Faith United Church, Springfield, Mass

Faith United Church, at the corner of Sumner Avenue and Fort Pleasant Avenue in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The church in 2017:

The origins of Faith United Church date back to the 1860s, when a chapel was established in the area, affiliated with the South Congregational Church. At the time, the present-day Forest Park area was only sparsely settled, with a small community centered around the corner of Longhill Street and Sumner Avenue. A small, wood-frame church was built here on this site in 1872, and served the needs of the residents for several decades. Finally, in 1894, with the congregation was organized as an independent church, becoming Faith Congregational Church.

This move coincided with the beginning of the large-scale development of Forest Park, which would become one of the city’s most desirable residential areas by the turn of the 20th century. With this rapid expansion, however, the old wooden church was no longer suitable for the growing neighborhood, and in 1912 it was replaced with the present-day church building. The new church was built on the same site of the original, and was designed by the Springfield architectural firm of Gardner & Gardner and built by the Springfield-based contractors Fred T. Ley & Co.

The Neo-Gothic Revival exterior of the church has not seen any substantial changes in over a century since it was completed. It looks essentially the same as it did when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, and today the only noticeable difference between the two photos is the newer building in the distance on the left. Along with this, the building is still in use by the same church, although the name has changed slightly. In 1977, Faith Congregational Church merged with Hope Congregational Church, becoming Faith United Church, and this combined church continues to worship here in this building more than 40 years later.

First Baptist Church, Newport, Rhode Island

The First Baptist Church, seen from the corner of Spring and Sherman Streets in Newport, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

Settled in the 1630s as a haven for religious minorities, Rhode Island is home to some of the oldest Baptist congregations in the United States, including Roger Williams’s First Baptist Church in America, which was founded around 1638 in Providence. Around the same time, Baptist minister John Clarke started holding services in Portsmouth, on the northern end of Aquidneck Island, but he subsequently moved to Newport, on the southern end of the island, where he lived for the rest of his life. Here, he founded what would become the First Baptist Church of Newport, and he became an important figure in colonial Rhode Island, including obtaining the Rhode Island Royal Charter from Charles II in 1663.

Also known as the Second Baptist Church in America, this congregation would occupy several different meetinghouses over the next few centuries, first on Tanner Street and then, starting in 1737, at this lot on Spring Street, near the corner of Sherman Street. The 1737 church stood here until 1846, when the current Greek Revival-style church building was constructed, but the old church was moved to Sherman Street and stood there until it was demolished in 1929. In the meantime, in 1885 the church built a Queen Anne-style parsonage, which is seen here on the left side of this scene.

The 1846 church building remained mostly unchanged until 1938, when Rhode Island was hit by a Category 3 hurricane. Newport avoided a direct hit, but the storm still caused considerable damage, including destroying the original steeple of the First Baptist Church. A few years later, in 1946, the church merged with the Second Baptist Church, which had been formed as an offshoot of the First Baptist in 1656. The combined congregation, named United Baptist Church, sold the Second Baptist building and used the proceeds to restore this church, which was rededicated in 1950.

The restoration included a new steeple, which is of the same design as the original but smaller, which gives the building a somewhat disproportional appearance today. Otherwise, very little has changed in this scene, although it is hard to tell in the 2017 photo because of the large tree – perhaps the same one from the first photo – that mostly obscures the view of the church. Both the church and the parsonage are now contributing buildings in the Newport Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968.

Touro Synagogue, Newport, Rhode Island

The Touro Synagogue on Touro Street in Newport, sometime between 1870 and 1890. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The synagogue in 2017:

Rhode Island was established by colonists seeking religious freedom, and for many years it was a haven for a variety of religious minorities. Some of the first Jewish settlers in the present-day United States arrived in Newport as early as 1658, and by the mid-18th century there was a sizable Jewish community here, drawn by both religious tolerance and business opportunities in the thriving seaport town. The decades prior to the American Revolution were Newport’s heyday as a commercial port, and one of the most prosperous merchants was Aaron Lopez, a Jewish immigrant from Portugal who arrived here in Newport in 1752.

Together with Rabbi Isaac Touro and other leading Jews in Newport, Lopez helped to establish this synagogue, and they hired architect Peter Harrison to design the building. Considered to be the first professionally-trained architect in the American colonies, Harrison designed several other buildings in Newport, including the Redwood Library on Bellevue Avenue and the Brick Market at Washington Square, and he also designed Christ Church in Cambridge and King’s Chapel in Boston. His synagogue, though, is considered by some to have been his finest work, since it demonstrated his ability to blend classical architecture with the specific requirements of Jewish tradition.

The synagogue was completed in 1763, right at the peak of Newport’s prosperity. However, the American Revolution began just over a decade later, causing a severe disruption of trade as well as a long British occupation of the town. Newport never fully recovered its prewar prosperity as a seaport, and many of the Jewish residents left during the war. Rabbi Touro fled to Jamaica at the start of the British occupation in 1776, and Aaron Lopez also left around the same time, moving first to Portsmouth and then to Providence and to Massachusetts. He lost much of his fortune in the war, and he ultimately died in 1782 while on his way back to Newport, when his horse and carriage fell into a pond in Smithfield.

With most of Newport’s Jewish population gone, the synagogue closed in 1791 and remained vacant for the next 60 years. However, it was not completely forgotten, and Isaac Touro’s sons, Abraham and Judah, both left large bequests to maintain the building. These funds enabled restoration projects in the 1820s and 1850s, as well as the granite and cast iron fence, which was built around the property in 1842. Beginning in the 1850s, the synagogue was used intermittently, as Newport started to become a popular summer resort community. In 1883, around the time that the first photo was taken, the synagogue was finally reopened on a permanent basis, nearly a century after the original congregation had left Newport.

Nearly 135 years later, this scene has not undergone any significant changes. The building is still an active synagogue, and it stands as a reminder of Newport’s former preeminence as a seaport and its tradition for religious tolerance. Architecturally, it is still well-preserved, and stands as one of the few surviving works of one of the country’s most important early architects. The building was designated as a National Historic Site in 1946, and in 1968 it became part of the Newport Historic District, a National Historic Landmark district.

Marlborough Street, Newport, Rhode Island

Looking west on Marlborough Street from Farewell Street in Newport, around 1911. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

This scene on Marlborough Street includes several notable Newport landmarks, with the most significant being the White Horse Tavern on the far right. This building is perhaps the oldest in the city, dating back to before 1673. It was just a two-story, two-room house at the time, but it was later expanded, and by 1687 it was being operated as a tavern by William Mayes, Sr. His son, William Mayes, Jr., had a career as a pirate before returning to Newport, retiring from piracy, and taking over the operation of the tavern in 1703. Within a few years, though, his sister Mary and her husband, Robert Nichols, owned the property, and it would remain in the Nichols family for nearly two more centuries.

In the years before the Colony House was built in the 1730s, the colonial legislature often met here at the White Horse Tavern, which acquired its current name around this same time. Some 40 years later, it was used to house British soldiers during the American Revolution, and after the war the building was expanded to its current size, including the addition of the large gambrel roof. It would continue to be owned by the Nichols family until it was finally sold in 1895. The first photo was taken only about 16 years later, and at this point it had been converted into a rooming house.

The White Horse Tavern was already an old building in 1807 when the other prominent landmark in this scene, St. Paul’s Methodist Church, was completed. Long known for its religious tolerance, Rhode Island was among the first places where Methodism took root in America in the late 18th century. However, the Newport congregation caused a considerable stir in the Methodist community when they built this church. Although similar to other New England churches of the era, it was far more elaborate than the plain meeting houses that early Methodists worshipped in. It is considered to be the first Methodist church in America to have a steeple, bell, and pews, and early Methodist leader Bishop Francis Asbury is said to have “lifted his hands with holy horror when he first saw it and predicted that a church which began with a steeple would end with a choir and perhaps even an organ.”

Bishop Asbury was ultimately proved right in his prediction about the organ, with the congregation installing one in the church in the 1850s. However, an even more significant change had come about 15 years earlier in 1842, when the entire building was raised eight feet and a new, full-story foundation was built beneath it to make space for a parish hall. Otherwise, the exterior of the church has not significantly changed, although the building was heavily damaged by a fire in 1881. However, it was subsequently restored, and the first photo was taken about 20 years later.

In more than a century since the first photo was taken, most of the historic buildings on both sides of Marlborough Street have been demolished. Even the White Horse Tavern itself was threatened with demolition. Badly deteriorated and neglected more than 50 years after it became a rooming house, it was nearly demolished in the 1950s to build a gas station here on the corner. Instead, though, it was purchased by the Preservation Society of Newport County, who restored it and reopened it as a tavern in 1957. It remains in operation today, and is marketed as America’s oldest tavern. Further down the street, St. Paul’s Methodist Church is also still standing, and still houses the same congregation. The 2017 photo shows it in the midst of a restoration project, but otherwise it is largely unchanged from the first photo, and both it and the White Horse Tavern are now contributing properties in the Newport Historic District, which is a National Historic Landmark district.

Park Congregational Church, Springfield, Mass (2)

The Park Congregational Church at the corner of Saint James Avenue and Clarendon Street in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The church in 2017:

As explained in more detail in the previous post, this church was built around 1889 as Park Congregational Church, and was used by this church until they merged with South Congregational Church in 1973. That same year, they sold the building to Faith Baptist Church, but it was gutted by a fire just three weeks later. The wooden upper section of the church was destroyed, but the lower brick section survived the fire, and the church was rebuilt a few years later.

Today, the building stands vacant and deteriorated, with hardly any resemblance to its appearance in the first photo. The surviving walls have been heavily altered, but there are still a few remnants of the original design, including the steps to the side entrance, the arched windows on the left side, and a few of the windows on the right side. Despite these dramatic alterations, though, the church is a contributing property in the McKnight Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, right around the same time that the church was rebuilt.

Park Congregational Church, Springfield, Mass

The Park Congregational Church at the corner of Saint James Avenue and Clarendon Street in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The church around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The church in 2017:

The McKnight neighborhood in Springfield was developed in the late 19th century, just to the east of the Armory and a little over a mile from downtown Springfield. The large, elegant homes, landscaped streets, and easy access to trolley lines made it a desirable neighborhood for many of the city’s prominent residents, with hundreds of families moving here by the end of the 19th century. The neighborhood was almost exclusively residential, but there were also a number of new churches that were established in the neighborhood, including Park Congregational Church, which is seen here in these photos.

The church was established in 1889, and this building was completed around the same time. Its design reflected the popular Romanesque architecture of the era, and it was constructed with a variety of materials, including a stone foundation, brick lower walls, and shingled upper walls. It was situated in a prominent location at the corner of Saint James Avenue and Clarendon Street, and it was named for the Thompson Triangle, the largest park in the neighborhood, which is located directly opposite the church.

The first photo was taken soon after the building’s completion, and it shows a round turret at the northwestern corner of the building. However, this was removed by the time the second photo was taken nearly 50 years later, and the building instead had square, one-story additions on either side of the Clarendon Street entrance, on the left side of the photo. The other notable change in the second photo is the cupola, which was added to the top of the roof.

This building continued to be the home of Park Congregational Church for more than 30 years after the first photo was taken, but in 1973 the church merged with the South Congregational Church. Shortly after the merger,  this property was sold to Faith Baptist Church, which had previously been located at 76 Oak Street. However, in April 1973, just three weeks after Faith Baptist moved in, this building was gutted by a fire. The brick section of the walls survived the fire, though, and the building was subsequently reconstructed around them, with a dramatically different architectural style that included a low, mostly flat roof, and a tall, narrow tower at the Saint James Avenue entrance.

Despite its heavily modified appearance, the church building became a contributing property in the McKnight Historic District in 1976, when the neighborhood was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It would remain the home of Faith Baptist Church into the early 2000s, but in 2006 the congregation merged with Christian Hill Baptist Church, which is located nearby on Bowdoin Street. This building was later sold in 2013, but it appears to have remained vacant ever since, and it is currently boarded up and in poor condition, as seen in the 2017 photo.