City Hall, Pittsfield, Mass

The Post Office building, which later became City Hall, on Allen Street in Pittsfield, around 1910-1930. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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City Hall in 2016:

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For many years, it was common for post offices, even in relatively large cities and towns, to be located within commercial buildings rather than in separate buildings. Springfield, for example, did not get its first purpose-built post office until 1890. Here in Pittsfield, the post office had been located in the Berkshire Life Insurance Company building until 1910, when this post office opened on Allen Street.

Its classical revival architecture was designed by James Knox Taylor, who, as Supervising Architect of the Treasury was responsible for designing government buildings across the country. Its design was fairly standard for post offices of the era, but its location was somewhat unusual. It is located at the corner of Allen and Federal Streets, two relatively minor side streets a block away from the far busier North and East Streets. However, it served its purpose well, and was used as a post office for over a half century until it closed in 1966.

After the post office left, the building was renovated into City Hall, replacing the much older building a block away, which had served as the seat of Pittsfield’s municipal government since 1832. It has remained in use ever since, and has now been City Hall for almost as long as it had been a post office. The original interior has been somewhat altered over the years, but exterior is essentially unchanged from the first photo, aside from the significant addition in the back.

St. Stephen’s Church, Pittsfield, Mass

St. Stephen’s Church at the corner of East and Allen Streets in Pittsfield, around 1893. Image from Picturesque Berkshire (1893)

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The church in 2016:

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As seen in a previous post, St. Stephen’s Church is one of several historic 19th century buildings at Park Square, in the center of downtown Pittsfield. The Gothic Revival church was designed by Peabody and Stearns, a prominent Boston firm of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Completed in 1890, it replaced an earlier Episcopalian church that had been built on virtually the same spot in 1832, the same year as the old town on the left side of the scene. The town hall has survived to the present, but the old church had to be demolished to build Allen Street, seen in the center of the photos.

When the first photo was taken, St. Stephen’s Church was just a few years old. More than 120 years later, most of its surroundings, except for the old town hall, are different, but not much has changed with the church itself. The building underwent a restoration in 1999, which included repairs to the stained glass windows that had been designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Mary Elizabeth Tillinghast. The church is still in use as an active Episcopalian parish, and it is a contributing property in the Park Square Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Park Square, Pittsfield, Mass (3)

Facing north across Park Square in Pittsfield, around 1900. Image from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and Vicinity (1900).

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Park Square in 2016:

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It is hard to tell in the present-day photo because of the trees, but all three of these historic buildings on the north side of Park Square are still here today. In the center is Pittsfield’s old town hall, a plain brick Federal-style building that was completed in 1832. After Pittsfield became a city in 1891, it remained in use as city hall until 1968, when the city government moved a few blocks away to the old post office.

The old town hall is flanked on either side by stone Gothic Revival churches, both of which were designed by prominent architects. To the left is the First Church, which was designed by Leopold Eidlitz and built in 1853 on the site of an earlier 18th century church building. On the other side is St. Stephen’s Church, designed by the Boston firm of Peabody and Stearns. Although architecturally similar to the First Church, it is significantly newer, having been completed in 1889.

Today, all three of these buildings are well-preserved and relatively unchanged from when the first photo was taken. The two churches are both still in active use, and the old town hall is now an office building for the Berkshire Insurance Group. In 1975, the buildings were added to the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Park Square Historic District.

Berkshire County Courthouse, Pittsfield, Mass

The Berkshire County Courthouse at Park Square in Pittsfield, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The courthouse in 2016:

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For many years, the town of Lenox was the county seat of Berkshire County. However, by the middle of the 19th century, Pittsfield’s population growth had dramatically outpaced its small neighbor to the south, and in 1868 the county government shifted to Pittsfield. The old courthouse eventually became the Lenox Library, and still stands today, and a new courthouse was built here on East Street in Pittsfield, facing Park Square.

The courthouse was completed in 1871, and was designed by Boston-based architect Louis Weissbein. Its exterior was constructed of marble quarried from nearby Sheffield, and it originally had a mansard roof, giving it a distinctive Second Empire appearance. However, the courthouse was later renovated and a new roof was added, and an annex was built in the rear of the building. Otherwise, though, the building’s exterior looks much the same as it did over a century ago, and it is still in use as a county courthouse. In 1975, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Park Square Historic District.

Rhode Island State House, Providence, RI

A view of the southwest corner of the Rhode Island State House, around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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The first photo was taken only about a year after the completion of the Rhode Island State House. As mentioned in an earlier post, it was the state’s first purpose-built capitol building, and was designed by the prominent architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White. Today, it is still in use as Rhode Island’s capitol, with legislative chambers for the General Assembly, as well as offices for the governor and other state officers. Nothing in its exterior appearance has changed, and the only differences in the two photos are the trees in the foreground and the Transportation Department building in the distance on the left.

Customshouse, Providence, RI

Looking down Weybosset Street from Westminster Street in Providence in 1868, with the U.S. Customshouse in the background. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

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The scene in 2016:

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In the first photo, this scene is dominated by the U.S. Customshouse, a domed, three-story granite building that had been completed just 11 years earlier, in 1857. It was designed by Ammi B. Young, during his time as Supervising Architect of the Treasury. His works included many prominent buildings, such as the old Vermont State House, part of the Treasury Building in Washington, DC, and the Custom House in Boston.

Young designed the custom houses in Boston and Providence about 20 years apart, and the two buildings reflect a shift in architectural tastes during the time. Although both were constructed of granite, Boston’s earlier building was Greek Revival, but by the time Providence’s Customshouse was built, Italianate architecture was far more common. Gone were the massive columns and triangular pediments, replaced instead with design elements such as arches, window cornices, and quoins on the corners.

When the first photo was taken, the Customshouse was surrounded by an assortment of low-rise commercial buildings, many of which were wood and probably dated back to the early 19th century. However, over time these buildings disappeared, and were replaced by much taller skyscrapers, dwarfing the old Customshouse. The first of these skyscrapers was the Banigan Building, built in 1896 on the left side of the present-day scene. It was followed in 1913 by the even taller Turk’s Head Building on the right side of the photo, which was constructed on a triangular lot and bears some resemblance to New York’s Flatiron Building.

Because Providence was a major port in New England, the Customshouse served an important function housing the offices of the city’s Collector of Customs. However, despite its name, the building also included the city’s main post office, a federal courtroom, and the offices of the federal District Attorney. Consequently, while Providence’s skyline was growing, so was the need for space in the old building.

The problem was solved in 1908, with the completion of a new Federal Building at Exchange Plaza. Even this new building was not enough, though. After sitting vacant for more than a decade, the old Customshouse was reopened in 1921 to provide additional space for federal offices. It remained in use until 1989, and was later sold to the State of Rhode Island. Today, it is used as offices for the State Courts System. Along with the turn-of-the-century skyscrapers around it, the 160 year old building is now part of the Customshouse Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.