Spring and Pelham Streets, Newport, Rhode Island

Looking west on Pelham Street from the corner of Spring Street in Newport, around 1883. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

Newport is well-known for its many Gilded Age mansions, but long before it was a summer playground for the rich and famous it was a prosperous seaport. Unlike the massive homes and spacious lawns of the Bellevue Avenue area, the center of Newport features narrow colonial-era streets, lined with historic 18th and 19th century houses. Spring Street, which runs from left to right through this scene, is one of the primary north-south streets in downtown Newport, and both it and its many cross streets have been remarkably well-preserved over the years, with few significant changes in the past two centuries.

When the first photo was taken, this scene was a mix of modest colonial-era buildings and larger, more elegant 19th century homes. The house at the corner was probably built sometime in the 1700s, as was the small gambrel -roofed house just beyond it on the right side, which predates the American Revolution. The exact date of this smaller house is unclear, but it was built sometime before 1771, and was the home of Lucina Langley. Just beyond the Langley house is a much more modern house at 41 Pelham Street. It was the home of Anthony Stewart, Jr., and it was built in 1859, although it appears to have been modified before the first photo was taken.

More than 130 years after the first photo was taken, the only significant change in this scene is the house on the corner. The original colonial-era house was demolished shortly after the photo was taken, and its replacement is still standing today. Completed in 1883, this house was originally the home of William M. Austin, a house painter who had a prosperous business here in Newport. He was a lifelong resident of the city, and served on the city council, representing Ward 4 from 1884 to 1890. He and his wife Emily had three children: Percy, Susan, and Edward. Susan died young, long before the family moved into this house, but their two sons followed their father into the painter’s trade, eventually taking over the business after William’s death in 1897.

Since then, this scene has remained essentially unchanged. His house is still there, and now operates as the Austin House Inn. Further down Pelham Street, both the Langley and Stewart houses are still standing, as are the other historic 18th and 19th century homes on the street. Like much of downtown Newport, this area retains its colonial-era appearance, and the neighborhood now forms the Newport Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968.

George D. Robinson House, Chicopee, Mass

The house at 104 Springfield Street, at the corner of Howard Street in Chicopee, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The house in 2017:

This elegant Second Empire-style House was built around 1869, and was originally the home of businessman D. Frank Hale. Variously listed in censuses and city directories as a real estate broker, a merchant, and a landlord, he was evidently prosperous, because the 1870 census lists his real estate as being worth $88,500, plus $5,500 in his personal estate, for a total net worth equal to over $1.8 million today. However, despite this wealth his personal life was marred by tragedy. He and his wife Lucy had six children, but only one of them, their son William, survived to adulthood. Their other five children died of various diseases when they were six years old or younger, including 3-month-old twin boys Arthur and Luther, who died of “brain fever” ten days apart from each other in March 1872.

The Hale family lived here until about 1878, when they moved to Springfield. They sold the house to George D. Robinson, a lawyer and politician who was, at the time, serving his first term in Congress. Born in Lexington in 1834, Robinson moved to Chicopee in 1856 after his graduation from Harvard. Here, he worked as principal of Chicopee High School from 1856 to 1865, and subsequently became a lawyer and entered politics. He represented Chicopee in both the state House of Representatives and the state Senate, and in 1876 he was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives, where he served from 1877 to 1884.

In 1883, Robinson ran as the Republican candidate for governor of Massachusetts, defeating incumbent governor Benjamin Butler in a hotly contested general election. Butler, himself a former Congressman, had been a notoriously inept general during the Civil War, but he had presidential ambitions and hoped that his re-election as governor would help earn him the Democratic nomination in 1884. However, Butler’s loss to Robinson, after just a single one-year term as governor, significantly hurt his chances, and the 1884 Democratic nomination – and ultimately the presidency – went to another northeastern governor, Grover Cleveland of New York.

Robinson served three one-year terms from 1884 to 1887, and was involved in the passage of several key reforms, including free textbooks for public school students, as well as a law mandating employers to pay their workers on a weekly basis. However, he declined to seek a fourth term in the 1886 election, and retired from politics. He returned to his private law practice, and his work included several high-profile cases. Most notably, he was one of the defense attorneys for Lizzie Borden, the Fall River who was tried, and ultimately acquitted, for the 1892 axe murders of her father and stepmother.

George Robinson’s first wife, Hannah Stevens, died in 1864. Three years later, he remarried to Susan Simonds, and by the time they moved into this house in they late 1870s they had one child, Annie, plus George’s son from his first marriage, Walter. George and Susan were still living here when the first photo was taken in the early 1890s, and he would remain here until his death in 1896. Susan was still living here during the 1900 census, along with her sister Caroline, but she later moved to Springfield, where she died in 1909.

In 1917, this house was sold to the Roman Catholic Church, becoming the rectory for the Assumption Church, a predominantly French-Canadian parish that served some of the many factory workers who had immigrated to Chicopee from Quebec. About five years later, a new church building was completed just to the north of the house, on the right side of the photo, and both it and the rectory remain in use today.

Nearly 150 years after it was built, Governor Robinson’s former house remains as one of the finest 19th century homes in Chicopee, and has been well-preserved over the years. There have been a few minor changes since the first photo was taken, such as the small one-story addition on the left side, but overall it remains in excellent condition, all the way down to fine details such as the iron balustrades on the roof. Today, both the house and the Assumption Church form part of the Springfield Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.

76-78 Maple Street, Springfield, Mass

The townhouses at 76-78 Maple Street, at the corner of Park Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This double townhouse was built in 1879 at the corner of Maple and Park Streets, directly adjacent to a block of three townhouses to the left, which were built almost a decade earlier. Architecturally, the two groups of townhouses have similar Second Empire-style architecture, although the 1879 homes show the beginnings of the more elaborate Stick and Queen Anne styles, which would become dominant in the 1880s. These two homes were originally owned by Seth Hunt, who lived in the more desirable house on the right at the corner, and his son David, who lived in the house on the left.

Born in Northampton in 1814, Seth Hunt was a longtime employee of the Connecticut River Railroad, and served as the company’s treasurer from 1858 until his death in 1893. Aside from his work on an actual railroad, though, Hunt was also an abolitionist who was active in the Underground Railroad prior to the Civil War. He lived in Northampton at the time, and used his house to help shelter runaway slaves. During this time, he had friendships with some of the country’s leading abolitionists, including Henry Ward Beecher, Frederick Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Lloyd Garrison, and Sojourner Truth.

Seth and his wife Juliet moved from Northampton to Springfield after this house was completed, and they lived here until their deaths in the summer of 1893, only six weeks apart from each other. In the meantime, in the early 1880s their son David and his wife Grace lived in the house next door on the right side, and he worked with his father as assistant treasurer of the Connecticut Valley Railroad. However, later in the 1880s the city directories show David living with his parents on the right side.

By the late 1880s, the house on the left was the home of Maria Browne, a writer and retired teacher who was about 70 at the time. Born in Northampton, she grew up in Templeton, Massachusetts, and graduated from Mount Holyoke in 1840. She subsequently moved to New York City, where she worked as a teacher while also writing magazine and newspaper articles as well as short books. Her writings included moral stories for children, and in 1866 the book The Female Prose Writers of America described her, with regards to her writing, as being “playful, pathetic, serious, earnest, full of life and intensity, never prosaic, never tedious, never common-place, deeply imbued with the religious, largely read in that school of sensibility which enables her to sympathize with all forms of human sorrow and suffering; her writings, consequently, find their way directly to the heart and bosom of the reader.”

Browne never married, and she lived here in this house from around the late 1880s until her death in 1908 at the age of 89. Two years later, the house was still owned by her heirs, who rented it to real estate broker Henry F. Waters, his wife Frances, and their young daughter, who was also named Frances. During that same time, the house on the right was owned by physician Ralph B. Ober, who lived here with his newlywed wife Eleanor. Dr. Ober was a 1901 graduate of Harvard Medical School, and he began practicing medicine here in Springfield in 1904. By the early 1910s, he was a assistant medical director for Massachusetts Mutual, an assitant surgeon at Springfield Hospital, and president of the Springfield Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis.

The Obers had two children, Frederick and Mary, and they were still living here when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s. In the meantime, though, most of the nearby townhouses, including the house on left, had become lodging houses in the first half of the 20th century. During the 1930 census, the lodging house was run by Harry A. Engel, who rented it for $85 a month and, in turn, rented rooms to six different families with a total of 19 people. A decade later, shortly after the first photo was taken, it was still a lodging house, although by this point it was being run by Orelina Menard, who had only seven lodgers here.

Ralph Ober died in 1945, but Eleanor continued to live here until her death in 1972, at the age of 86. Just four years later, the house became part of the Maple-Union Corners Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places, and very little has changed in this scene since then. The only major difference between the two photos is the house in the distance on the far right. Completed in 1899 as the home of firearms manufacturer Daniel B. Wesson, it was later used as the clubhouse of the Colony Club, until it burned down in 1966. A medical office building, visible on the right side, now stands on the site.

80-82 Maple Street, Springfield, Mass

The townhouses at 80-82 Maple Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The houses in 2017:

These three Second Empire-style townhouses were built in 1870, at the corner of Maple and Union Streets. They were constructed by local builder Abel Howe, and they originally had a fairly uniform appearance, although two of the three have since been significantly altered. As mentioned in the previous post, the house on the left was the home of Edmund D. Chapin, the longtime cashier and eventual president of the John Hancock National Bank. During the 19th century, the other two houses had similar upper middle class residents, including Dr. David F. Atwater, who lived in the house in the middle, and insurance clerk and real estate agent Frank H. Fuller, who lived in the house on the right.

David F. Atwater was born in 1817 in North Branford, Connecticut, and was the younger brother of George M. Atwater, who established Springfield’s streetcar system. David attended Yale, earning his undergraduate degree in 1839 and his medical degree in 1842, and he practiced medicine in Brooklyn and in Bridgeport before moving to Springfield. He and his wife Sarah were living here at 82 Maple Street by about 1883, and they lived here for the rest of their lives. Sarah died in 1910, and David in 1916, at the age of 98. Prior to his death, David was the oldest living Yale graduate, and he was also the last living Yale graduate from the 1830s. His name still lives on today in Camp Atwater in North Brookfield, a summer camp that was named in his honor after his daughter Mary donated $25,000 in 1926.

In the meantime, the house on the right at 80 Maple Street was the home of Frank H. Fuller, who was living here with his wife Elizabeth and their daughter Grace by the mid-1870s. He worked for the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, first as a clerk and later as a real estate agent, and he was responsible for the development of the Fuller Block, which still stands at the corner of Main and Bridge Streets.

By the early 20th century, many of the upscale townhouses in Springfield had been converted into lodging houses, including the homes on the right and the left here. During the 1920 census, for example, 80 Maple was rented by a family of four, who in turn rented rooms to nine lodgers, mostly single factory workers. A decade later, during the 1930 census, the house had a similar number of tenants, although most of them were married couples.

Of the three houses, the one in the middle at 82 Maple remained a single-family home for the longest. Daniel Atwater’s daughter Mary continued living here until her death in 1927, and by the end of the decade the house was being rented by John E. Hummel, who lived here with his wife Agnes, their two children, and Agnes’s sister Delia. They also rented rooms to several lodgers, and the 1930 census shows John’s occupation as being a lodging house keeper. However, John was also a retired Major League Baseball player who played second base and outfield for the Brooklyn Superbas and Robins from 1905 to 1915, and the Yankees in 1918. He also played minor league baseball for several years, including here in Springfield in 1922, but he had retired from baseball by the time he and his family moved into this house.

By the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, John Hummel and his family were still living in the house in the middle. The 1940 census shows them paying $50 per month in rent, with John working as a foreman for a match factory, earning $1,440 per year. Their daughter Joan, 22 years old at the time, was also employed, working as a clerk in a department store. A few years later, though, the family left this house and moved to Oswego Street and then to Sumner Avenue, where they lived until John’s death in 1959.

In the 80 years since the first photo was taken, both of the houses on the left have been dramatically altered. The third floor of 84 Maple was removed in the mid-1940s, and at some point the entire facade of 82 Maple was replaced, including a new front door in the basement level. Only 80 Maple on the right has remained relatively unchanged, and today it continues to be used as a private residence. Despite the changes, though, all three houses are still historically significant, and they are now part of the Maple-Union Corners Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Edmund D. Chapin House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 84 Maple Street, at the corner of Union Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This house is one of three adjacent brick townhouses that were built in 1870, at the corner of Maple and Union Streets. When completed, all three had mostly identical Second Empire-style designs, and they were constructed by local builder Abel Howe. This house, at 84 Maple Street, was originally the home of Edmund D. Chapin, a banker who had worked as cashier of Springfield’s John Hancock National Bank since its establishment in 1850. He and his wife were in their mid-50s when the house was built, and they lived here for the rest of their lives. In 1890, after working as the cashier of the bank for 40 years, he became the president, and he held this position into the 20th century, when he was in his early 90s.

Chapin died in 1907, at the age of 93, and the house appears to have been vacant for several years. Like many of the city’s other elegant 19th century townhouses, it became a lodging house in the mid-1910s, with city directories of the period showing a number of different residents living here, typically for no more than a year or two. By the early 1920s, though, it had become a single-family home again, and was owned by John J. Kennedy, a dentist who had his office here in the house. He was living here as early as 1922, and he was still here during the 1930 census, along with his wife Loretta and their daughters, Catherine and Mary.

However, around the time that the first photo was taken, the house again reverted to being a lodging house. During the 1940 census, it was being rented by Adolph and Ida Samson for $50 a month. They, in turn, rented rooms to lodgers, with the census showing 14 lodgers living here. Most of the lodgers were young, single people who worked in local factories, although there was one married couple here, although with a young widowed mother with her two young children. According to the incomes that were listed on the census, nearly all of the lodgers earned under $1,000 a year (under $18,000 today), with the one exception being 27-year-old John Minney, who earned $1,092 as an assembler at a toy factory, presumably the nearby Milton Bradley factory.

Nearly 80 years later, all three of these townhouses are still standing, although both 82 and 84 Maple have both been heavily altered. In the mid-1940s, only a few years after the first photo was taken, the third floor of 84 Maple was removed, along with the original front entrance. The bay window on the left side has also been removed, although the house retains its original brick exterior, unlike the house to the right at 82 Maple. Despite these changes, though, all three of these townhouses are contributing properties in the Maple-Union Corners Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

William Street, Springfield, Mass

Looking east on William Street from the corner of Main Street in Springfield, sometime around 1902-1915. Image courtesy of the Longmeadow Historical Society.

William Street in 2017:


William Street, located in the South End of Springfield, was developed around the middle of the 19th century, as development of Springfield’s downtown area steadily moved southward. The area around this site had once belonged to Alexander Bliss, who operated a tannery on the site. His son, Elijah, inherited his father’s large estate after his death in 1843, and began subdividing the property. The 1851 city map shows a number of buildings here, all owned by Elijah, although the ones in the first photo were probably not built until around the 1860s or early 1870s.

The houses in the first photo were primarily rowhouses, with a larger wooden apartment block further in the distance and a few single-family homes interspersed among the larger buildings. The rowhouses feature Second Empire-style architecture, with the distinctive mansard roofs on the third floor, but their designs also incorporate elements of the earlier Italianate style, such as the curved window lintels and the decorative brackets under the eaves.

The South End has long been home to a variety of immigrant groups, many of whom were living here when the first photo was taken in the early 20th century. The 1910 census shows many different working-class residents living here in apartments and lodging houses, including French-Canadian and Irish immigrants along with native-born Americans. The house on the right side, for example, was a lodging house that was owned and operated by Abbie E. Neale, a 49-year-old widow who also owned the smaller house behind it. She rented the property to 14 lodgers, which included a mix of single people and married couples who were mostly in their 20s and 30s. They held a variety of working-class jobs, including several painters, a hotel bellman, a cotton mill spinner, and a machine shop laborer.

Around the corner on William Street, the three brick rowhouses on the left side of the photo were rented by three French-Canadian families during the 1910 census. The house closest to the camera, at 169 William Street, was rented by Ovide and Elmina Bouley, immigrants from Quebec who lived here with their infant daughter and Elmina’s father. The middle house was rented by Onesime Grise, a 65-year-old French-Canadian widow who lived here with her brother-in-law, three of her sons, her widowed daughter-in-law, and her young grandson. Furthest from the camera, the last of the three rowhouses was rented by another French-Canadian widow, 58-year-old  Alphonsie Archambeau. According to the 1910 census, she had 12 children, only one of whom was still alive. This child, 17-year-old Eva Tatro, was living here at the time, as were three lodgers who rented rooms from Alphonsie.

In the years after the first photo was taken, the South End shifted from predominantly French-Canadian to Italian, a legacy that remains in the neighborhood today, with many Italian restaurants, shops, and bakeries. However, none of the buildings from the first photo are still standing here. The brick ones in the foreground appear to have been demolished prior to the late 1930s, because they were not among the buildings photographed as part of the 1938-1939 WPA project. The wooden apartment building in the distance was still standing at the time, but it has also since been demolished, and today this side of William Street is now primarily vacant lots, with a parking lot here at the corner.