Skinner Gymnasium, Northfield, Mass

The Skinner Gymnasium, on the former Northfield campus of the Northfield Mount Hermon School, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2017:

The present-day Northfield Mount Hermon School dates back to 1879, when it was established as the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies. Its founder was the noted evangelist Dwight Lyman Moody, who opened the school near his birthplace in the northern part of Northfield, just a little south of the New Hampshire border. Two years later, Moody established the Mount Hermon School for Boys on a separate campus in nearby Gill, Massachusetts, and the two schools would remain separate institutions for nearly a century.

By the early 1890s, the Northfield school was in need of a gymnasium, in order to promote health and physical fitness among the girls. The result was this building, which was completed in 1895 and named the Skinner Gymnasium in honor of its benefactor, Holyoke textile manufacturer William Skinner. The building had a variety of amenities, including a bowling alley, a swimming tank, and the gymnasium itself, which included an elevated running track. At the time, basketball was just beginning to gain popularity after having been invented a few years earlier, and by the turn of the century the girls were playing here in the gym on intramural teams.

The first photo was taken within about a decade of the building’s completion, and shows its Queen Anne-style architecture, which was common for public and institutional buildings of the era. It also shows some elements of the popular Romanesque Revival style, including the asymmetrical design, the rounded arch over the door, and the use of towers and turrets. However, over time the building would be expanded and altered with several 20th century additions, although this portion was not significantly changed. The first of these additions came in 1930, when a pool was added to the rear of the building. Then, after the completion of a new gymnasium in 1971, this building was converted into a student center, and in 1987 a large library wing was added to the left side, just out of view in the 2017 scene.

The Northfield School formally merged with Mount Hermon in 1972, but continued to use both campuses for many years. This building was used as the student center and, after 1987, the library for the Northfield campus up until 2005, when the school consolidated its operations at the Mount Hermon campus. The Northfield property was subsequently sold to Hobby Lobby, which, in turn, donated it to the National Christian Foundation. Then, in 2017, it was given to Thomas Aquinas College, a Catholic college that is based in California. The school is currently in the process of converting the property into a branch campus, and hopes to open by the fall of 2019.

Chapin Street, Brattleboro, Vermont

Looking east on Chapin Street, from the corner of Oak Street in Brattleboro, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene in 2017:

Chapin Street was developed in the mid-1880s, less than a decade before the first photo was taken. The street, which runs one block from Oak Street to Linden Street, was built through land that had once belonged to Dr. Charles Chapin, who lived in a house at the end of the road on Linden Street. Chapin was a Harvard-educated physician, but he was also a businessman who served as a state legislator, a U.S. Marshal, and a director of the Vermont Mutual Insurance Company and the Vermont Valley Railroad. He lived here until his death in 1875, and his wife Sophia died five years later.

Soon after Sophia’s death, the property was sold and subdivided. The old house survived, and still stands today, but the rest of the land became building lots for new houses. The new street was named in honor of Chapin, and was developed around the same time as Williston Street, which runs parallel to Chapin Street on land once owned by merchant Nathan B. Williston. Both streets featured ornate, Queen Anne-style homes, most of which were completed by the time the first photo was taken in the early 1890s. A streetcar line was also built on the street in the 1890s, although this apparently happened after the first photo was taken.

The first photo shows a few people walking along an otherwise quiet residential street. In the foreground, three women walk arm-in-arm along the sidewalk, while a man walks further in the distance. On the left side of the street, a boy appears to be sitting on some sort of a bicycle, and far in the distance a pair of horses are harnessed to a wagon. In the distance, beyond the newly-built homes, is the northern slope of Mount Wantastiquet, which forms a scenic backdrop for much of downtown Brattleboro.

Today, most of the houses are hidden by trees from this view, but all of the ones from the first photo appear to still be standing. Chapin Street remains a well-preserved example of a late 19th century middle class neighborhood, and the houses still retain their decorative exterior designs with multi-colored paint schemes. The street itself has changed somewhat over the years, though. The trolley tracks have come and gone, the street has been widened and paved, and the sidewalk on the left is gone, but overall the scene is still easily recognizable from the first photo.

Lindenhurst, Brattleboro, Vermont

The mansion at the corner of Green and High Streets in Brattleboro, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene in 2017:

In the years leading up to the Civil War, Brattleboro was a popular summer destination for wealthy southerners, many of whom came to the town for the reputed health benefits of the nearby Wesselhoeft Water Cure. Some ended up building summer homes here, including Simon Bolivar Buckner, an army officer from Kentucky. He purchased this property around 1859 and built a large Italianate-style house, which he subsequently gave to his friend James B. Eustis, a lawyer from New Orleans. Some sources identify Buckner as Eustis’s father-in-law, but this seems unlikely since, at the time, Buckner was about 36 years old and had only been married for nine years.

Neither Buckner nor Eustis would spend much time here at this house, since the Civil War broke out only a few years later. Both men supported the Confederate cause, with Buckner becoming a lieutenant general and Eustis serving as a judge advocate in the Confederate Army. Despite losing the war, though, they would both go on to have successful political careers in the postwar era. Buckner served as governor of Kentucky from 1887 to 1891, and was the father of Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr., a U.S. Army general who was killed in action in World War II during the Battle of Okinawa. Eustis became a U.S. Senator from Louisiana, serving from 1876 to 1879 and 1885 to 1891, and he was also the U.S. Ambassador to France from 1893 to 1897, during the second Cleveland administration.

However, after the war, Brattleboro did not regain its popularity as a resort for southerners. In 1871, the house was sold to Elie Charlier, a native of France who lived in New York City. He ran the Charlier Institute, a school in New York that was described in advertisements as “A Protestant French Boarding and Day School. Boys and young men from 7 to 20 prepared for College and Business. School designed to be as perfect as money, science, and experience can make it.” Some of Charlier’s students went on to have successful careers in politics, business, and the arts, including prominent photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Aside from his students, though, Charlier was also the great grandfather of folk singer Pete Seeger. As a boy in the 1920s, Seeger even visited this house in Brattleboro, although it was long after his family had sold the property.

Charlier ultimately sold this house in the late 1880s, to Brattleboro businessman George E. Crowell. Born in Massachusetts in 1834, Crowell grew up in New Hampshire, and served in one of the state’s regiments during the Civil War. However, after the war he came to Brattleboro, where he found a job with the Vermont Record and Farmer newspaper. He was only with the paper for a short time, though, before he went into business for himself. In 1868, he began publishing The Household, which was among the first magazines to focus on domestic living. It quickly gained a widespread readership, with 50,000 subscribers after only three years, and by the mid-1870s it could be found in every state and in a few foreign countries.

Aside from the publishing business, Crowell also invested in real estate, owning significant tracts of land in the western part of town. He also owned industrial properties along Flat Street, and had an ownership stake in several of these companies, including the Carpenter Organ Company and the Brattleboro Jelly Company. Crowell was also responsible for building the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, which served as the town’s public water supply starting in the late 19th century.

Upon purchasing this house, Crowell began a major renovation project that significantly increased its size and altered its exterior and interior appearance. The remodeling took nearly two years, and was finished in 1890, a few years before the first photo was taken. By this point, there was little trace of the original Italianate-style design, and the house instead featured new Queen Anne-style details, such as the turrets and cupola on the roof. The renovated house, which was renamed Lindenhurst, had a total of 37 rooms, and was valued at around $150,000 in 1890, equivalent to over $4 million today.

George Crowell and his wife Mary had five children, although three of them died as children or young adults. George died in 1916, but the rest of the family continued to live here for another decade or so. It was ultimately converted into a boarding house, but was owned by Mary Crowell until 1934, when her mortgage lender, the Vermont National Bank, foreclosed on the property. The Great Depression likely contributed to Mary’s financial downturn, but it also hurt the bank’s ability to resell the property. With no demand for such a large house at the time, the bank ultimately demolished it in 1936, in order to avoid having to pay property taxes on the massive mansion.

The town ultimately purchased the property, and the Green Street School was built on the eastern section. The rest of the lot, including the site of the house, became a public park, named Crowell Park. As the first photo shows, the site of the house is now an open field, with no visible remnants of the Gilded Age mansion that once stood here. However, there are apparently still some old maple trees in the park, which date back to the time when the house was here. Pete Seeger recalled the trees during his childhood visit in the 1920s, and he was reportedly able to recognize these same trees during a 2008 visit to Brattleboro. These trees are probably not visible in the present-day scene, although the tree on the far right looks like it might be old enough to date back to the early 1920s.

Flat Street, Brattleboro, Vermont

Looking east on Flat Street in Brattleboro, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene in 2017:

During the second half of the 19th century, Brattleboro became an important manufacturing center, thanks in large part to the water power provided by the fast-moving Whetstone Brook. Much of the town’s industrial development was centered along this brook, including here on Flat Street, which runs along its northern banks. At the time that the first photo was taken, the properties on both sides of the street were owned by George E. Crowell, a prosperous businessman who lived in a large mansion to the northwest of here, at the corner of High and Green Streets. The right side of the street included a cabinet shop, which appears to have been the building on the far right. Further beyond this building, out of view in the first photo, was a carriage shop as well as the Brattleboro Jelly Company, which produced cider jelly and cucumber pickles.

The most visible building in the first photo was the six-story Carpenter Organ Company building. Built around the mid-1860s for the Brattleboro Melodeon Company, this factory was purchased about 20 years later by the Carpenter Organ Company, which still occupied the building when the first photo was taken. At the time, organ manufacturing was a major part of Brattleboro’s economy, and Carpenter was one of several such companies in the town. George Crowell was one of the owners of this company, but he sold his interest in 1914. By then, pump organs were falling out of fashion, and the company only remained in business for a few more years, closing around 1917.

Today, there is nothing remaining in this scene from the first photo, except for Flat Street itself. The old Carpenter Organ building is long gone, as are all of the other industrial buildings on either side of the street. Like most of the other old New England mill towns, there is very little manufacturing left in Brattleboro, and it has been many decades since any organs were produced in the town. The site of the Carpenter factory is now a parking garage, disguised to make its exterior resemble an old brick mill. On the other side of the street, parking lots are now located where the cabinet shop, carriage shop, and jelly company used to be, although at least one of the historic factory buildings on Flat Street – the C. F. Church building – has since been converted into commercial use, and is located just out of view to the right of the 2017 photo.

Methodist Church, Brattleboro, Vermont

The Brattleboro Methodist Church at 16-20 Elliot Street, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene in 2017:

Methodism first took root in Brattleboro in 1834, when the first Methodist Episcopal Church began worshipping in the town. Its first church building was completed three years later on Canal Street, but within a few years this building was owned by the Baptists, Adventists, and then Universalists before becoming a private house in the 1850s. A second Methodist church was later established, with a brick building on School Street, but this was later sold and converted into apartments, and is apparently still standing opposite Moore Court.

Following this sale, the Methodists held services in the town hall for some time, but in 1880 they moved into this newly-built church on Elliot Street. Like several of the other buildings along this section of Elliot Street, it featured High Victorian Gothic-style architecture, with a mostly brick exterior that was trimmed with light-colored stone for contrast. It was designed by Warren H. Hayes, a noted architect whose works included a number of churches – particularly Methodist ones – that were built across the country during the late 19th century. Although more modest than some of Hayes’s works, this building reflects the typical church design of the era, with an asymmetrical facade featuring a tall tower in one corner and a shorter turret in the other.

Aside from the church itself, other buildings in the first photo include the Leonard Block, which is located just to the left of the church, and the former People’s National Bank Block, which is further to the left at the corner of Main Street. Both of these were built in the early 1880s, around the same time as the church, and were located on the former site of the Revere House, which had been destroyed in a fire in 1877. Across the street, on the far left side of the first photo, is the Market Block, which can be seen from a different angle in the previous post. This building, with its large mansard roof, was built in 1873 and was originally owned by merchant and real estate developer Edward Crosby, who also built the nearby Crosby Block on Main Street.

Today, this scene has not significantly changed in nearly 125 years, and all of the buildings from the first photo are still standing except for the two small wood-frame buildings on the right side. The exterior of the church has not seen too many changes, aside from awnings and the addition of a wheelchair ramp, but the interior has been altered. Just as the two earlier Methodist church buildings were repurposed into other uses, this church is likewise no longer used for religious purposes. The congregation moved to a new location in 1970, and the old building was first converted into a theater and then into commercial space. It is now the Hotel Pharmacy, and features rows of shelving where the pews once stood. However, the interior still includes the stained glass Gothic windows, vaulted ceiling, and other reminders of its former use. Along with the other surrounding buildings, the church is now a contributing property in the Brattleboro Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Elliot Street, Brattleboro, Vermont

Looking east on Elliot Street, toward Main Street in Brattleboro, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene in 2017:

The majority of downtown Brattleboro’s central business district is along Main Street, but the commercial center spills around the corner onto several cross streets, including Elliot Street, as seen here. Most of these buildings date back to the second half of the 19th century, and include a variety of brick commercial blocks, typically around three stories in height. When the first photo was taken, there were still several older wood-frame buildings, such as the ones on the far left and far right, but these were steadily being replaced by more modern ones.

There are at least four identifiable buildings from the first photo that are still standing today. On the left is the two-story central fire station, which was built in 1873 and was used by the fire department until 1949, when a new station was built just a little to the west of here. Beyond it is the three-story Market Block, with its large, distinctive mansard roof. This was also built in 1873, and was owned by Edward Crosby, who developed much of this area in the wake of the disastrous fire of 1869. On the other side of the Market Block, at the corner of Main Street, was the Crosby Block, which was built in 1871 and was also owned by Edward Crosby. Probably the oldest brick building in the first photo is visible in the distant center, on the other side of Main Street. Known as Cutler’s Block, it is located at 95-97 Main Street, and was built around the early 1840s.

Today, nearly 125 years after the first photo was taken, this scene has not changed significantly. Mount Wantastiquet still towers over downtown Brattleboro in the distance, and many of the 19th century buildings are still standing. The wood-frame buildings on the far sides are gone, but most of the other ones are still there, although with some alterations. The old fire station now has a one-story storefront on the front of the building, and in the late 1950s a portion of the Crosby Block at the corner was heavily altered with a new brick and metal exterior. Overall, though, the scene is still recognizable from the first photo, and most of these buildings are now contributing properties in the Brattleboro Downtown Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.