Octave A. LaRiviere Tenement Block, Springfield, Mass

The tenement houses at 136-142 Main Street in the Indian Orchard neighborhood of Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

This Second Empire-style tenement building was built sometime around the 1870s, and was owned by Octave A. LaRiviere, a French-Canadian immigrant who lived a block away in a house on Main Street. A dry goods merchant, LaRiviere went by the anglicized name of John Rivers for many years, in order to avoid anti-immigrant discrimination. He served as a city councilor and alderman in the 1880s and 1890s, and later served as a Massachusetts delegate to the 1912 Republican National Convention. In his later years, he reverted to his original French name, and was a contractor in the firm of LaFrance & LaRiviere.

This building was one of many tenements that were built in this area in the late 19th century, in order to house workers at the nearby mills. Many were company-owned tenements, but this one was privately owned, with a mix of mill employees and other workers. The 1900 census showed at least three families in this building (although there were probably more than that), including two immigrant families from Quebec. One unit housed Louise Bengle, who lived here with her son Paul, who worked as a clothing salesman, and her grandson Donald, who worked as a machinist. A second unit was the home of Casimir Baillargeon, a carpenter who lived here with his wife Mary, along with his nephew, his niece, and a boarder. A third unit in the building was the home of Fred Pero, an iron molder who lived here with his wife Kate and their three children.

The first photo was taken in the late 1930s, and the 1940 census shows 12 families living in the buildings. They were a mix of native-born Americans, plus immigrants from Quebec and Poland, and most were employed by the nearby mills along the Chicopee River. Each family paid around $20 per month in rent, and their salaries ranged from a janitor who made $350 per year, to a tire maker who earned a salary of $1,560. The first photo shows two sets of wooden porches on the front, with two units apparently sharing each porch level. Today, not much has changed in this scene, and these porches are still standing. The rest of the building has also remained well-preserved, and continues to be used as a 12-unit apartment building.

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. Jerome’s Church, Holyoke, Mass

St. Jerome’s Church and Rectory on Hampden Street in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

During the mid-19th century, Holyoke was developed into a major industrial center. Many factories were built along the city’s network of canals, and were powered by water from the Connecticut River, which drops 58 feet at the falls between Holyoke and South Hadley. The factories led to a dramatic population growth, particularly with immigrant groups such as the Irish and the French Canadians, who came to Holyoke in search of work, and this led to an abundance of Catholic churches to serve these two predominantly Roman Catholic communities.

The first of these Catholic churches was St. Jerome’s Church, which was established in 1856. The church building, seen here in the center of both photos, was constructed two years later, diagonally opposite Hampden Park at the corner of Hampden and Chestnut Streets. It features a brick, Gothic Revival-style design and, like many other Catholic churches of the era, was designed by prominent Irish-born architect Patrick Keely.

As the Catholic population of Holyoke continued to grow, a number of additional buildings were added around St. Jerome’s Church. The St. Jerome Institute was established as a school for boys in 1872, and was located in a building just to the left of the church, on the far left side of the first photo. Then, in 1879, a Second Empire-style church rectory was built to the right of the church, on the opposite side of Chestnut Street, and is visible on the right side of both photos. Other buildings constructed during this time included the Sisters of Notre Dame Convent (1870), the Convent of the Sisters of Providence  (1886), and the School of the Immaculate Conception (1883), all of which were located across Hampden Street opposite the church, just out of view to the left.

St. Jerome’s Church was significantly damaged by a fire in 1934 that left only the exterior brick walls still standing. However, the building was reconstructed a year later, and it remains in use today as an active Roman Catholic parish. Most of the other 19th century buildings nearby are still standing, aside from the St. Jerome Institute, which was demolished in the late 20th century. Today, these remaining buildings, including St. Jerome’s Church, now form part of the Hampden Park Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

Boston and Albany Railroad Offices, Springfield, Mass

The Boston and Albany Railroad offices, just north of the railroad tracks on Main Street in Springfield, around 1870-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

Henry H. Richardson was one of the most influential architects in American history, and helped to establish what became known as the Richardsonian Romanesque style of architecture. Along the way, he designed churches, government buildings, libraries, railroad stations, and private homes, but he began his career here in Springfield, where he received his first commission in 1866. Although originally from Louisiana, Richardson had graduated from Harvard, where his friends included James A. Rumrill, Jr.. a Springfield resident who later married the daughter of Chester W. Chapin. Chapin, a railroad and banking executive, was among the richest men in the city, and he was also a prominent member of the Church of the Unity. Through this connection Richardson able to enter a design competition for a new church building, and his plans were ultimately selected, giving him his first commission and helping to establish his career as an architect.

Even before the Church of the Unity was completed, Richardson’s connection to Chapin helped him to obtain several more commissions here in Springfield. Among other business interests, Chapin was the president of the Western Railroad, and in 1867 Richardson was hired – without any competition – to design a building for the railroad’s headquarters here in Springfield, directly adjacent to the city’s railroad station. The result was a granite, Second Empire-style building, with a design that bore more resemblance to the fashionable townhouses of Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood than to an office building. Although hardly an architectural masterpiece, it reflected Richardson’s training at the École des Beaux Arts in France, and it showed his abilities in designing commercial structures.

Shortly after Richardson received his commission in 1867, the Western Railroad merged with the Boston and Worcester, forming the Boston and Albany Railroad, with Chapin as its president. The building was completed two years later as offices for the new railroad, and was ideally situated at the midpoint of the line, 98 miles from Boston and 102 miles from Albany by rail. Chapin went on to serve as president of the railroad for the next decade, with the line serving as an important link between Boston and the rest of the country. In 1900, it was acquired by the New York Central, but retained its separate Boston and Albany branding for many years. This building continued to be used as offices well into the 20th century, but it was finally closed in 1926 and was demolished soon after.

Many years later, this site was again used for transportation when, in 1969, the Springfield-based Peter Pan Bus Lines built its terminal here. Established in 1933 by Peter C. Picknelly, Peter Pan became a major intercity bus company in the northeast, and it has remained in the Picknelly family ever since. Peter’s son, Peter L. Picknelly, served as the company chairman from 1964 until his death in 2004, and building, which also served as the terminal for the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority buses, was named in his honor in 2005. However, in 2017, shortly after the first photo was taken, both Peter Pan and the PVTA moved across Main Street to the newly-restored Union Station, and the long-term future of this site seems uncertain at this point.

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’s Center 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.