Brewer-Young Mansion, Longmeadow, Mass (2)

The Brewer-Young Mansion at 734 Longmeadow Street in Longmeadow, in July 1911. Image courtesy of the Longmeadow Historical Society.

The house in 2018:

As discussed in the previous post, this house was built in 1885, and was originally the home of noted Congregationalist pastor and hymn writer Samuel Wolcott. Subsequent owners included businessman, farmer, and former state legislator Edward S. Brewer, who was living here when the first photo was taken in 1911. The photo shows the front of the house, with its large gambrel roof and distinctive portico, and there is a group of three unidentified men standing on the well-landscaped front lawn.

Brewer died later in 1911, and his widow Corinne lived here until later in the decade. By the early 1920s, the property was sold to Mary Ida Young, the co-founder of W.F. Young, Inc., an animal care product company best known for developing the horse liniment Absorbine. She lived here for the rest of her life, until her death in 1960 at the age of 95, and the house remained in the Young family until 1989, when it was sold because of the high cost of upkeep.

The house changed ownership many times over the next few decades, but the 11,000 square foot, 130-year-old mansion proved impractical as a single-family home. It steadily deteriorated and was finally foreclosed in 2015, but it was purchased two years later, a few months before the second photo was taken. Thanks to a zoning change to the property, the new owners are currently in the process of restoring the house and converting it into professional offices, which will help to ensure the long-term preservation of this important local landmark.

Brewer-Young Mansion, Longmeadow, Mass

The Brewer-Young Mansion at 734 Longmeadow Street in Longmeadow, on July 7, 1908. Image courtesy of the Longmeadow Historical Society.

The house in 2018:

This elegant Colonial Revival-style mansion was built in 1885, and was originally the home of Samuel Wolcott, a noted Congregationalist pastor and hymn writer. Born in South Windsor in 1813, Wolcott spent the early years of his ministry as a missionary in the Middle East, before returning to the United States and serving as pastor of a number of churches, including here in Longmeadow from 1843 to 1847. He subsequently served in churches as far away as Cleveland and Chicago, but eventually returned to Longmeadow after his retirement.

Two of Reverend Wolcott’s sons, Henry and Edward Wolcott, had this house built for their father. Both sons had gone west to Colorado, where they both prospered, with Edward later serving as a U. S. Senator from 1889 to 1901. Their father’s mansion reflected their wealth, but he did not get to enjoy it for very long. He died in 1886, at the age of 72, only about a year after the completion of the house, although his widow Harriet continued to live here until her death in 1901. The 1900 census shows her here along with her daughters Clara and Charlotte, and two servants.

After Harriet’s death, the property was sold to Edward S. Brewer, a businessman and farmer who had previously lived in Springfield. He had represented the city in the state legislature in 1892 and 1893, and he later became a member of the Longmeadow board of selectmen after moving to this house. He extensively renovated the house in 1906, and this was evidently when the house acquired its distinctive Colonial Revival appearance. The first photo was taken only two years later, and shows both the ornate exterior and the landscaped lawn in the front of the house.

The 1910 census lists Edward Brewer living here with his wife Corinne and three servants. He died a year later, but Corinne remained here until at least 1918. However, by the 1920 census she was living in Boston with her daughter Maud, and she died in 1921. The house was then sold to Mary Ida Young, a widow who, along with her late husband Wilbur, had co-founded the animal care product company W.F. Young, Inc. back in 1892.

The W.F. Young company is best known for developing the horse liniment Absorbine, along with the related product Absorbine Jr., which was intended for human use. At the time, the company was headquartered in Springfield, and the Young family lived in a house on State Street. However, Wilbur died in 1918, and Mary subsequently moved to this house in Longmeadow a few years later. Their son, Wilbur F. Young II, became company president after his father’s death, but he died in 1928 at the age of 30, leaving Mary to assume control of the company.

Mary ultimately outlived her husband by more than 40 years, and ran the company into her 90s, until she handed it over to her daughter Sally and grandson, Wilbur F. Young III in 1957. She continued to live in this house throughout this time, and remained here until her death in 1960, at the age of 95. The house stayed in the Young family for several more decades, although the high costs of upkeep eventually led the family to sell the property in 1989.

Today, W.F. Young, Inc. is still in business, and still produces Absorbine. It is now headquartered in nearby East Longmeadow, where it is still owned by the Young family. However, the former family home has not fared so well over the years. Since being sold in 1989, it has gone through a revolving door of ownership, and has steadily deteriorated. It was foreclosed on in 2015, but was purchased two years later, shortly before the second photo was taken. The house is now undergoing restoration, and the interior is in the process of being converted into professional offices.

Harriet Beecher Stowe House, Hartford, Connecticut

The Harriet Beecher Stowe House on Forest Street in Hartford, around 1905. Image courtesy pf the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author who was made famous by her 1852 anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was born in 1811 in Litchfield, Connecticut. She grew up in Connecticut and attended the Hartford Female Seminary, but she subsequently moved to Ohio, where she met her husband, Calvin Ellis Stowe, and then to Brunswick, Maine, where she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. From there, they moved to Andover, Massachusetts, before finally returning to Connecticut in 1864.

Here in Hartford, the Stowes constructed a Gothic Revival mansion along the banks of the Park River. Known as Oakholm, the house was a dream home for Harriet, and she built it using much of the money that she had earned through the sale of her books. However, it proved too expensive to maintain, and the Stowes ultimately sold the house in 1870. The house was demolished in 1905, and the site of the house is now approximately where Interstate 84 crosses Capitol Avenue.

The Stowes’ final house, seen here in these two photos, was constructed in 1871 by Franklin Chamberlin, a lawyer who owned a large tract of land at the corner of Forest Street and Farmington Avenue. The Stowes purchased the house in 1873, and a year later they were joined by Mark Twain, who built a house just around the corner from here on Farmington Avenue. These two famous authors became the leading figures in Hartford’s flourishing literary scene, and they remained neighbors until 1891, when Mark Twain and his family moved to Europe.

In the meantime, Harriet Beecher Stowe continued to write while living in this house, although none of her subsequent works could top her first novel, which had sold more copies during the 19th century than any other book except for the Bible. She was also involved in civic organizations such as the Hartford Society for Decorative Art, which she helped to establish in 1877 along with several other notable Hartford women, including Mark Twain’s wife Olivia Clemens. The society was later renamed the Hartford Art School, and it is now part of the University of Hartford.

Calvin Stowe died in 1886, and Harriet’s health soon began to deteriorate. She evidently suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, and displayed erratic behavior such as wandering around the neighborhood, sometimes even entering her neighbors’ gardens and homes. She also took to rewriting Uncle Tom’s Cabin from memory, unaware that she had already written it. She outlived her husband by a decade, and lived here in this house until her death in 1896, at the age of 85.

Stowe’s children subsequently sold the house to Frances Z. Niles, a wealthy heiress whose father, Jonathan S. Niles, had been a prominent foundry owner. She was living in the house when the first photo was taken around 1905, and the 1910 census shows her here along with her niece, Caroline Hansell, and two servants. Neither Frances nor Caroline had ever married, and they lived here until Frances’s death in 1922. She left an estate that was valued at over $90,000, or nearly $1.4 million today. The house itself was valued at $17,000, but her single greatest asset was 33 shares of Aetna, valued at over $44,000.

In 1924, nearly 30 years after the Stowe family sold the house, it was purchased by Harriet’s niece, Katharine Seymour Day. She moved into the house, and became an outspoken advocate of historic preservation. Perhaps her single most important accomplishment in this field came in the late 1920s, when she spearheaded an effort to rescue the neighboring Mark Twain House from potential demolition. Through her leadership, the Mark Twain Memorial and Library Commission was established, which purchased the house in 1929 and subsequently restored it. Then, in 1940, she purchased the house directly to the right of hers, which had once been owned by Franklin Chamberlin.

Today, very little has changed in this scene. The house is still standing, and it is now the centerpiece of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, which offers guided tours of the home. The organization also owns the house on the right, which is now known as the Katharine Seymour Day House. It now houses administrative offices, along with a research library. Although not visible in this scene, the Mark Twain House is also still standing, and it is located directly behind the Stowe House. It is operated by a separate organization, but it is also open to the public for tours. Because of their connections to two of the most important American writers of the 19th century, both of these homes are now listed as National Historic Landmarks, the highest level of recognition on the National Register of Historic Places.

Mark Twain House, Hartford, Connecticut

The Mark Twain House on Farmington Avenue in Hartford, around 1880. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The house in 2018:

Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was born and raised in Missouri, and he is probably best identified with the Mississippi River, where many of his works are set. However, Mark Twain actually spent much of his literary career in Hartford. He moved here in 1871, a year after his marriage to Olivia Langdon, and the couple initially rented a house here in the Nook Farm neighborhood. Mark Twain came to Hartford in part because it was the home of his publisher, Elisha Bliss. However, the city also enjoyed a thriving literary community, with prominent authors such as Charles Dudley Warner and Harriet Beecher Stowe also living in Nook Farm.

After several years of renting, Mark Twain decided to build a house of his own. He purchased a lot on Farmington Avenue, just around the corner from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s house on Forest Street, and he hired architect Edward Tuckerman Potter, who designed this ornate High Victorian Gothic-style house. It was completed in 1874, and the family would go on to live here for the next 17 years. At the time, the couple had two young daughters, Susy and Clara, and a third daughter, Jean, would be born in 1880. They had one other child, a son named Langdon, but he died in 1872 at the age of 19 months. The first photo was taken around the time that Jean was born, and it shows the house as it appeared before the servants’ wing was added to the right side of the scene in 1881.

Mark Twain was already a prominent author by the time he moved into this house, having recently published books such as The Innocents Abroad (1869) and The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today (1873). However, his 17 years at this house would become perhaps the most productive of his career, and he wrote many of his most famous works here, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), A Tramp Abroad (1880), Life on the Mississippi (1883), The Prince and the Pauper (1881), Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889).

Despite significant literary success throughout the 1880s, Mark Twain suffered several major financial setbacks in the early 1890s. Because his Hartford house was so expensive to maintain, he and his family moved to Europe, where he went on lecture tours. He eventually succeeded in paying off his creditors and becoming financially stable again, but during this time he also experienced struggles within his own family. In 1896, his youngest daughter Jean was diagnosed with epilepsy – which would ultimately lead to her early death in 1909 at the age of 29 – and only five months later, in August 1896, his 24-year-old daughter Susy died of spinal meningitis. Her death hit the family particularly hard, and they never lived in this house again, in part because of its association with Susy.

Mark Twain finally sold this house in 1903, a year before his wife Olivia’s death. He would eventually return to Connecticut, although not to Hartford. In 1908, he built a home in Redding, near the southwest corner of the state in Fairfield County. He named it Stormfield, after his short story “Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven,” which would prove to be his last story published during his lifetime. It was at Stormfield that, on Christmas Eve in 1909, Jean drowned after apparently having a seizure in the bathtub. Less than four months later, Mark Twain also died at his Redding house, having outlived his wife and three of his four children.

In the meantime, the new owner of his Hartford home was Richard M. Bissell, an insurance executive who would later go on to serve as president of The Hartford for many years. He and his wife Mary had three children who grew up here, including Richard M. Bissell, Jr., who was born in 1909. The younger Richard went on to become a high-ranking CIA executive during the Cold War. He was involved in the development of the U-2 spy plane, and he was later appointed Deputy Director for Plans in 1959, a position that put him in charge of planning clandestine operations. These included the disastrous 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion, the failure of which ultimately led to his departure from the CIA in 1962.

Richard Bissell, Jr. spent the first eight years of his life here in this house, before he and his family moved to Farmington in 1917. The elder Bissell subsequently leased the house to the Kingswood School, a private school for boys that Richard Bissell, Jr. attended. The Bissell family sold the property in 1920, but the sale included a stipulation that allowed Kingswood to remain here until 1922. They did so, and after they left the new owners announced plans to demolish the house and build an apartment building on the site. These plans were eventually scrapped after a significant public outcry, and the interior of the house was instead divided into 11 apartment units in 1923.

The threatened demolition of the historic house helped to spur support for its preservation, and in 1929 it was purchased by the Mark Twain Memorial and Library Commission. The ultimate goal of this organization was to restore the house to its original appearance, but these plans took many years to come to fruition. In the meantime, the first floor became a branch of the Hartford Public Library, and the upper floors continued to be rented to residential tenants while the organization raised funds for the restoration.

This work was finally completed in 1974, and today the entire house is open to the public as a museum. Thanks to the preservation efforts that began nearly a century ago, there is very little difference between these two photos, aside from the addition of the 1881 servants’ wing. The neighboring Harriet Beecher Stowe House has also become a museum, known as the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, and both of these houses are now designated as National Historic Landmarks because of their literary significance.

The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island (3)

The view of The Breakers in Newport, seen from the south side of the property, around 1895. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo was apparently taken around the same time as the one in the previous post, and shows the southeastern and southwestern sides of The Breakers, around the time that it was completed in 1895. The Classical Revival-style mansion was the work of noted architect Richard Morris Hunt, and the grounds of the 14-acre property were designed by landscape architect Ernest W. Bowditch. Some of this landscaping is visible in this scene, including the south parterre, which was planted with a variety of flowers in its formal garden.

The Breakers was the largest of the many opulent mansions that were built in Newport during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and it was originally the summer home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and his wife Alice. Cornelius had inherited a substantial fortune from his father, William Henry Vanderbilt, and his grandfather, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and upon his death in 1899 he had a net worth of about $73 million – equivalent to about $2.2 billion today. The house would remain in the family for several more generations, with their daughter Gladys Széchenyi inheriting the property after Alice’s death in 1934, and Gladys’s daughter Sylvia inheriting it in 1968.

During this time, the house itself remained well-preserved, but the grounds underwent some changes. The 1938 hurricane caused only minimal damage to the house, but it significantly altered Bowditch’s landscaping. Over the years, the landscaping also suffered from neglect, and by the late 1950s the garden here on the south parterre were replaced with turf. Beginning in 1948, The Breakers was leased to the Preservation Society of Newport County for the nominal sum of $1 per year, and it was opened to the public for tours. The family continued to occupy the third floor of the house, but in 1972 Sylvia sold the property to the Preservation Society for $365,000, with the stipulation that she be allowed to use the third floor apartment for the rest of her life.

Today, the grounds look very different compared to their appearance over 120 years ago. However, the garden on the south parterre was replanted at some point after the Preservation Society acquired the property, and it now features a symmetrical design similar to what Bowditch had envisioned. In the meantime, the house itself has remained well-preserved on both the exterior and interior, and in 1994 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark. It is also the most popular tourist site in Rhode Island, drawing around 400,000 visitors each year.

The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island (2)

The Breakers in Newport, viewed from the southwest corner of the property, around 1895. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The scene in 2017:

As discussed in an earlier post, The Breakers is the grandest of all the Gilded Age mansions that were built in Newport in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The 70-room, 125,000-square-foot “cottage” was built between 1893 and 1895, and was the home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and his wife Alice. The Vanderbilts had purchased the property in 1885, which at the time included a smaller house that was also named The Breakers. This house burned down in 1892, and the Vanderbilts quickly commissioned noted architect Richard Morris Hunt to design its replacement.

The first photo shows The Breakers around the time of its completion. This is actually the side of the house, and it features a portico outside of the first floor music room. Directly above it is the rounded exterior wall of Alice Vanderbilt’s bedroom. At the time, mansions such as The Breakers were typically built with separate bedrooms for the husband and wife, and Cornelius’s was located directly to the left of hers, on the western corner of the house. On the left side of the house is the porte-cochère at the main entrance, and around the corner to the right is the terrace on the southeastern side of the house, which faces the ocean.

Cornelius Vanderbilt died in 1899, only a few years after The Breakers was completed, but Alice continued to own the property until her death in 1934 at the age of 89. She had not only outlived her husband and four of her seven children; she had also outlived the Gilded Age and the philosophy of conspicuous consumption that had led to the construction of The Breakers. The house, like many of the other mansion in Newport, had become an expensive white elephant, with astronomical operating costs from the property taxes, utilities, and the nearly 60 servants who were required to run the house.

Of Alice’s three surviving children, only her daughter Gladys had any interest in the property. She was the wife of Hungarian count László Széchenyi, and she inherited The Breakers after her mother’s death. She continued to own the house until her death in 1965, but starting in 1948 she leased it to the Preservation Society of Newport County, which opened it to the public for tours. Her daughter Sylvia would subsequently sell The Breakers to the organization in 1972, for $365,000, although she was allowed to retain a third-floor apartment for the rest of her life.

Sylvia died in 1998, but her children – the fourth generation to spend summers here in the house – were allowed to continue to use the third floor until early 2018, shortly after the second photo was taken. In the meantime, the first two floors have been open to the public for many years, drawing over 400,000 visitors annually. It is one of nine historic houses owned by the Preservation Society of Newport County, and in 1994 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark because of its historical and architectural significance.