alexander Currier, and the building was actually larger than it appears in the first photograph. As built, the front section included a ladies’ reading room on the right side, a men’s reading room on the left, and a vestibule and lobby in the center. The library itself was located in a large wing on the rear of the building, which was nearly the same size as the front section, and included the main floor plus a balcony. The basement originally housed a natural history museum, but this was later converted into a children’s library.

It did not take very long for the library to outgrow the original space, though, and in the early 20th century it was expanded with a large addition in the rear. Following this expansion, it continued to be used for many years, but by the 1960s the building was again overcrowded, and the adjacent post office wanted the property in order to build a parking lot. So, a new Brooks Memorial Library building opened just to the north of here in 1967, and the old building was demolished four years later. The parking lot is still here today, and the only surviving remnant from the first photo is the First Baptist Church on the far left, which is still standing on the other side of the Masonic Lodge.

Unitarian Church, Holyoke, Mass

The Unitarian Church at the corner of Maple and Essex Streets in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

The first Unitarian church in Holyoke was established in 1857, but it only lasted for about a year, and the city’s Unitarians would not form another church for more than 15 years. Finally, in 1874, the Liberal Christian Congregational Society was established with 55 members, and the church met in several different temporary locations for the next two years. In 1875, the Holyoke Water Power Company donated this lot at the northeast corner of Maple and Essex Streets, and construction of a church building began later that year.

The building was completed in 1876, and originally consisted of just the section on the left side of the first photo, to the left of the tower. However, in 1889, the building was significantly expanded to the right, with a matching addition that more than doubled its capacity. The church remained here until about 1930, but by 1931 it was demolished to build the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company building, which still stands here on the site. Its exterior has been altered over the years, and the first floor windows and doors have been bricked up, but it remains as one of the few Art Deco-style buildings in Holyoke.

Maple Street from Essex Street, Holyoke, Mass

Looking north on Maple Street from the corner of Essex Street in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

Maple Street runs parallel to High Street, which is located a block to the east. While High Street was developed as a major commercial center, Maple Street was primarily residential in the late 19th century. The first photo shows several homes on the left side, a group of brick rowhouses in the distance on the right, plus two churches closer to the foreground on the right side. Most of these buildings were fairly new when the first photo was taken, and probably none of them had been built before the 1870s. Perhaps the oldest building is the Unitarian Church on the far right, which was built in 1876, although it was significantly expanded in 1889. Further in the distance, near the center of the photo, is the Second Congregational Church, which was built in 1885 after the congregation moved out of its old building at the corner of High and Dwight Streets.

Today, the Second Congregational Church, now the United Congregational Church of Holyoke, is the only noticeable building still standing from the first photo, although most of it had to be rebuilt after a fire in 1919. All of the other 19th century buildings are gone, and today this block includes the 1930 Elks building on the left, the 1936 War Memorial beyond it, and the 1931 New England Telegraph and Telephone Company building on the right, which stands on the site of the Unitarian Church. Further in the distance is a group of early 20th century apartment buildings, and in between is a single 19th century rowhouse, which is barely visible to the left of the church tower. Built around 1880, it is the sole survivor of the long block of rowhouses that can be seen in the first photo, and it is now surrounded on both sides by parking lots.

Mount Tom Hose Company, Holyoke, Mass

The Mount Tom Hose Company building on Canal Street in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

The Mount Tom Hose Company was established in 1851 as the first volunteer fire department in Holyoke. At the time, Holyoke was just beginning to be developed as a major industrial center, and the new fire department would protect both the rapidly-growing population as well as the many factories that were being built along the city’s canal system. The current Romanesque Revival-style building was completed in 1887 here on Canal Street, in a centrally-located area right next to the railroad station, which can be seen just beyond it to the left in both photos. The Mount Tom Hose Company later became Fire Station Number 4, and, although no longer in use as a fire station today, the building still retains its original exterior appearance from the first photo.

Just to the right of the fire station is an earlier brick, Second Empire-style building. Dating back to the early 1870s, this building housed the offices for the Holyoke Water Power Company, which operated the city’s canals and provided electricity for factories and for municipal use. Originally, the building was only one story, but it was expanded in the late 1870s or early 1880s, with the addition of a second floor and a mansard roof above it. Although not noticeable from this angle, the building has had more additions since the first photo was taken, and it remained in use by the Holyoke Water Power Company until 2001, when the company was acquired by the publicly-owned Holyoke Gas & Electric.

St. John’s Episcopal Church, Northampton, Mass

St. John’s Episcopal Church on Elm Street in Northampton, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The church in 2017:

St. John’s Episcopal Church was established in 1826, initially meeting in the town hall until their own church building was completed on Bridge Street in 1829. The congregation worshipped there for more than 60 years, but by the early 1890s they had outgrown that building and were in need of a new one. The funding for such a church was provided by George Bliss, a wealthy New York banker who had grown up in Northampton and had attended St. John’s back when services were held at the town hall.

George Bliss purchased this lot on Elm Street, adjacent to Smith College, and he paid for the construction of the church, which was designed by noted New York architect Robert W. Gibson. Like many other churches of the era, it features Romanesque  Revival architecture, with features such as a tall tower in the corner, rounded arches, and a rough-faced stone exterior. The church was completed in 1893, and Bliss attended the consecration service along with his business partner, Levi P. Morton, who had served as Vice President of the United States under Benjamin Harrison from 1889 to 1893.

More than 110 years after the first photo was taken, the church has not significantly changed. Although surrounded on all sides by the Smith College campus, it remains in use as an Episcopal church, with close ties to the college. The church appears to be missing the weathervane that was atop the tower in the first photo, but otherwise all of the other architectural details have been preserved, even down to the gargoyles that extend from the corners of the tower.

Thames and Pelham Streets, Newport, RI

The southeast corner of Thames and Pelham Streets in Newport, in 1895. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

Known as the Newton Building, this Romanesque-style commercial block was built sometime between 1883 and 1893 at the corner of Pelham and Thames Streets. The first photo was taken when the building was still fairly new, but it shows the damage that it had sustained during a hailstorm. Nearly every pane of glass is broken on the upper floors of the Pelham Street side, and several people can be seen in the second-floor windows, looking at the photographer. At the time, the building’s commercial tenants included the Adams Express Company and the New York and Boston Despatch Express Company, along with Frank L. Powell’s pharmacy at the corner storefront.

More than 120 years after the first photo was taken, this building remains remarkably well-preserved, aside from minor alterations to the storefront and the addition of a fire escape on the left side. The paint does hide some of the original details, though, since Romanesque-style architecture usually featured unpainted stones of varying colors, but overall it stands as a good example of late 19th century commercial architecture. Along with the rest of the neighborhood, the Newton Building is now part of the Newport Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968.