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.

Main Street from High Street, Brattleboro, Vermont (2)

Looking north on Main Street from the corner of High Street in Brattleboro, probably around 1865-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo is from an undated stereocard, and could have been taken anytime around 1865 to 1885. However, it may have been taken in the earlier end of that range, since the First Baptist Church is not visible on the left side of the photo. This church was completed in 1870, and its absence seems to suggest that the photo was taken before this year, although it is possible that it could be hidden by trees. Either way, this photo shows Main Street as it appeared in the second half of the 19th century, when Brattleboro was developing as a small but prosperous mill town in the southeastern corner of Vermont.

On the extreme right side of the first photo is the corner of the town hall, which was built in 1855 and stood here for nearly a century before its demolition in 1953. Further in the distance on the right is the Centre Congregational Church, which was initially built in 1816 on the town common. In 1842, the church was dismantled, moved, and reconstructed here on Main Street, where it originally featured a Greek Revival-style design that included a columned portico and a steeple above it. However, this steeple was destroyed in a windstorm in 1864, and was subsequently rebuilt with a new design that also eliminated the portico.

The first photo shows the 1864 steeple, possibly only a few years after it was completed. This steeple was damaged in a fire in 1929, but it was repaired and now looks essentially the same as it did when the first photo was taken. Today, the church is the only identifiable photo from the first photo that still survives. The buildings on the left side of the present-day scene date back to around the late 1920s, replacing the old Jonathan Hunt House that once stood on this lot. On the other side of the street is the old W. T. Grant department store, which was built in the mid-1950s to replace the old town hall. Overall, this section of Main Street has undergone far more changes than other parts of downtown Brattleboro, but some of these buildings – including the two churches – are now contributing properties in the Brattleboro Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Brattleboro, Vermont

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church on Main Street in Brattleboro, around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

Throughout New England’s early history, Episcopalians were a religious minority, particularly in small, rural towns, where the Congregational church was the predominant religious organization. However, there were Episcopalians in the Brattleboro area as early as 1817, when a church was built in neighboring Guilford. Episcopalian services were apparently held here in Brattleboro on occasion, and the first regular church was established in 1836, although this only lasted for a few years. By the early 1850s, though, the town’s population increase, combined with an influx of affluent summer visitors, led to the establishment of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in 1853.

The parish’s first, permanent church building was completed in 1858, on a lot immediately to the north of the recently-constructed town hall. It is set back from the street, and the ivy and trees hide much of the building’s design in the first photo, but its appearance resembled a medieval English country church. It featured a blend of Gothic and Tudor elements, including a steep roof, a quatrefoil window below the main gable, and a half-timbered exterior with brick infill. Local tradition holds that it was the work of prominent architect and Brattleboro native Richard Morris Hunt, but there does not appear to be any documentation to support this. Instead, it was evidently based on the designs of Joseph Coleman Hart, a New York architect who was responsible for a number of Gothic-style churches during this period.

The church stood here for nearly a century, but by the early 1950s this Main Street site had become valuable commercial real estate. The mid-20th century saw a number of downtown redevelopment projects across the country, most of which involved the demolition of significant numbers of historic buildings. Here in Brattleboro, this included the 1953 demolition of the old town hall, which was located just to the right of St. Michael’s Church. The site of the church was also slated for redevelopment, but unlike the town hall, the old church was moved to a new location about a half mile north of here, at the corner of Putney Road and Bradley Avenue. A bank building now stands on the lot that the church once occupied, but the historic church is still standing at its new location, and remains in use as an active Episcopalian parish.

Main Street from High Street, Brattleboro, Vermont

Looking north on Main Street from the corner of High Street in Brattleboro, in May 1937. Photo taken by Arthur Rothstein, courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA/OWI Collection.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo was taken in May 1937 by Arthur Rothstein, a prominent photojournalist who worked for the Farm Security Administration during the 1930s. Like the other photographers of this New Deal-era agency, Rothstein traveled around the country, documenting rural life during the Great Depression. In 1936 he visited Oklahoma, where he took one of the most iconic images of the Dust Bowl, and the following year he was in Vermont, where his images included this scene on Main Street in the downtown Brattleboro. The photo shows rows of cars parked along the street, with a mix of houses, businesses, and public buildings on the east side of the street.

Probably the oldest building in this scene is the Centre Congregational Church, with its prominent steeple in the middle of both photos. The church was originally built in 1816, and was located a little north of here on the town common. However, in 1842 the building was dismantled and reconstructed here on this site, with a design similar to the old building. The new church was dedicated in 1843, and included a steeple and a columned portico at the front of the building. This steeple was destroyed in high winds in 1864, though, and it was rebuilt with a new Italianate-style design that omitted the columns at the front entrance. In 1929, the steeple was damaged in a fire, but was repaired and has not seen any other significant changes since the first photo was taken.

The other notable building in the first photo is the town hall, which is on the right side of the scene. Built in 1855, this building saw a variety of uses, including as town offices, post office, library, and the police department, and it also housed commercial tenants over the years. In 1895, the building was renovated, and an 875-seat opera house was added to it. By the time the first photo was taken, the opera house had the less-glamorous name of Auditorium, and was used primarily as a movie theater, with the marquee advertising Night Must Fall, starring Robert Montgomery. However, the auditorium fell into decline as newer theaters opened on Main Street in the late 1930s, and in 1951 the town offices moved just up Main Street to the old high school, leaving this building vacant. It was mostly demolished two years later, and a W. T. Grant department store was built on the site. However, portions of the exterior walls of the old town hall were left standing, and were incorporated into the new building.

More than 80 years after the first photo was taken, this scene has not significantly changed aside from the loss of the old town hall. The W. T. Grant building that replaced it is still there, although the old department store has long since given way to new retail tenants. The church is also still there, as is the three-story granite building on the far right, which was built around 1850 and was later converted into the Paramount Theatre soon after the first photo was taken. Today, these 19th century buildings are now part of the Brattleboro Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Wales Baptist Church, Wales, Mass

The Wales Baptist Church on Church Street, seen in the distance from the other side of Main Street, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

The present-day town of Wales was settled sometime around the 1720s, and was, at the time, a part of Brimfield. It was subsequently incorporated as a separate town in 1775, and was known as South Brimfield until 1828, when it was renamed Wales. As was the case across New England in the colonial era, the area’s settlement soon led to the establishment of a church. However while nearly all of these churches were Congregational, Wales was a rare exception. Its first church, formed in 1736, was Baptist, making it among the first Baptist churches in this part of the state. Other denominations would later establish churches here in Wales, but the Baptists would remain the predominant religious group for many years.

In 1802, the Baptists constructed a new meeting house on the southern part of Main Street, near the corner of Union Road. Along with the Baptists, the building was used by other denominations, including Universalists and Congregationalists, and it also served as the town hall. It would continue to be used as the town hall until 1965, and it is still standing today, but the Baptists moved out of the building around 1875, when they built a new church about a mile away on Church Street, which is seen here in the first photo. At the time, this area had become the town’s manufacturing center, and there were several woolen mills in the vicinity of the church, including one that was located just out of view to the right of the scene.

The first photo shows the church as it appeared around the 1890s. The town’s population had peaked about a decade earlier, with a population of 1,030 during the 1880 census. However, the town lost many of its manufacturing jobs by the turn of the 20th century, and the population rapidly declined. Within 30 years, the town lost two-thirds of its residents, with the 1910 census showing a population of just 345. Not until after World War II did Wales see significant growth again, and the town would not surpass its 1880 population until the 1980 census.

The early 20th century population loss hurt Wales’s churches, particularly the Baptists, who had built this large church building at the height of the town’s prosperity. They would continue to worship here until around the early 1930s, when the dwindling congregation joined with the Methodists, whose church was located a little to the south of here on Main Street. The Baptists later took ownership of the former Methodist church, and today the Wales Baptist Church continues to hold its services there, more than 280 years after the congregation was first established.

As the present-day photo shows, the old 1875 church building is no longer standing. It was evidently demolished at some point after the early 1930s, although the short, dead end road on the irght side of the scene still bears the name of Church Street. Today, the only surviving building from the first photo is the house in the foreground, at the corner of Main and Church Streets. Built in the first half of the 19th century, this house later became the Wales Public Library in 1922, and it remains in use today. The first floor windows were altered during its conversion to a library, but otherwise it still stands as the only recognizable feature from the first photo.

First Baptist Church, Holyoke, Mass

The First Baptist Church, at the corner of Northampton and South Streets in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The church in 2017:

Holyoke’s First Baptist Church is significantly older than Holyoke itself, and was originally incorporated in 1803, back when Holyoke was still part of West Springfield. At the time, this northern section of West Springfield was known as Ireland Parish, and most of its development was centered along present-day Northampton Street. The First Baptist Church built its first permanent church building here on this site in 1826, at the corner of Northampton and South Streets, and over the next decade the congregation steadily grew, eventually peaking at 179 in 1835.

Holyoke was incorporated as a separate town in 1850, and at the time, it was being transformed into a major industrial center. However, this development was concentrated more than a mile to the east of here, along the banks of the Connecticut River. This drew people away from the old village center on Northampton Street, and First Baptist Church steadily lost members, who moved closer to the new town center. By 1879, church membership had dwindled to just 69, but, despite its small size, the congregation embarked on a building project, demolishing the old wood-frame building in 1879 and replacing it with a new brick, High Victorian Gothic-style building that was completed in 1880, on the same site as the old church.

This proved to be a wise move, because by the late 19th century, the surrounding neighborhood was being developed as a suburban residential area. Originally known as Baptist Village, the neighborhood became Elmwood, and the influx of residents helped to grow the church. By the first decade of the 20th century, membership had tripled from its 1879 numbers, requiring an addition in the right side, which was built in 1906. Since then, the exterior has not changed significantly, and First Baptist Church remains an active congregation that still worships here in this building, more than 125 years after the first photo was taken.