William Watts Sherman House, Newport, Rhode Island

The William Watts Sherman House on Shepard Avenue in Newport, sometime in the late 1870s. Image courtesy of the Cornell University Library, Andrew Dickson White Architectural Photographs Collection.

The house in 2017:

William Watts Sherman was born in Albany in 1842, and later moved to New York City, where he became a physician. However, he left the medical practice to enter his father’s banking firm of Duncan, Sherman & Company, and became a wealthy businessman. In 1871 he married Annie Wetmore, the daughter of prominent merchant William Shepard Wetmore. Originally from Vermont, Wetmore had been among the early summer residents in Newport, and built his Chateau-sur-Mer mansion on Bellevue Avenue in 1852.

A few years after their marriage, the Shermans built their own house on part of Annie’s late father’s property, just to the south of Chateau-sur-Mer on the opposite side of Shepard Avenue. For the design, they hired Henry H. Richardson, a recently-established architect who was already well on his way to becoming one of the most influential in American history. He is best known for pioneering the Richardsonian Romanesque style that was prevalent throughout the late 19th century, and designed a number of churches, railroad stations, libraries, and other public buildings. He did not design many private residences, but the Sherman house would become one of his most important works and would help to inspire the Shingle style of architecture that would go on to become ubiquitous in New England resort communities such as Newport.

Completed in 1876, the Sherman house was unlike anything that had been built in Newport up to this point. Most of the earlier homes had designs that were based on Greek, Italian, or French styles, but for this house Richardson blended elements from traditional English and American architecture, giving it a unique appearance that stood out among the other summer cottages in Newport. The house’s exterior, particularly the use of wooden shingles on the upper floors, proved highly influential, and the house became a prototype for Shingle-style architecture of the 1880s and 1890s. Richardson himself designed very few other houses, though, and  it would be two of his former assistants, Charles McKim and Stanford White, who would go on to create some of the finest Shingle-style homes.

Stanford White was involved in the design of the house, and he would play a larger role a few years later, when his firm of McKim, Mead & White was hired to design a large addition to the house. Built on the left side of the scene, this new wing substantially enlarged the house, while matching Richardson’s original exterior. The first photo here shows the house as it originally appeared, sometime before construction on the addition began in 1879. It was completed two years later, with Stanford White providing interior designs for both a parlor and a library in this wing.

William and Annie Sherman had two daughters, Georgette and Sybil, who were born in the early 1870s. However, Annie died in 1884 at the age of 35, and the following year William remarried to Sophia Augusta Brown, the 18-year-old daughter of the late John Carter Brown II. A member of the prominent Brown family of Providence, John Carter Brown II was the son of Nicholas Brown, Jr., the namesake of Brown University, and John himself would later leave leave his mark on the university when his rare book collection became the basis for the John Carter Brown Library. Curiously, William Sherman’s oldest daughter, Georgette, would later marry Sophia’s older brother, Harold Brown, making William Sherman both a brother-in-law and father-in-law to his daughter’s new husband.

With his new wife, William Watts Sherman had two more daughters, Irene and Mildred, and around 1890 they expanded the house again, adding a ballroom that was designed by local architect Dudley Newton. He continued to spend summers here until his death in 1912, and Sophia owned the house until her death more than 30 years later, in 1946. By this point the massive Gilded Age mansions of Newport had fallen out of fashion, and the mid-20th century saw many of these landmarks demolished or converted into other uses. In the case of the Sherman house, it became the Baptist Home of Rhode Island, a retirement home that opened in 1950.

Because of its architectural significance, the house was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1970, and it is also a contributing property in the Bellevue Avenue Historic District, which is likewise a National Historic Landmark. In 1982, the property was purchased by Salve Regina University, whose campus includes many other historic mansions in the area. It is now a dormitory for sophomore students, and still stands as one of Newport’s finest architectural treasures, with hardly any differences between these two photos aside from the 1879-1881 addition on the left side.

Newport Casino, Newport, Rhode Island

The Newport Casino on Bellevue Avenue in Newport, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

One of Newport’s many architectural landmarks is the Newport Casino, which is located on Bellevue Avenue, just a little south of the present-day intersection of Memorial Boulevard. Its origins date back to 1879, when New York Herald publisher James Gordon Bennett, Jr., purchased the Stone Villa house on the west side of Bellevue Avenue, plus a vacant lot directly across the street where the Newport Casino would subsequently be built. Bennett had inherited a considerable fortune – including one of the nation’s leading newspapers – after his father’s death in 1872. Just 31 when his father died, the younger Bennett acquired a reputation as a flamboyant and eccentric member of New York society.

Bennett’s famously erratic behavior included an incident in New York in 1877, when he urinated in the fireplace during a party at his fiancée’s house. The resulting outrage ended their engagement and also resulted in a duel between Bennett and his would-be brother-in-law, although neither man was injured. Another oft-repeated – though probably apocryphal – incident happened in Newport in 1879 when, according to the tale, Bennett dared a friend to ride his horse onto the porch of the Newport Reading Room, an exclusive social club for the city’s elite. Supposedly, the friend lost his membership, and Bennett was said to have resigned his membership in protest before establishing the Newport Casino as a social club of his own.

Whether or not the story is entirely true, it speaks to Bennett’s reputation for impulsive behavior, and either way he soon began work on building the Newport Casino on the vacant lot opposite his Bellevue Avenue mansion. For the designs, he hired McKim, Mead & White, a newly-established architectural firm whose subsequent meteoric rise to prominence would be due in no small part to their work here on the Newport Casino. The result was an architectural masterpiece, which was built in 1880 as one of the first significant Shingle-style buildings. McKim, Mead & White helped to pioneer this distinctly American style of architecture, which would go on to become predominant in New England coastal resort communities in the late 19th century.

In 19th century terminology, a casino was not specifically a place for gambling, but instead referred more broadly to a social and recreational facility. At the time of the casino’s opening in the summer of Newport, the city had already been well-established as the premier summer resort for New York millionaires, and the casino quickly became its social center. The building offered a wide variety of amenities, including stores along the Bellevue Avenue facade, plus a restaurant, a ballroom, a theater, and tennis courts. Unlike the elite Reading Room, it was also less exclusive, with both the wealthy members and the general public able to enjoy the facilities.

The casino would go on to play an important role in the early history of tennis. Originally referred to as lawn tennis, so as to distinguish it from the earlier game of court tennis, the sport came to America in the 1870s and was played under a variety of rules until 1881, when the United States National Lawn Tennis Association – today’s United States Tennis Association – was established to standardize the rules of the sport. Given its reputation as an affluent summer resort, Newport was chosen as the site of the association’s first championships in 1881, with the newly-built Newport Casino serving as the site for both the men’s singles and men’s doubles championships.

The men’s doubles championships would be played here at the Newport Casino for the rest of the 1880s, and the men’s singles championships through 1914. During this time, the sport was dominated by Richard Dudley Sears, a Boston native and Harvard student who won the first seven singles championships from 1881 to 1887, plus the doubles championships from 1882 to 1887, before retiring from the sport at the age of 26. In later years, other prominent winners here included Oliver S. Campbell and Malcolm D. Whitman, who each one three singles titles, and William Larned, who won in 1901, 1902, and from 1907-1911.

In 1915, the tennis championships were moved to the West Side Tennis Club in the Forest Hill neighborhood of Queens, which was more conveniently located and could accommodate more spectators. The Newport Casino continued to be used for other tennis events over the years, but both the building and the city entered a decline in the first half of the 20th century, as Newport began to fall out of fashion as a summer resort. Many of the Gilded Age mansions were demolished in the middle of the century, including James Gordon Bennett’s house across the street from here. Demolished in 1957, the site of his Stone Villa is now a shopping plaza, and a similar fate nearly befell the Newport Casino, which had been threatened with demolition a few years earlier.

The Newport Casino was ultimately preserved, though, thanks to the efforts of Jimmy Van Alen, a Newport native and former court tennis champion who established the International Tennis Hall of Fame here in 1954. Since then, the building has remained well-preserved, with hardly any changes in this scene since the first photo was taken. The Hall of Fame is still here, along with indoor and outdoor tennis courts, plus one of the country’s few remaining courts for court tennis. Along Bellevue Avenue, the building’s first floor houses upscale retail shops and a restaurant, and it forms part of a continuous row of historic buildings that extends the entire block from Memorial Boulevard to Casino Terrace. Because of its level of preservation, its architectural significance, and its role in the early history of tennis, the building was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

140-144 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, Rhode Island

The commercial block at the corner of Bellevue Avenue and Deblois Street in Newport, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

In the late 19th century, Shingle-style architecture became virtually synonymous with New England coastal resort communities, and Newport featured many of the style’s pioneering works. Although this building can hardly compare to the Newport Casino or Isaac Bell House further up Bellevue Avenue, it nonetheless shows the style’s influence on local architecture. This particular building dates back to the 1890s, and was originally the home of the Kazanjian Company, a rug company whose store was located in the ground floor, as seen in the first photo.

The Kazanjian Company was founded in 1882 by Bedros and John Kazanjian, two brothers who immigrated to Newport from Armenia. City directories list their business here at this address throughout the 1880s, although the current building does not appear to have been built until the following decade. Either way, by the time the first photo was taken around 1906 they were selling a wide variety of household goods beyond just rugs. The sign above the first-floor windows advertises “Oriental rugs, portieres, embroideries, draperies,antiques, bric-a-brac, curios,” and some of their rugs are on display outside of the windows.

The Kazanjian family also operated a store nearby at the present-day corner of Bellevue Avenue and Memorial Boulevard, right next to the Newport Casino. Both of these stores would remain in business for many years, appearing in city directories into the 1960s. During this time, the upper floors were rented as apartments. The 1920 census, for example, shows seven different households, primarily single people and married couples with no children. The occupations were highly varied, and included workers at a dress shop, a photographer’s studio, a beauty shop, a grocery store, and the U.S. Navy base in Newport.

More than 110 years after the first photo was taken, Newport remains a popular coastal resort, and Bellevue Avenue is still a premier shopping area. Kazanjian & Company is long gone from here, and the building’s storefronts have seen some minor alterations over the years, but overall the building remains well-preserved. It is a mixed-use property still, with three stores on the first floor and apartments on the upper floors, and it is one of the many historic 19th century buildings that still line Bellevue Avenue.

Isaac Bell House, Newport, Rhode Island

The Isaac Bell House at the corner of Perry Street and Bellevue Avenue in Newport, around 1883-1895. Image courtesy of the Cornell University Library, Andrew Dickson White Architectural Photographs Collection.

The house in 2017:

Although not as large or ostentatious as many of the other 19th century mansions in Newport, this house is among the most significant, and stands as an architectural landmark. It is widely considered to be a masterpiece of Shingle Style architecture, and it was one of the early examples of this style, which would become popular in the late 19th century, particularly in New England coastal resort communities like Newport. It was also one of the first commissions of the New York-based firm of McKim, Mead & White, which would go on to become one of the nation’s leading architectural firms of its era.

Unlike most of the other architectural movements in 19th century America, the Shingle style was not an imitation of earlier European designs. Instead, it was a distinctly American style, and typically blended elements of colonial architecture while also using traditional building materials, such as the ubiquitous cedar shingles. Like the contemporaneous Queen Anne style, Shingle style homes tended to have complex, asymmetrical designs, often with turrets and large porches. However, Shingle style deliberately avoided the excessive ornamentation of Queen Anne architecture, and instead featured exteriors that were almost completely covered in shingles. As a result, these homes tended to blend in with their surroundings, instead of other types of houses that were specifically designed to stand out.

This house was completed in 1883 for Isaac Bell, Jr.,   a New York native who had recently retired after a brief but successful career as a cotton broker. He was just 31 at the time of his retirement, and with his inheritance from his father plus his own accumulated wealth he was able to establish himself here in Newport society. In 1878, a year after retiring, he married Jeannette Bennett, the sister of New York Herald owner James Gordon Bennett, Jr. Here in Newport, Bennett was well-known for his eccentric, often flamboyant behavior, but he was also the founder of the Newport Casino, one of the city’s leading social clubs. The Casino building, located a few blocks away from here on Bellevue Avenue, was also designed by McKim, Mead & White, and this family connection may have been the reason why Bell commissioned them to design his house a few years later.

Although retired from active business, Isaac Bell was involved in politics as a member of the Democratic Party. He was the president of Newport’s Democratic Club, and campaigned for Grover Cleveland in the 1884 presidential election. The following year, Cleveland rewarded Bell by appointing him as the US ambassador to the Netherlands, a post that he would hold for nearly three years. He was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1888, but later that year he fell ill with typhoid fever while here in Newport. He returned to New York and underwent surgery, but it was unsuccessful and he died a few weeks later in January 1889, at the age of 42.

In 1891, Jeannette sold the property to Samuel F. Barger, a prominent New York City lawyer who was a longtime director of the New York Central Railroad. One of the most important railroads in the country, the New York Central had been acquired by Cornelius Vanderbilt, and in that same year Barger began serving on the board of directors. Two years later, the railroad was merged with the Hudson River Railroad, which was another of Vanderbilt’s holdings, and Barger became a director of the consolidated corporation. Barger would continue to serve on the board alongside two more generations of Vanderbilts, outliving Cornelius, his son William, and William’s son Cornelius Vanderbilt II, who built The Breakers here in Newport. He served on the board into the 20th century, and was the last surviving member of the consolidated railroad’s original 1869 board.

Upon purchasing this house, Barger named it Edna Villa, in honor of his wife, Edna LaFavor. The couple had married in 1869, and they had three children: Maud, Edna, and Milton. Maud was an accomplished tennis player, winning the singles title in the 1908 U.S. National Championships and finishing as the runner-up in 1906 and 1909. She did not start playing tennis until she was about 30, but she played competitively well into her 40s. In 1912, at the age of 42, she was the runner-up in the women’s doubles championship, and three years later she was still ranked among the top 10 in the world. In 1958, a few years after her death, she was inducted in the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1958, which is located at the Newport Casino, just a quarter mile away from here.

During Samuel Barger’s ownership, this house was altered several times, including an addition to the southwest corner in the late 1890s, as well as the removal of the carriage house on the left side of the photo around the same time. After Samuel’s death in 1914 the property remained in his family for many years, and another addition was built on the west side in the 1920s. His daughter Edna would eventually inherit the property, and she owned it until finally selling it in 1952. By this point, Newport was no longer the exclusive summer colony that it had once been, and massive Gilded Age mansions had long since fallen out of fashion. A relic of a bygone era, the house was converted into a nursing home, and was later divided into apartments.

In 1996, the house was sold to the Preservation Society of Newport County, which operates many historic house museums in Newport, including The Breakers and Marble House. The Preservation Society restored the house, and subsequently opened it to the public as a museum. Unlike most of the organization’s other properties, this house is only minimally furnished, in an effort to highlight the architectural details of the interior. Despite the many changes over the years, the interior has remained well-preserved, and very little has changed in this view of the exterior since the first photo was taken some 125 years ago. Because of this level of preservation, along with its architectural significance, the house was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1997.

First Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church, Springfield, Mass

The First Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church at 57 Bay Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The church in 2017:


During the 19th century, Springfield experienced significant population growth as it developed into a major industrial and commercial center. From its 1800 population of 2,312, it grew to over 62,000 by 1900, and with many new residents bringing new languages, cultures, and religious beliefs to the city. At the start of the 19th century, Springfield’s only religious institution was a single Congregational church, but over time Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Catholics, and other denominations would all establish churches in the city.

By the turn of the 20th century, many of these churches served specific ethnic groups, particularly recent immigrants. The early Catholic churches were predominantly Irish, but other parishes were later established for French, Italian, and Polish Catholics. In addition, there were six Protestant churches that held their services in a language other than English, including one German, one Italian, one French, and three Swedish churches. Of the Swedish churches, there was one Congregational church, one Lutheran church, and a Methodist church, which was located here on Bay Street.

The First Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church was established in 1893, and in its early years it held services in a hall above the First National Bank on Main Street, opposite Court Square. However, in 1901 the congregation built this church building, near the corner of Bay and Pleasant Streets in Springfield’s McKnight neighborhood. Its Shingle-style design reflected architectural tastes of the era, although its windows, with their pointed arches, give it somewhat of a Gothic appearance as well.

In the late 1930s, around the time that the first photo was taken, the church was renamed the Bay Street Methodist Church. The congregation continued to use this building for the next decade or so, until it merged with the Asbury First Methodist Church in 1952. The new church held its services in the Asbury church building at the corner of Hancock and Florence Streets, and this property on Bay Street was sold in 1953 to the Church of the Nazarene. This church would remain here for the next 13 years, until moving to a new building on Wilbraham Road in Sixteen Acres in 1966.

Later in 1966, the building was sold to the Holy Trinity Church of God in Christ, which remains an active congregation here more than 50 years later. During this time, the exterior of the building has remained well-preserved, and the only significant change in this scene has been the addition of a wheelchair ramp on the right side of the building. It stands as a good example of Shingle-style church architecture, and it is a contributing property in the McKnight Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

John McFethries House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 52 Cornell Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This elegant home was built in 1888 for John McFethries, a Scottish-born mechanical engineer who was in his late 50s at the time. He had come to America as a young man, where he married his first wife, Juliette McLean, in 1864 in Ludlow, Massachusetts. However, they subsequently moved to Russia, where John worked for the St. Petersburg and Moscow Railroad. Juliette died there in 1886, and three years later, while still in Russia, John remarried to Emily Pudan, who was originally from England.

By the early 1880s, John had moved back to the Springfield area along with Emily, and he became a prominent resident in the city. For several years they lived in a house nearby at 69 Clarendon Street, but around 1888 they moved into this house on Cornell Street, along the northwestern edge of the McKnight neighborhood. John was involved in several different local businesses, including serving as treasurer of the Waltham Watch Tool Company. He was also involved with the Highland Extension Company, which developed much of the land in the Upper Hill neighborhood of Springfield, and from 1890 to 1891 he served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

Emily died in 1900, and that year’s census shows John living here with his daughter Olga, her husband John E. Cowan, their infant daughter Martha, and Emily’s brother Frank. The Cowans subsequently moved to California, and John McFethries lived here in this house until his death in 1907 at the age of 76. His heirs owned the house for a few more years, and rented it to several different tenants, including Frank W. Watkins, who lived here from about 1910 to 1912. He lived here with his wife Mary and their daughter Lila, and he worked as a designer for the Taber-Prang Art Company, a Springfield-based firm that was a leading producer of fine art prints in the early 20th century.

Around 1913, the house was sold to Augustus C. Lamb, who lived here with his wife Effie and their three sons. He was a salesman for the American Writing Paper Company in Holyoke, and in 1917 he was promoted to sales manager. However, he resigned two years later to become factory manager of the Russ Gelatin Company, although he only stayed there for a few years before returning to American Writing Paper in 1922. Around the same time, he and his family also moved out of this house, and into an apartment in Forest Park at 143 Belmont Avenue.

This house then became the home of George S. Lewis, a firearms manufacturer who had previously worked for J. Stevens Arms of Chicopee. By the time he and his wife Fannie moved into this house around 1922, George had left Stevens and was in business for himself, starting the Page-Lewis Arms Company. He was vice president, general manager, and designer for this company, and he was also the general manager of the affiliated Page Needle Company, both of which were located in the same factory in Chicopee. However, in 1926, Page-Lewis was purchased by J. Stevens Arms, and George later began working for Winchester Repeating Arms in New Haven, Connecticut.

George and Fannie appear in city directories here as late as 1934, but by the end of the decade the house had been divided into several different apartments. During the 1940 census, which was done shortly after the first photo was taken, the house was owned by Robert W. Leduc, an accountant who lived here and rented out two other units in the home. One was rented by Edward J. Sawyer, a supervisor at Westinghouse who lived here with his wife Jean and their son, Edward Jr., and the other unit was rented by Nellie M. Allen, a widow who was 74 years old at the time.

In subsequent years, the city directories show a number of different residents living in this house, and it appears to have frequently changed owners in the mid-20th century. However, it is now a single-family home again, and it is one of the hundreds of historic 19th century homes in the McKnight Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.