Main and Elm Streets, Westfield, Mass

The corner of Main and Elm Streets in Westfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2018:

These two photos show the scene at the northwest corner of Park Square, in the center of downtown Westfield. For the most part, these buildings were constructed in the mid-19th century, when Westfield was in the midst of a long, steady growth in its population. The town had a population of 4,180 in 1850, and it would continue to increase throughout the rest of the century, reaching nearly 10,000 by the time the first photo was taken in the early 1890s. By this point, Westfield was a prosperous manufacturing center, and it was particularly well-known for buggy whips, with the town’s firms ultimately controlling about 99% of the world’s production by the early 20th century.

All of the buildings in this scene were constructed as commercial blocks, with the exception of the three-story, wood-frame building on the far left. Located at the corner of Elm and School Streets, this was built in 1843 as the First Methodist Church. The congregation worshiped here in this building for the next 33 years, and during this time the church had several notable pastors. These included Mark Trafton, who served several stints here in the 1840s and early 1850s before being elected to Congress in 1854, and John Hanson Twombly, who served as pastor here from 1851 to 1853. He later went on to become president of the University of Wisconsin from 1871 to 1874, before returning here to this church in 1874. It was also in this building, in 1862, that Russell H. Conwell gave his first lecture. Although he never served as pastor here, he would go on to become a prominent Baptist minister, and the founder and first president of Temple University.

In 1876, during Reverend Twombly’s second pastorate, the church moved into a new, much larger building nearby on Court Street. The old church was then converted exclusively into commercial use. It had been constructed with storefronts on the ground floor, and its tenants included several different grocery stores. However, after the church relocated, the post office moved into this building, and it remained here until 1912, when a purpose-built post office was constructed on the other side of Park Square.

At some point, the original tower and belfry were removed from the building, but otherwise it still retained much of its Greek Revival exterior by the time the first photo was taken. It would remain largely the same until the 1940s, when it was dramatically altered by the removal of the third floor and gable roof. Now down to two stories, the old church is still standing here today on the left side of the photo, although it is barely recognizable from its historical appearance.

To the right of the church in the first photo is a row of three brick commercial buildings. Furthest to the left was the home of the First National Bank of Westfield. This is the only building from the first photo that no longer exists in any form, as it was demolished around 1930 to build the present-day bank on the lot. To the right of it is another two-story building at 32-34 Elm Street, which was built around 1860. For more than a century, it was occupied by Conner’s, a book, stationery, and gift shop that had been founded in 1867. It moved to this location by the mid-1890s, and it would remain here until it finally closed in 2007. Although Conner’s is gone, the building itself still stands, relatively unaltered from its appearance in the first photo.

Further to the right, at the corner of Elm and Church Streets, is Whitman’s Hall, also known as the Music Hall and the Opera House. It was built in 1855, but it was subsequently expanded in 1870 and renovated again in 1888 and 1904. As the names suggest, the three-story building originally included a public hall. This was used for many different kinds of events over the years, including balls, lectures, concerts, operas, and even prize fights. The building is still standing today, but like the old church it has been heavily altered. The third floor was removed around 1940, and the remaining portion of the building is completely unrecognizable from its original appearance.

On the far right side of both photos is the oldest building in the scene, and possibly the best-preserved of all these historic buildings. It was built in 1842 as the Westfield House Hotel, a boarding house that occupied the upper floors until 1894. The ground floor was used for shops and offices, throughout this time, and during the early 20th century the second floor housed the Westfield District Court. Today, the building stands relatively unaltered on the exterior, and it remains an important landmark on the north side of Park Square.

Overall, despite some significant alterations, most of the buildings from the first photo have survived to the present day in some form. Elsewhere in downtown Westfield, there are a number of other historic commercial buildings that are still standing, and the area is now part of the Westfield Center Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008 and expanded in 2013. Because of how heavily they were altered, neither the old church nor Whitman’s Hall are considered to be contributing properties, but both the Conner’s building and the Westfield House Hotel are listed as such, as is the 1930 First National Bank of Westfield building.

Woronoco House, Westfield, Mass

The Woronoco House on Elm Street in Westfield, around the 1860s. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2018:

The Woronoco House was an important hotel here in Westfield throughout much of the 1800s. It was built at some point early in the century, and it stood on the west side of Park Square in downtown Westfield. It was brick, three stories in height, with a distinctive two-story porch here on the Elm Street side. The hotel could accommodate between 80 to 100 guests, and the building also included a tavern, in addition to a barber shop that was marked by a tall striped pole on the left side of the first photo.

The hotel was a stagecoach stop in the years before the railroad, and it also served as a gathering place for locals, ranging from the farmers who lived in the villages on the outskirts of town, to the wealthy cigar and whip manufacturers who dominated the local economy of the mid-19th century. During this time, the Woronoco House also saw a number of notable guests from out of town. These included author Bayard Taylor, Senator Charles Sumner, zoologist and anthropologist Paul Du Chaillu, abolitionist Wendell Phillips, New-York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, Governor John A. Andrew, and politician Edward Everett, who served variously as governor, senator, ambassador to the United Kingdom, and secretary of state.

In 1871, the Woronoco House property was sold for $25,000, and the new owners soon made significant changes to the building. The original structure was evidently retained, but the exterior was completely reconstructed, including the removal of the porches. At some point, probably as part of this renovation, a fourth floor was added to the hotel, and the original gable roof was replaced by a flat roof. Upon completion, the hotel reopened as the Wilmarth House, but it was renamed again in 1886, becoming the Park Square Hotel.

The hotel remained in use well into the 20th century. It underwent another renovation in 1914, and was subsequently rebranded the New Park Square Hotel. However, the building was completely destroyed by an early-morning fire on December 7, 1942. It was one of several catastrophic fires in downtown Westfield during the mid-20th century, and it took firefighters some 13 hours to extinguish the blaze.

There were 35 guests in the hotel at the time of the fire, some of whom appear to have been long-term residents. Four of them were survivors of the fatal 1936 Van Deusen Inn fire, which had killed seven people, but everyone safely escaped from the New Park Square Hotel. One of the survivors of both fires was Minnie Hutchinson, who was carried out of the building by Deputy Chief Joseph Guinasso. Coincidentally, he was the same firefighter who had rescued her from the Van Deusen six years earlier.

The hotel proved to be a total loss, but firefighters were able to prevent the fire from spreading. Aside from minor smoke and water damage, the buildings on either side of the hotel survived largely unscathed. Today, the site of the hotel is now a parking lot, but these two neighboring buildings are still standing. On the left is the former Westfield Cooperative Bank, and on the right is the Snow and Hays Block. This building dates back to 1813, and was probably built around the same time as the Woronoco House, although it has been significantly altered over the years. As shown in the first photo, it was once four stories in height, but it was trimmed down to two stories in the 1940s. However, it survives as the only remnant from the first photo, and it is one of the oldest commercial buildings in downtown Westfield.

Agawam National Bank, Springfield, Mass

The Agawam National Bank building, at the corner of Main and Lyman Streets in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2018:

This building was completed in 1870 to house the Agawam National Bank, which had been established in 1846 and had previously occupied an older building here on this spot. The new building was designed by Henry H. Richardson, a young architect who would go on to become one of the leading American architects of the late 19th century. Although best-known today for Romanesque-style churches, railroad stations, and government buildings, Richardson’s early works included a mix of relatively modest houses and commercial building, many of which bore little resemblance to his later masterpieces.

Richardson’s first commission had been the Church of the Unity here in Springfield, which he had earned in part because of a college classmate, James A. Rumrill, whose father-in-law, Chester W. Chapin, was one of the leading figures within the church. Chapin was also the president of the Western Railroad, and when the railroad needed a new office building, Richardson received the commission without even having to enter a design competition. This building, which stood just a hundred yards to the north of here, was completed in 1867, and two years later he was hired to design a new building for the Agawam National Bank. In what was likely not a coincidence, Chapin had been the founder of this bank, and by the late 1860s, Richardson’s friend James A. Rumrill was sitting on its board of directors.

The design of the Agawam National Bank bears some resemblance to the railroad office buildings. Both were constructed of granite, and they both had raised basements, four stories, and mansard roofs. However, while the railroad building was purely Second Empire in its design, the bank featured a blend of Second Empire and Victorian Gothic elements. Perhaps most interesting were the rounded arches on the ground floor. Although this building could hardly be characterized as Romanesque in its design, these arches bear some resemblance to the ones that he would later incorporate into his more famous works of Romanesque Revival architecture.

Architectural historian and Richardson biographer Henry-Russell Hitchcock did not particularly care for the design of the bank building, criticizing its “square proportions, crude monotonous scale and hybrid detail,” and describing it as a “hodge-podge” that was “pretentious and assertive.” However, he did concede that the building’s virtues “are more conspicuous if one does not look at it so carefully and so hard. To a casual glance, it must have had certain granite qualities of solid mass and strong regular proportions which tend to disappear when it is studied in detail.”

These “qualities of solid mass” likely served the bank well, since 19th century financial institutions often constructed imposing-looking buildings in order to convey a sense of strength and stability. As shown in the first photo, the Agawam National Bank was located on the right side of the first floor, but the building also housed other tenants, including the Hampden Savings Bank, which occupied the basement. These two banks had shared the same building since Hampden Savings was established in 1852, and they would remain here together until 1899, when Hampden Savings moved to the nearby Fort Block.

Agawam National Bank remained here in this building until the bank closed around 1905. By this point, its architecture was outdated, with trends shifting away from thick, heavy exterior masonry walls. The advent of steel frames in the late 19th century had enabled commercial buildings to be taller while simultaneously having thinner walls, and this allowed for large windows with plenty of natural light. The bank building was ultimately demolished around 1923, and it was replaced by a new five-story building that exemplified this next generation of commercial architecture.

Known as the Terminal Building, it was the work of the Springfield-based architectural firm of E. C. and G. C. Gardner, and it was completed around 1924. It was built with four storefronts on the ground floor and offices on the upper floors, and it was designed to support up to seven stories, although these two additional stories were never constructed. Today, the building still stands here, with few exterior changes. It is a good example of early 20th century commercial architecture here in Springfield, and in 1983 it became a contributing property in the Downtown Springfield Railroad District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Day & Jobson Block, Springfield, Mass

The building at the northwest corner of Main and Cypress Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2018:

This three-story Italianate-style commercial block was built sometime around the 1850s, and it featured a distinctive faux-stone exterior that was actually made of wood. It was owned by Day & Jobson, a local lumber company that had a planing mill and lumber yard was located a few blocks away, at the corner of Liberty Street (present-day Frank B. Murray Street) and Chestnut Street. The building consisted of a mix of apartments on the upper floors, with retail space on the ground floor, and most of the early commercial tenants sold groceries.

During the late 1860s, there were at least four different stores on the ground floor. Starting on the left side of the building, at the corner of Cypress Street, was A.F. & H.L. Niles, which sold “Teas, Coffee, Butter, Lard, Fish” and other groceries. Right next door was Alonzo Camp, who described himself in the 1869 city directory as “Dealer in Choice Family Groceries and Provisions, Foreign and Domestic Fruits, &c.” Further to the right was John Fox, who specialized in butter and eggs, and to the right of him was butcher John L. Rice & Co., who is listed in the 1869 directory as “Dealer in Fresh and Salt Beef, Pork, Hams, Sausages, Tripe, Poultry, &c. Butter, Cheese, Eggs, Lard, West India Goods, and Family Groceries, and Vegetables of all kinds in their season.”

By about 1876, the corner store – which was numbered 196 Main Street at the time – had become a drugstore, operated by Daniel E. Keefe. He was later listed as a physician in city directories of the 1880s, but his office was still located here, and he also lived here in this building. However, by the early 1890s Dr. Keefe had moved his practice elsewhere, and this storefront was again used as a pharmacy, this time by T. Edward Masters. Over the next few years, several more druggists would occupy this space, including John J. Carmody and Hiram P. Comstock.

In 1912, this corner drugstore was acquired by Charles V. Ryan. A Springfield native, Ryan was born in 1872 as the son of Irish immigrants, and he went on to attend Cathedral High School and the Massachusetts School of Pharmacy. In 1895, when he was just 22 years old, he opened up his own drug store here in the North End, only a block north of this site. He remained there for the next 17 years before relocating to this building, where he would carry on the business for several more decades.

Ryan was still running the drugstore here when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s. The photo also shows several other stores that were located in the building, including Paushter & Co. furriers and tailors, Becker’s Shoes, and the Lucille Dress Shop. Ryan died only a year or two later in 1940, at the age of 68, but his family carried on the business for many more years, starting with his son, Charles V. Ryan, Jr., and then his grandsons, Donald and Robert Ryan. Another grandson, also named Charles V. Ryan, was not directly involved in the drugstore business, but he had a successful political career, serving as mayor of Springfield from 1962 to 1967, and 2004 to 2008.

It was during Ryan’s first stint as mayor that the city’s North End underwent a major urban renewal project. Nearly every building along the Main Street corridor, between the railroad arch and Memorial Square, was demolished during the 1960s, and many of the streets themselves were altered or eliminated. This building was razed sometime around 1967, and the drugstore relocated across the street to the Northgate Center, where it remained until it was acquired by CVS in 1994.

In the meantime, the site of the old building was redeveloped as the new headquarters of the Springfield Union and Springfield Daily News, which opened around 1969. These newspapers subsequently merged to become the Union-News, and in the early 2000s it was renamed the Springfield Republican, reflecting the historical name of the newspaper. The Republican offices are still located here today, although the newspaper recently announced that it is looking to sell the property or lease some of the space to other businesses, since the building contains more office space than the newspaper needs at this point.

Smith Carriage Company, Springfield, Mass

The building at 14-38 Park Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The building in 2018:

The Smith Carriage Company dated back to 1827, when David Smith established a carriage shop here on Park Street. This became a family business, with his son William joining in 1856 and eventually purchasing it from his father in 1873. None of the early buildings are still standing, but today the factory complex consists of three buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The oldest of these, a three-story brick building that stands just to the west of this one, was constructed around 1890. The other two, which are substantially larger, stand on opposite sides of Park Street. The one at 11-31 Park Street was built in 1916, and this one here at 14-38 Park Street in 1924.

The company was still known as the Smith Carriage Company when these two buildings were added, but by this point the name was vestigial. Carriagemaking had all but disappeared with the advent of automobiles in the early 20th century, but the company adapted and began focusing on manufacturing auto bodies. Smith Carriage was part of a prosperous automobile industry here in Springfield during this period, which also included the Knox Automobile Company and a Rolls-Royce factory.

As the first photo shows, during the late 1930s the ground floor of this building housed Hedges-Sattler, a car dealership that sold DeSoto and Plymouth cars. Smith Carriage was still located here at the time, but by the early 1940s it had shifted its focus from auto body production to repair. In 1942, the company sold its body-making machinery, and around the same time the first floor was converted into offices, after Hedges-Sattler relocated to a new site on Columbus Avenue. An advertisement in the city directory, published several years later, described the company’s work here as “automobile body repairing painting upholstering and glass – fleet work our specialty – custom built seat covers.” However, this change evidently did not help the company, because it was out of business by the end of the 1940s.

Today, some 80 years after the first photo was taken, the company’s three former buildings on Park Street are still standing, and they now form the Smith Carriage Company District on the National Register of Historic Places. The oldest of these, at 12 Park Street, is now a health clinic, and the 1916 building on the other side of Park Street was converted into 32 apartments in the early 1980s. However, the building in these two photos has been vacant for many years, and it sustained some damage in the 2011 tornado that passed through the South End. More recently, this property has become the site of a proposed hotel, given its proximity to the new MGM casino. Demolition work began a few years ago, with the removal of the windows and the razing of the two-story section in the foreground. However, the rest of the building is still standing as of early 2020, and the future of the property seems unclear at this point.

Underwood Building, Springfield, Mass

The Underwood Building at the corner of Main and Worthington Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The building in 2018:

This two-story, Classical Revival-style commercial building was constructed in 1916, and over the years it has housed a variety of businesses. Its name comes from one of its early tenants, the Underwood Typewriter Company, which had its Springfield offices here. In its early years, the upper floor of the building was occupied by the Knights of Columbus, which met here until 1929, but perhaps the most noteworthy tenant here was the Eastern States Agricultural and Industrial Exposition, which had its offices in the building from 1917 until 1949. Later named the Eastern States Exposition, but better known as the Big E, this annual agricultural fair has become one of the largest in the country, and it is still held every September at the fairgrounds on the other side of the river, in West Springfield.

The Eastern States Exposition offices were still located here in the Underwood Building when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, and the photo shows a variety of other commercial tenants on the ground floor, including Bill’s Liquor Store, which occupied the corner storefront. Since then, the exterior of the building has remained largely intact, although it has steadily declined over the years. In 2012, it was damaged by a nearby gas explosion, and, as the 2018 photo shows, it is now vacant and boarded up. It was recently threatened with demolition, prompting an attempt to have the city designate it as a one-building local historic district. This effort failed, and the mandated nine-month demolition delay expired in 2018, but as of January 2020 it is still standing.