First Congregational Church of Indian Orchard, Springfield, Mass

The First Congregational Church of Indian Orchard, at the corner of Myrtle and Berkshire Streets in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The church in 2017:

This is the third oldest surviving church building in Springfield, after Old First Church (1819) and St. Michael’s Cathedral (1861), and was built in 1863 for the First Congregational Church of Indian Orchard. The church had been established in 1848, back when Indian Orchard was just starting to be developed as a factory village, and at the time the congregation consisted of just 15 members. Worship services were originally held in a nearby schoolhouse, and the church lacked a permanent home until 1863, when this wood-frame, Gothic Revival-style building was completed at the corner of Berkshire Street and Myrtle Street.

However, the new building failed to grow the church, and the congregation was soon dissolved. It was replaced in 1865 by a new church, the Evangelical Religious Society of Indian Orchard, which worshipped here in this building. The church began with just 11 members, but were soon joined by former members of the congregational church, and by 1884 the membership had grown to 150 people. The first photo was taken less than a decade later, and shows the church as it appeared around the time when Indian Orchard was at its peak as a manufacturing center.

Today, around 125 years after the first photo was taken, the church is still in active use. It is the home of the Orchard Covenant Church, which traces its history back to the 1848 founding of the congregational church, although it is now affiliated with the Evangelical Covenant Church denomination. The building itself has been expanded over the years, with a large wing on the right side of the tower, but the original section has not seen many changes, aside from losing some of the Gothic ornamentation on the tower and on the front of the building.

First Congregational Church, Chicopee, Mass

The First Congregational Church on Chicopee Street in Chicopee, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

Today, this church is known as the First Congregational Church of Chicopee, but the building actually predates Chicopee by several decades. It was completed in 1826 as the Second Congregational Church of Springfield, back when the present-day city of Chicopee was the northern section of Springfield. This section of Chicopee Street, located just east of the Connecticut River, was the site of the earliest settlement in Chicopee, in the second half of the 17th century. For around 75 years, residents of the village had to travel more than five miles to the center of Springfield in order to attend church services, but a new church was established here in 1751. The first meeting house was completed the following year, and stood here until it was replaced with the current church.

The new church came at the request of newly-installed pastor Alexander Phoenix, who agreed to become the pastor of the church only if the old building was repaired or rebuilt. The congregation chose the latter option, spending $4,400 to construct a new church.  The work was done by Alva Whitmarsh and Seba Shepherd, who were associates of noted builder and architect Isaac Damon. Their design reflected the Greek Revival style of architecture, which was becoming popular during this period, particularly for churches and other public buildings, and it also bore a strong resemblance to many of Damon’s own churches, including the First Congregational Church in Springfield.

The first service in the new church was held on January 4, 1826. It was equipped with a stove for heat – something that was still a novelty in many New England churches – but this stove was apparently a source of controversy. Judge E. W. Chapin, in a letter that was read to the church at its annual meeting in 1897, related a story that his mother had told him regarding this stove, writing that “Some woman opposed the innovation, fearing the heat would be too oppressive. The stove, however, was put up, but for some reason no fire was built in it the first Sabbath. This, however, was not known by the woman, who was so overcome by anticipated heat that she was compelled to leave the church during the service.”

In 1841, the church acquired the house immediately to the left of it, in the distance of both photos. This house had been built in 1830 as the home of Silas Stedman, and was later owned by George Hooker before being sold to the church for use as its parsonage. The church was still a part of Springfield at the time, but in 1848 Chicopee was partitioned off as a separate town, and the church became the First Congregational Church of Chicopee. By this point, the main population centers of the town had shifted to the south and east, to the factory villages of Cabotville and Chicopee Falls, but this church building remained in use here at the traditional center of the town.

The first photo shows Chicopee Street as it appeared around 1892, with the church in the center and the parsonage beyond it to the left. Around 125 years later, this scene has not changed dramatically. The trees are gone, the road has been paved, and a newer house now stands on the right side of the church, but overall this scene still looks much the same as it did at the end of the 19th century. Both the church and parsonage remain standing, and both are still owned by the First Church of Chicopee, which continues to worship here nearly 200 years after the building was completed.

First Parish Church, Northfield, Mass

The First Parish Church, at the corner of Main Street and Parker Avenue in Northfield, around 1891. Image from Picturesque Franklin (1891).

The church in 2017:

The origins of the First Parish Church date back to 1673, when Northfield was first settled by colonists. However, the town’s frontier location at the far northern end of the Connecticut River valley in Massachusetts made it vulnerable to attack from Native Americans and their French allies, and it would be several more decades before Northfield was permanently settled. The church also had a somewhat nomadic existence during these years, with worship services usually being held in private homes until 1718, when the first meetinghouse was built in the middle of Main Street, right near where the present-day church is located.

The first meetinghouse stood here until 1767, when its replacement was built on the west side of the street, near site of the current church. This new church stood here for more than 60 years, and during this time the New England Congregational church experienced a major schism, between the theologically liberal Unitarians and the orthodox Trinitarians. Thomas Mason, who served as pastor from 1799 to 1830, was among the Unitarians, and during his pastorate the First Parish became a Unitarian church, with most of the congregation supporting him.

A third meetinghouse was built on the site in 1833, and was used by the church until it burned in 1870. During this time, the First Parish had perhaps its most famous congregant, the young Dwight L. Moody, who would later go on to become a prominent evangelist in the second half of the 19th century. Moody was born in Northfield in 1837, and was just four years old when his father died, leaving his mother Betsey Moody to raise nine children on her own. The pastor of the church at the time, Oliver C. Everett, provided support for the family, though, and Betsey and her children were subsequently baptized into the church. However, the family left the church after Everett’s departure in 1848, and many years later Dwight L. Moody would decline an invitation to speak here at the First Parish Church, citing the incompatibility between his orthodox views and their Unitarian beliefs.

The present church was built in 1871, standing on approximately the same site as its two predecessors. Its ornate Gothic-style design was the work of Elbridge Boyden, a prominent architect from Worcester, and it stands out in a town center that otherwise consists primarily of early 19th century Federal and Greek Revival-style homes. It was built at a cost of nearly $15,000 (a little over $300,000 today), and the interior of the church included an organ that had previously been installed in the old Unitarian church in Springfield. Originally built in 1842 by E & G. G. Hook of Boston, it was used by the Springfield church until its new building was completed in 1869, and was later given to the Northfield church.

Today, more than 125 years after the first photo was taken, the exterior of the church has not seen any significant changes. It remains a well-preserved example of a wood-frame Gothic Revival church, and it is still in active use by the First Parish Church. The only significant difference between the two photos is the small building on the left side of the scene. This was built in 1901, about 10 years after the first photo was taken, and was originally a motorcycle repair shop. It was later used a printing shop, but it has since been converted into a house. Today, both this house and the church, along with the rest of the historic buildings along Main Street, are now part of the Northfield Main Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Belcher Memorial Fountain, Northfield, Mass

The Belcher Memorial Fountain, at the corner of Warwick Road and Main Street in Northfield, around 1910. Image from All About Northfield (1910).

The scene in 2017:

The first photo was taken within about a year of the installation of the Belcher Memorial Fountain, which was originally placed in the center of Warwick Road, at the corner of Main Street. The 16-foot-tall, 27.5-ton granite fountain was given to the town as a bequest from Mary and Eliza Belcher. The two elderly sisters never married, and were the last living members of the Belcher family in Northfield. They both died in 1907, seven months apart from each other, leaving money to the town to build a fountain here in the center of town, which was dedicated on September 14, 1909.

Aside from the fountain, the first photo shows two buildings in the background on Main Street. On the left is the Unitarian Church, which was built in 1871 to replace an earlier church building that had burned. It was the work of noted Worcester architect Elbridge Boyden, and features a Gothic Revival-style that was popular for churches of the era. Contrasting with the ornate style of the church is the modest Webster Block on the right. This two-story, wood-frame commercial building was built in the late 1800s, and housed a variety of businesses over the years, including a drugstore, a grocery store, a shoe store, and the village post office.

Today, this scene has not changed significantly. Both the church and the Webster Block are still standing, and neither have had any major alterations. The only real change between the two photos is the fountain itself, which was moved a short distance to the south of here in 1960 and now stands next to the town hall. Although originally intended to provide water for horses, as the first photo shows, this purpose became obsolete as cars replaced horse-drawn vehicles. The fountain likely became a hazard to vehicles, since it sat in the middle of the intersection, and it was subsequently replaced with a small traffic island marked by a flashing light.

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.