252-256 Maple Street, Holyoke, Mass

The townhouses at 252-256 Maple Street, near the corner of Suffolk Street in Holyoke, around 1910-1915. Image from Illustrated & Descriptive Holyoke Massachusetts.

The scene in 2017:

These three brick townhouses were built sometime in the late 19th century, and were among the many similar homes that once lined this section of Maple Street. By the early 20th century, all three were owned by Charles and Alice Alger, who lived in the house furthest to the right at 256 Maple Street. The other two houses were rented to tenants, with the 1910 census showing two different families living in each one. These included his son Floyd, who lived at 254 Maple Street with his wife Annie and their young daughter Alberta.

Charles R. Alger was an undertaker, and had his office here at his house. Floyd also worked for him, and would eventually take over the business after Charles’s death in 1927. The first photo was taken sometime in the early 1910s, and was published in Illustrated & Descriptive Holyoke Massachusetts, which provides the following description:

There are many institutions of which the citizens of Holyoke are justly proud. There is none, however, that has attracted more attention from the profession and about which there has been more favorable comment than the one mentioned above. It has been established here for the past fifteen years and at present caters to an active and influential patronage. The proprietor, Mr. Alger is an accomplished embalmer, having had an active experience in this work of thirty-one years, and he has two competent assistants. He has a chapel which is perfectly appointed in every way and spacious enough to accommodate a large assemblage, and many funerals are held here instead of in the homes. Back of this is the show room, in which is carried a most complete stock of women’s and men’s suits, winding wrappers and caskets of the latest designs. Interments are made in any desired cemetery and out-of-town funerals are taken in charge.

The Alger family remained here until the early 1920s, when they opened a funeral home a few blocks away at 167 Chestnut Street. These three houses on Maple Street may have been demolished soon after, because, according to the city assessor’s records, the current building was constructed on the site around 1930. Today, nearly all of the 19th century townhouses on this section of Maple Street are long gone, with most having been replaced by larger apartment buildings or by vacant lots. The only surviving feature from the first photo is the tall building on the far right, which was built in 1907 and still stands at the corner of Maple and Suffolk Streets.

Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, Springfield, Mass

The Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company headquarters on Main Street in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

The Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company was established in Springfield in 1851, and originally had its offices in the Foot Block, at the southwest corner of Main and State Street. Its first president was Caleb Rice, a lawyer and politician who also served as the first mayor of Springfield, from 1852 to 1853. He went on to serve as president for the next 22 years, until his death in 1873, and during this time the company saw substantial growth.

The offices were located in the Foot Block until 1868, when the company relocated to its own office building here on Main Street, just north of the corner of Court Street. However, this new building was heavily damaged by a fire just five years later. King’s Handbook of Springfield, published in 1884, provides the following description of the fire and its effects on the company:

[O]n the evening of Feb. 5, 1873, a fire broke out in the lower part of the building (which was rented for mercantile purposes), and raged all night, destroying all the rear and much of the front of the structure. The company’s safes, and most of its books and papers, were preserved; and business was transacted, with but little interruption, in temporary quarters in the Hampden House Block on Court Street.

The Main Street facade of the building survived the fire, though, and the rest of the building was reconstructed around it. King’s Handbook continues with the following description of the new building:

By December of the same year [1873] the company’s own building had been rebuilt, re-arranged, and improved, under the supervision of George Hathorne, the New-York architect, and its own offices were re-occupied. The lofty brown-stone front and iron mansard roof form a handsome and conspicuous feature of the street; while the Masonic lodges and other organizations that occupy the floors over the company’s offices, and the stores that are on the ground floor, make the inside of the building familiar to a great number of people.

Massachusetts Mutual continued to have its offices here in this building for several more decades, and for many years the company shared it with the Freemasons, who occupied the two upper floors. This arrangement was still going on when the first photo was taken in the early 1890s, as it shows the words “Masonic Hall” above the fourth floor windows, along with “Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co.” above the second floor. However, the Freemasons moved out of this building soon after the first photo was taken, upon the completion of their own building at the southeast corner of Main and State Streets in 1893.

About 15 years later, Massachusetts Mutual followed the Freemasons to the same street corner. The old Foot Block, where the company had begun in a single room, was demolished and was replaced by an eight-story, Classical Revival-style building that still stands at 1200 Main Street. This new building was only used for a fairly short period, though, before the company relocated to its current headquarters on State Street in the Pine Point neighborhood.

In the meantime, the old 1868/1873 building stood here on Main Street for many years after Massachusetts Mutual moved out. It can be seen in the late 1930s photo in the previous post, and it was still recognizable despite alterations to the two lower floors. At the time, the building housed the Weeks Leather Store in the storefront on the left, and the Ann Lewis women’s apparel store on the right. However, it was ultimately demolished sometime before the late 1950s, when the current Modernist-style building, with its distinctive curved front facade, was built on the site.

Main Street near Court Street, Springfield, Mass

The east side of Main Street, looking toward the corner of Court Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo shows a group of four buildings along the east side of Main Street, representing a wide range of late 19th and early 20th century architectural styles. On the left side is the ornate Beaux Arts-style Union Trust Company building, which was completed in 1907. It was designed by the noted architectural firm of prominent Boston-based architectural firm of Peabody & Stearns, and housed the Union Trust Company. This company was formed by the 1906 merger of three city banks, and it still occupied the building when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s.

Just to the right of the Union Trust Company, in the center of the first photo, is a five-story Second Empire-style building that once housed the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company. The company was originally located in the Foot Block, at the corner of Main and State Streets, from 1851 to 1868, before moving into this building. However, its offices were only here for about five years before the building was gutted by a fire on February 5, 1873, although it was soon reconstructed based on plans by architect George Hathorne. The company would remain here until 1908, when a new, larger office building was completed a block south of here, where the Foot Block had previously stood.

The third building to the right was probably built sometime in the early 20th century, based on its architectural style. By the time the first photo was taken, the ground floor of this five-story building housed the Woman’s Shop, which offered “Distinctive Outer Apparel,” according to the sign above the entrance. To the right of it, at the corner of East Court Street (now Bruce Landon Way), is the Springfield Five Cents Savings Bank. It was built in 1876, and featured an ornate Main Street facade, including cast iron columns. A better view of the exterior can be seen in an earlier post, which shows the view of this scene from the opposite direction.

Today, almost 80 years after the first photo was taken, most of the buildings are still standing. The former Woman’s Shop building has remained relatively unaltered except for the exterior of the second floor, and the Union Trust Company building is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its architectural significance. Even the Five Cents Savings Bank building is still there in the distance, although it is hard to tell from this angle. The Main Street facade was rebuilt in the mid-20th century, but the building itself remains standing, with the original southern facade visible along Bruce Landon Way. Overall, the only building from the first photo that is completely gone is the former MassMutual headquarters, which was demolished sometime around the 1950s and replaced with the current Modernist building.

Sacred Heart Church and Rectory, Holyoke, Mass

The Sacred Heart Church (right) and rectory (left), seen from Maple Street in Holyoke, around 1891. Image from Holyoke Illustrated (1891).

The scene in 2017:

As mentioned in the previous post, the Sacred Heart Parish was established in 1878 as an offshoot of St. Jerome’s Parish, which had been the first Catholic church in Holyoke. Sacred Heart served the Catholics in the southern section of downtown Holyoke, and in 1876 construction began on the church building here at the corner of Maple and Sargeant Streets. The Second Empire-style rectory, on the left side of the scene, was built around the same time, but the church would not be completed until 1883.

The first pastor of the church was Father James T. Sheehan, although he died of tuberculosis two years later in 1880, at the age of 32. He was succeeded by Father P. B. Phelan, a Newfoundland native who had previously served as pastor of the church in West Springfield. Upon his arrival here in Holyoke, Phelan inherited the incomplete church building, along with a sizable debt of $40,000. However, he oversaw the completion of the church, paid off the debt, and went on to serve the parish for the next 39 years, until his death in 1919.

The church was built at a cost of $90,000 (almost $2.5 million today), and featured ornate Gothic-style architecture on both the exterior and interior. By the time the first photo was taken around 1891, the church and rectory had also been joined by a school and a convent, both of which stood just out of view on the left side of the scene. Together, these four buildings occupied an entire city block, surrounded by Maple, Sargeant, Chestnut, and Franklin Streets.

The spire was not added to the church until 1897, but otherwise this scene has not seen many changes since the first photo was taken. It is hard to tell because of the tree in front of it, but the exterior of the church has remained well-preserved, and it is still in use as an active parish. To the left, the rectory is also still standing, and still has its Victorian-era details, such as the corner tower, the ornate front entryway, and the curved front steps. However, both the 19th century school and the convent are gone, and the southern half of this lot is now vacant except for a parking lot.

High Street from Hampden Street, Holyoke, Mass

Looking south on High Street from the corner of Hampden Street in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

Much of High Street in Holyoke has been remarkably well-preserved over the years, particularly this block on the west side of the street, between Hampden and Dwight Streets. It consists primarily of brick, three and four-story commercial blocks that were built in the second half of the 19th century, during the early years of Holyoke’s development as a major industrial center. The scene had largely taken on its present-day appearance by the time the first photo was taken in the early 1890s, and today the only significant difference is a noticeable lack of horse-drawn carriages.

According to district’s National Register of Historic Places listing, the one-story building in the foreground was built in the mid-20th century, but it seems possible that it might actually be the same one from the first photo, just with some major alterations. Either way, this is the only noticeable change in the buildings on this block. Just beyond this building are two matching three-story buildings, located at 169-175 High Street. These are perhaps the oldest buildings in the scene, dating back to around 1855, and have a fairly plain exterior design, unlike the more ornate building further down the street.

To the left of these two buildings is the four-story Dougherty’s Block, at 177-179 High Street. This was built sometime around the late 1880s, and was probably the newest building in the first photo. Beyond it is the 1870 Taber Building, with its distinctive ornate pediment above the third floor. However, the most architecturally-significant building in this scene is the Second Empire-style Caledonia Building at 185-193 High Street. It was built in 1874, and was originally owned by Roswell P. Crafts, a businessman who went on to become mayor of Holyoke in 1877 and from 1882 to 1883. The building was later owned by the Caledonian Benefit Society, which provided aid for Scottish immigrants.

Beyond the Caledonia Building, most of the other buildings also date to between 1850 and 1880. These include, just to the left of the Caledonia Building, the Johnson Building at 195 High Street and the R.B. Johnson Block at 197-201 High Street, both of which date back to around the 1870s. Further in the distance is the 1850 Colby-Carter Block at 203-209 High Street, and the c.1870 Ball Building at 211-215 High Street. The only noticeable change in this section is the six-story Ball Block, at the corner of Dwight Street. It was completed in 1898, a few years after the first photo was taken, and is visible on the far left side of the 2017 photo.

More than 125 years after the first photo was taken, this section of High Street survives as a good example of Victorian-era commercial buildings, representing a range of architectural styles from the plain brick buildings of the 1850s, to the more ornate styles of the 1870s and 1880s. Holyoke is no longer the thriving industrial city from the first photo, having experienced many years of economic stagnation since the mid-20th century. However, this has probably contributed to the survival of so many 19th century buildings, since there has been little demand for new construction, and today these historic buildings and streetscapes are among the city’s greatest assets.

Myrtle Street School, Indian Orchard, Springfield, Mass

The Myrtle Street School in the Springfield neighborhood of Indian Orchard, seen from Worcester Street near the corner of Myrtle Street, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

Prior to the Civil War, Springfield lacked a strong centralized school system. The city was divided into 12 school districts, each of which was responsible for taxing residents, hiring teachers, setting curriculum, and maintaining schools. However, this proved inefficient, in part because these school districts tended to focus more on lowering taxes than improving education, and by the late 1860s school committee member Josiah Hooker had led a large-scale reform of the city’s public schools.

The result of these reforms was a new high school building on State Street, plus six new grammar schools around the city. All were located in or near the downtown area except for the Indian Orchard school, which was located here at the corner of Worcester and Myrtle Streets. Located in the far northeastern corner of the city, Indian Orchard developed as a factory village in the mid-19th century. It saw a significant population growth during this time, particularly among French-Canadians and other immigrant groups who came to work in the mills, so a grammar school became necessary to serve the needs of the village.

At the time, students attended primary school for three years, followed by six years of grammar school and then four years of high school. The 1884 King’s Handbook of Springfield provides a description of the grammar school curriculum, writing that “In these schools, thorough instruction is given in all the common English branches, including book-keeping, and United-States and English history; and special teachers give instruction in penmanship, music, and drawing.” Following the reforms of the 1860s, the school year began on the first week of September and ended on the Friday before July 4, and students attended school from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., with a two-hour break from noon to 2:00.

The Indian Orchard school was designed by James M. Currier, a local architect whose works included three other schools in Springfield, along with an assortment of factories, business blocks, and houses. Perhaps his most notable commission, however, was a house in Ottawa, Canada, that he designed for his brother, Joseph M. Currier, who was a lumber dealer and Canadian politician. This house, located at 24 Sussex Drive, now serves as the official residence of the Prime Minister of Canada, although it has been heavily altered from Currier’s original design.

Like the Prime Minister’s residence, though, the Indian Orchard school has also been extensively modified over the years. The first photo shows its original appearance, with its mansard roof and Second Empire-style architecture, but by the turn of the 20th century this building had become too small for the growing population of the village. As a result, in 1904 a large wing was built on the west side of the original building, facing Myrtle Street. This is the part of the school building that is visible in the present-day photo, and features a Classical Revival-style design that was the work of architect Eugene C. Gardner. The addition hid the original school building from this angle, although it is still standing and still visible from the other side of the school.

This expansion added eight classrooms to the school, but within a decade there was again need for more space, and in 1914 Gardner was hired to design a matching, nearly symmetrical wing on the south side of the building. Located on the left side of the 1904 addition, just out of view from this angle, the new wing doubled the size of the building. It was completed in 1915, and included eight more classrooms, plus a lunchroom, gymnasium, and an auditorium that could seat nearly 700 people.

The school, which became known as the Myrtle Street School after the additions, remained in use until the early 1980s. Like several other historic Springfield school buildings, it has since been converted into condominiums, and is still standing with few significant exterior changes. Even the original 1868 section is still there, and it now stands as the oldest existing school building in the city, as well as the only one of the original six grammar schools that is still standing. Because of this, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.