Charles D. Rood House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 93 Bowdoin Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The house in 2017:

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This house was built in 1883, around the same time as the neighboring house at 103 Bowdoin Street, and has a very similar Queen Anne-style design. It was the longtime home of businessman Charles D. Rood and his wife Caroline, who were living here by the late 1880s if not earlier. Charles Rood was born in Ludlow in 1840, and got his start in business as a teenager, working as a clerk at the Indian Orchard Mills. He subsequently worked for a New York City jewelry company, eventually becoming a partner in the firm. This, in turn, led to Rood entering the watchmaking industry, and in 1877 he was one of the founders of the Hampden Watch Company. He later purchased the Aurora Watch Company in Illinois and the Lancaster Watch Company in Pennsylvania, and consolidated them into the Hamilton Watch Company.

In the midst of his watch business, Rood made a brief foray into the burgeoning bicycle industry in the 1890s, becoming the president and treasurer of the Keating Wheel Company. This Holyoke-based company was run by inventor and onetime major league baseball player Robert Keating, whose inventions included baseball’s first rubber home plate. His bicycle company had been floundering, until Rood bailed it out with a sizable investment in 1894. It proved to be a poor decision for Rood, though,with the company later suffering yet another financial crisis.

After losing money in the bicycle industry, Rood returned to the Hamilton Watch Company, and also invested in commercial real estate, building up a significant fortune in the process. However, he made another financial blunder in 1911, when he sold his interest in the company and entered the communications business. He invested in the American Telegraphone Company, becoming its president and general manager. The telegraphone, which was patented in 1898, was an audio recording device that used magnetic wire to record sound, and was intended to compete with the older phonograph, which used etched grooves to play back sound. In the long run, magnetic data storage would prove successful, such as in modern computer hard drives, but in the short run the company failed, and Rood faced serious accusations from disgruntled shareholders over his management of the company. Ultimately, Rood returned to watchmaking and real estate, and in 1924, at the age of 83, he again became president of the Hampden Watch Company.

Throughout these many ups and downs in his career, Rood remained here at his home on Bowdoin Street, where he and Caroline raised their three children, Madeline, Gladys, and Charles Dexter. Caroline died in 1930, and things only got worse after that. The Great Depression was hurting the value of his real estate holdings, and at the same time his son took him to court, trying to have him declared senile in order to take control of his business. The judge denied the request, though, and the elder Rood retaliated by contesting Caroline’s will, which had left most of her estate to the children. However, the original will was upheld, with Rood receiving only a fraction of his wife’s estate.

Charles D. Rood’s business career spanned from the beginning of the Gilded Age to the depths of the Great Depression, and he lived in this house for most of that time. Around a half century after he first moved in, died here at his home in 1934, at the age of 93, only a few years before the first photo was taken. The house remained in the family afterwards, and during the 1940 census his daughter Madeline was still living here. However, it was subsequently sold, and the house that had once been the mansion of a Gilded Age capitalist was covered in cheap asphalt siding and converted into a rooming house. It was heavily damaged by a fire in the early 1980s, and was nearly demolished. However, it was restored instead, and today it is virtually indistinguishable from its appearance when the Rood family lived here some 80 years earlier. Along with the rest of the neighborhood, it is part of the McKnight Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

William C. Newell House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 103 Bowdoin Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The house in 2017:

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In a neighborhood with hundreds of excellent Queen Anne-style homes, this house on Bowdoin Street is probably one of the finest. It was built in the early 1880s as the home of William C. Newell, the son of button manufacturer Nelson C. Newell. Nelson and his brother Samuel had co-founded the Newell Brothers’ Manufacturing Company, where they made buttons from their Howard Street facility. Around 1873 the brothers built adjacent, nearly identical homes just a few lots south of here on Bowdoin Street, and about a decade later William built this house.

William and his wife Martha were married around 1879, and within a few years they were living in this elegant home. He became the secretary of his father’s company, which was eventually acquired by United Button Company in 1902. In the meantime, he and Martha lived here for many years, and they raised their five children here. They moved out of the house in the early 1910s, but they remained in the McKnight neighborhood until William’s death in 1936 and Martha’s in 1943.

The house was purchased by Dr. Susan P. Seymour, shortly after the death of her husband, Stephen E. Seymour. The couple had been married since 1884, with Stephen working as a lawyer while also serving as a city councilor and state representative. However, Susan also enjoyed a career of her own, becoming a physician shortly before their marriage, and practicing medicine for many years. They did not have any children, and Dr. Seymour lived in this house with her longtime servant, Elizabeth Burt, for nearly 20 years, until her death in 1930.

By the mid-20th century, many of the massive Victorian-era mansions of the McKnight neighborhood had been converted into group homes, nursing homes, or similar uses. In the case of this house, it became a nursing home, the Hilltop Rest Home. However, the property was eventually taken by the city in the early 2000s for nonpayment of taxes, and was subsequently sold to a private owners, who restored it to its original appearance. It is now a single-family home again, and is part of the McKnight Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Herbert Ashley House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 187 Bowdoin Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The house in 2017:

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This house was built in 1893 as part of the development of the McKnight neighborhood, and was originally the home of Herbert and Cornelia Ashley. Herbert appears to have had a variety of jobs, and even received a patent for an electric trolley wire support. According to his patent application, which was filed in 1895, his invention would ensure that broken wires fall to the ground, rather than “dangling as a menace to man and beast.” It does not seem clear whether or not his invention became widely adopted, but by 1910 he had sold this house, and he and Cornelia were living in his mother’s house on Spring Street.

By 1910, this house was owned by John Lundy, a grocer who was living here with his wife Anne and their three adult children, plus a boarder. Both John and Anne had been born in Ireland, but immigrated to the United States as teenagers and married a few years later. They had a total of six children, but only three were still living in 1910. John died in 1915, but the rest of the family remained here for many years. None of the three children, Mary, John, and Catherine, ever married, and they were still living here with Anne when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s. After her death in 1943, the three children continued to live here together. Mary and Catherine died in the 1960s, and John finally sold the house in 1973, several years before his death in 1976 at the age of 94.

The same year that John died, his former house became part of the newly-established McKnight Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. Like many of the other houses in the neighborhood, the house has been beautifully restored, complete with a paint scheme that emphasizes the Queen Anne details of the home. If anything, its exterior is probably more historically accurate now than it had been in the first photo, since the second-story porch had probably not originally been enclosed when the house was built.

25-27 Madison Avenue, Springfield, Mass

The duplex at 25-27 Madison Avenue, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The building in 2016:

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This Stick-style duplex on Madison Avenue was probably built in the 1880s, around the same time as the single-family home just to the right of here. The census records in the first half of the 20th century show a variety of residents over the years, starting with the 1900 census. The unit on the right, house number 25, was the home of Homer P. Crossett, who lived here with his wife Laura and their 19 year old son Edward. Homer’s occupation was listed as a messenger for the American Express Company, and Edward was “at school.”

By 1910, it was owned by Edward Taylor, a bookkeeper whose occupation is later listed as a bank teller. In 1910 and 1920, he was a bachelor, and lived here with several boarders. He got married shortly after the 1920 census, and by 1930 he was living here with his wife Mary, along with an Irish servant, also named Mary.

The unit on the left, number 27, was he home of Elmira T. Daboll, a 77 year old widow who lived here with her daughter Mary, who was a schoolteacher, and her grandson, 18 year old Walter Pepper. By 1910, Walter and Mary were still living here, along with two of Walter’s brothers, Cyris and Robert. Mary was still working as a teacher, while Walter was a telephone employee, Cyris worked for a lumber company, and Robert was a bookkeeper.

A new family was living here in 1920. Robert Marsh, who is listed as the superintendent of the city streets, lived here with his wife Louise until at least 1940, the last year for which census records are available. They had two sons, Robert, Jr., and George, both of whom grew up in this house.

As was the case throughout this neighborhood, the early 20th century residents of this house were typically upper middle class, white collar workers, and this affluence was reflected in the houses that they built. Today, the exterior of the house has been well restored to its original appearance, and it is part of the city’s Maple Hill Local Historic District.

William H. Gray House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 19 Madison Avenue in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The house in 2016:

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Madison Avenue is a short, dead-end road, tucked away between Ames Hill and the Springfield Cemetery, and consist of 19th century homes such as this one, which was built around the late 1880s or early 1890s. It was the home of William H. Gray, a druggist who was a longtime partner in Springfield’s prominent H. & J. Brewer drugstore. The company, which had been established in 1819, remained in business into the 20th century, and Gray had worked for them since 1858, when he was a teenager.

William Gray lived in this house until his death in 1920, and his widow Sarah later moved to Rochester, New York. By 1930, it was the home of Theodore and Edith Winter, and their two sons. Theodore was the assistant treasurer of the Springfield Five Cent Savings Bank, and this house reflected his wealth, even in the midst of the Great Depression. The family was still living here when the first photograph was taken, and on the 1940 census his income was listed as being over $5,000, which was the highest income bracket that the census used.

Today, the house’s exterior has been well-restored, with hardly any discernible differences from the 1930s photograph. Along with the rest of Madison Avenue, it is not part of the Ames and Crescent Hill Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places, but it is along the edge of Springfield’s Maple Hill Local Historic District.