Main Street, Springfield, Mass

Looking north on Main Street from near the corner of Pynchon Street in Springfield, sometime around 1900-1905. Image courtesy of the James Ward Birchall Collection.

The scene in 2017:

When the first photo was taken in the early 20th century, Springfield was a prosperous, rapidly-growing city, and this section of Main Street was the heart of its downtown shopping district. Major department stores included Forbes & Wallace – whose original building is seen second from the left in the first photo – and W. D. Kinsman, located further in the distance at the corner of Bridge Street. In 1906, a few years after the first photo was taken, these stores would also be joined by another competitor, Steiger’s, which opened its flagship store a couple blocks north of here at the corner of Hillman Street.

Along with large department stores, this scene also included smaller, specialized retailers. On the far right was D. H. Bingham & Co., a clothing store that had opened here in 1867 in a building previously occupied by the offices of the Springfield Republican. Other early 20th century stores in the foreground included Johnson’s Bookstore, which was located next to D. H. Bingham, and the W. J. Woods Co., another clothing store located further in the distance at the corner of Main Street and Harrison Avenue. The scene also featured several hotels, including most prominently the Haynes Hotel on the left side in the foreground.

Most of the buildings in the first photo were built in the late 19th century, during a period of rapid growth that saw Springfield’s population double roughly every 20 years. However, very few of the buildings along this section of Main Street are still standing today, aside from the Haynes Hotel on the left and several of the buildings on the right in the foreground. The old Forbes & Wallace building is gone, along with its early 20th century replacement, and today Monarch Place occupies the site. Further in the distance, the Tower Square skyscraper now fills the entire block between Boland Way and Bridge Street, and there are no other 19th century buildings on the left side until the Fort Block, which is barely visible more than four blocks away, in the distant center of the photo.

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.

Thames and Pelham Streets, Newport, RI (3)

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

The scene in 2017:

The scene in the first photo shows a mix of commercial buildings on the east side of Thames Street, from the corner of Pelham Street to Green Street a block away in the distance. Starting on the left side is the United States Hotel, which is explained in further detail in a previous post. Built in 1836 on the site of the earlier Townsend’s Coffee House, it was one of Newport’s leading hotels of the mid-19th century, and in the first photo the building also housed William P. Weeden’s “Ladies & Gent’s Restaurant” on the left and William T. Rutherford’s cigar shop on the right.

In the middle of both photos is the Newton Building, which is also explained in more detail in a previous post. This Romanesque-style commercial block was built a few years before the first photo was taken, and housed several businesses including the Adams Express Company and Frank L. Powell’s pharmacy. Just beyond the Newton Building, in sharp architectural contrast, was an 18th century house that had been converted into commercial use around the mid-19th century. It had been the childhood home of Elizabeth Champlin Mason, and it was where, in 1811, she married Oliver Hazard Perry, the Newport native who would later achieve fame as a naval hero in the War of 1812.

To the right of the former Mason house is the brick, three-story Savings Bank of Newport Building. The bank had been established in 1819, and occupied several different locations before this building was completed in the mid-1870s. When the first photo was taken, the building also housed the Aquidneck National Bank. However, in the early 1890s this bank moved across Green Street to the newly-built Kinsley Building, a two-story, Romanesque-style stone building that can be seen in the distance of the 2017 photo.

In more than 130 years since the first photo was taken, Thames Street has undergone some dramatic changes, most notably in the late 1960s when all of the buildings on the right side of the street were demolished to build America’s Cup Avenue parallel to Thames Street. Some of the older buildings on the left side have also been demolished or altered beyond recognition, including the United States Hotel. It closed in 1918, and sat vacant for the next 15 years until the top three floors were removed in 1933. The current building on the site appears to be the surviving first floor of the United States Hotel, although there are no recognizable details left from the first photo.

Further in the distance, the Mason house was demolished in the late 1950s to build a parking lot, but the two late 19th century buildings on either side of it – the Newton Building and the Savings Bank of Newport Building – are still standing, with few significant exterior alterations. Although built a few years after the first photo was taken, the Kinsley Building is also still there, and all three of these buildings are now part of the Newport Historic District, a National Historic Landmark district that was established in 1968, encompassing much of Newport’s historic downtown area.

Thames and Pelham Streets, Newport, RI (2)

Looking north on Thames Street from the corner of Pelham Street in Newport, in August 1906. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

As with an earlier post, the first photo here shows Thames Street decorates in patriotic bunting for the Newport Carnival, which was held in August 1906. The building on the right side, at the corner of Pelham Street, was the United States Hotel, which had been one of the city’s finest hotels when it was built in 1836. Originally owned by the Townsend family, the hotel had replaced the earlier Townsend’s Coffee House, which was built in 1785 and had been a popular gathering place for Newport’s leading citizens in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The United States Hotel enjoyed similar success in the mid-19th century, and for many years it was the site of the state legislature’s “‘Lection Day” celebrations. Held on the last Tuesday of May, this was the day when the results of the statewide April elections were announced and the winners were inaugurated, and the occasion was a major holiday here in Newport.

By the time the first photo was taken, the ‘Lection Day festivities were a thing of the past, and the state legislature no longer met here in Newport. The United States Hotel has long since been eclipsed by more fashionable Gilded Age hotels, and it had gone through a succession of ownership changes since the Townsend family sold the property in 1858. In 1896, for example, it was being run by George E. Houghton, who declared in a full-page advertisement in the city directory that the hotel had been “thoroughly renovated and refurnished,” and offered “steam heat, electric bells, and table unsurpassed,” and overall it was “the best $2.50 hotel in New England.” When the first photo was taken less than a decade later, though, the hotel was being run by Wulf Petersen, who advertised that it was “lately renovated and under new management,” and was “open the entire year.”

Aside from the United States Hotel, the other historically-significant building in the first photo was the one just beyond it to the left. Built in 1817, this elegant Federal-style building was the home of the Rhode Island Union Bank, which later became the Union National Bank of Newport. The building was designed by Asher Benjamin, a prominent and influential early 19th century architect whose works can be found across New England. However, despite his prolific career, and Newport’s reputation for outstanding architectural works, this bank was Benjamin’s only known commission in the city. Part of this may be due to the fact that the early 19th century was somewhat of a lull in Newport’s prosperity; the city’s shipping industry had never fully recovered after the American Revolution, and its renaissance as a wealthy resort community would not start for several more decades. Consequently, there was limited demand for new buildings, and little need for Asher Benjamin and other architects of his era.

The Union National Bank was still located here when the first photo was taken, and the building was also the home of the People’s Library, which was located on the right side of the building. When the People’s Library – later renamed the Newport Public Library – was established in 1869, the concept of public libraries was still in its infancy in the United States. Members-only libraries, such as Newport’s own Redwood Library, had existed since the 18th century, but it was not until the mid-19th century that public libraries began to take hold, particularly here in the northeast. The library moved into the storefront on the right side in 1870, and would remain here for more than 40 years, until moving out in 1914.

In the years after the first photo was taken, this scene underwent significant changes. The United States Hotel closed in 1918, and remained vacant for many years. Badly deteriorated, it was finally demolished in 1933, leaving only the first floor. This surviving section appears to still be standing, having been incorporated into the present-day commercial building, but all traces of the original hotel building are long gone. In the meantime, bank building to the left was demolished in the 1950s, but like its neighbor it appears part of the first floor survived, and still stands in the present-day scene. However, despite these dramatic changes in the foreground, the two buildings in the distance on the left have survived relatively unchanged, and today they form part of the Newport Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968.