Fort Block, Springfield, Mass

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

The scene in 2017:

The name of this building, the Fort Block, comes from its location on the site of a brick, colonial-era house that had served as a fort during the 1675 Indian raid on Springfield. Built around 1660, the house was probably the only brick building in 17th century Springfield, and this rare luxury reflected the wealth and social prominence of its owner, John Pynchon. He was the son of William Pynchon, who had been the principal founder of Springfield and had built a lucrative trading business here on the colonial frontier. However, William caused controversy with the 1650 publication of his book, The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption, which was declared heretical by Puritan leaders in Boston. As a result, William Pynchon returned to England in 1652, and John succeeded him as both a merchant and as a leader of colonial Springfield.

In 1675, during King Philip’s War, a group of Indians attacked Springfield, killing four residents while burning 25 houses and 35 barns. John Pynchon also lost a corn mill and a sawmill, but his fortified house survived the attack, with its two-foot-thick brick walls providing shelter for many of the town’s residents. In subsequent years, the house became a Springfield landmark, with its role in the Indian raid becoming a part of local lore. It would remain in the family for more than 150 years, and the final owner was William Pynchon (1776-1847), the great-great-great grandson of John Pynchon. The house was one of several early colonial buildings in Springfield that survived into the 19th century, but it was ultimately demolished in 1831.

Following the demolition, the property remained in the Pynchon family for several more decades, and it was finally sold in the late 1850s to the Springfield Fire and Marine Insurance Company. Established in 1849, it was the first insurance company in Springfield, although it lacked permanent offices until 1858, when this commercial block was built on the site of the old Pynchon house. Originally, the building had an Italianate design that was similar to many other commercial buildings of this era and this style can still be seen on the left side along Fort Street. However, the Main Street facade was altered before the first photo was taken, and bears little resemblance to its mid-19th century appearance.

Along with the insurance company, this building also housed the John Hancock Bank, which leased the ground-floor storefront on the right side of the building. Both businesses would remain here for many years, and in 1886 the Springfield Fire and Marine Insurance Company expanded the building along Fort Street in order to accommodate the growing company. However, in 1905 the company built a new headquarters at the corner of State and Maple Streets, and this building was subsequently sold. Early 20th century tenants included Hampden Savings Bank, which was located here from 1899 to 1918; the Bay Path Institute, which moved out in 1922 and later became Bay Path University; and the Springfield Union, whose offices were located here from 1909 until the newspaper was acquired by the Springfield Republican in 1926.

The two other buildings in this scene, on the right side of both photos, are nearly as old as the Fort Block. They were both built in 1864, although, like the Fort Block, they were heavily altered in the early 20th century. The Patton and Loomis Block on the far right, at the corner of Hampden Street, had its facade rebuilt in 1909, and the Loomis Block in between was similarly renovated in 1912, with a new yellow brick facade and a fifth floor. The owners of the Fort Block did likewise about a decade later, adding a new facade on the Main Street side in order to modernize the appearance of the building. However, the older Italianate-style appearance was retained on the Fort Street side, and can be seen on the left side of both photos.

By the time the first photo was taken about 80 years ago, these three buildings had assumed their present-day appearance, and very little has changed in this view since then. All of the Main Street businesses are long gone, including Roxy Clothes, Regal Shoes, and Bowles Lunch, but the Fort Block is still the home of the Student Prince, one of Springfield’s oldest restaurants. Established in 1935 on the Fort Street side of the building, this German restaurant was only a few years old when the first photo was taken, although it is not visible in the first photo. Since then, it has expanded to include much of the ground floor of the Fort Block, and it remains in business as a popular restaurant in downtown Springfield.

Whitney Building, Springfield, Mass

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

The scene in 2017:

The skylines of American cities underwent dramatic changes at the end of the 19th century, thanks in large part to new developments in engineering and construction. Prior to this time, the height of commercial buildings was limited by a variety of practical factors, not least of which was the difficulty in supporting upper floors. Load-bearing masonry walls worked well for low-rise buildings, but taller buildings required increasingly thick exterior walls, sacrificing valuable ground-floor retail space in order to build higher. Such buildings could reach impressive heights, such as Chicago’s 17-story Monadnock Building, which was completed in 1894, but here in Springfield most masonry buildings did not exceed four or five stories.

By the late 19th century, though, inexpensive steel helped to revolutionize the way buildings were constructed. With steel frames, buildings were no longer limited to the capacity of load-bearing masonry, enabling the rise of modern skyscrapers. The first of these, the 10-story Home Insurance Building in Chicago, was completed in 1885, and it did not take long for the trend of steel-frame skyscrapers to reach Springfield. This location at Main and Worthington Streets has previously been the site of a brick, two-story commercial block that burned in 1893. Its owner, Andrew Whitney, soon set out on an ambitious project to replace it by building a six-story steel building that would become the first steel-framed building in Springfield and among the first in New England.

Construction on the building in 1894, although it would not ultimately be completed for another three years. Historian George C. Kingston, in his book William Van Alen, Fred T. Ley and the Chrysler Building, attributes this delay to a combination of factors, including the new style of construction, concerns from city officials, and the fact that Whitney, a real estate developer from Fitchburg, designed the building himself, instead of hiring a professional architect. As a result, the building did not conform to architectural trends of the era, instead featuring a relatively plain exterior without the classically-inspired ornamentation that was common at the time. However, despite local fears that the walls were too thin to support the six-story building, it was completed in 1897 and would stand here for more than 75 years.

A 1913 building directory shows a wide variety of tenants here. On the ground floor, the Main Street facade had two storefronts, with Miner & Co. cigars, magazines, soda, and confectionery in one, and W. L. Douglas shoe company in the other. There were another seven stores on the Worthington Street side, including a barber shop, a jewelry store, and a haberdasher. Above these shops, the upper five floors housed offices, which were served by two elevators – another late 19th century development that helped make skyscrapers a practical reality. These offices included attorneys, dentists, physicians, realtors, and other professionals, for a total of 50 individuals and corporations that had offices here in the building.

By the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, first-floor tenants included jeweler P. B. Richardson on the left side, Clear-Weave Hoisery Stores in the center, and the Stearns Curtain Shop in the storefront on the corner. The building would stand here for several more decades, but it was severely damaged by a fire in December 1974, and was demolished the following year. Several years later, the entire block along Main Street between Bridge and Worthington Streets was redeveloped, and a new federal building was constructed here in 1981. The government sold the property in 2009, following the completion of the new federal courthouse on State Street, but the old building underwent a significant renovation and is now used for offices.

Main and Vernon Streets, Springfield, Mass

The corner of Main Street and Vernon Street (now Boland Way) in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

Located in the midst of Springfield’s central business district, this scene has long the site of commercial buildings. The first photo shows a small Art Deco-style building that was probably built only a few years earlier. At the time, downtown Springfield was the retail center of western Massachusetts, and this scene shows a few of the many shops that lined Main Street in the late 1930s. The most prominent of this buildings’s three tenants was Bell Shops, a women’s clothing store that occupied the corner storefront. Just to the right was Morse and Haynes, a shoe store that had been in business here in Springfield since 1895 and, according to its advertisement in the 1939 city directory, sold shoes, hosiery, and rubber footwear, and also repaired shoes. The first photo also shows another shoe store, Thom McAn, which was located right next to Morse and Haynes on the right side of the building.

Both Bell Shops and Thom McAn were still located here into the mid-1960s, as indicated in city directories of the era. However, the building was demolished by the end of the decade to make way for Baystate West, a massive redevelopment project that encompassed the entire block between Main Street, Vernon Street, Bridge Street, and East Columbus Avenue. Completed in 1970, it included a two-story mall, a parking garage, a hotel, and a 29-story skyscraper that was, by far, the tallest building in Springfield at the time. Today, this scene has not significantly changed since 1970, although Baystate West has since been renamed Tower Square. The present-say view shows the main entrance to the mall, with the parking garage located directly above it. In the distance on the left is the hotel, formerly a Marriott, and on the right is a portion of the tower, which is now the second-tallest in the city after the completion of the adjacent Monarch Place in 1987.

Forbes & Wallace, Springfield, Mass

The Forbes & Wallace department store on Main Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

For just over a century, Forbes & Wallace was one of Springfield’s leading businesses, with its department store located here at the corner of Main and Vernon Streets. The company was established in 1874, when Scottish immigrant Andrew Wallace formed a partnership with Alexander B. Forbes, a dry goods merchant here in Springfield. They rented space in an earlier building that stood at this same location, and within a decade the two men had built the company into, as described in the 1884 King’s Handbook of Springfield, “the largest and most prominent wholesale and retail dry-goods house in Massachusetts, excepting only some of those in Boston.”

By this point, Forbes & Wallace had purchased the entire building, modifying it to meet the needs of the company’s growing business, but around 1905 the old building was demolished and replaced with a new Classical Revival-style building that is seen in the first photo. Only a portion of this massive building is visible in this scene, though. The eight-story, L-shaped structure extended for a significant length along Vernon Street (today Boland Way), and wrapped around the Haynes Hotel so that part of the building fronted on Pynchon Street. Over time, the company’s complex would come to fill almost the entire city block, including its own parking garage on the western side, and the department store remained a Springfield landmark for many years.

Alexander Forbes has retired from the business in 1896, but Andrew Wallace remained with the company until his death in 1923, nearly 50 years after he had established it. His son, Andrew B. Wallace, Jr., and later his grandson, Andrew B. Wallace III, both succeeded his as president of the company, which remained in the Wallace family for many years. The first photo was taken in the late 1930s, during the time when downtown department stores still dominated retail shopping. Aside from Forbes & Wallace, this section of Main Street also feature its largest competitor, Steigers, along with a variety of smaller stores. The scene in the first photo shows Main Street lined with parked cars, and the blurred figures on the sidewalk and in the street give the impression of a busy shopping district.

In the decades that followed, though, suburban malls began to eclipse downtown stores, and Forbes & Wallace followed this trend, opening satellite stores at the Eastfield Mall on Boston Road and the Fairfield Mall in Chicopee. Around the same time, downtown Springfield underwent several large-scale projects aimed at urban renewal, including the construction of the 371-foot, 29-story Baystate West building, which was located directly opposite Forbes & Wallace on the north side of Vernon Street. Now known as Tower Square, this project was completed in 1970, and included a shopping mall that was connected to Forbes & Wallace via a skywalk.

The Baystate West mall evidently did little to revive Forbes & Wallace, though, and the store ultimately went out of business in 1976. The building sat vacant for the next few years, and it was finally demolished in the early 1980s to make way for Monarch Place, a skyscraper that is just out of view on the left side of this scene. Completed in 1987, it is currently the tallest building in the city, and the original site of Forbes & Wallace at the corner is now a small plaza. There is a small replica facade on the left side, partially visible from this angle, but otherwise there is no trace of the old department store. Today, the only building left from the first photo is the Haynes Hotel, which stands as the only 19th century structure amid a variety of 20th century urban renewal projects.

Haynes Hotel, Springfield, Mass

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

The building in 2017:

The Haynes Hotel was named for its original owner, Tilly Haynes, a prominent Springfield businessman of the mid-19th century. Originally from eastern Massachusetts, he came to Springfield in 1849 to manage a men’s clothing store. He was just 21 at the time, but within a few months he purchased the business from his employers, and he quickly built it into a prosperous enterprise. However, he did not confine himself just to the clothing business, and in 1857 he built a commercial block at the southwest corner of Main and Pynchon Streets, just to the left of this scene. The building consisted of two stores and a music hall, but it only stood here for a few years before being destroyed in a fire in 1864.

The fire was a serious setback for Haynes, but despite the losses he was able to secure a loan for $100,000 – no small sum in 1864 – and rebuilt on the same site. In addition, the fire provided an opportunity for him to further diversify his business interests. Several wood-frame buildings on the north side of Pynchon Street had also been destroyed, and the landowners were more than happy to sell their burned-out properties to Haynes. He promptly built the brick, five-story Italianate-style Haynes Hotel, which opened in 1865 as one of the finest hotels in the city. The building featured a central courtyard that was topped with a skylight, and the first floor had several storefronts, including one at the corner that housed Springfield’s post office until the 1880s.

Haynes retired from the hotel business after the death of his wife in 1876, and sold the property to Calvin H. Goodman and Emerson Gaylord. A few years later the post office vacated its location on the first floor, and the new owners used the opportunity to renovate the building. Haynes had already made some improvements, most notably the installation of the city’s first hydraulic elevator in 1874, but Goodman took further steps to make it one of the area’s leading hotels. King’s Handbook of Springfield, published in 1884, described the hotel upon completion of these renovations:

The floors are of marble, the wainscoting of party-colored marbles and slates, while the walls and ceilings are richly frescoed. The toilet accommodations are most conveniently located; and the barber-shop, bar-room, and billiard-room have been given new and richly furnished quarters. These improvements cost somewhat over $15,000. The dining-room, seating 150, is still on the second floor; and the admirable arrangement of kitchen, store-rooms, and servants’ quarters in a separate building, connected with the hotel proper by a half dozen bridges at different floors, is not disturbed. The parlors are on the second and third floors, and handsomely furnished. The house numbers 108 large, completely furnished rooms; and other accommodations, held in reserve, make the number of guests provided for on special occasions not far from 300.

The hotel was still in operation when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, but it closed in the mid-1940s and the former hotel rooms were converted into offices. Since then, the surrounding neighborhood has undergone even more dramatic changes, with several large-scale redevelopment projects in the second half of the 20th century. The Forbes & Wallace department store, which encircled the hotel and filled much of the block between Pynchon and Vernon Streets, was demolished in the early 1980s in order to build Monarch Place, the skyscraper that is visible behind in the background of the present-day photo. Around the same time, the Haynes Hotel was somewhat altered, including the addition of elevator shafts on the left side, but overall it has remained well-preserved, and it survives as one of the oldest commercial buildings in downtown Springfield.

Main and Court Streets, Springfield, Mass

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

The scene in 2017:

This site, on the north side of Court Square, has long been an important commercial property in the center of Springfield. Court Square itself was established in 1821, and a year later Erastus Chapin, the former owner of Parsons Tavern, opened the Hampden Coffee House here. This hotel offered accomodations for travelers as well as “the choicest liquors,” as advertised at the time, but Chapin had little success and later sold the business, moving to Albany and then to St. Louis. The property changed hands several more times, and the hotel later became the starting point for a stagecoach line run by Erastus’s younger brother, the future railroad and banking tycoon Chester W. Chapin.

The hotel was later known simply as the Hampden House, and its guests included Charles Dickens and his wife Catherine, who stayed here during their 1842 tour of America. Only 30 years old at the time, Dickens was already a prominent literary figure, and was a greeted as a celebrity almost everywhere he went. His subsequent book about his travels, American Notes for General Circulation, was an often scathing critique of American culture, but he made little mention of his stay in Springfield, other than to say that he took the railroad to Springfield, and then took a steamboat down the Connecticut River to Hartford.

The original Hampden House burned down in 1844, two years after Dickens’s visit, but the hotel was later rebuilt on the same site. This new building is seen in the 1930s photo here, but it was originally smaller with only four floors, as seen in an earlier post. It appears to have been competed sometime around 1858, with an advertisement proclaiming, “Hampden House. Redivivus. This new and elegant structure, reared upon the site of the original Hampden House, corner of Main and Court Sts., adjoining Court Square, is now open to permanent or transient guests, as a first class hotel.”

The building was used as a hotel for several decades, but starting in 1879 it was occupied by a long succession of department stores. The first of these, Smith & Murray, was established in 1879 by Scottish immigrants John M. Smith and Peter Murray, with their store occupying the ground floor and basement of the building. Just five years later, though, these “importers and dealers in foreign and domestic dry and fancy goods” were described in the 1884 King’s Handbook of Springfield as being “among the largest and most successful business houses of the city.” The store had already been expanded twice at that point, and by the turn of the 20th century it filled both this building and an adjacent one, with a total floor space of about 70,000 square feet.

John Smith died in 1898, but the company remained in business under the leadership of Peter Murray until it finally closed around 1915. The building did not remain vacant for long, though, and it went on to house department stores such as Poole Dry Goods Company, Stillman’s, and J.C. Penney. By the time the first photo was taken, the building had been significantly altered from its original mid-19th century appearance, with changes such as a fifth floor, new windows on the Main Street facade, and the replacement of the old arched windows on the first floor of the Court Street facade.

In the next few decades after the first photo was taken, the retail businesses of downtown Springfield entered a steady decline as shoppers began to favor suburban malls over Main Street stores. One by one, the landmark department stores of downtown Springfield closed and the buildings were demolished. This building became one of the first to go, closing around the late 1960s. A few years later, this entire block between Court and Pynchon Streets was demolished, including both the old department store and the adjacent Capitol Theatre. The site would remain vacant for the next decade, as a cavernous hole in the center of Springfield’s downtown commercial district, but it was ultimately redeveloped with the construction of the present-day One Financial Plaza, a skyscraper that was completed in 1983.