Essex Street from Washington Street, Salem, Mass

Looking east on Essex Street from the corner of Washington Street in Salem, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

This scene shows the commercial center of Salem, with a mix of 19th century buildings that, for the most part, have not seen significant changes since the first photo was taken about a hundred years ago. Starting on the left side, at the northeast corner of Essex and Washington Streets, is the four-story, Classical Revival-style Neal and Newhall Building. It was completed in 1892, and can also be seen from a different angle in this previous post, which shows the Washington Street side of the building. When the first photo was taken, the storefront on the left side was holding an “Auction Sale,” with a sign in the window encouraging customers to “Buy You Holiday Presents Now and Save Money!” The upper floors housed a variety of professional offices, including real estate and insurance agents, and an optician whose second-floor office is marked by two large eyes that are reminiscent of the Doctor T. J. Eckleburg billboard in The Great Gatsby.

Just beyond this building are two smaller commercial blocks. Closer to the foreground is the three-story Browne Block, which was built in 1862 and was occupied by the Hall & Lyon drugstore when the first photo was taken. The shorter building to the right of it, located at 216-218 Essex Street, is even older, dating back to around 1801. It was originally owned by Jacob P. Rust, and in the first photo its tenants included the Palace of Sweets, an ice cream and confectionery shop that was located in the storefront on the left side. At the time it was probably the oldest building in this scene, and today it still stands as the oldest surviving commercial building in the city.

On the right side of the scene, the large building in the foreground is the First Church of Salem, which was built in 1826 and heavily modified in the 1870s. Upon completion, it had a fairly plain Federal-style building, which was work of noted Boston architects Solomon Willard and Peter Banner. It was built as a mixed-use property, featuring storefronts on the ground floor and the church itself on the second floor. The original design lacked towers, but these were added in the mid-1870s, when the exterior of the church was extensively rebuilt with a High Victorian Gothic-style design. By the time the first photo was taken, it was still in use as a church, and the ground floor was occupied by Daniel Low & Company, which sold jewelry, watches, and silverware.

Today, this scene has not had many changes in the century since the first photo was taken. All of the buildings in the foreground are still standing, although some have been altered in one way or another. The Neal and Newhall Building on the left has modern storefronts, and the Browne Block beyond it is nearly unrecognizable, with the top floor gone and a different facade. On the other side of the street, the white building just beyond the church has gained a fifth floor, and the church itself has lost the top of its towers. This building has not been used as a church since 1923, when the First Church merged with the North Church and relocated to their building at 316 Essex Street. The Daniel Low store is also gone, having closed in 1995, and the ground floor now houses the Rockafellas restaurant.

Washington Street, Salem, Mass

Looking north on Washington Street from the corner of Essex Street in the center of Salem, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

One of the great features of Salem is its remarkably well-preserved downtown area, with hundreds of historic buildings that date as far back as the 17th century. Here in the center of the city, both Washington Street and Essex Street are lined with historic commercial blocks, although this particular view of Washington Street does not have very many buildings that survive from the first photo. In fact, the only building that is easily identifiable in both photos is the Neal and Newhall Building on the far right. This was built in 1892 at the northeast corner of the intersection, and is still standing with few significant changes except for the ground floor storefront and the balustrade atop the roof.

The other buildings beyond the Neal and Newhall Building on the right side of the street are still standing from the first photo, although it is hard to tell from this angle. These include, starting in the foreground, the Newhall Annex (c.1902), City Hall (1837), and the Kinsman Block (c.1882). However, on the more visible left side of the street, not much remains from the first photo. In the distance, near the center of the photo, is the Tabernacle Congregational Church, which was built in 1854 and demolished in 1922 to build the current church building on the site. Next to the church, barely visible at the base of the steeple, is the Odell Block, which was built in 1890. This three-story brick commercial block is the only building on the left side of the first photo that has survived largely unaltered.

The only other building on the left side of the street that apparently still stands today is the one on the left side, with the American flag flying above it in the first photo. This was the home of the William G. Webber dry goods business, and the signs on the building advertise for other tenants such as the New York Life Insurance Company and the Merchants National Bank. It was known as the Endicott Building, and its National Register of Historic Places listing indicates that it was built in 1885 and remodeled in 1911. However, the first photo shows a date of 1872, which suggests that it was actually a little older. The 1911 renovations apparently altered most of the original exterior, though, and the building went through even more dramatic changes in recent years, adding several stories to the top of the original building, and today there are no visible remnants from its original turn-of-the-century appearance.

Radding Building, Springfield, Mass

The Radding Building, at the corner of State and Willow Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The building in 2017:

This eight-story, Classical Revival-style commercial building was built in 1915 by real estate developer Edward Radding, and was one of the largest early 20th century buildings on State Street. It was the work of Boston-based architect Charles R. Greco, and featured decorative elements such as Corinthian columns and pilasters on the first two floors, carvings in between windows on the third floor, and cornices above the third, seventh, and eight floors. Upon completion, the building housed a variety of commercial tenants, and included stores, offices, and assembly halls.

The first photo shows the building as it appeared in the late 1930s. There are a number of of signs in the windows, although only a few are legible. The ground floor storefront on the left side was the State Barber Shop, while the storefront on the right was vacant, with a “For Rent” sign in the window. Directly above this empty storefront was a fur retailer, but none of the other signs are visible from this distance. Only a few years later, in 1943, the Mutual Fire Assurance Company began renting space in the building. This company would later become its primary tenant, and was headquartered here for many years.

Nearly 80 years since the first photo was taken, the exterior of the Radding Building has seen few changes. Because of its level of preservation and its architectural significance, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, and it remains well-preserved today. When the first photo was taken in 2017, it was undergoing major renovations to convert it from an office building to a Holiday Inn Express. This project was completed earlier in 2018, and the hotel now occupies the historic building.

Brewer Building, Springfield, Mass

The Brewer Building at 119-125 State Street, near the corner of Main Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

This four-story commercial block was built in 1893, and featured a distinct Romanesque architectural style, with features such as rounded arches, sandstone trim, and a castle-like turret on the left side. It was owned by businessman and state legislator Edward S. Brewer, and it housed a variety of commercial tenants over the years, with shops on the ground floor and professional offices on the upper floors. During the early 20th century, these included an optician, watchmaker, barber, tailor, jeweler, dentist, and an insurance company.

By the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, tenants included the Surprise Barber Shop on the left side of the ground floor, Dean’s Music House in the storefront just to the left of the arch, and A. I. Blitz Furrier on the second floor. However, just a few years later the building was badly damaged by a fire in 1945. It was not a total loss, but the two upper floors were removed, resulting in its current appearance. The facade was later covered in panels to match mid-20th century architectural trends, although these were removed in 1981 and the exterior was restored. Today, despite the loss of its upper floors, the building still has some resemblance to its 19th century appearance, and even its original outline is still visible on the walls of the neighboring Masonic Building.

Kennedy Block, Springfield, Mass

The Kennedy Block, at the corner of Main and Taylor Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

This large commercial block was built in 1874, and was owned by businessmen Warren H. Wilkinson and Emerson Wight. It was part of the commercial and industrial development that was occurring in downtown Springfield during the mid-19th century, spurred by the presence of the Boston & Albany Railroad just a few blocks to the north of here. Wilkinson and Wight had owned an earlier building on this site, but it burned down on January 6, 1874, and was replaced with this five-story, Italianate-style building. Wight went on to serve as mayor of Springfield from 1875 to 1878, and in 1879 he purchased Wilkinson’s interest in the building, becoming the sole owner of the property.

One of the building’s original tenants was the Morgan Envelope Company, which had been founded in 1872 by Springfield resident Elisha Morgan. A year later, Morgan Envelope produced the first postcards in the country, after securing a lucrative government contract. At the time, postcards were prepaid, pre-stamped cards that were issued directly by the post office, and Morgan Envelope was the lowest bidder out of 14 companies, submitting a bid of $1.39 7/8 per 1,000 postcards. The company moved into this building upon its completion in 1874, and remained here for the next decade, until moving into its own facility on Harrison Avenue in 1884.

Beginning in 1917, the ground floor of the building was the home of Kennedy’s, a men’s clothing store. The first photo shows the building as it appeared in the late 1930s, with Art Deco-style signage above the storefront, and Kennedy’s remained here at this location until the early 1970s. Since then, many of the large 19th century commercial blocks in downtown Springfield have since been demolished, but the Kennedy Block is still standing with few significant changes to the exterior. The building is now part of the Silverbrick complex, with an interior that has been converted into apartments, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, along with the neighboring Worthington Building on the right side of the scene.

Chapin National Bank Building, Springfield, Mass

The corner of Main and Lyman Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

The Chapin National Bank was established in 1872 by Chester W. Chapin, a railroad magnate, businessman, and future Congressman who was among the leading citizens of Springfield during the 19th century. The bank was located here, at the southeast corner of Main and Lyman Streets, but the original building was replaced in 1917 with the present-day structure. It was designed by the New York architectural firm of Mowbray and Uffinger, which specialized in banks during the early 20th century, and it featured a Classical Revival design. Its appearance has been altered over the years, but it originally had four columns on the Main Street facade, matching the ones that still stand on the Lyman Street facade to the left.

The bank was gone by the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s. By this point, the Main Street facade had been reconstructed, although it seems unclear whether the columns were removed, or simply hidden by the new exterior wall. One of the tenants during this time was the Lorraine Spaghetti Palace, a restaurant that was located in the left storefront. In later years, the building became the Playtown Amusement Center, which opened in 1967. This arcade remained here until it closed in the 1990s, although the old sign is still visible on the left side of the building.

Today, the exterior of the building has not changed significantly since the first photo was taken. Despite the altered Main Street side of the building, it still stands as a good example of early 20th century bank architecture, and its Lyman Street facade remains well-preserved. It is one of a number of historic late 19th and early 20th century buildings along this section of Main Street, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.