Wells Block, Springfield, Mass

The building at 250-264 Worthington Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2018:

This brick, four-story Italianate building was built in 1876 by Abner B. Abbey, a coal and lumber dealer. However, the expense of the building ended up being too much for him, and the following year it was sold at a foreclosure auction to Jerome Wells, a merchant from Chicopee who was also the president of the First National Bank. He rented the building to both commercial and residential tenants, with two storefronts on the first floor and apartments on the three upper floors.

During the 20th century, the upper floors were used primarily as a boarding house, which in 1916 was named the Avon Hotel. By the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, the hotel was being run by Clara LeDuc, who rented rooms to 10 boarders. Based on the 1940 census records, they held a range of working-class jobs, including several restaurant workers, a theater custodian, a machinist, a painter, a cotton mill knitter, a boiler maker’s helper, and a photographer. Of those who were employed full-time, their salaries ranged from the machinist, who made $740 per year ($13,400 today), to the painter, who made $1,400 ($25,300 today). Along with the boarders, Clara also lived here with her father Adalard Demers and her husband, William, who earned $1,450 as a steamfitter at the Armory.

The 1940 census also shows at least one other boarding house that was located here in the building. It was run by Nettie Laurance, a 56-year-old widow whose niece, Dorathy Bickford, lived here with her and worked as the housekeeper. They had eight tenants at the time, most of whom had jobs similar to those in the Avon Hotel. Below these two boarding houses, the two ground floor storefronts were occupied by linoleum dealers Cunningham & O’Shaughnessy on the left, and paint dealer A.E. Hale & Co. on the right. Other nearby stores included the Reliable Shoe Repairing Company in the one-story building on the left, and the Wells & Wells gift shop on the far right.

In 1946, the upper floors were badly damaged by a fire, and they were largely vacant for many years. However, the ground floor remained in use during this time, and for much of the late 20th century the storefront on the left was the home of the Budget Box thrift store. More recently, though, this section of Worthington Street has been reinvented as downtown Springfield’s dining district, and both of the storefronts in this building now house restaurants. Overall, the building’s exterior appearance has not changed much since the first photo was taken some 80 years ago, and both it and the neighboring building to the right are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Phoenix Building, Holyoke, Mass

The building at the corner of Maple and Dwight Streets in Holyoke, around 1910. Image from Holyoke: Past and Present Progress and Prosperity (1910).

The building in 2017:

This large, mixed-use commercial and residential building stands at the corner of Maple and Dwight Streets in downtown Holyoke. It is just a block away from City Hall and the central business district of High Street, and it overlooks Hampden Park, which is located directly across Dwight Street from here. Although completed more than a century ago, the building’s appearance seems very modern in many ways. With its boxy design, numerous balconies, and relative lack of ornamentation, it could almost pass for an early 21st century condominium complex that was made to look old, instead of an early 20th century building that actually is old.

The first photo shows the building soon after its completion in 1910, and was published in Holyoke: Past and Present Progress and Prosperity, along with a glowing description of the new building:

There is no doubt about the fact that Holyoke is progressing along the building line as well as in the many other lines, for with the erection of the Phoenix building during 1909 and 1910, Holyoke has gained a great modern and metropolitan structure, comparing favorably with the most modern of the buildings in larger cities. Located in the commercial heart of the city, facing Dwight and Maple streets, it is ideal for both business and residential purposes. The outward structure is of brick. The entire weight of the building is sustained by a heavy steel frame. This steel frame is covered with Portland cement construction. The floors are of Portland cement. All partitions are made of hollow tile blocks. There are six stories, and a basement of one hundred and twenty feet both on Dwight and Maple streets. There are nine stores of handsome and substantial finish and most stylish entrances and show windows.

There are many offices, each provided with hot and cold water, ample light and air; when one considers the central location of these offices and that this building is fireproof throughout together with elevator service, then it is realized that here is a good place to do business. A word should be said about the plumbing. This work is being done by the well known firm of Carmody & Sullivan, and is of the best and latest constriction for this kind of a building.

Besides the offices there are here many first class chambers, arranged to suit the most critical, an ample supply of light, air, hot and cold water, new furniture and fixtures are provided and of course the fireproof qualities and the elevator apply to this part of the building also. These rooms are rented in single or suite with or without private bath. On the two upper floors, where the view and the air are still better and it is quieter, there are a number of apartments ranging from two to five rooms, all fitted up with the latest improvements. Inspection of this modern and fireproof building is invited. The owners are the Phoenix Realty Associates, the trustees of which are E. L. Lyman, E. C. Bliss and J. J. Ramage.

Mr. L. L. Bridge of Springfield was the architect and engineer. Mr. F. H. Dibble took the contract to finish the building when the steel and cement work was finished.

The 1920 census shows a number of residents here in this building, including 14 families who rented apartments. These included one of the building’s owners, Edmund C. Bliss, who worked as the secretary and assistant treasurer of the Springfield Blanket Company. Other tenants included a mechanical engineer, a sales manager, a railroad freight agent, the physical director of the YMCA, a merchant, a tailor, and several foremen who worked in factories. Most of these families consisted of just a husband and wife living in an apartment, but there were also several families that had children.

However, the majority of the building’s residents during the 1920 census were listed as lodgers, presumably living in the single rooms that were described in the excerpt above. There were a total of 80 such lodgers, nearly all of whom were either single or widowed. In a city that was largely comprised of immigrant factory workers during this period, nearly all of these lodgers were born in the United States, although many were the children of immigrants. Like those who rented apartments, the lodgers tended to hold middle-class jobs, including office clerks, machinists, milliners, dressmakers, stenographers, and one resident was even listed as a bank vice president.

By the 1940 census, the building still housed a variety of middle class residents. None were listed as lodgers, although nearly all of them lived alone, and were either single or widowed. Monthly rents ranged from $15 to $75 (about $275 to $1,370 today), but most tenants paid around $20 to $25 (about $365 to $457 today). Of those who worked for a full year, annual salaries ranged from $600 (around $11,000 today) for an attendant at a state school, to $3,280 (around $60,000 today) for a mechanical inspector who worked at an army air base.

Today, more than a hundred years after the first photo was taken, Holyoke is no longer the prosperous industrial center that it had been during the first half of the 20th century. However, the city has many historic buildings that are still standing, including the Phoenix Building. It has lost the balustrade atop the roof, and the ground-floor storefronts have been altered, but overall it has remained well-preserved over the years, and it survives as a good example of an early 20th century mixed-use development here in Holyoke.

The LaRiviere, Springfield, Mass

The building at 162-164 Main Street in the Indian Orchard neighborhood of Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

This commercial block was one of several Indian Orchard properties that were owned by Octave A. LaRiviere, a French-Canadian merchant, politician, and contractor who was among the neighborhood’s leading citizens of the late 19th century. LaRiviere, who also went by the name of John Rivers earlier in his career, lived in the house directly to the right of this building, and he also owned a tenement building, which was located a block west of here on Main Street.

This four-story brick building was completed in 1908, and was known as The LaRiviere. It is perhaps the most architecturally significant of the several late 19th and early 20th century commercial buildings here on Main Street, and it features an ornate, polychromatic Classical Revival facade. There are two storefronts on the ground floor, with apartments in the upper floors, and the 1910 census shows at least four families in the building. Based on the census records, the residents were primarily skilled laborers and other middle-class workers at the nearby factories in Indian Orchard, and included a machinist, a foreman, an inspector, a pattern maker, a traveling salesman, a clerk, and a chief engineer.

By the time the first photo was taken, America was in the midst of the Great Depression, but there were still a good number of factory jobs here in Indian Orchard. As was the case in 1910, most of the residents worked as skilled laborers, with the 1940 census showing that most of them earned around $1,000 to $1,300 per year. The building had five different families at the time, with two each paying $40 per month in rent, one paying $36, one paying $20, and one whose rent was not included on the census.

Today, The LaRiviere is one of several historic commercial blocks in the center of Indian Orchard. It remains remarkably well-preserved, with even the storefronts looking the same as they did over 80 years ago. LaRiviere’s house, located on the right side of the scene, has since been altered, but it is still standing and still recognizable from the first photo. The only significant change in this scene is the building on the left, at 158-160 Main Street. It was still standing here as late as the 1980s, when it was included in the state’s MACRIS database of historic properties, but it has since been demolished, and the site is now a parking lot.

Indian Orchard Mills Company Tenements, Springfield, Mass

The tenement block at 114-124 Main Street in the Indian Orchard neighborhood of Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

Indian Orchard is located along the Chicopee River, in the northeast corner of Springfield, and in the mid-19th century it was developed into a factory village. The first mill was built in 1854 by the Ward Manufacturing Company, a cotton company that also owned the dam on the river, the power canal, and much of the land in the village. The company also built a number of tenement blocks in the vicinity of the mill, and this building on Main Street was likely one of them. However, Ward Manufacturing went bankrupt only a few years later, and in 1859 the mill and tenements were acquired by the Indian Orchard Mills Company.

Many of the early mill workers were French-Canadian immigrants, and it was common for almost every family member to be employed in the mills, including young children. Long before child labor laws were enacted, one 1867 observer wrote: “I have admitted that there are great abuses in the employment of children,” and he went on to describe “a resident population composed mainly of English, Irish and French Canadians, requiring separate tenements and the whole family, save one or two, working in the mills. The adults are ignorant and illiterate, and force their children to work and when operatives are scarce, as they have been, the mill owner is obliged to allow the employment of the children or lose the whole family, thus causing his machinery to stay idle.”

The 1900 census shows 10 families living in this building, nearly all of whom were French-Canadian. Most worked for the mills in some capacity, including as a weaver, spooler, teamster, boiler tender, and watchman. The largest family was that of John and Rose Levesque, who lived here with nine of their 11 children. The children’s ages ranged from one to 26, with the four oldest employed in factories, although it is also possible that the younger children may have – at least unofficially – been working as well, since child labor was still a common practice here in Indian Orchard and throughout the country. However, perhaps the most tragic story seen through the census records is that of Owen and Mary Hammond, two Irish immigrants who were in their 50s at the time. They lived alone, but according to the census, Mary had six children, only one of whom was still alive by the time of the census.

The building was still standing when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, but, like all of the other Indian Orchard Mills tenements in the area, it has since beeen demolished. Some of the mill buildings are still standing, though, and the interior space is now rented to a variety of tenants, who use it for offices, manufacturing, and art studios. These buildings can be seen in the distance of the present-day photo, although closer in the foreground, the former site of the tenement house is now a parking lot that extends the entire length of the block from Main to Front Streets.

Octave A. LaRiviere Tenement Block, Springfield, Mass

The tenement houses at 136-142 Main Street in the Indian Orchard neighborhood of Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

This Second Empire-style tenement building was built sometime around the 1870s, and was owned by Octave A. LaRiviere, a French-Canadian immigrant who lived a block away in a house on Main Street. A dry goods merchant, LaRiviere went by the anglicized name of John Rivers for many years, in order to avoid anti-immigrant discrimination. He served as a city councilor and alderman in the 1880s and 1890s, and later served as a Massachusetts delegate to the 1912 Republican National Convention. In his later years, he reverted to his original French name, and was a contractor in the firm of LaFrance & LaRiviere.

This building was one of many tenements that were built in this area in the late 19th century, in order to house workers at the nearby mills. Many were company-owned tenements, but this one was privately owned, with a mix of mill employees and other workers. The 1900 census showed at least three families in this building (although there were probably more than that), including two immigrant families from Quebec. One unit housed Louise Bengle, who lived here with her son Paul, who worked as a clothing salesman, and her grandson Donald, who worked as a machinist. A second unit was the home of Casimir Baillargeon, a carpenter who lived here with his wife Mary, along with his nephew, his niece, and a boarder. A third unit in the building was the home of Fred Pero, an iron molder who lived here with his wife Kate and their three children.

The first photo was taken in the late 1930s, and the 1940 census shows 12 families living in the buildings. They were a mix of native-born Americans, plus immigrants from Quebec and Poland, and most were employed by the nearby mills along the Chicopee River. Each family paid around $20 per month in rent, and their salaries ranged from a janitor who made $350 per year, to a tire maker who earned a salary of $1,560. The first photo shows two sets of wooden porches on the front, with two units apparently sharing each porch level. Today, not much has changed in this scene, and these porches are still standing. The rest of the building has also remained well-preserved, and continues to be used as a 12-unit apartment building.

Maple Street, Springfield, Mass

Looking north on Maple Street from Union Street in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892)

Maple Street in 2017:


These two photos, taken 125 years apart, show he changes that Maple Street underwent in the early 20th century. For most of the 1800s, the lower part of Maple Street was an upscale residential area, primarily with large, single-family homes. Several of these can be seen in the first photo, including one in front of the church, and another one just beyond it. However, as the city grew, these homes were steadily replaced with large apartment buildings. The building just to the left of the church, at the corner of Maple and Temple Streets, was built in 1906, and was followed about 20 years later by the apartment building on the right side of the photo. The most recent building in this scene is Chestnut Towers, visible on the far left. This 240-unit, 34-story apartment building was completed in 1976 at the corner of State and Chestnut Streets, and it is the tallest residential building in the city.

Today, the only surviving building from the first photo is South Congregational Church. It was designed by prominent architect William Appleton Potter, and was completed in 1875, replacing an earlier South Congregational Church that had stood several blocks away on Bliss Street. Some of Springfield’s most prominent residents attended this church, including many of those who lived in the nearby mansions. Despite the many changes to the neighborhood over the years, though, the church has remained as an important landmark. It is one of the city’s finest architectural works, and it has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1976.