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.

Elliot Street, Brattleboro, Vermont

Looking east on Elliot Street, toward Main Street in Brattleboro, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene in 2017:

The majority of downtown Brattleboro’s central business district is along Main Street, but the commercial center spills around the corner onto several cross streets, including Elliot Street, as seen here. Most of these buildings date back to the second half of the 19th century, and include a variety of brick commercial blocks, typically around three stories in height. When the first photo was taken, there were still several older wood-frame buildings, such as the ones on the far left and far right, but these were steadily being replaced by more modern ones.

There are at least four identifiable buildings from the first photo that are still standing today. On the left is the two-story central fire station, which was built in 1873 and was used by the fire department until 1949, when a new station was built just a little to the west of here. Beyond it is the three-story Market Block, with its large, distinctive mansard roof. This was also built in 1873, and was owned by Edward Crosby, who developed much of this area in the wake of the disastrous fire of 1869. On the other side of the Market Block, at the corner of Main Street, was the Crosby Block, which was built in 1871 and was also owned by Edward Crosby. Probably the oldest brick building in the first photo is visible in the distant center, on the other side of Main Street. Known as Cutler’s Block, it is located at 95-97 Main Street, and was built around the early 1840s.

Today, nearly 125 years after the first photo was taken, this scene has not changed significantly. Mount Wantastiquet still towers over downtown Brattleboro in the distance, and many of the 19th century buildings are still standing. The wood-frame buildings on the far sides are gone, but most of the other ones are still there, although with some alterations. The old fire station now has a one-story storefront on the front of the building, and in the late 1950s a portion of the Crosby Block at the corner was heavily altered with a new brick and metal exterior. Overall, though, the scene is still recognizable from the first photo, and most of these buildings are now contributing properties in the Brattleboro Downtown Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

High Street, Brattleboro, Vermont

Looking east on High Street, toward Main Street in Brattleboro, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene in 2017:

The first photo portrays an idyllic small-town scene, with horse-drawn carriages traveling along a rutted dirt road that was lined with trees. Two elegant Queen Anne-style homes stand on the far right side of the photo, while the Brooks House, perhaps the town’s finest hotel of the era, is visible at the bottom of the hill, at the corner of Main Street. Further in the distance, on the other side of the Connecticut River, is Mount Wantastiquet, which rises to an elevation of 1,388 feet and forms a dramatic backdrop to downtown Brattleboro.

Today, nearly 125 years later, this scene has not significantly changed, although it has lost some of its picturesque charm from the first photo. High Street is now a major road, carring Vermont Route 9 through downtown Brattleboro, and the bottom of the hill has been developed with early 20th century commercial and apartment blocks, including the 1918 Manley Apartment Building on the left side. However, the Brooks House is still there, as are the two homes on the right, although their sloping front lawns have been replaced by a large concrete retaining wall. Across the street on the left side, the sidewalk is narrower and closer to the street than it was in the 1890s, but the granite blocks and steps are still there on the left side of the sidewalk.

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

Looking north on Main Street from near the corner of Elliot Street in Brattleboro, around 1865. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1865).

The scene in 2017:

The first photo shows downtown Brattleboro as it appeared in 1865, back when this section Main Street was still mostly lined with wood-frame commercial buildings. These included, on the far left, the Brattleboro House, which was previously known as Chase’s Stage House. Built in 1795 and subsequently expanded over the years, this was an important hotel throughout the first half of the 19th century, accommodating visitors and stagecoach travelers while also serving as a meeting place for locals. On the other side of the street, on the far right, was Hall’s Long Building, which was built in the 1830s or earlier. This building had a variety of commercial tenants over the years, and was the home of the post office from 1845 to 1849. The building also housed the town’s first telegraph office, sendings its first message in 1851.

This scene changed dramatically in 1869, only a few years after the first photo was taken. October of that year was a particularly disastrous month, beginning with 36 hours of heavy rainfall. The resulting flood on October 4 destroyed factories and homes along the Whetstone Brook, washed out most of the bridges over the brook, and killed two people. However, the flood also helped set the stage for another disaster at the end of the month. In the early morning hours of October 31, a fire started in the kitchen of a saloon on the left side of the street. The flames soon spread to the surrounding wooden buildings as firemen rushed to the scene, but their efforts were hampered by the aftermath of the flood. Their response was delayed by the washed-out bridges, and they also had difficulty getting water, since the flood had destroyed the water wheel that pumped water from the brook.

The fire ultimately destroyed the entire west side of Main Street, between Elliot and High Streets, including all of the buildings on the left side of this scene. Aside from all of the other challenges, firemen also had to contend with a strong northwest wind that blew embers across the streets. The Revere House, located just south of here on the other side of Elliot Street, caught fire several times, as did Hall’s Long Building across Main Street. However, both of these buildings were ultimately saved, and the fire was contained within just one block.

Ultimately, the fire spurred several large building projects on the site of the rubble, and the early 19th century buildings were quickly replaced by modern brick commercial blocks. The Crosby Block in the foreground, and the Brooks House in the distance were both completed in 1871, and both are still standing today. Meanwhile, the other side of Main Street would soon undergo some changes as well. Hall’s Long Block was destroyed in yet another fire, in 1883, and the following year the site was rebuilt with the brick, three-story Hooker-Dunham Block, which takes up most of the right side of the present-day scene.

Today, only two identifiable buildings are still standing from the first photo, and both are located far in the distance. The most noticeable of these is the Centre Congregational Church, which was built in 1842 and had its current steeple added in 1864, only about a year before the first photo was taken. This steeple still rises above the trees in the present-day scene, and is the only surviving feature from the first photo that is visible from this angle. Otherwise, the only other existing building from the first photo is the far less prominent granite-faced building at 165-169 Main Street, which is partially visible to the right of the church in the 1865 view. This building, although heavily altered, is still standing today, although it is hidden by the trees in the 2017 photo.

Main Street from Elliot Street, Brattleboro, Vermont

Looking south on Main Street from Elliot Street in Brattleboro, around 1850-1851. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene in 2017:

Brattleboro was founded in 1753, as one of the earliest towns in Vermont. For the first century it saw only modest growth, but by the mid-1800s it had grown into a small but prosperous mill town. This was aided in part by the arrival of the railroad in 1849, and over the next few decades the town saw considerable growth, more than doubling its population between 1840 and 1880 and becoming an important town in the southwestern part of the state. This growth contrasted sharply with that of Vermont as a whole, which saw a population increase of less than 14 percent during this same period.

The first photo is among the earliest photographs of downtown Brattleboro, showing the town as it appeared around 1850 or 1851. Main Street began to acquire its current form around this time, and many of the present-day brick commercial blocks were built during this period. The first photo shows a mix of the older wood-frame buildings, with a few newly-built brick buildings. These included the building on the far right, which was apparently the rear portion of the 1849 Revere House, and the Van Doorn Block on the far left, which was built in 1850 and is still standing today.

Today, more than 160 years later, the Van Doorn block is the only surviving building from the first photo. Some of the buildings in the distance at the bottom of the hill were destroyed in the 1869 Whetstone Brook Flood, while others – including the Revere House – were destroyed in fires. However, almost all of the major changes in this scene occurred more than a hundred years ago, and by the early 20th century this scene had largely taken on its present appearance. Starting on the far left is the yellow brick American Building, which was constructed in 1906. Just beyond it to the right is the 1900 Ullery Block, which hides most of the Van Doorn Block from this angle. The other side of the street includes the 1877 Pentland Block on the far right, the large 1915 Barber Block just beyond it, and the 1936 Art Deco-style Latchis Hotel, which is barely visible near the center of the photo. Today, all of these buildings are now part of the Brattleboro Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Aftermath of 1869 Flood, Brattleboro, Vermont

The scene looking north on Main Street from the Whetstone Brook in Brattleboro, apparently in the aftermath of the October 4, 1869 flood. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo is undated with no caption, but it almost certainly shows the aftermath of the October 4, 1869 flood, which was among the most disastrous floods in the history of Brattleboro. The town has always been vulnerable to flooding, given its location on the banks of the Connecticut River, but the majority of the damage in this particular flood was caused by the small but fast-moving Whetstone Brook, which passes through downtown Brattleboro in the foreground of this scene. Originating in the hills to the west of here, the Whetstone provided the water power for many of Brattleboro’s early industries. However, this proximity to the brook also made these factories vulnerable to flooding, which could come with little warning.

Although rapid changes in the water level were not uncommon, the October 1869 floodwaters were higher than any in recorded history up to that point, and came after 36 hours of heavy rainfall. The flooding began shortly after 11:00 on the morning of October 4, and initially the primary concern was removing goods from the basements of homes and businesses on Flat Street, which runs along the north side of the brook. However, within ten minutes the water level had risen to the point where the focus shifted from saving property to saving lives. The book Annals of Brattleboro, 1681-1895 provides a detailed description of the subsequent events:

John L. Ray’s livery stable floor was completely covered with water. Many ready and willing hands were there to seize his horses by the bridle and lead them to a place of safety; all his buggies and horses were taken to high ground on Main Street. So suddenly did the waters spring upon the workmen in the blacksmith shop of Mr. Hall, that the floor was afloat and the workmen were obliged to break through a back door and climb up a stone wall and take shelter upon Elliot Street. A frame workshop just beyond the smithy was washed from its foundation and swung completely around. Mr. Dunklee, occupying the first house on the right-hand side of Flat Street, had just begun to gather up his things on the first floor of his tenement when he was obliged to call for help for the rescue of himself, wife and two other females. Help was promptly given him by Mr. John Rogers of the Revere House, who did yeoman’s service and saved them, although they were all pretty well drenched. In the next house resided Mr. Frank Holding, whose wife had been for four weeks dangerously ill with typhoid fever; their lower floor was completely inundated. Ropes and boats were procured by the spectators, who numbered hundreds, and after much peril and great exertion, the family were taken alive. The house of Willard Frost, on the lower side of the street, was in a peculiarly exposed situation. Fences were broken down by the ferocity of the current, the woodshed was veered around, the barn was shaken on its foundation, and inevitable destruction seemed imminent. The house was occupied by the female members of Mr. Frost’s family together with Mr. Eugene Frost, Mr. Wells Frost and his mother. They all went to the upper chamber of the house and there made signals of distress from the windows to the assembled multitude on Elliot Street. The rapid current which eddied and whirled around the house on all sides made it next to impossible for a boat to live in the waters. Several attempts were made to reach the house, but without success and these people suffered agonies untold for many minutes, until at last the timbers which had floated between the buildings formed a raft, on which they safely passed to the shore.

The large dam at B. M. Buddington’s gristmill was washed away, and the tannery which stood below was demolished and two thousand hides taken down the stream. Spenser & Douglas’s shop was entirely swept away and the road all along ruined. The bridge near the old woolen factory went down, on which two ladies had stood a moment before, barely escaping with their lives. The swollen stream then swept over Frost meadow reaching Estey & Company’s organ factory, doing no damage to the buildings, but carrying off thousands of feet of lumber and tearing up the road badly. On the south side of the brook, Woodcock & Vinton’s canal for about two hundred rods was torn out and one of the buildings and some paper injured. The flood swept away in a moment, Dwinell’s furniture shop with all its contents, furniture, tools, stock and account books, the Main Street bridge, A. F. Boynton’s shoe shop, office of I. K. Allen, lumber dealer, and Boyd’s fish market. Several men were in the market, among them the proprietor – he felt the building tremble and singing out “Run for your lives,” quickly he followed his flying guests. He sprang out of the door, turned around to look and saw nothing but a mass of water where a second before had stood his place of business. On the other side the planing mill of Smith & Coffin was cleaned out of its machinery, tools, etc.; the machine shop of Ferdinand Tyler was struck by the timbers and a part of the underpinning knocked away, the sawmill near the bridge and the foundry below were swept into the Connecticut with all their contents.

Nearly all of the bridges across the Whetstone Brook were destroyed by the flood, including the one here on Main Street. The first photo shows a large ditch where the bridge had once been, with wreckage strewn across the scene. The flood caused an estimated $300,000 in damage, equivalent to about $5.6 million today, and also killed two people. One of the victims was Adolph Friedrich, a Prussian immigrant sho left behind a wife and five young children. Twelve years earlier, Friedrich had survived the sinking of the treasure ship S.S. Central America, which was lost in a hurricane off the coast of the Carolinas. He had been returning from the gold fields of California, but he lost his fortune in the shipwreck. He eventually made his way to Brattleboro, where he found work at the Estey Organ Company. Friedrich was working there when the flood hit, and was swept downstream on a raft of boards. He was last seen going over the waterfall near the Main Street bridge, and his skeletal remains were later discovered on a riverbank. The other victim of the flood was Kittie Barrett, a 16 year old girl who had been watching debris float by at the tannery. She was killed when the upstream dam broke, and her body was recovered about a quarter mile downstream.

Today, nearly 150 years after this disastrous flood, this scene has remained remarkably unchanged. Some of the old buildings, particularly on the left side of the street, were replaced in the late 19th or early 20th centuries, but overall the area retains a similar scale in both photos. The right side, though, has been well-preserved, and a number of the buildings from the first photo are still there. The most noticeable of these is the Van Doorn Block on the far right, with its large, pedimented gable. Built in 1850, the brick building survived the 1869 flood and still stands, with few noticeable changes over the years. Further up the street, other survivors from the first photo include the Devens, Exchange, and Cutler Blocks, which were built in the early 1840s and form a continuous facade from 85 to 97 Main Street. Even further in the distance, near the center of the scene, are several other mid-19th century buildings that are still standing. Today, all of these buildings form part of the Brattleboro Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.