Nathan Bill House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 284 Maple Street in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The house around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

The late 19th century was a time of great prosperity for Springfield, and the city experienced rapid growth in population, industries, and commerce. Many elegant homes were constructed during this time, giving Springfield its nickname as “The City of Homes,” but some of the finest were built here on Maple Street, where wealthy residents enjoyed panoramic views from a bluff above the city.

This site here on Maple Street, near the top of the hill, was originally developed in the early 1870s by Jotham G. Chase, a lumber dealer whose business was particularly lucrative in the initial post-Civil War construction boom in the city. With his wealth he purchased this property and began construction of a brick, High Victorian Gothic-style house that was designed by the prominent New York architectural firm of Vaux & Withers. One of the partners Calvert Vaux, had previously worked with Frederick Law Olmsted to design Central Park, and Chase would also hire Olmsted to design the grounds for his house.

The 1873-74 city directory estimated the cost of the house at $50,000, but unfortunately for Chase he never actually moved into the house. The exterior was finished, but he was unable to finish the interior because of financially difficulties, probably caused by the Panic of 1873. This economic downturn resulted in a steep drop in new house construction, which would have, in turn, hurt Chase’s lumber business. The shell of the house stood here for the next decade, and was still in its half-finished condition when Chase died in 1884.

The property was subsequently purchased by Andrew L. Fennessy, a banker who was also the treasurer of the Springfield Bicycle Club. By Thisbe point, the High Victorian Gothic style of the 1879s has fallen out of fashion, which may have been one of the reasons why Fennessy wanted to build a new house on the site. He moved the unfinished house to nearby Maple Court, where it became a multi-family home, and he built a new Shingle-style house, which was completed in 1888.

As it turned out, Fennessy only lived in this house for a few years, because he moved to Boston around 1891. By the time the first photo was taken a year later, the house was owned by Nathan D. Bill, a wealthy businessman who was involved in a number of paper manufacturing companies. He was a Springfield native, the son of Gurdon and Emily Bill, and as a teenager he worked a series of different jobs before becoming an apprentice at a wholesale paper and stationery business, at the age of 18. Two years later, he went into business for himself, as owner of the Union Envelope and Paper Company. This company subsequently became part of the National Papeterie Company, with Bill as one of its partners.

Nathan Bill made a considerable fortune in the paper industry in just a short time, and retired from active business in the late 1880s, when he was just 33 years old. He was one of the wealthiest men in Springfield at this point, enabling him to purchase Fennessy’s mansion here on Maple Street, and he lived here with his wife Ruth and their only child, Beatrice, who was about five years old when they moved into the house.

Although retired from active business, Nathan Bill remained involved in various paper manufacturing companies, but he also took on an active role in the community as a civic leader and philanthropist. He was a library trustee for 60 years, including many years as the library president, and a park commissioner for 28 years, during which time he was a strong advocate for creating new parks and playgrounds.

During this time, the city also benefitted from his philanthropy, including five parks that he donated, all of which still bear the names of members of his family: Emerson Wight Playground, Gurdon Bill Park, Emily Bill Playground, Ruth Elizabeth Playground, and Nathan Bill Playground. He also donated some of the land for the city-owned Franconia Golf Course, which helped prevent part of Forest Park from being converted into a golf course.

The 1900 census shows Nathan and Ruth living here with 14-year-old Beatrice and four servants, whose occupations were listed as “servant,” “seamstress,” “domestic,” and “coachman.” Of these, the coachman, George LaBroad, would go on to have a remarkably long career with the Bill family. He was listed here in city directories as early as 1894, and he would continue to work for the family, first as a coachman and then as a chauffeur, until his death in 1941, several years after the second photo was taken.

The second photo shows few changes in the nearly 50 years since the first photo was taken. Both Nathan and Ruth Bill were still living in the house, and the only significant change was an addition on the left side, where the one-story porch stood in the first photo. However, another interesting difference is the contrast between the horse-drawn carriage in the driveway of the first photo, and the automobile parked in the same spot in the second photo, reflecting the dramatic changes in transportation in the intervening years.

Nathan Bill died in 1947, at the age of 91, and Ruth died three years later. The house was subsequently converted into a nursing home, but by the 1960s it was vacant. The owner had plans to convert both the house and its carriage house into professional offices, but the carriage house was destroyed by a suspicious fire in 1967. A year later, the house itself was destroyed in another fire, and the site was never rebuilt. Today, the property is vacant except for the concrete driveway, which marks the site of the old house. However, the neighboring Frederick Harris House, visible on the right side of all three photos, is  still standing as one of the many historic mansions on this section of Maple Street.

For a view of this house from a different angle, see this earlier post.

Harriet A. Southworth House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 7 Crescent Hill, at the corner of Pine Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This house is one of the finest surviving examples of Shingle-style architecture in Springfield, and was built in 1888. It was designed by the prominent Boston architectural firm of Hartwell and Richardson, and was originally the home of Harriet Southworth, the widow of paper manufacturer Edward Southworth. Her son Mase lived next door in a similar house at 6 Crescent Hill, and Harriet lived here until about 1905, when, according to that year’s city directory, she moved south.

Harriet Southworth apparently did not return to Springfield, but she owned this house until her death in 1910. In that same year’s census, the house was being rented by Charles H. Hall, a merchant who was the president and treasurer of Charles Hall, Inc. This store, which sold china, glass, silverware, lamps, furniture, and other high-end household goods, was established in Springgield in 1873 by his father, who was also named Charles. The son of former Vermont congressman and governor Hiland Hall, the elder Charles had moved to Chicago in 1871 to run a boot and shoe company, but lost everything in the Great Chicago Fire later that year. He moved to Springfield two years later, where his son Charles was born in 1874.

The younger Charles took over the company after his father’s death in 1907, and by the 1910 census he was living here in this house with his wife Grace and their three young children: Nichols, Hiland, and Elizabeth. Although they were renting at the time, Charles later purchased the house, and by the next census in 1920 they had a fourth child, Mary, along with three live-in servants. The family remained here until the early 1930s, but by 1933 they had moved to New York, where Charles and Grace lived until their deaths in 1959 and 1968, respectively.

By the time the first photo was taken, the house was being rented by Arthur M. Rowley, a salesman who lived here with his wife Earla, their son Douglas, their daughter Earla, and her husband, Parker Carlson. Arthur had grown up here on Crescent Hill, in a nearby house that had been demolished around the 1920s. His grandfather, Homer Merriam, had been president of G. & C. Merriam, the prominent Springfield-based dictionary publishers, and his father, H. Curtis Rowley, was the company’s treasurer. Arthur also worked for the company, and he lived with his father in his Crescent Hill house until the family relocated to Forest Park in the mid-1910s. However, he returned to Crescent Hill by the late 1930s, and rented this house until around 1943, when he moved to Suffield, Connecticut.

By the early 1950s the house was the home of Leonard and Jeanette Brown. Leonard was an insurance agent, and Jeanette was a librarian, but they were both also noted art patrons. Their collection included works of Abstract Expressionism, Dada, and Surrealism, and they also amassed a significant archive of materials relating to these 20th century art movements, which Jeanette would later sell to the J. Paul Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities in 1985. Their son, Jonathan Brown, also lived here in this house, and went on to become a noted art historian, specializing in Spanish art.

Jeanette and Leonard lived here in this house until Leonard’s death in 1970, and Jeanette subsequently moved to Tyringham, where she lived until her death in 1994. In the meantime, this house has remained well-preserved, with few exterior changes since the first photo was taken almost 80 years ago. Along with the other historic homes in the neighborhood, it is now part of the Ames Hill/Crescent Hill Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

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 2018:

 

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 2018:

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.