John P. Wilcox House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 17 Ingraham Terrace in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:


Born in Springfield in 1836, John P. Wilcox was the son of Philip Wilcox, a tinware and stove merchant. Likewise, John became a stove merchant, and in 1861 he married his first wife, Harriet Russell. She died of tuberculosis in 1866, though, and two years later he remarried to Henrietta Willis. By 1870, they were living in this elegant Second Empire-style house at the corner of Ingraham Terrace and Union Street. The location of this house would have afforded them with excellent views of downtown Springfield and the Connecticut River valley, and the value of the property was listed as $40,000 in the 1870 census, equal to over $770,000 today.

John died 1897, and his widow Henrietta lived here until her death in 1912. His only child was Hattie, the daughter of his first wife. She never married, and lived here her entire life, until she died in 1930. By the time the first photo was taken, the house was being rented by Bernard F. Gilchriest, a physician who lived here with his wife Odette and their two children, who were also named Bernard and Odette. They lived here until at least the early 1940s, and the house itself was still standing over a decade later. However, the property last appears in the Springfield Republican, and the house was probably demolished sometime in the 1950s or 1960s. Today, the site of the house is a parking lot for the former Wesson Memorial Hospital, which is visible in the distant left of both photos.

238-240 Union Street, Springfield, Mass

The house at 238-240 Union Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The building in 2017:

This building is one of several Second Empire-style duplexes on this section of Union Street, including the similar-looking one directly across the street at 247-249 Union. It was built in 1869, and was owned by Colonel James M. Thompson, a prominent city resident who lived in a nearby mansion a little further up Union Street. Originally, the building had a third unit, which was located on the left side, but this was demolished around the 1930s.

After Colonel Thompson’s death in 1884, his family continued to own this building into the early 20th century. Census records from both 1900 and 1910 show that the units on the left were boarding houses, with tenants that included a bookkeeper, bank clerk, and a clergyman. The unit on the right, though, was rented to a single family, with real estate agent William Dewey living here from at least 1900 to 1910, along with his wife Ella and their three children, Alonzo, Eudocia, and Dorothy.

In subsequent censuses, the building continued to be used as a boarding house for several more decades. The third unit, number 236, was removed sometime before the first photo was taken, and the interior of the building is now divided into six different units. However, very little has changed with the building’s exterior in the past 80 years, and it stands as a good example of the type of elegant townhouses that were built during the city’s post-Civil War housing boom.

Samuel F. Newell House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 69 Bowdoin Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The scene in 2017:

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As mentioned in the previous post, Nelson and Samuel Newell were brothers who owned the Newell Brothers’ Manufacturing Company. Originally located in Longmeadow, they later moved their factory to a site along the Connecticut River at the end of Howard Street in Springfield. Around 1873, they built matching houses here on adjoining lots on Bowdoin Street, and Samuel lived in this house until his death in 1878 at the age of 56. He and his wife Augusta had five daughters, three of whom were still living here with their mother in the 1880 census.

Augusta Newell would remain in this house for many years, usually living with a variety of family members. By 1900 her daughter Caroline was divorced and was living here with her mother along with two of her own children. A decade later, the house had become more crowded. Caroline was still living here with Augusta, along with her daughter Edith, sisters Mary and Alice, Alice’s husband William, and a servant.

After Augusta’s death in 1915, the house was sold to Robert Ingersoll, whose father James lived in the neighboring house to the left. Robert’s wife Florence was the daughter of Milton Bradley, the founder of the toy company that bears his name. Robert himself was a part of his father-in-law’s company, holding positions such as secretary, vice president, assistant general manager, and assistant treasurer of Milton Bradley. They were still living here by 1930, and that year’s census listed the house as being worth $25,000. This was a considerable amount of money during the Great Depression, equivalent to over $350,000 in 2017.

Like so many other large houses in the McKnight neighborhood, though, the Great Depression saw its transition from a mansion to a group home. It was used as a nursing home for many years, apparently as early as 1940, when the census listed eight lodgers here, all but one of whom were over the age of 65. Over time, the building became a boarding house, and was eventually abandoned. It sat vacant for many years before being heavily damaged by a fire in 2010 and subsequently demolished. The carriage house, which is not visible from this angle, still stands on the property, and the large tree is recognizable in both photos, but otherwise the lot remains vacant.

Nelson C. Newell House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 57 Bowdoin Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The scene in 2017:

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Nelson C. Newell was a button manufacturer who entered the business in 1849 with his father-in-law Diamond Chandler, who had a factory in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. Soon after, his older brother Samuel joined the firm, and the two took over the company upon Chandler’s retirement in 1855. By the 1860s, they had moved their factory to Springfield, and were operating as the Newell Brothers’ Manufacturing Company. They made buttons from a variety of materials, including cloth, rubber, and vegetable ivory. Nelson served as president and oversaw production, while Samuel was the treasurer and worked primarily with the company’s finances.

Around 1873, the brothers moved into matching, newly-built Second Empire-style homes in adjoining lots here on Bowdoin Street. Samuel’s house at 69 Bowdoin Street is partially visible to the left in the first photo, and the two houses shared a driveway as well as a carriage house, which straddled the property line on the far right of both photos. Samuel died only a few years later, but Nelson would go on to live here for many years. He was a widower when he moved in, having lost his first wife Mary to typhoid fever in 1856 and his second wife, also named Mary, in 1871. In 1880, though, he married his third wife, Helen Grant.

Nelson and Helen remained at this house for the rest of their lives. At the time of their marriage, they lived here with two of Nelson’s adult sons from his first marriage, Howard and Charles. A third son, William, moved into a nearby house at 103 Bowdoin Street by the early 1880s. By 1900, Nelson and Helen were living here alone except for two servants. Although he was 14 years older than her, Nelson ended up outliving Helen, although only by a few months; she died in May 1915, and he died he following November at the age of 91.

By the 1920 census, William Newell had sold his home and was living here along with his wife Martha and two children, plus a boarder. A decade later, it was being rented by a middle-aged couple for $100 per month. By 1940, only a year or two after the first photo was taken, it was a lodging house, and the census indicates 13 such residents, predominantly young men in their late teens and early 20s. Many other large homes in the neighborhood had been put to similar use around this time, but for this house the decline continued even further in the following decades.

In the late 1960s, this former mansion of a Gilded Age industrialist became a halfway house for juvenile offenders, and was known as the Dexter House. It sustained considerable damage during this time, including a fire, and was subsequently abandoned. It finally collapsed in 1988, and the lot remains vacant ever since. The matching house at 69 Bowdoin Street is also gone, after having been destroyed in a fire in 2010. Today, the only remnant of these two houses is the carriage house, which in partially visible on the far right of the second photo, still straddling the property line nearly 150 years after the Newell brothers moved here.

Samuel Palmer House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 111 Bowdoin Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The scene in 2017:

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The large-scale development of Springfield’s McKnight neighborhood began in the early 1870s, and among the first of these houses was this one at the southeast corner of Bowdoin and Worthington Streets. While the bulk of the homes in the neighborhood reflect Queen Anne-style architecture from the 1880s and 1890s, this home was built during the heyday of the Second Empire architecture of the early 1870s. The house was built sometime after 1870 but before 1874, when it was listed in the city directory as the home of Samuel Palmer. According to the same directory, he was a merchant and wholesale dealer “in Flour, Salt, Butter, Cheese and Produce generally.”

Samuel Palmer lived here with his wife, whose name is variously recorded as Azuba, Agabah, Acuba, Azubeth, Arbua, Azabah, and Ayaba. Her gravestone offers yet another spelling, Azubah, which appears to have been the correct version of her name. Orthographic discrepancies aside, the couple lived here with their children, Ellen, Samuel, Henrietta, and Mary, and the 1880 census also shows two servants living here. The next surviving census records, in 1900, indicate that the family had moved to Enfield, Massachusetts, where 76-year-old Samuel was listed as a farmer. He died 11 years later, and Azubah lived well into her 90s, until her death in 1919.

While the Palmers were living in Enfield, their former house in Springfield was the home of John H. Carpenter, a clothing merchant. In the 1900 census, he was living here with his wife Juliet and her parents, Charles and Juliet Cleveland. John died in the 1920s, and sometime in the 1930s Juliet downsized and moved into an apartment just a block away from here. In the meantime, the house was acquired by the American Youth Council, an organization that trained unemployed young people. In the 1940 census, it was the home of the council’s director, Frank W. Barber, as well as a social worker, John Haraty.

Most of the 19th century homes in the McKnight neighborhood are still standing, and form the McKnight Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. However, this house has not survived. It was still here by the 1950s, when it was in use as the Musical Art Center, but it appears to have been demolished by 1976, because it does not appear in the inventory form for the historic district. The lot has remained vacant ever since, and it is now part of the property of the neighboring home at 103 Bowdoin Street.

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.