Isaac Brewer House, Wilbraham Mass

The Isaac Brewer House on Main Street in Wilbraham in 1898. Image courtesy of the Wilbraham Public Library.

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The house in 2015:


The Isaac Brewer House is one of the oldest existing buildings in Wilbraham; it dates to about 1748, and was originally the home of Isaac Brewer, a prominent early settler of what is today the town of Wilbraham.  Present-day Wilbraham was settled beginning in the 1730s, and at the time it was part of Springfield.  Known as the Outward Commons, this area was on the extreme eastern edge of Springfield’s borders, which once stretched as far as Wilbraham to the east and Westfield to the west.  Isaac Brewer was the son of Daniel Brewer, who served as the pastor of the church in Springfield from 1694 to 1733.  Following Reverend Brewer’s death in 1733, a dispute arose in Springfield regarding his replacement, Robert Breck, whose views were considered unorthodox to the more conservative Calvinists in Springfield.  This was perhaps a factor in Isaac Brewer’s decision to move to Wilbraham around the same time that Breck became the pastor, and in 1741 he was one of the eight original members of the newly-created Wilbraham church.

The house remained in the Brewer family for 150 years, until it was sold in 1898 to merchant Frank Gurney, the owner of Gurney’s Store just a short distance away (his home is almost visible on the far right of the 1904 photo in that post). The first photo must’ve been taken either right before or right after he moved in; perhaps his family is the one photographed in the front yard.  Like the historic photo in this post, I suspect that this photo may have been taken by the Howes Brothers, photographers from Ashfield Massachusetts who traveled around New England during the late 1890s and early 1900s, often photographing people in front of their homes.

Sometime soon after Gurney moved in, he made some alterations that are apparent in the present-day scene, including the front porch, second story bay window, and the altered windows on the first floor.  By the 1950s, the Gurneys were no longer living here, and the house was divided into a two-family residence.  However, overall the building remains in good condition, and aside from Gurney’s alterations it is still recognizable as a historic colonial-era house.

Rev. Charles Noble House, Wilbraham Mass

The Rev. Charles Noble House on Faculty Street in Wilbraham, probably around 1900. Image courtesy of the Wilbraham Public Library.

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The house in 2015:


I don’t know who the photographer was for the first photo, but it looks similar to photographs that the Howes Brothers were making during this time period.  They would travel around New England, often photographing people in front of their homes as opposed to just in a studio, so it is entirely possible that this is one such work of theirs.  The house was probably built around 1850, and at one point was home to Charles Noble, a Methodist minister who was affiliated with Wesleyan Academy across the street (today Wilbraham & Monson Academy).  The house was later owned by his daughter Lucretia Noble, and she could very well be the woman standing at the front gate in the first photo.  Today, the house has lost much of its Victorian-era detail, but it is still easily recognizable as the same house, and it is part of the Academy Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Main Street, Wilbraham Mass

Looking north on Main Street from Faculty Street in Wilbraham, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Wilbraham Public Library.

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Main Street in 2015:


These photos show Main Street where it passes through the Wilbraham & Monson Academy.  The houses on the left-hand side of the road can also be seen in the photos in this post; those photos were taken from the field on the far right in this view.  At the time that the first photo was taken, the academy was called Wesleyan Academy; it was later called Wilbraham Academy, and in 1971 it merged with Monson Academy, giving the school its current name.  Today, other than having a paved road and fewer trees, not much has changed in this scene, and the area is part of the Academy Historic District, a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Springfield Street, Wilbraham Mass

Looking west on Springfield Street from Main Street in Wilbraham, around 1903.  Courtesy of the Wilbraham Public Library.

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Springfield Street in 2015:


Here in New England, we just finished up a snowy winter, so the 1903 scene here is hardly an unfamiliar sight.  However, in many ways snowstorms like this one were actually less of an inconvenience than they are today.  Today, a major snowstorm means traffic is limited until the roads can be plowed, salted, and sanded, but in the days before automobiles deep snow just meant hitching up the horses to the sleigh instead of the wagon.  Given the poor condition of roads, particularly in New England, this would often be an improvement, since sleigh runners on snow offer a lot less friction than cart wheels on muddy, bumpy roads.

Interestingly, my great-great-great-grandmother lived on this road, a few houses down from the intersection on the left (not visible in these photos), and she died in 1895, less than 10 years before this photo was taken.  Since then, the road really hasn’t changed a whole lot – there are a few newer houses, a sidewalk, and a paved road, but otherwise it retains its small town, residential appearance over 110 years later.

John Hooker House, Springfield Mass

The Railroad House, formerly the home of Judge John Hooker, on Railroad Row in Springfield around 1893. Photo from Sketches of the Old Inhabitants and Other Citizens of Old Springfield (1893).

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The location in 2015:


This building was originally located on Main Street opposite Lyman Street, and was owned by John Hooker, a lawyer who served as a town selectman, probate judge, and bank president in the early 1800s.  He died in 1829, and ten years later the railroad came to Springfield.  The property was right next to the railroad station, so several local businessmen had the foresight to buy the property and build a hotel, the Massasoit House.  This proved to be a successful plan, but rather than demolishing the old building, it was moved around the corner onto Railroad Row, or what is today called Gridiron Street.  At some point, a third story was added, and the building was used as a hotel and boarding house, operating under several names, including Greundler’s Hotel, Germania Hotel, and the Railroad House.  It was probably not one of Springfield’s higher-end hotels, but it likely offered affordable rates to middle-class travelers, and was conveniently located just across the street from the old railroad station.  I don’t know what became of the building, other than that it clearly no longer exists – its location on Gridiron Street is now a parking lot behind the Paramount Theater.

Timothy Merrick House, Wilbraham Mass

The Timothy Merrick House on Main Street in Wilbraham, probably sometime in the late 1800s. Photo courtesy of the Wilbraham Public Library.

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The same location in 2015:



Massachusetts is home to only two species of venomous snakes: the timber rattlesnake and the northern copperhead.  Both are exceedingly rare in the state, but they must have been more common in Wilbraham in the past, as they make several appearances into town lore. This house was built around 1761 for Timothy Merrick, the only son of my 6th great grandfather, Thomas Merrick.  Merrick was engaged to Sarah Lamb, and they were to live in this house after their marriage.  However, according to the records of the town clerk, Samuel Warner (who was also my 6th great grandfather, from a different branch of the family):

Timothy, son of Thomas Mirick and Mary Mirick, was Bit By a Ratel Snake one Aug. the 7th, 1761, and Dyed within about two or three ours he being twenty two years two months and three Days old and vary near the point of marridge.

Merrick’s death is believed to be the last recorded fatal snake bite in Massachusetts history, but even if not it is certainly the most famous.  Because of the tragic nature of the story, this event formed the basis for one of the earliest American ballads, “On Springfield Mountain.”  It was written in the late 1700s or early 1800s, and there are many different versions of this song, some of which include a number of embellishments beyond what Warner wrote in the town records.  One such version, recorded in the 1964 History of Wilbraham book, is asserted to be the original Merrick family version:

On Springfield Mountain there did dwell
A likely youth was known full well
Lieutenant Mirick’s only son
A likely youth nigh twenty one

One Friday morning he did go
Into the medow for to mow
A round or two and he did feel
A pisin sarpent at his heel

When he received his deadly wound
he dropt his sithe apon the ground
And strate for home was his intent
calling aloude still as he went

O Molly Molly Molly dear
come see this pesky sarpent here
Tho all around his voice was heered
none of his friends to him apiered

So soon his carful father went
to seek his son with discontent
And there his onley son he found
ded as a stone apon the ground

His father vieude his track with consarn
where he had rund across the corn
Uneven tracks where he did go
appeared to stagger to and fro

And there he lay suppose to rest
with both his hands acrost his brest
His mouth and eyes were closed fast
and there poor man he slept his last

The seventh of August sixty one
this fatal axsident was done
let this a warning be to all
to be prepared when God doth call.

Today, as seen in the second photo, Timothy Merrick’s house is gone; it burned in 1955 was was replaced soon after with a modern house.  The location of the snake bite has not been conclusively identified, but it was across Main Street and a little to the south of the house, which would place it right along the present-day Hampden-Wilbraham border.  This area is now a suburban residential development, and the History of Wilbraham book places the location at around the spot where Oakland Street crosses a small stream.  Although both the house and the farmland that Merrick was once mowing are now gone, there are still a few reminders around town.  Behind the location of the Merrick house is the Pesky Sarpent Conservation Area, and further up the hill is a rocky outcropping called Rattlesnake Peak.  Timothy Merrick’s gravestone can also still be seen, in the Adams Cemetery on Tinkham Road.  There is no direct mention of the rattlesnake on the stone, but the epitaph, taken from Job 14:2, seems appropriate for the sudden, tragic death of a young man: “He cometh forth like a flower and is cut down.  He fleeth also as a Shadow and continueth not.”