Dwight W. Ellis House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 133 Longhill Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

Dwight W. Ellis was born in Monson, Massachusetts in 1885, and was the son of textile manufacturer Arthur D. Ellis. Arthur’s father, also named Dwight W. Ellis, had established a textile mill in Monson in 1871, and Arthur took control of it after his father’s death in 1899, adding a second factory in 1908. After Arthur’s death in 1916, the younger Dwight acquired the firm, which became A. D. Ellis Mills Incorporated in 1923. Over the years it made a wide variety of textiles, including uniform fabric for Annapolis, West Point, the Marine Corps, and the New York Police Department, as well as cloth for such diverse uses as billiards tables, caskets, and automobile upholstery. The mills produced upholstery for the White House cars, and also for the car used by Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation in 1952.

Although he spent much of his life in Monson, Dwight W. Ellis moved to Springfield in the late 1920s, along with his wife Marion and their three children. Here, he purchased property on Springfield’s exclusive Longhill Street, and built this Tudor Revival-style home, which was described in a 1980s city library pamphlet as “the most extravagant mansion ever built in the Forest Park neighborhood.” It was designed by the Boston-based architectural firm of Chapman & Frazer, which specialized in Medieval-inspired designs such as this, and cost some $60,000 to build by the time it was completed in 1928.

The Ellis family was still living here when the first photo was taken a decade later, and Dwight’s mills were still prosperous. During the 1940 census, his income was listed as “over $5,000,” which was the highest income bracket on the census, and despite the Great Depression, the family could still afford to hire two live-in servants. However, by the middle of the century the New England textile industry was struggling, and the Ellis mills were no exception. In 1958, Dwight’s son, Dwight Jr., testified before a U.S. Senate hearing, explaining the company’s plight, which he blamed on stiff foreign competition and low tariffs. He told the senators about the company’s long history, their high-quality fabrics, and their state-of-the-art production methods, before explaining how they recently had to lay off half their workers and close one of the mills.

In the midst of the company’s financial problems, the older Dwight sold his house to the Melha Shriners in the mid-1950s. They expanded the house to use it as the organization’s headquarters, and the renovated building was dedicated in 1959. This included a large addition to the back, but the front of the house remained essentially unchanged, as the two photos show. Unfortunately, things did not end so well for Ellis or his mills. With both his company and his health failing, 75-year-old Dwight committed suicide in 1961, leaving Dwight Jr. to take over as president until the following year, when the nearly century-old firm finally closed.

Today, the house is one of the many early 20th century mansions that still stand on Longhill Street, and it is a contributing property in the Forest Park Heights Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. It has remained as the headquarters of the Melha Shriners ever since Ellis sold the house in the 1950s, but earlier this year the organization announced plans to sell the property. Amid declining membership and high upkeep costs, the Shriners are looking to downsize in order to focus on their primary mission of supporting Springfield’s Shriner’s Hospital, so as of right now the fate of this building seems uncertain.

Harold G. Duckworth House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 368 Longhill Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

In the first half of the 20th century, the southern section of Longhill Street was one of the most desirable parts of Springfield, and was the home of many of the city’s wealthiest residents. Located just south of downtown Springfield, on a ridgeline above the Connecticut River, many of these homes enjoyed spectacular views, and were situated right next to Forest Park, the largest park in the city. In keeping with architectural tastes of the era, a number of the homes, including this one, had Tudor Revival-style designs, evoking the appearance of an aristocratic English country estate.

Nearly all of the mansions here on Longhill Street were built before the start of the Great Depression, and this house, completed in 1931, was among the last to be built. It was designed by the architectural firm of B. H. Seabury for Harold G. Duckworth, a chain manufacturer who had previously lived in a more modest home on Forest Park Avenue. He and his wife Alma had two children, James and Susan, and they were all living here when the first photo was taken later in the decade.

Harold died in 1961, and Alma lived in this house until 1983, when she sold the property. She was in her 70s at the time, but she would go on to outlive both of her children, and she died in 2003, just a few weeks shy of her 104th birthday. In the meantime, her former house has remained well-preserved, with no noticeable changes between the two photos. Along with the rest of the neighborhood, it is now part of the Forest Park Heights Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Willis H. Sanburn House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 78 Riverview Terrace in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This elegant Tudor Revival house was built in 1912 for Willis H. Sanburn, a businessman who was originally from Illinois. He and is wife Maud moved to Springfield in 1894 when they were in their mid-20s, and Willis began working as a bookkeeper for the Strathmore Paper Company in West Springfield. He soon advanced in the company, becoming a superintendent, then assistant treasurer, and eventually treasurer in 1918. Along with Maud, he lived here with their son Justus, who graduated from MIT the same year that the family built this house. After graduation, he began working as a chemist for Strathmore, and in 1915 he married his wife, Marion.

By the 1920 census, Justus and Marion were living in their own house on Florentine Gardens. Willis died in 1924, but Maud was still living here when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s. She remained here until her death in the 1950s, and the house was subsequently sold. Nearly 80 years after the first photo was taken, though, very little has changed in the house’s appearance, and it is now part of the Forest Park Heights Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

George Yerrall House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 88 Maplewood Terrace in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

George Yerrall was born in England in 1860, but he immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1866. In 1882, he married Anna Wood, a Springfield native, and the couple had two children, George Jr. and William. They moved into this Tudor-style house after it was built in 1905, where they enjoyed a prominent location at the corner of Maplewood Terrace and Randolph Street. At the time, George worked as a banker and railroad executive, serving as clerk and treasurer of the Connecticut River Railroad.

George Yerrall, Jr. became a real estate broker, and he lived here with his parents until his marriage in 1915. His younger brother William became a lawyer, and continued living in this house into the 1930s. Anna died in 1938, right around the time that the first photo was taken, but George remained here until his own death in 1945, about 40 years after he first moved in. Since then, the house has remained well-preserved. It is an excellent example of early 20th century Tudor Revival architecture, and it is part of the Forest Park Heights Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

John A. Hall House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 26 Ridgewood Terrace in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This area between Union and Mulberry Streets was once the home of Colonel James M. Thompson, who built a mansion here in 1853. It was situated on a large, beautifully landscaped lot that offered views of downtown Springfield, the Connecticut River, and beyond. Colonel Thompson died in 1884, and about a decade later his widow sold the property to William McKnight, the developer of the city’s McKnight neighborhood. He subdivided the lot, demolished the old mansion, and built a number of upscale houses along Union Street, Mulberry Street, Ridgewood Place, and Ridgewood Terrace.

The Tudor Revival-style house in these two photos was one of the finest in the development. Like almost all of the other Ridgewood homes, it was designed by G. Wood Taylor, an architect who was also McKnight’s son-in-law. It was completed in 1896, and its first owner was John A. Hall, the president of the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company. Born in New York in 1840, Hall had come to Springfield during the Civil War to work in the Armory. After the war, he began working for MassMutual, and despite no prior experience in the insurance industry he soon advanced in the company, eventually becoming secretary in 1881 and then president in 1895.

John Hall married his wife Frances while he was still working at the Armory, and they had two children, Clara and John, Jr. All four of the family members were living in this house during the 1900 census, along with three servants. However, John died in 1908 while traveling overseas in London, and this house was subsequently sold. Two years later, his son committed suicide at the Maplewood Hotel in Pittsfield, at the age of 30. According to contemporary newspaper accounts, he had called a barber to his hotel room for a shave, asked the barber to see the razor, and then used it to cut his throat.

In the meantime, the new owner of this house was Albert Steiger, the founder of the Springfield-based Steiger’s department store. Steiger had immigrated from Germany to the United States as young boy in 1868, and when he was a teenager he began working for a dry goods merchant in Westfield. He eventually opened a store of his own in Port Chester, New York, and in 1896 he opened a second store in Holyoke, followed by a third in New Bedford in 1903. Then, in 1906, he opened what would become his flagship store in Springfield, at the corner of Main and Hillman Streets.

Despite competition from other, more established nearby department stores such as Forbes & Wallace, Steiger’s became successful, and just a few years after opening the store Albert Steiger moved into this mansion on Ridgewood Terrace. He and his wife Izetta had five sons, Ralph, Phillip, Chauncey, Robert, and Albert, Jr. All of them went on to work for their father’s company, and the two youngest also served in World War I. In the meantime, the company continued to expand, opening a store in Hartford in 1919, and by 1924 his stores were bringing in some $15 million in annual sales, equal to over $200 million in today’s dollars.

Albert Steiger lived here until his death in 1938, right around the time that the first photo was taken. In the 1940 census, his son Ralph was living here, along with Robert and Albert, Jr. However, by the early 1950s it was sold and converted into the Ring Nursing Home. It was in use as a nursing home until the 1990s, and has since been converted into a group home for children. Despite all of these changes, though, both the house and the surrounding area have remained well-preserved. Nearly all of the homes that McKnight built here are still standing, and now form the city’s Ridgewood Local Historic District.

Edwin S. Gardner House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 250 Maple Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

1166_1938-1939 spt

The house in 2017:

Edwin S. Gardner was a lawyer who, for many years, lived in a fine house on Ridgewood Place. However, in 1928 he and his wife Harriet, along with their children Mary and Edwin, Jr., moved into this house. Designed by John Barnard and built at a cost of $48,000, it was a significant step up from their earlier home, not to mention the sweeping views of the city and the surrounding landscape. The Tudor Revival style was popular during this time period, and a number of such homes were built here on Maple Street. Many of them, including this one, are so well-designed that they seem as though they would fit in better on an English country estate than here in a New England city.

The Gardners did not remain in the house for to long, though. By the mid-1930s they had significantly downsized and were living elsewhere, perhaps as a result of the Great Depression. In their place, the house was owned by Ida Day, the widow of Robert W. Day, who had been the president of the United Electric Light Company. She lived here with her son Winsor and his wife Sarah, although Sarah died in 1938, around the time that the first photo was taken. Ida died in 1942, and Winsor left the house soon after and moved to the Forest Park neighborhood.

In 1977, the house became part of the Ames/Crescent Hill Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. Very little has changed with its exterior, and the house survived the June 1, 2011 tornado. Today, it stands among many other late 19th and early 20th century mansions that overlook the city from atop the hill.