Flatiron Building, Holyoke, Mass

The corner of Main and Race Streets in Holyoke, around 1891. Image from Holyoke Illustrated (1891).

The scene in 2017:

Long before the more famous Flatiron Building was built in New York City, Holyoke had one of its own. At only four stories, it was much shorter than the skyscraper in New York, but it was built on a similar triangular-shaped plot of land here at the corner of Main and Race Streets. It was completed sometime in the 1870s, and was originally owned by the Parsons Paper Company. Although formally known as the Parsons Block, it had acquired the nickname of the Flatiron Building by the early 1890s, a decade before the one in New York was completed.

The Parsons Paper Company was the oldest paper mill in the city, and had a factory a few blocks away on Gatehouse Road. The company rented space in the Flatiron Building to a variety of commercial tenants, including several stores on the ground floor. Among these was the C. E. Ball & Co. drugstore, which occupied the prominent storefront at the “point” of the building when the first photo was taken. The business later became the drugstore of Charles E. Bardwell, and was located here in this building during the early 20th century.

Also visible in the first photo, just above the second story windows, is a sign advertising the architectural firm of D. H. & A. B. Tower, which had its offices here in the building. The firm was comprised of brothers David H. and Ashley B. Tower, and they specialized in designing factories, including paper mills. Their works included many of the factory buildings here in Holyoke, but they also designed buildings across the country and internationally, with some as far away as Europe, Brazil, and India. The brothers were in business together from 1878 until 1892, when Ashley purchased his brother’s interest in the firm. He would continue to have his offices here in the building for several more years, but moved the firm to New York City in 1897. A sketch in Picturesque Hampden, published in 1892, provides a description of the offices here in Holyoke:

Mr. Tower’s office itself is one of the best possible for its purposes. It is located in what is known as the “Flatiron Block,” at the junction of Main and Race streets, a few rods from the Connecticut River railroad, and occupies the norther portion of the second story. On the eastern side, with entrance near the head of the stairway, is the suite of apartments occupied by Mr. Tower and his draughtsmen and assistants, beyond which is a private apartment or consultation room. A long-distance telephone is at hand in a convenient closet. The draughtsman’s room is on the west side of the block, into which one steps directly from the general offices, and is one of the finest apartments for the purpose imaginable.

In 1899, the Parsons Paper Company was acquired by the American Writing Paper Company, a trust that included many of the paper mills in Holyoke and elsewhere. The Flatiron Building became the corporate headquarters, and its offices were located here throughout the first half of the 20th century. During this time, American Writing Paper sought to compete with other paper trusts, including International Paper, which had been formed a year earlier in 1898. At one point, American Writing Paper produced about 75 percent of the country’s fine paper, but the company was ultimately plagued by many years of mismanagement and labor problems. Its offices remained here in this building until 1952, and by the 1960s the assets of the once-powerful company were liquidated.

Different sources give conflicting dates for when the Flatiron Building was demolished. This may have occurred in either the 1950s or 1960s, but, according to city records, the present-day building on the site was constructed in 1953, suggesting that the Flatiron Building was demolished soon after American Writing Paper relocated its offices. Today, very little is left from the first photo. The former location of the Flatiron Building is now the site of two nondescript one-story buildings, and most of the buildings on the left side of Main Street are also gone, except for a few in the distance near the corner of Dwight Street. Near the center of the photo is the Hotel Hamilton, which was also once owned by the Parsons Paper Company. The historic building is still standing, but it has been altered over the years, and it is now boarded up and abandoned.

Taber, Tilley, and Preston Blocks, Holyoke, Mass

A row of commercial buildings on the west side of High Street, between Dwight and Suffolk Streets in Holyoke, around 1891. Image from Holyoke Illustrated (1892).

The scene in 2017:

The first photo shows High Street as it appeared around 1891, when Holyoke was at the peak of its prosperity as an industrial city. These commercial blocks had all been built only a few years earlier in the 1880s, and housed a variety of businesses and professional offices. The three most visible buildings in the center of the photo all featured ornate Romanesque Revival-style architecture, and formed a nearly symmetrical group, with many similarities between the buildings on the right and the left.

On the right side, closest to the camera in the first photo, was the the Preston Block, which was built in 1886. It was owned by Joseph S. Preston, a hatter who had a shop on the ground floor, and the upper floor tenants included the Childs Business College. According to its advertisement in the 1891 city directory, this school “Provides a thorough Business Education for Young Men and Women. Business men promptly supplied with Bookkeepers, Stenographers and Business Assistants. Sessions Day and Evening, from September to July.”

To the left of the Preston Block, in the center of the photo, was the Tilley Block. It was built in 1888 and was owned by John Tilley, who ran a furniture, carpet, and bedding store on the ground floor. Further to the left, on the other side of the Tilley Block, was the Taber Block, which was built around 1884. Its design was similar to the Preston Block, although somewhat shorter and with a brick facade instead of rusticated stone. When the first photo was taken, the storefront on the ground floor was occupied by Frank L. Taber, a jeweler and watchmaker.

Today, very little is left from the 1891 scene, although nearly all of these changes came within just a couple decades after the photo was taken. The first change came only a few years later, in 1899, when the one-story building on the far right was demolished and replaced by the Steiger’s department store. This Beaux Arts-style building was designed by prominent local architect George P. B. Alderman, and featured a light-colored exterior that contrasted with the darker brick of the older buildings in the scene. Two years later, in 1901, Albert Steiger purchased the adjoining Preston Block and expanded the store. It does not seem clear whether the Preston Block was demolished or simply incorporated into the Steiger’s building, but either way the stone facade of the Preston Block was replaced by one that matched the rest of the department store.

The trend toward Beaux Arts architecture continued around 1912, shortly after the Tilley Block was purchased by Thomas S. Childs. The building itself evidently survived, but the facade was rebuilt to match early 20th century architectural tastes, with a design that was also the work of Alderman. Childs was a shoe and hosiery dealer, and his store occupied the ground floor of the building, where Tilley’s furniture business had once been located. Like Steiger’s, the Childs shoe store would remain a fixture here in downtown Holyoke for many years, but it was gone by the early 1980s. Today, the ground floor still has a commercial tenant, but the three upper floors of the building are boarded up.

Of the three buildings in the center of the first photo, only the Taber Block survives relatively unchanged. Its neighbor to the left, the c.1890 Bishop Block, is also still standing from the first photo, although the exterior of the second floor has been rebuilt with new windows. Overall, though, this section of High Street has a remarkable number of historic commercial buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and these buildings are now part of the North High Street Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Robert B. Johnson Buildings, Holyoke, Mass

The buildings at 195-201 High Street in Holyoke, around 1891. Image from Holyoke Illustrated (1891).

The buildings in 2017:

According to the National Register of Historic Places inventory for the North High Street Historic District, these adjoining three-story brick buildings were built around 1880. However, they may actually date back to about a decade earlier, since they are mentioned in directories from the early 1870s. They were originally owned by Robert B. Johnson, an insurance agent whose offices were located here in the building. He also rented space to other tenants, including the Holyoke Savings Bank on the left side and the Holyoke National Bank on the right, as seen in the first photo. Above the arched entryway in this photo is a sign for “R. B. Johnson &  Son,” and hanging from the second floor is a sign for  “M. O. Hastings Dentist.”

Aside from his insurance business, Johnson was also involved in both of these banks. He served as treasurer of the Holyoke Savings Bank from 1866 until his death in 1899, and he was also the first vice president of the Holyoke National Bank, upon its establishment in 1872. He later became the president of the bank in 1896, and served in that role for the last three years of his life. Following his death, his son Charles W. Johnson succeeded him as treasurer of the savings bank, and he also carried on the insurance business here in the building on the left side.

The Holyoke National Bank was located here until the early 1910s, when it moved to a new location at the end of the block, at the corner of Dwight Street. Then, in 1915 the savings bank purchased both buildings, allowing it to double its available space by expanding into the side that had been vacated by the national bank. However, the savings bank was only here for another decade or so, before moving into a new building that still stands a few blocks away at 143 Chestnut Street, at the corner of Suffolk Street. Later renamed Vanguard Savings Bank, it would remain at the Chestnut Street location until 1992, when it was absorbed by Fleet Bank.

In the meantime, the bank’s former location on High Street is still standing, although both of these buildings have seen some changes over the years. The ground floor has been significantly altered, with three different doors instead of the central arch, and the building on the left side has lost much of the ornamentation above the third floor. However, both buildings are still easily recognizable from the first photo, and they are among the many historic late 19th century commercial blocks that still stand here on this part High Street.

High Street from Dwight Street, Holyoke, Mass

Looking south on High Street from the corner of Dwight Street in Holyoke, around 1891. Image from Holyoke Illustrated (1891).

The scene in 2017:

This scene shows the same section of High Street as an earlier post, just from the opposite end of the block, and the first photo above was taken around 15 years earlier than the one in that post. This photo dates back to around 1891, and shows the commercial center of Holyoke during the time when the city was reaching the peak of its prosperity as an industrial center. Just out of view to the left is city hall, and on the right side of High Street was a row of mostly three and four-story brick commercial buildings, each of which had awnings projecting from the ground-floor storefronts. The automobile was still several years away from large-scale production, but the unpaved street was busy with pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages, along with an electric trolley further in the distance.

Most of the buildings in the first photo were relatively new, dating back to around the 1870s and 1880s. The one in the foreground at the corner was perhaps the oldest, featuring Italianate architecture that contrasted with the far more ornate Romanesque Revival-style buildings beyond it. When the first photo was taken, it housed the drugstore of M. J. Griffin on the ground floor, with professional offices on the upper floors. These included a real estate agent whose signs advertised, among other things, “Houses on Large Lots Sold on East Terms of Payment.” Further down the street, other signs advertised for physicians, an attorney, a dentist, a bank, a hardware and cutlery store, and Childs Business College, which was painted on the side of a building in the distance.

Today, nearly all of the buildings in this scene are over a century old, but surprisingly few are still standing from the first photo. The two buildings closest to the foreground are actually still there, although they have been dramatically altered. By the early 20th century, the buildings had become home of the McAuslan and Wakelin department store, and in 1920 they were combined into a single building. They retained their original exteriors for a few more years, but in 1929-1930 the facades were reconstructed with a more modern design, including large windows and minimal ornamentation.

Just beyond the McAuslan and Wakelin building are two older brick buildings. Closer to the foreground is the Russell-Osborne Building, which dates back to around 1885. It once housed the hardware and cutlery shop from the first photo, but later housed a hosiery store and then a shoe store. At some point around the mid-20th century, the original Victorian-era exterior was hidden behind a plain aluminum facade, but this was removed by the 1980s, and today the building looks much as it did when the first photo was taken. To the left of it is the Mayberry Building, which dates back to around 1881. It originally had three stories, but was later expanded to four, and the facade has been heavily altered as well. Beyond it is a newer three-story building, which was constructed in 1912, replacing the earlier one that stood on the site in the first photo.

Probably the most historically significant building in the present-day scene is the Steiger’s building at 259-271 High Street, which is visible in the distance on the right side. It was built in 1899 to house the department store of Albert Steiger, a dry goods merchant who had previously operated a store in Port Chester, New York, before going into business here in Holyoke in 1896. He would later expand his company to include stores across southern New England, including a flagship store that opened in Springfield in 1906. The company would eventually go out of business in the 1990s, and the iconic Springfield store was demolished, but the ornate Classical Revival-style building in Holyoke is still standing here on High Street.

Further in the distance, there are at least two other buildings that still stand from the first photo, including the c.1884 Taber Block at 281-283 High Street and the c.1890 Bishop Block at 284-287 High Street. Overall, though, despite the many changes since the first photo was taken, this scene has remained well-preserved in its early 20th century appearance. The most recent major change to this scene came nearly 90 years ago, when the current facade was added to the building on the corner, and today these buildings are now part of the North High Street Historic District, on the National Register of Historic Places.

High Street from Hampden Street, Holyoke, Mass

Looking south on High Street from the corner of Hampden Street in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

Much of High Street in Holyoke has been remarkably well-preserved over the years, particularly this block on the west side of the street, between Hampden and Dwight Streets. It consists primarily of brick, three and four-story commercial blocks that were built in the second half of the 19th century, during the early years of Holyoke’s development as a major industrial center. The scene had largely taken on its present-day appearance by the time the first photo was taken in the early 1890s, and today the only significant difference is a noticeable lack of horse-drawn carriages.

According to district’s National Register of Historic Places listing, the one-story building in the foreground was built in the mid-20th century, but it seems possible that it might actually be the same one from the first photo, just with some major alterations. Either way, this is the only noticeable change in the buildings on this block. Just beyond this building are two matching three-story buildings, located at 169-175 High Street. These are perhaps the oldest buildings in the scene, dating back to around 1855, and have a fairly plain exterior design, unlike the more ornate building further down the street.

To the left of these two buildings is the four-story Dougherty’s Block, at 177-179 High Street. This was built sometime around the late 1880s, and was probably the newest building in the first photo. Beyond it is the 1870 Taber Building, with its distinctive ornate pediment above the third floor. However, the most architecturally-significant building in this scene is the Second Empire-style Caledonia Building at 185-193 High Street. It was built in 1874, and was originally owned by Roswell P. Crafts, a businessman who went on to become mayor of Holyoke in 1877 and from 1882 to 1883. The building was later owned by the Caledonian Benefit Society, which provided aid for Scottish immigrants.

Beyond the Caledonia Building, most of the other buildings also date to between 1850 and 1880. These include, just to the left of the Caledonia Building, the Johnson Building at 195 High Street and the R.B. Johnson Block at 197-201 High Street, both of which date back to around the 1870s. Further in the distance is the 1850 Colby-Carter Block at 203-209 High Street, and the c.1870 Ball Building at 211-215 High Street. The only noticeable change in this section is the six-story Ball Block, at the corner of Dwight Street. It was completed in 1898, a few years after the first photo was taken, and is visible on the far left side of the 2017 photo.

More than 125 years after the first photo was taken, this section of High Street survives as a good example of Victorian-era commercial buildings, representing a range of architectural styles from the plain brick buildings of the 1850s, to the more ornate styles of the 1870s and 1880s. Holyoke is no longer the thriving industrial city from the first photo, having experienced many years of economic stagnation since the mid-20th century. However, this has probably contributed to the survival of so many 19th century buildings, since there has been little demand for new construction, and today these historic buildings and streetscapes are among the city’s greatest assets.

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.