Perry Mill, Newport, Rhode Island

The Perry Mill, seen from the corner of Thames and Cannon Streets in Newport, around 1914-1916. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo was taken sometime in the mid-1910s, during the construction of the present-day Newport Post Office. It shows a group of commercial buildings, most of which were probably built around the mid-19th century, and the signs advertise for a variety of businesses, including B. Richards Gents Furnishings in the building to the left, and a fish market and Lee Yun Laundry in the buildings to the right. There also appears to be a barber shop in the storefront just to the left of the fish market, as indicated by the striped poles on the exterior.

However, the most prominent building in the first photo is the Perry Mill, which stands diagonally across the intersection in the center of both photos. It was built in 1835 as a textile mill, at a time when Newport had been experiencing several decades of economic stagnation. The city’s once-prosperous shipping industry had been badly hurt by the American Revolution, and never fully recovered. By the early 19th century, much of New England’s economy had shifted from trade to industry, and inland manufacturing centers had begun to eclipse colonial-era seaports such as Portsmouth, Salem, and Newport.

Architecturally, the Perry Mill was very different from most other New England mills of this period. Instead of a brick exterior, it was built of stone, and featured details such as lintels over the windows, quoins on the corners, and a fanlight just underneath the gable. It was the work of Scottish-born stonemason Alexander MacGregor, and was one of the few major building projects in Newport during this period. However, despite hopes that the mill would revive the city’s economy, Newport never became a major industrial center. Its location on an island, which had benefitted its merchant fleets, proved a liability in the age of railroads, and Newport would not see widespread prosperity until the second half of the 19th century, when the city reinvented itself into one of the country’s most exclusive summer resort communities.

The mill was still standing in its original appearance when the first photo was taken, but at some point in the 20th century it was heavily altered with the removal of the gabled roof and fourth floor. From 1943 to 1984, the building was owned by General Electric, but it was subsequently converted into retail space, and now houses shops and restaurants. As part of this renovation, the upper part of the building was reconstructed, and the only noticeable evidence of this change is the slightly lighter-colored stone above the third floor.

Today, the Perry Mill stands alone in this scene, with none of the other buildings surviving from the first photo. The post office, which was barely under construction when the first photo was taken, is still there, but the rest of the area has dramatically changed. In the mid-20th century, the four-lane America’s Cup Avenue was built along the waterfront of Newport, running along the west side of Thames Street for part of its route. This meant that many Thames Street buildings had to be demolished, including the ones on the right side of the first photo. However, just before reaching the Perry Mill, America’s Cup Avenue makes a sharp left turn, becoming Memorial Boulevard West. This was constructed around the same time, and involved demolishing all of the buildings on the south side of Cannon Street, including the one on the left side of the photo. As a result, the Perry Mill was spared by these projects, and it remains a prominent landmark along Newport’s waterfront.

Spring and Mill Streets, Newport, Rhode Island

The northwest corner of Spring and Mill Streets in Newport, around 1928. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo shows an evidently abandoned building that once stood at the corner of Mill and Spring Streets in Newport. It was probably built at some point in the second half of the 18th century, as it shares many common architectural features of this period, most notably the gambrel roof. Many surviving Newport buildings have a similar style, including the somewhat smaller White Horse Tavern building, which was originally constructed in the 17th century but was expanded to its present-day appearance a century later.

The 1777 map of Newport shows a building standing here at the corner, although it is unclear whether it was this particular building or an earlier one. Either way, the building was here by the 19th century, and the 1876 city atlas shows that the property belonged to Theodore R. Helme. His occupation was variously listed as a mason, carpenter, auctioneer, and grocer, and he also owned the commercial block that still stands on the opposite side of the street, at 148-160 Spring Street. He died around the turn of the 20th century, but the 1907 city atlas shows that his widow Ruby still owned this property, along with the one across the street.

The first photo shows that the building had several storefronts on the ground floor, and the upper floors were presumably divided into apartments. However, by the time the photo was taken in 1928, the building had fallen into serious disrepair. The upper floors were clearly empty, with hardly any surviving windows, and the storefronts also appear to have been vacant. The sign above the stores is completely illegible, and the only things visible in the windows are posters advertising for a circus on Wednesday, May 31. If the 1928 date of the photo is accurate, these posters must have been there for a long time, because the last time May 31 had fallen on a Wednesday was in 1922, and it would not do so again until 1933.

Based on its condition in the first photo, this building likely did not survive beyond the 1930s at the latest. The neighboring building on the far right side has also since been demolished, and today the area is a park adjacent to Trinity Church. Only the top of the church spire is visible in the first photo, but the entire building can now be seen from this angle. It was completed in 1726 and it features a design that is very similar to that of Old North Church in Boston, which was built only a few years earlier. Although the other buildings from the photo are gone, the nearly 300-year-old church is still standing, and in 1968 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark because of its architectural and historical significance.

Broadway from Farewell Street, Newport, Rhode Island

Looking north on Broadway from the corner of Farewell Street in Newport, around 1884. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

This view shows the west side of Broadway, looking north from the Colony House at the corner of Farewell Street and Courthouse Way. Although taken more than 130 years apart, not much has changed in these two photos. Like much of downtown Newport, this area has remained remarkably well-preserved since the colonial era, and both photos show an eclectic mix of historic buildings that date as far back as the 17th century.

Perhaps the oldest building in this scene is the one on the far left, at 2-6 Broadway. It was built sometime before 1700, and was once owned by Peleg Sanford (1639-1701), who served as the colonial governor of Rhode Island from 1680 to 1683. Sanford came from a leading Rhode Island family, with his father, John Sanford (c.1605-1653), having briefly served as governor of Newport and Portsmouth in 1653. However, his most notable relative was his grandmother, Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643), the famed religious dissenter whose 1638 banishment from Boston had helped lead to the establishment of Newport.

Peleg Sanford died in 1701, and the house was later owned by his son-in-law, Job Almy, who purchased the property in 1723. The house would remain in the Almy family for over a century, until it was sold in 1827. By this point, the first floor of the house had been converted into a storefront, and the building would see even more drastic changes around 1845, when it was enlarged to its present size. This addition concealed most of its original appearance, although the building retained its overhanging second floor, which was a distinctive feature of many 17th century homes.

By the time time the first photo was taken around 1884, the building was occupied by several commercial tenants, including J. B. Deblois & Son, whose grocery store was located in the corner storefront. In later years, the ground floor was occupied by Lalli’s, a variety store that was in business here from 1923 until 1986. It was during this time that, in 1976, the exterior of the building was restored, giving it more of a 17th century appearance. Today, despite all of these changes, the structure of the original house is still there, making it possibly one of the oldest surviving buildings in Newport.

Aside from the Peleg Sanford House, there are a number of other historic buildings in this scene. Immediately to the right of it is the William P. Shefield House, which was built around 1850, although its exterior has been altered beyond recognition since the first photo was taken. Next, in the center of the scene, is the William H. Stanhope House, at 12-18 Broadway. It was built around 1815 as a private home, and its Federal-style architecture is still recognizable today, despite having been converted to commercial use during the 19th century. Further in the distance, barely visible in the 2017 photo, are two late 18th century homes at 20-24 and 26-30 1/2 Broadway, both of which are also now commercial properties.

Today, the vehicles on the street have changed, and this block of Broadway is now a one way street for southbound traffic, but otherwise the buildings themselves have seen few changes. All of them are now contributing properties in the Newport Historic District, which encompasses much of downtown Newport. The district was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968, because of the survival of so many historic buildings from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

White Horse Tavern, Newport, Rhode Island

The White Horse Tavern at the corner of Farewell and Marlborough Streets in Newport, sometime in the first half of the 20th century. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

Newport has a remarkable number of historic colonial-era buildings, but perhaps the oldest is this building at the northwest corner of Marlborough and Farewell Streets. It was apparently built sometime before 1673, because in that year it was acquired by William Mayes, Sr. The building was much smaller at the time, consisting of two stories with just two rooms, but it was subsequently expanded and, by 1687, was being operated as a tavern.

Mayes was the father of the pirate William Mayes, Jr., whose surname is also spelled May and Mason in historical records. Although well known as a haven for religious minorities, the colony of Rhode Island showed similar tolerance for piracy, often playing fast and loose with the distinction between legitimate privateers and their outlaw counterparts. Mayes was among several prominent Newport residents whose career at sea blurred this distinction, and he enjoyed success as a pirate in the late 1680s and 1690s, during the Golden Age of Piracy.

Many of the most prominent pirates during this era would ultimately meet with violent ends, including fellow Newport pirate Thomas Tew, who was killed in 1695. However, William Mayes ultimately retired from piracy and returned to Newport around the turn of the 18th century. He took over the operation of his father’s tavern around 1703, but this evidently lasted for just a short time, because within a few years the property was owned by his sister Mary and her husband, Robert Nichols.

The White Horse Tavern would remain in the Nichols family for nearly 200 years, and the building continued to serve as an important colonial-era tavern. Prior to the construction of the Colony House in the late 1730s, the tavern was also used as a meeting place for the colonial legislature, which held sessions on a rotating basis in each of the colony’s five county seats. The tavern was later used to house British soldiers during the occupation of Newport in the American Revolution, and at some point after the war the building was expanded to its current size, including the addition of the large gambrel roof.

The Nichols family finally sold the property in 1895, and the old tavern was converted into a boarding house. The building steadily declined throughout the first half of the 20th century, and the first photo was taken at some point during this period, probably around the 1930s or 1940s. However, the property was acquired by the Preservation Society of Newport County in the early 1950s, and was subsequently restored. It was then sold to private owners, and reopened as a tavern. The White Horse Tavern has remained in business ever since, and markets itself as the oldest restaurant in the United States.

Broadway from Spring Street, Newport, Rhode Island

Looking south on Broadway toward the corner of Spring Street in Newport, around 1885. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

These two photos were taken more than 130 years apart, yet they show remarkably little change. In fact, many of these buildings were already old by the time the first photo was taken. Newport had been a prosperous seaport throughout much of the 18th century, but its economy was hit hard by the American Revolution. Its shipping industry never fully recovered, and the city saw very little growth during the first half of the 19th century. The first federal census, taken in 1790, shows 6,719 residents living here, and over the next 50 years Newport saw only a very modest increase in population, with 8,333 by 1840.

This long period of stagnation hurt Newport’s economy, and there was very little new construction during this time. By the time the first photo was taken around 1885, Newport had reinvented itself as a Gilded Age summer resort, with most of this development occurring to the south of the downtown area. As a result, downtown Newport remained remarkably well-preserved, and it now boasts one of the largest collection of 18th and early 19th century buildings in the country, many of which are visible in this scene.

Along with the buildings themselves, Newport has also retained its colonial-era street network, complete with narrow streets, sharply-angled intersections, and oddly-shaped building lots. These photos show the view looking south on Broadway, at the complex intersection of Broadway, Spring Street, Bull Street, and Marlborough Street. Both Spring Street, to the left, and Marlborough Street, on the extreme right, intersect with Broadway at sharp angles, creating triangular-shaped lots on either side of Broadway.

The narrower of these two lots is on the left, between Broadway and Spring Street. Long before the Flatiron Building was constructed on a similarly-shaped plot of land, a small three-story, wood-frame commercial building was built here. It appears to date back to the late 18th or early 19th centuries, and by the time the first photo was taken it was occupied by Cornell & Son, a grocery store operated by William Cornell and his son Rodman. William also lived here in the building, and the 1880 census showed him here with his wife Sarah and their daughter Ellen.

Today, this scene has not undergone few significant changes, and many of the buildings from the first photo are still standing, including the former Cornell building. Newport remains a popular summer resort, and the storefronts in this scene are now filled with a variety of shops and restaurants that cater to tourists and seasonal residents. Because of its level of preservation, and its high concentration of historic buildings, the downtown area now forms the Newport Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968.

High Street from Essex Street, Holyoke, Mass

Looking north on High Street from the corner of Essex Street in Holyoke, around 1910-1915. Image from Illustrated & Descriptive Holyoke Massachusetts.

The scene in 2017:

In the northern part of downtown Holyoke, much of High Street has remained well-preserved, with entire blocks that have hardly been changed since they were developed in the second half of the 19th century. However, this is not the case further to the south, where newer buildings and vacant lots are a more common sight. This block, between Essex and Appleton Streets, has a small group of historic buildings at its northern end, but the southern part of the block, seen here in the foreground, is hardly recognizable from the first photo.

The most prominent building in the first photo is the eight-story LaFrance Hotel, which occupies much of the right side of the scene. It was built in the first decade of the 20th century, and was originally owned by Louis A. LaFrance, a French-Canadian immigrant who became a prominent figure in Holyoke’s real estate and construction business. The LaFrance Hotel was among his most notable properties, and was designed by local architect William B. Reid. It was also among the tallest buildings in the city, towering above the other commercial blocks on High Street, which generally ranged from two to six stories.

Further in the distance, at the corner of Appleton Street, is a pair of six-story buildings that were constructed a few years earlier in the 1890s. The narrower of these two is the red brick McLean Building, and just beyond it is the yellow brick Senior Block, which extends to Appleton Street. Diagonally across from the Senior Block is the turreted YMCA building, which is visible just to the left of the trolley in the distance of the first photo. This was probably the most historically-significant building in the scene, as it was the place where, in 1895, William G. Morgan invented the game of volleyball.

Today, all of the buildings in the foreground of the first photo have either been demolished or altered beyond recognition, and may of the buildings further in the distance are gone as well. Both the McLean Building and Senior Block are still there, but the historic YMCA building across the street was destroyed in a fire in 1943. The LaFrance Hotel, which later became the Essex House, stood here for many years. However, by the early 2000s it was vacant and in poor condition, with bricks regularly falling onto neighboring buildings. It was slated for demolition in 2014, but the process was expedited by a partial collapse that occurred the day before demolition work was scheduled to begin. The rest of the building was subsequently taken down, and the site is now a vacant lot.