Mount Vernon, Virginia (2)

Another view of the Mount Vernon mansion, seen from the bowling green on the west side of the house, around the 1860s or 1870s. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The mansion in 2018:

As discussed in the previous post, the Mount Vernon estate had been in the Washington family since 1674, when John Washington acquired the land. However, it was his grandson, Augustine Washington – the father of the future president – who constructed the original section of the mansion here on this site, in 1734. At the time, it was only one story, with a garret for the second floor, and it was comprised of what is now the four windows in the middle of the house.

George Washington’s older half brother, Lawrence Washington, later received the property from their father, and he lived here until his death in 1752. His widow, Anne, subsequently leased Mount Vernon to George Washington, starting in 1754. Four years later, he began the first expansion of the house, adding a full second floor with a garret above it. He gained ownership of the estate when Anne died in 1761, and in 1774 he embarked on an even more ambitious project, with two-story additions on both sides of the house.

The mid-1770s renovations also included two new outbuildings, which were connected to the house by colonnades, as shown in these photos. The building on the right was the kitchen, and it had three rooms on the first floor, along with a loft on the second floor. Like many kitchens of this period, it was separated from the main house as a fire safety measure. The building on the left was known as Servants Hall, and it had a design that matched that of the kitchen.. Although Washington did have slave quarters nearby, none of his slaves lived here. Instead, this building was used to house the servants – both black and white – of visitors to Mount Vernon.

George Washington lived here until his death in 1799, and Martha Washington died in 1802. They had no biological children together, so the estate went to his nephew, Bushrod Washington, who served for many years as a justice on the U. S. Supreme Court. The property was later inherited by Bushrod’s nephew, John Augustine Washington II, and then by John’s son, John Augustine Washington III.

Over the years, these later generations of the Washington family struggled to maintain the expensive estate, and in 1858 John Augustine Washington III sold it to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. Under their ownership, the mansion was restored, and in 1860 it was opened to the public as one of the nation’s first historic tourist destinations. The first photo was probably taken within a decade or two after this, and it shows the house as it would have appeared to a Victorian-era visitor.

Today, some 150 years after this photo was taken, the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association continues to operate the property as a museum. The mansion and the two outbuildings that are shown here have been well-maintained throughout this time, and there is hardly any difference between these two photos. Mount Vernon was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1960, becoming one of the first places to be recognized as such, and it remains a popular tourist attraction, drawing around a million visitors each year.

Mount Vernon, Virginia

The Mount Vernon mansion in Virginia, as seen from the west side, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The land that would become the Mount Vernon estate had been in the Washington family since 1674, when John Washington – an English immigrant and great-grandfather of the future president – acquired the property. It was subsequently owned by his son Lawrence, and then Lawrence’s daughter Mildred, before being purchased by Mildred’s brother Augustine Washington in 1726.

Augustine Washington was 31 years old at the time, and had a wife, Jane, and three children. However, Jane died only a few years later, and in 1731 he remarried to Mary Ball, with whom he had six more children. The oldest of these was George Washington, who was born in 1732 at Popes Creek, a plantation further south of here along the Potomac River. The Washington family lived there for several more years, but around 1734 Augustine constructed the earliest portion of the mansion house here at Mount Vernon, which was known as Little Hunting Creek Plantation at the time.

Around 1739, Augustine and his family moved to Fredericksburg, and left Little Hunting Creek to his oldest son, Lawrence. In 1743, Lawrence married Anne Fairfax, and he renamed the plantation Mount Vernon, in honor of his former commanding officer, Admiral Edward Vernon. The couple had four children here, although none of them survived childhood, and both Lawrence and Anne also died young, in 1752 and 1761, respectively.

In his will, Lawrence left Mount Vernon to his wife for the rest of her life, with his brother George to inherit the property upon her death. In 1754, George Washington began leasing Mount Vernon from Anne, and in 1758 he expanded the original house, likely in preparation for his upcoming marriage to Martha Dandridge Custis. The house had been built with only one story, along with a garret above it, but Washington added a full second story, with a garret on the third floor. Following the completion of this project, the house consisted of what is now the central portion of the building.

George Washington acquired the property outright when Anne died in 1761, and in 1774 he began the second major expansion, with two-story additions on either side of the house. The pediment was also added during this time, as was the iconic two-story portico on the east side of the house. The interior work would not be finished until 1787, but the exterior was completed in 1775, the same year that Washington left Mount Vernon to take command of the Continental Army. Washington himself is generally credited with designing the plans for the addition, thus adding architect to his lengthy list of accomplishments.

Although he would spend many years away from Mount Vernon during the American Revolution and during his presidency, the estate would be his home for the rest of his life, until his death here on December 14, 1799. Martha Washington died two and a half years later, and Washington’s nephew, Supreme Court Justice Bushrod Washington, subsequently inherited Mount Vernon. After Bushrod’s death in 1829, his nephew, John Augustine Washington II, inherited it, followed by John’s son, John Augustine Washington III.

Throughout the first half of the 19th century, though, the various generations of Washingtons struggled to maintain the property. As is often the case with landed aristocrats, they were land rich but cash poor, and Mount Vernon suffered neglect because of the cost of upkeep. Finally, in 1858, John Augustine Washington III sold the mansion and surrounding land to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. This organization subsequently restored the property, making it one of the first historic house museums in the country.

Mount Vernon opened for visitors in 1860, and it has remained a popular tourist attraction ever since. The first photo was taken some 50-60 years later, and it shows the view of the mansion from the west, looking across the bowling green. Today, hardly anything has changed in this scene. The property is still operated by Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, which remains an independent nonprofit organization, and it draws an estimated one million visitors each year. Because of its historical significance, Mount Vernon was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1960, making it one of the first sites in the country to receive this recognition.

White House, Washington, DC

The north side of the White House, seen from Pennsylvania Avenue around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The White House in 2018:

Construction on the White House started in 1792, although it would not be occupied until 1800, when the national capital was moved to Washington and John Adams moved into the house. However, the White House has undergone significant changes since then, and today very little survives from the building that John and Abigail Adams moved into nearly 220 years ago.

The original design for the White House was the work of Irish-born architect James Hoban. He likely modeled the north facade, shown here in this view, after Leinster House in Dublin, and the south facade may have been inspired by Château de Rastignac in France. The north facade also bears a strong resemblance to the Charleston County Courthouse in South Carolina, which had been designed by Hoban several years earlier.

In 1814, the White House was burned by invading British forces, completely gutting the building and leaving only its exterior walls still standing. The White House was soon rebuilt, but most of the walls had to be reconstructed, leaving only a small portion of the original structure in the new building. James Hoban was involved in this reconstruction work, as was Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who also worked to rebuild the Capitol after it was likewise burned.

The new White House was completed in 1817, although without its distinctive porticoes on either side. The curved south portico was constructed in 1824, during James Monroe’s presidency, and the portico here on the north side was added five years later, at the start of Andrew Jackson’s presidency. Subsequent presidents would make further changes to the White House, although these generally involved the interior. It would not be until 1902 that the building itself would be expanded, with wings on the east and west sides of the original structure.

The first photo was taken only a few years later, about halfway through the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. The wings that he had added – which would later be replaced by the current East and West Wings – are not visible from this angle, but the photo provides a good view of the original section of the building as it appeared at the turn of the 20th century.

By far the most dramatic change to the White House came during the presidency of Harry S. Truman, nearly 50 years after the first photo was taken. By this point, the building was almost 150 years old, and it was beginning to show its age. The various renovations and additions over the years had severely compromised its structural integrity, and by the late 1940s the second floor was in imminent danger of collapse.

As a result, the White House underwent a massive renovation starting in 1949. For the second time in its history, the interior was gutted, leaving nothing but the exterior walls. A new interior was built with a steel frame, and the rooms were reconstructed inside of it, with few changes to the overall layout of the first and second floors. Much of the historic fabric of the interior was salvaged during the demolition process, and some of it was incorporated into the rebuilt White House, although other materials were sold to the public as souvenirs. The project was completed in 1952, with Truman returning to the renovated White House near the end of his second term.

Despite these dramatic changes to the interior, the exterior has not changed much in more than a century since the first photo was taken. One major difference, though, is the level of security at the White House and the surrounding area. The public once had unrestricted access to both the White House and the grounds, but over the years this has been steadily limited due to security concerns. Pennsylvania Avenue, seen in the foreground, has been closed to vehicular traffic since 1995, because of its proximity to the White House. More recently, the street and the south sidewalk have been closed to pedestrians, and today visitors must view it from across the street at Lafayette Square, as shown in the 2018 photo.

Arlington House, Arlington, Virginia

The Arlington House in Arlington National Cemetery, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2018:

This house was built over a period of 15 years between 1803 and 1818, and it was originally the home of George Washington Parke Custis. Born in 1781, Custis was the grandson of Martha Washington, from her first marriage to Daniel Parke Custis. His father, John Parke “Jacky” Custis, had died when George Washington Parke Custis was only a few months old, and George and Martha subsequently raised him as their adopted son. George Washington died in 1799, and Martha in 1802, leaving Custis a significant inheritance. Also in 1802, Custis turned 21, thus inheriting a fortune in money and land from his late father.

Among his father’s land holdings was an 1,100-acre estate on the Potomac River, overlooking the newly-established national capital of Washington. He named the property Arlington, and soon began construction on a mansion, which would become known as Arlington House. For the design, he hired George Hadfield, a noted architect who was responsible for several important buildings in Washington. The exterior of the house featured a very early example of Greek Revival architecture, with its most distinctive feature being the eight large columns here on the front portico. Although it appears to be built of sandstone and marble, the exterior is actually stucco-covered brick, which was intended to give it the appearance of stone.

The War of 1812 delayed construction of the house, but it was completed in 1818. Custis and his wife, Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis, would go on to live here for the rest of their lives, until her death in 1853 and his in 1857. They had four children, although only one, Mary Anna Randolph Curtis, lived to adulthood. In 1831, at the age of 23, she married 24-year-old army officer Robert E. Lee, in a ceremony that was held here at Arlington House. It would be their home for the next 30 years, during which time Lee steadily rose in rank from a lieutenant to a colonel in the United States Army. He served in the Mexican-American War, and more than a decade later he led the group of soldiers that suppressed John Brown’s raid on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry.

Lee’s wife Mary inherited Arlington House after her father’s death in 1857, but the family did not get to enjoy the property for much longer. On April 16, 1861, four days after the attack on Fort Sumter, Abraham Lincoln offered Lee command of the main Union army. However, Virginia declared its secession the following day, and Lee declined the offer. Instead, he resigned his commission in the the United States Army and joined the Confederate States Army, where he would command the Army of Northern Virginia for most of the war.

In the meantime, Arlington House quickly became a target for Union forces who were defending Washington. Because of its prominent location overlooking the city, it was imperative that it not fall into Confederate hands. The house was seized on May 24, 1861, and it subsequently became the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac. Despite this occupation, though, the Lee family formally continued to own the house until 1864, when it was taken by the federal government for nonpayment of taxes.

Later in 1864, with the Union needing more space to bury soldiers killed in the war, the property became Arlington National Cemetery. Part of the intention behind this move was to forever deprive Lee of the use of the estate, and to that end many of the early burials were right near the house. The first interment occurred on May 13, and thousands more would follow in the remaining 11 months of the war. These included the remains of 2,111 unidentified Union and Confederate soldiers, whose remains were collected from various battlefields. They were buried in a vault behind and to the left of the house, and the spot is marked by the Civil War Unknowns Monument.

Following the war, neither Robert E. Lee nor Mary Lee ever attempted to reclaim the title of the estate, although their oldest son, George Washington Custis Lee, successfully sued for its return. However, not interested in living in the middle of a cemetery, he then sold the property back to the federal government in 1883 for $150,000. In the ensuing years, though, the government directed most of its attention to the cemetery itself, with little concern for the mansion. By the time the first photo was taken around 1900, the house was largely unused, and the immediate grounds had been heavily altered from their prewar appearance.

The mansion was finally restored in the late 1920s, although the original focus was on the Custis family, as opposed to the Lees. However, in 1955 the house was renamed the Custis-Lee Mansion, and then in 1972 it became Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, thus placing a greater emphasis on Lee’s connection to the house. It has remained in use as a museum since then, although it was closed for renovations in early 2018, a few months before the first photo was taken. As part of this project, the house will be restored to its 1860 appearance, and the slave quarters and surrounding grounds will also be restored. The work will cost an estimated $12.35 million, and it is scheduled to be completed in January 2020.

Abel Howe House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 45 Pearl Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2018:

The mid-19th century was a time of considerable growth for Springfield, which nearly tripled in population between 1820 and 1840. This led to the opening of a number of new streets in the downtown area, including Pearl Street, which originally extended one block from Chestnut Street west to Spring Street. This particular house, located at what would eventually become the corner of Mattoon Street, was the first to be built on the new street. It was completed in 1847, and was originally the home of Abel Howe, a mason who evidently designed and built the house himself. The exterior was built of brick, and it featured a square, Italianate-style design, with a flat roof and wide overhanging eaves above the third floor.

Howe lived here until at least the early 1850s, but by the end of the decade he had moved to a house nearby on Salem Street. By about 1868, this house on Pearl Street was owned by Dr. Nathan L. Buck, a physician who, during the 1870 census, was living here with his wife Elmira and their two children, Fred and Nellie. At the time, his real estate was valued at $15,000 ($300,000 today), and his personal estate at $11,000 ($220,000 today). This wealth would have put him well within Springfield’s middle class, although these figures were lower than those of most of his neighbors.

The Buck family was living here as late as 1877, and Dr. Buck also had his medical practice here in the house. He was still listed as the owner of the property in the 1882 city atlas, but he evidently rented it, because he does not appear in the 1880 census or in any subsequent city directories. Instead, another physician, Dr. John Blackmer, was living here from about 1878 to 1883. Like Dr. Buck, he had his offices in the house, and during the 1880 census he was living here with his wife Ellen, daughter Nellie, son John, and a servant.

By 1885, the house was owned by Mary Shaw, a widow who was about 60 years old at the time. A native of Coventry, England, she and her husband Joseph immigrated to the United States in 1860, and by 1866 they were living in Springfield, where Joseph established himself as a brewer. He died in 1875, but Mary outlived him by more than 30 years. The 1900 census shows her living alone at this house on Pearl Street, but she evidently moved out soon after, because the subsequent city directories list her at a variety of different addresses until her death in 1906, at the age of 83.

The house was still owned by the Shaw family by 1910, but by this point it had been converted into a boarding house. Although there was just one resident in this large house during the 1900 census, the 1910 census showed 24 boarders living here. Nearly all were unmarried men in their 30s and 40s, and most held working-class jobs such as a carpenter, plumber, painter, tile layer, bookkeeper, and several chauffeurs, salesmen, and machinists. Six of them were immigrants, and most of the other boarders had previously lived in a different state before moving to Springfield.

By the 1920 census, the house was still in use as a boarding house. It was run by James and Mary Alexander, and they rented rooms to 24 boarders. James was an immigrant from Greece, and Mary from England, and many of their tenants were also immigrants, including people from Canada, Ireland, Greece, Russia, Holland, and Switzerland. The Alexanders would continue to keep a boarding house here until as late as 1939, around the time that the first photo was taken, but they are not listed on the following year’s census. Instead, the 1940 census shows Thomas and Katherine Van Heusen living here and running the boarding house. They paid $85 per month in rent, and in turn they rented rooms to 19 boarders.

Up until this point, the exterior of the house had retained much of its original appearance, despite having been used as a boarding house throughout the first half of the 20th century. However, in 1948 it underwent a major renovation to convert it into a commercial property. The porch was replaced by a new storefront, the overhanging waves were removed, a third story was added to the rear section, and many of the first floor windows were bricked up, among other alterations. The building is still standing today, but because of these changes its exterior bears little resemblance to its original appearance. Despite this, though, it survives as one of the oldest buildings in the area, and it is a remnant of the many upscale homes that once lined this block of Pearl Street.

68-76 Elliot Street, Springfield, Mass

The houses at 68 and 76 Elliot Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2018:

These two houses were both constructed in 1871, and although they were originally separate buildings, they have since been joined by a one-story walkway that is partially visible in both photos. The house on the left, at 68 Elliot Street, was the work of local architect James M. Currier, and it is perhaps the finest surviving Gothic-style house in the city. It was originally the home of Warner F. Sturtevant, a merchant who was a partner in the wholesale grocery firm of Downing & Sturtevant. The 1880 census shows him living here with his wife Julia and their three children, along with two servants.

In the meantime, the house on the right, at 76 Elliot Street, was built around the same time, but with a somewhat different architectural style. Designed by the firm of Perkins and Gardner, it had some Gothic-style details, such as the steeply-pointed dormer windows, but it also featured a Second Empire-style mansard roof. The original owner of the house was William L. Wilcox, a stove manufacturer and dealer. The 1875 city directory includes an advertisement for his business, W. L. Wilcox & Co., which was located at 140 State Street and was described as “Manufacturers and Dealers in Stoves, Ranges and Furnaces, Iron Sinks, Farmers’ Boilers, Refrigerators, and Housekeeping Goods generally. Dealers in the celebrated Richmond Range and Vindicator Cook Stove, Hydraulic Cement Drain and Sewer Tubing, all sizes.” During the 1880 census, he was living here with his wife Emma, their daughter, and a servant.

Both families continued to live in these houses for many years. William L. Wilcox died in 1890, but the other members of both families were still here during the 1900 census. By this point, Warner F. Sturtevant was still a wholesale grocer, this time with the firm of Sturtevant, Merrick & Co., and he was living here with Julia, two daughters, a granddaughter, and two servants. On the right, the widowed Emma was 67 years old, and she lived here with her daughter, E. Lillian Kirkham, and Lillian’s husband J. Stuart Kirkham. Stuart had evidently taken over his father-in-law’s business, because he was a stove merchant of the firm of Whitcomb, Kirkham & Gray, which was located at the same address at 140 State Street.

Emma Wilcox died later in 1900, and both families appear to have moved out of these houses by 1902. The Sturtevants subsequently moved into a house in the McKnight neighborhood, at 1064 Worthington Street, and the Kirkhams moved to Forest Park, to a new house at 107 Maplewood Terrace. Around the same time, these two houses were acquired by the Diocese of Springfield. They were adjacent to the church property, which by this point had grown to include St. Joseph’s Normal School, St. Michael’s School, a high school, a rectory, St. Luke’s Sanitarium, and St. Michael’s Cathedral, all on the south side of Elliot Street between here and State Street. The former Wilcox house on the right was converted into the diocesan chancery, while the Sturtevant house became the residence of the bishop.

The first to occupy the house was Thomas D. Beaven, who served as bishop from 1892 until 1920. At some point during his time here, he added the walkway between the two houses. Otherwise, though, the exteriors appear to have undergone few changes in the early 20th century. By the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, 68 Elliot Street was the home of Beaven’s successor, Thomas M. O’Leary, who served from 1921 until 1949. The house still had its Gothic-style ornamentation at the time, although some of this would be lost later in the 20th century.

Today, these two buildings remain in use as the bishop’s residence and the chancery office. Aside from losing some of the exterior details, there have been some minor changes to 68 Elliot Street, including the enclosed porch on the left side. Overall, though, the building have remained well-preserved, and they are contributing properties in the Quadrangle-Mattoon Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.