Berkshire Life Insurance Company Building, Pittsfield, Mass

The Berkshire Life Insurance Company Building at the corner of North and West Streets in Pittsfield, around 1900. Image from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and Vicinity (1900).

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The building in 2016:

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This building at the heart of downtown Pittsfield was built in 1868 as the home of the Berkshire Life Insurance Company. It was designed by Louis Weissbein, the same architect who would later design the courthouse on the opposite side of Park Square. Like the courthouse, this building once had a mansard roof, which was common in Second Empire architecture. However, while these buildings are still standing, both have undergone significant renovations that have, among other things, removed the original roofs.

When the first photo was taken around 1900, the Berkshire Life building still looked essentially the same as it had when it was completed. However, in 1906 it was expanded in the back, along the West Street side of the building. Just a few years later, the building grew again, when two stories were added to the original section in 1911, replacing the old mansard roof in the process. Both of these additions matched the original architecture, although the new roof gives the building more of a Renaissance Revival appearance than Second Empire.

Today, the building is one of many historic 19th century buildings that surround Park Square. The interior was damaged by fire after a gas explosion in 1970, but the building survived and was restored. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986 and later became part of the Park Square Historic District.

Berkshire County Courthouse, Pittsfield, Mass

The Berkshire County Courthouse at Park Square in Pittsfield, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The courthouse in 2016:

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For many years, the town of Lenox was the county seat of Berkshire County. However, by the middle of the 19th century, Pittsfield’s population growth had dramatically outpaced its small neighbor to the south, and in 1868 the county government shifted to Pittsfield. The old courthouse eventually became the Lenox Library, and still stands today, and a new courthouse was built here on East Street in Pittsfield, facing Park Square.

The courthouse was completed in 1871, and was designed by Boston-based architect Louis Weissbein. Its exterior was constructed of marble quarried from nearby Sheffield, and it originally had a mansard roof, giving it a distinctive Second Empire appearance. However, the courthouse was later renovated and a new roof was added, and an annex was built in the rear of the building. Otherwise, though, the building’s exterior looks much the same as it did over a century ago, and it is still in use as a county courthouse. In 1975, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Park Square Historic District.

Butler Exchange, Providence, RI

The Butler Exchange, on the south side of Exchange Plaza in Providence, around the 1870s or 1880s. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

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The scene in 2016:

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The late 19th century was a time of growing prosperity for the city of Providence, and few buildings indicated this as well as the Butler Exchange. This massive commercial block was built in 1873, and was designed by prominent architect Arthur Gilman. Like many other public buildings of the day, it was designed in the Second Empire style, complete with towers on the corners and a large, two-story mansard roof at the top. On the inside, it consisted of shops on the first floor, with offices on the five upper floors. Starting in 1878, the second floor was also the first home of the Providence Public Library, until they opened their current building in 1900.

Today, nothing remains from the first photo. The smaller buildings on either side of the photo are long gone, and the Butler Exchange itself was demolished in 1925. By the turn of the 20th century, Providence’s skyline had begun growing upward, culminating in 1928 with the completion of the 428-foot, 26-story Industrial Trust Tower, built here on the site of the Butler Exchange. Later known as the Bank of America Tower and now as 111 Westminster Street, the Art Deco-style skyscraper remains the tallest building in Rhode Island. However, the historic building has been vacant since 2013, and despite several redevelopment proposals its future is still uncertain.

City Hall, Providence, RI

Providence City Hall as seen from Fulton Street, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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City Hall in 2016:

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Providence’s City Hall, located at the western end of Exchange Place, was the city’s first permanent municipal building. For many years, the city government had used the colonial-era Market House on the opposite side of the Providence River, but after decades of disputes over the location of a new building, this site was finally chosen in the 1870s. It was completed in 1878, and was designed in the Second Empire style by Samuel J.F. Thayer, a Boston architect who probably took some inspiration from Boston’s own City Hall.

Many years later, the building remains in use as City Hall, and has seen some notable visitors in the process. In 1902, several years before the first photo was taken, President Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech from the steps of the building. More than a half century later, in 1960, John F. Kennedy also gave a speech here, the day before he was elected president. Today, the building is on the National Register of Historic Places, and it is the only feature in the first photo that has not changed. Even the statue on the right side has undergone changes. It was dedicated in 1871 as the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, but was moved in 1913, and did not return to its original location until 1997.

City Hall, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Halifax City Hall, seen from the Grand Parade around 1899. Image from Souvenir, One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary, City of Halifax (1899).

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The building in 2016:

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As mentioned in the previous post, Halifax is the largest city in Canada’s Maritime provinces, and has had close ties to New England over the years. The heart of downtown Halifax has long centered around the Grand Parade here, a city square located between Barrington and Argyle Streets. On the south side of the square is St. Paul’s Church, the oldest building in the city, and on the north side is City Hall, seen here. It was completed in 1890, with an architectural design that is based on the Second Empire style, which had been particularly popular a couple of decades earlier.

The building sustained some damage in the 1917 Halifax Explosion, but unlike the northern part of the city, the downtown area was largely spared serious damage. Today, the building remains essentially the same as it did in the 1890s view, and is listed as a National Historic Site of Canada. Its jurisdiction has significantly expanded over the years, though, In 1996, all of the existing cities and towns in Halifax County were consolidated into the Halifax Regional Municipality. This essentially extended the Halifax city limits to include over 2,100 square miles of land, more than double the land area of Rhode Island, but the old City Hall remains in use as the seat of the municipal government, over 125 years after its completion.

Levi B. Taylor House, Springfield, Mass

The house at the southeast corner of Chestnut and Mattoon Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The scene in 2016:

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In the mid-1800s, this section of Chestnut Street was owned by artist Chester Harding, who had a spacious lot and a large home that was set back from the street. After his death in 1866, though, it was sold to William Mattoon, who subdivided the property and built Mattoon Street through it. Over the next two decades, the street was developed with brick Victorian townhouses on either side, most of which are still standing today as one of the city’s great architectural treasures.

Here at the corner of Chestnut and Mattoon, the house in the first photo was built around the mid-1870s, during the same time that Mattoon Street was being developed. Although it faced Chestnut Street, it matched the adjoining townhouses around the corner with its Second Empire-style architecture.

One of its early residents was Levi B. Taylor, who was living here by 1882 and remained here for the rest of his life. A native of Granby, Massachusetts, Taylor was an inventor and salesman, and for many years he worked as a traveling salesman for the American Knife & Shear Company. He died in 1897 at the age of 58 while in Peoria, Illinois, and the house went through several other owners over the next few decades.

By the time the first photo was taken, Chestnut Street had undergone some dramatic changes. The predominantly residential street had become far more commercial, and most of the 19th century mansions were gone by the 1930s. This house was still standing, although at this point it had been altered to include a storefront, which housed the Bay Path Spa. It was named for Bay Path Institute, which was at the time located directly across Chestnut Street from here, and the store catered to its students until the school moved to its current location in Longmeadow in 1945. The old house was demolished at some point afterward, and in 1959 the current liquor store was built on the site.