Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

Fenway Court, which later became the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, around 1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

777_1904c loc

The museum in 2015:

777_2015
In the late 1800s, Boston resident Isabella Stewart Gardner began acquiring a substantial art collection. Her husband, Jack Gardner, was a wealthy merchant, and the two began planning a museum to house their rapidly growing collection. He died in 1898, before any real work could be done, but Isabella soon began creating the museum, which she had built in the city’s Fenway neighborhood.  At the time, this area was recently-filled marshland with very little development, and the museum would be the first building in this section of Fenway.

By 1900, the construction was underway, with Willard T. Sears as the architect.  Sears’s most notable work was probably the New Old South Church, although architecturally speaking the museum probably could not have been more different.  While the church is an excellent example of Gothic Revival architecture, the museum was built in the style of a Venetian palace, with a red tile roof, tan brick walls, and a glass-enclosed courtyard in the center of the building.

The museum, which was originally named Fenway Court, opened in 1903, probably not long before the first photo was taken.  Isabella Stewart Gardner died in 1924, and the museum was subsequently named for her.  In her will, she left a $1 million endowment to the museum, along with instructions on how the museum was to be run.  These included significant stipulations about the collection not being substantially altered, but in keeping with her somewhat eccentric personality it also included items such as free admission for anyone named Isabella and discounted admission for anyone wearing Red Sox attire (to this day, Red Sox paraphernalia entitles visitors to a $2 discount off admission).

Today, the Gardner Museum is less than a quarter mile away from the much larger Museum of Fine Arts, which relocated there in 1909, only six years after the Gardner Museum opened.  Both museums have significant collections of prominent works, but but unfortunately the Gardner Museum is perhaps best known for what it doesn’t have in its collection.  In 1990, the museum was the scene of the most expensive art theft in history, when two men entered the building disguised as Boston police officers and stole 13 works, including The Concert by Vermeet and The Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt, along with other works by Rembrandt, Degas, Manet, and Flinck.  Together, the stolen items had an estimated value of $500 million, and despite over 25 years of investigation and a $5 million reward, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have been unable to recover the paintings.

Aside from the stolen paintings, though, the most significant change to the museum has been the addition of a new wing, which was completed in 2012.  It is barely visible on the far left beyond the trees, about 50 feet west of the original building, and it was intentionally designed to expand the size of the museum while at the same time preserving its historical integrity.  Otherwise, not much has changed between the two photos, except for the giant inflatable medallion hanging from the chimneys at the front of the building.

Arthur D. Ellis House, Monson, Mass

The Arthur D. Ellis House on Green Street in Monson, probably around 1900-1920. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

763_1890-1920c mfl

The scene in 2015:

763_2015
The house in the first photo was the home of Arthur D. Ellis, a prominent factory owner in Monson.  Arthur’s father Dwight W. Ellis opened a textile mill on Bliss Street in 1871, and six years later Arthur became a partner in the company.  He took over ownership after his father’s death in 1899, and the house in the first photo was probably built around the same time.  In 1908, Ellis built a brick factory just down the hill and across Main Street from here, within sight of the house.

Arthur died in 1916, and the house remained in the Ellis family until it burned in the 1930s.  Following the fire, the present house was completed in 1939.  Although it is very different architecturally from the original house, there are some features left.  As seen in the second photo, the retaining wall and granite posts are still there, and just outside of the camera frame to the right is the original carriage house, which matches the architectural style of the old house.

The under the leadership of Arthur’s son Dwight, the company continued to be successful, supplying cloth to several different foreign royal families and producing the upholstery for the White House’s cars.  However, the company entered into decline in the 1950s, and in 1961 Dwight committed suicide.  A year later, the company went out of business.

The old wooden mill that the first Dwight Ellis built in 1871 remained vacant until it was demolished in 2000, and Arthur’s brick mill has gone through several ownership changes but is still standing on Main Street.  Arthur’s grandson, also named Dwight, sold the house in 1962 to E. Russell Sprague, who served as the president of Tambrands, Inc. from 1976 to 1981, and as the company’s chairman from 1981 to 1987.  Today, the house is operated as the Lord Manor bed & breakfast.

Main Street, Monson, Mass

Looking north on Main Street from near State Street in Monson, around 1890-1910. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

762_1890-1910c mfl

Main Street in 2015:

762_2015
This section of Main Street was once known as “Millionaires’ Mile,” and it featured a number of elegant 19th century homes that were owned by prominent factory owners and other businessmen in Monson.  In previous posts I highlighted two neighboring homes that belonged to the Norcross family and Cushman family, and this photo was taken just north of them, in front of Cushman Hall.

Many of the homes from the first photo are still standing today, despite over a century of change and a devastating tornado that passed directly through this scene in 2011.  The trees hide some of the houses in the first photo, but nearly all of them from the foreground to the crest of the hill are nearly identical Greek Revival homes that date back to around the 1840s.  This style was particularly popular in industrialized New England cities like Hartford, New Haven, and New Bedford, but it can also be seen here in Monson, where similar industrial growth was occurring on a smaller scale.

The two houses on the far left, which are painted white and yellow in the 2015 photo, are essentially identical, and they were both built in 1842.  The one on the left was the home of Rufus and Sarah Fay, and the yellow one to the right was the home of Charles and Mary Ann Merrick.  Aside from being family, though, the two men were also business partners; they owned a straw hat factory across the street, where the Monson Town Offices are today.  Together they, and later their children, ran Merrick & Fay for over 50 years, and the company was a major employer in the town.  Their sons sold the company in 1891, and the factory burned down in 1912, but their twin houses are still standing on Main Street.

Other wealthy 19th century residents of this section of Main Street included Edward Cushman, who lived in the house on the far right.  He left it to the town in his will, and today it is the Monson Senior Center.  Further up the hill, the Victorian mansion just to the left of center was the home of Cyrus W. Holmes, a factory owner who lived in the Victorian mansion seen on the hill just to the left of center.

In more than 100 years since the first photo was taken, Main Street has seen many changes.  A trolley line was added and later removed, the road was paved, automobiles replaced both the horse-drawn carriages and the trolleys, and the 1938 hurricane destroyed most of the elms that once lined both sides of the street.   The street is no longer filled with millionaire businessmen either, but their former homes help contribute to the character of downtown Monson and serve as a reminder of the town’s industrial history.

Joel Norcross House, Monson, Mass

The Joel Norcross House on Main Street in Monson, probably around 1900-1920. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

761_1890-1920c mfl

The building in 2015:

761_2015
This house was built in the early 1830s, and aside from its architectural significance as an excellent example of Greek Revival style, it is also notable as the home of Joel Norcross, the maternal grandfather of poet Emily Dickinson.  The Norcross family was prominent in Monson’s early history; Joel’s father William built a large home and tavern on nearby Cushman Street in the late 18th century, and Joel himself became a successful farmer and merchant.  He married Betsey Fay in 1798, and the couple had nine children, including Emily Norcross, the mother of Emily Dickinson.

Betsey died in 1829, and at some point after that (one source says 1830, another says 1835) Joel had this house built.  He remarried in 1831 to Sarah Vaill, just a few weeks after Emily Dickinson’s birth.  Sarah became a grandmother figure to Emily, who undoubtedly visited them in this house during her childhood.  Joel died in 1846 and Sarah in 1854, and the house went to Joel’s son Alfred.  After Alfred’s death in 1888, his son Arthur D. Norcross inherited it.  Arthur attended Monson Academy, and in 1871 he was one of the 27 students in the first graduating class at the Massachusetts Agricultural College, which would later become UMass Amherst.  Like the three generations before him, he was a prominent Monson citizen, and he served on the water commission, the school committee, the board of selectmen, and a number of other town offices.  He also represented the town in the state House of Representatives from 1904 to 1906, and the state Senate in 1908 and 1909.

Arthur’s son, Arthur, Jr., was born in Monson 1895, probably in this house, but he spent most of his life in New York City, where he founded the Norcross Greeting Card Company in the 1920s.  He did, however, continue to play a role in the town, and in 1939 he established the Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary in Monson and the neighboring town of Wales.  When he died in 1969, he left much of his estate to the Norcross Wildlife Foundation for the continued operation of the sanctuary, which now consists of around 8,000 acres in Monson and Wales.

The old Norcross house, meanwhile, is still standing on Main Street, and it is one of the few surviving examples of a columned Greek Revival home in Monson.  A similar neighbor, which was probably built around the same time, was the Solomon F. Cushman, Jr. House, located just to the right of here.  It was demolished sometime in the mid 20th century, and it is now a shopping plaza.  As seen in the second photo, the Norcross House now has a jewelry store (on a personal note, I bought my wife’s engagement ring here), along with several other commercial tenants.  Thankfully, its exterior has been well-preserved, and despite the change in use, it still looks the same as it did during Emily Dickinson’s visits over 160 years ago.

Downtown Monson, Mass

Looking north on Main Street in Monson from near Lincoln Street, in 1860. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

759_1860 mfl

The scene in 2015:

759_2015
The first photograph is among the earliest known images of Monson, and it shows a town in transition.  Founded 100 years earlier, Monson’s development had been largely limited by geography.  The town center, seen here, is located in a narrow valley with steep hills on either side, making large-scale farming impractical and transportation difficult.  However, 10 years before the first photo was taken, a railroad was built through the town, just out of view to the left.  This helped to spur industrial development, and in the second half of the 19th century the town’s population and economy grew thanks to a granite quarry, along with factories that produced textiles and hats.

When the 1860 photo was taken, this section of Main Street was still mostly residential, but by the end of the century many of these homes would be demolished and replaced with commercial buildings, especially the older homes in the foreground.  Other late 19th century changes included several new churches.  The old meeting house, whose steeple can be seen in the distance to the left, was replaced by a larger church in 1873, and in 1889 the Universalist church was built at the corner of Main and Lincoln Streets; it can be seen to the left in the 2015 photo, partially hidden by the tree in the foreground.

Despite all of the changes over more than 150 years, there are several buildings from the first scene that are still standing today.  The most obvious is the Methodist church, which was built in 1850 at the corner of Main and Cushman Streets.  Today, aside from a new steeple, it still looks essentially the same as it did in the 1860 photo.  Further up Main Street, many early 19th century houses are still standing today, but only a couple are readily identifiable in the 1860 photo.  The fourth house on the left is now the Unitarian-Universalist church parsonage, and it is located just beyond the present-day church and out of view from here.  Beyond it on the far left is the Joel Norcross House, which had been built around 30 years earlier by Emily Dickinson’s grandfather.  It is also hidden from view in the 2015 scene, but it is still standing and has since been converted into business and office space.

Solomon F. Cushman, Jr. House, Monson, Mass

The home of Solomon F. Cushman, Jr., on Main Street in Monson, probably around 1900-1920. Image courtesy of the Monson Free Library.

758_1890-1920c mfl

The site of the house in 2015:

758_2015

This Greek Revival style house was once the home of Solomon Cushman, Jr., the son of one of Monson’s prominent industrial leaders of the 19th century. His father, Solomon Cushman, Sr., was born in 1826 in Monson, Maine, a small town in central Maine.  After working in farms and lumberyards near his hometown, he became a store clerk, and later moved to Palmer, and then to Monson, Massachusetts, where he became a bookkeeper for the Monson Woolen Manufacturing Company, a textile company with a factory on present-day Cushman Street.

Cushman eventually became the owner of the company, and renamed it S.F. Cushman & Sons in 1878.  The Cushmans grew the company, purchasing a branch factory in 1883 at the corner of Maple and Elm Streets, and rebuilding the main factory on Cushman Street after a fire in 1886.  Solomon, Jr. was born in 1861, and he graduated from Monson Academy in 1880 and from MIT in 1882.  He also attended the Lowell School of Design, and later returned to Monson, where he was put in charge of the branch mill.  When the elder Cushman died in 1900, his five sons took over the company, but they soon began selling it.  The branch mill was sold in 1901, and the main factory operated under the Cushman name until 1912, when it was sold to a hat company.  The building has since been abandoned for many years, but it is still standing on Cushman Street over 125 years after the Cushmans opened it.

The house in the first photo was purchased by Solomon, Jr. sometime between about 1884 and 1894, but the house was much older than that.  Architecturally, it is very similar to the nearby Joel Norcross House, which was built in 1830 and is still standing today.  This house was probably built around the same time, and according to the 1857 county atlas, it was owned by Horatio Lyon, one of the owners of the Monson Woolen Manufacturing Company who first employed Cushman, Sr.  It was later the home of yet another factory owner, Cyrus W. Holmes, who lived here until his much more elegant Holmbrook mansion was completed just up the hill from here around 1870.

Several of the Cushman brothers lived nearby, including the oldest sibling, Edward, whose house on Main Street is now the Monson Senior Center.  I don’t know how long Solomon, Jr. lived here in this house, but he died in 1932 at the age of 70, and the house has obviously since been demolished.  Today, the former Cushman property is a shopping plaza with the Adams supermarket, a Rite Aid drugstore, and several smaller businesses.