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.

Red Lion Inn, Stockbridge, Mass

The Red Lion Inn at the corner of Main and South Streets in Stockbridge, around 1905-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2016:

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The origins of the Red Lion Inn date back to 1773, when Silas Pepoon opened a tavern here in the center of Stockbridge. Taverns in colonial America often used distinctive signs to identify themselves, and Pepoon’s tavern sign featured a red lion with a green tail. Although its name would later be derived from the old sign, it was originally known simply as the Stockbridge House. In 1862, it was purchased by Charles and Mert Plumb, and in the decades that followed the hotel enjoyed success, with the Berkshires becoming a popular summer destination. During this time, the hotel was steadily expanded, and 1891 it was renamed Ye Red Lion Inn. Five years later, though, the historic building was completely destroyed in a fire.

The Plumbs rebuilt on the same site, although by now the hotel was being run by their nephew, Allen T. Treadway. A future state legislator and Congressman, Treadway also built the nearby Heaton Hall hotel, and he owned the two properties until his death in 1947. His son, Heaton, sold both hotels in 1955. By this point, many of the grand hotels of the Gilded Age had been destroyed by fires, or had closed during the Great Depression. Those that remained, such as the Red Lion and Heaton Hall, struggled with declining business, with tourists increasingly preferring modern, more convenient motels.

Both hotels were sold again in 1969. Heaton Hall was demolished a few years later, but the Red Lion Inn was purchased by Jane and Jack Fitzpatrick, the founders of Country Curtains. The ground floor of the inn became the company’s first permanent location, while the upper floors remained a hotel. Around the same time, Norman Rockwell, a longtime Stockbridge resident, featured it in his famous Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas painting. Since then, the inn has continued to be a prominent landmark in the center of town, and is one of the few surviving grand hotels in the Berkshires from the 19th century.

Curtis Hotel, Lenox, Mass

The Curtis Hotel at the corner of Main and Walker Streets in Lenox, around 1905-1915 and 2016. Historic image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The hotel in 2016:

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This hotel in the center of Lenox was built in 1829, and prospered in part because of its location next to the Berkshire County Courthouse, which is visible just to the left in both photos. In 1853, the building was purchased by William O. Curtis and became known as the Curtis Hotel, with the business staying in his family for nearly a century. During this time, the county seat was moved to Pittsfield, but Lenox was in the midst of changing roles and becoming a popular tourist destination.

The Curtis Hotel prospered during this time, with visits some of the most prominent Americans from the 19th and early 20th centuries, including presidents Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, and both Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt. Other notable guests included writers Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne, Civil War Generals William T. Sherman and George B. McClellan, and businessmen Jim Fiske and John Jacob Astor.

Because of this prosperity, the hotel underwent several major expansions, to the point where it was unrecognizable from its original appearance by the start of the 20th century. The last major addition came in 1898, and by the time the first photo was taken it had largely assumed its present-day exterior. At this point, the hotel faced competition from other nearby hotels, including the Hotel Aspinwall, which opened on a hilltop just to the north of the town center in 1902.

However, like so many other grand hotels of the Gilded Age, the Curtis Hotel was hit hard by the Great Depression. Lenox would no longer be the playground of the rich and famous as it had once been, and many of the hotels began to struggle . The Curtis family sold the hotel by the 1940s, and by the 1970s the deteriorating hotel had closed for good. In 1979, though, the town purchased the historic building and converted it into subsidized housing for elderly residents. The renovations were completed in 1982, and the building has continued to be used in that role ever since.

The Maplewood, Pittsfield, Mass (2)

Another view of The Maplewood, seen from the corner of North Street and Maplewood Avenue in Pittsfield, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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This view shows several of the buildings at The Maplewood, a resort hotel in the Berkshires that had once been a private school for girls. As mentioned in the previous post, a school was established here as early as the 1820s, with several of the buildings dating back to this time period. By 1884, though, the Maplewood Young Ladies Institute had closed, and the buildings were converted into a hotel.

The hotel closed in 1936, and most of the buildings were demolished by 1940. The property was redeveloped, and modern commercial building now stands on the site at the corner of North Street and Maplewood Avenue. The hotel’s only surviving building is one of the original 1820s Federal-style school buildings. It is partially visible in the distance of the first photo, on the eastern side of the property, and today it still stands on the other side of the trees in the distance. After having been used first as a school and then as a hotel, it has since been redeveloped into condominiums.

The Maplewood, Pittsfield, Mass (1)

The Maplewood, on the north side of Maplewood Avenue, between North and First Streets, around 1900-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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This property has seen a variety of uses over the past two centuries. After being used as farmland in the late 1700s, it became a military base and prisoner of war camp during the War of 1812. The grounds were sold after the war, and by the 1820s a school was established on the site. In 1841, the school became the Pittsfield Young Ladies Institute, and was later known as the Maplewood Institute. During this time, the school hosted the country’s first intercollegiate baseball game, with rival schools Amherst College and Williams College playing here on July 1, 1859. The game drew large numbers of Maplewood girls, who watched Amherst win 73-32 in 26 innings, in a game that bore little resemblance to today’s game.

The school grew over time, with the campus ultimately consisting of an assortment of interconnected buildings that had been built over the course of the 19th century. Perhaps the most unusual addition to the school had been the old First Church, which had been built at Park Square in 1793 by architect Charles Bulfinch. It was damaged in a fire in 1851 and moved here, where it was put to use as a gymnasium. It was still standing when the first photo was taken, and would have been located directly behind the building seen here.

By the end of the Civil War, the school enrolled about 200 girls, but it soon entered a period of decline. Its problems were compounded by the Panic of 1873, which caused significant damage to the United States economy. The school never fully recovered, and closed for good in 1884. Three years later, the buildings were converted into a hotel. It reopened as The Maplewood, and was one of many resort hotels that sprung up in the Berkshires during the late 19th century.

The first photo was taken during its time as a hotel, but like so many other grand hotels of the Gilded Age, it suffered in the 1930s. Just as an earlier financial crisis had doomed the school, the hotel could not survive the Great Depression, and it was sold at a bankruptcy auction in 1936. Nearly all of the buildings, including the old Bullfinch church, were demolished. Even the fountains, including presumably the one in this photo, were melted down as scrap metal during World War II. Only one building, just out of view to the right of this scene, was preserved, and it is now a condominium building. Of the objects that are visible in this photo, only the columns survive. They were donated to Tufts University when the building was demolished, and they now support a porch in front of Ballou Hall.