Boston Art Club, Boston

The Boston Art Club building at the corner of Dartmouth and Newbury Street in Boston, around 1882. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The building in 2017:


The Boston Art club was founded in 1855 by local artists, as a way of exhibiting and promoting their work. The organization met in a variety of locations throughout much of the 19th century, but by the early 1880s the Art Club had expanded to nearly 600 members, and there was a need for a new building. Like many of the city’s other cultural institutions, they moved to the recently-developed Back Bay, where they hired architect William Ralph Emerson to design a new building here at the corner of Newbury and Dartmouth Streets. It was an ideal spot for an art club, since it was just a block away from Art Square. Later renamed for Boston artist John Singleton Copley, this square has long been the main focal point of the Back Bay neighborhood, and it was the home of the Museum of Fine Arts from 1876 until 1909.

Upon completion of this building in 1882, membership in the Boston Art Club continued to grow, and the exhibitions that were held here were major events, attracting many of the nation’s leading artists. However, non-artist members began to vastly outnumber actual artists, which led to the organization becoming more of a social club, with conservative members who were reluctant to embrace modernism and other new art styles in the early 20th century. They continued to hold exhibitions for many years, and even allowed women to join as members in 1933, but the club would never reach the level of prominence that it had enjoyed in the late 1800s. The building was finally sold in 1950, and it is now a public school, the The Muriel Sutherland Snowden International School at Copley.

Home for Friendless Women, Springfield, Mass

The building at 136 William Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The building in 2017:

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Springfield was experiencing rapid growth in the 1860s. The Civil War had drawn many to work in the Armory and other factories that contributed to the war effort, and the city grew by 45 percent between 1860 and 1865. With an expanding population came more social problems, though, and in 1865 the Home for Friendless Women was established to provide temporary housing and services for needy women and children. Among the founders, and the organization’s first president, was Rachel Merriam, the wife of dictionary publisher Charles Merriam.

The original building was located on Union Street, directly behind the Merriams’ house on Howard Street. Among those who found shelter here were girls and women fleeing physical and sexual abuse, as well as “fallen women,” a Victorian euphemism for prostitutes. Despite its somewhat bleak-sounding name, the Home for Friendless Women provided much-needed services at a time when such assistance from the government was essentially unheard of, and it was the first charity of its type in the region.

By the late 1880s, the old Union Street building had become too small to meet the growing needs of the organization. After Charles Merriam’s death in 1887, Rachel donated her house on Howard Street. This became the new facility for a few years, but there was still a need for a new building, so in 1897 they opened a new building on William Street, which is seen here. Its design reflects the Colonial Revival style, which was coming into popularity at the end of the 19th century, and it was the work of local architects Benjamin R. Bushey and Guy Kirkham.

Over the years, the building provided shelter for women in a variety of situations. Census records during this time give an interesting snapshot of who was living here, and in 1900 there were ten residents, which included four elderly widows, four single girls in their teens or early twenties, and two young children. Ten years later, in 1910, there were 13 residents, most of whom were elderly and/or widowed. There was also a 36 year old single woman and her infant daughter, plus two teenaged girls and, rather curiously, a 13-year-old boy who does not appear to have been related to anyone else at the home. By the 1920s, it became known as the Home for Girls, and focused exclusively on serving unwed mothers and expectant mothers.

This facility was still in use when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, although overcrowding led the organization to move elsewhere in 1940. By this point, the South End had become largely Italian, and the building became the lodge for the Sons of Italy, an Italian-American fraternal organization. Although they no longer use the building, it is still standing, with few exterior changes, and it is an excellent example of institutional Colonial Revival architecture in the city. As for the Home for Friendless Women, the organization is now known as the Children’s Study Home, and continues to serve Springfield more than 150 years after Rachel Merriam helped to establish it.

Country Club, Pittsfield, Mass

The Country Club of Pittsfield, on South Street, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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The Country Club of Pittsfield was established on this site on South Street in 1900, but the building that became the clubhouse actually dates back more than a century earlier. It was built in 1785 by Henry Van Schaack, who lived here until 1807. During this time, he entertained visitors such as Alexander Hamilton, Chief Justice John Jay, and Senator Philip Schuyler. From 1816 to 1837, it was the home of author Herman Melville’s uncle, Thomas Melville.By this point, Pittsfield was becoming a popular destination for some of the great writers of the era, and Thomas’s son Robert took advantage of this. He purchased the house from his father in 1837 and opened Melville Hall, a resort whose guests included literary figures such as Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

In 1850, the house was sold to the Morewood family, who renamed it Broad Hall and lived here for the next 50 years. Prominent guests continued to visit here during this time, including former president John Tyler. After the Morewoods sold the property to the country club in 1900, the house very nearly hosted another president. Theodore Roosevelt was in Pittsfield on September 3, 1902, and was traveling in a horse-drawn carriage on South Street, heading for the country club. With him was governor Winthrop M. Crane, along with several others. Shortly before reaching the country club, the carriage was hit by a speeding trolley, throwing the occupants out of the carriage. Roosevelt suffered a bloody lip and bruised face, and was reportedly only two inches away from being crushed by the wheels of the trolley, but was otherwise unhurt, and later remarked that “It takes more than a trolley accident to knock me out.” However, Secret Service agent William Craig was killed in the accident, making him the first agent to be killed in the line of duty.

Today, the country club is still located on this property, although the clubhouse has significantly expanded from its original 18th century building. The historic structure is still easily distinguished from the modern additions, though. It still has its distinct Federal architecture, and aside from its connection to so many historic figures, it also serves as a rare example of an 18th century mansion in Pittsfield.

Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut (2)

Another view of the Wadsworth Atheneum on Main Street in Hartford, around 1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2016:

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As mentioned in the previous post, the Wadsworth Atheneum is the oldest public art museum in the country. It dates back to 1844, when this building first opened, and although it has been significantly modified over nearly 175 years, the original Gothic Revival facade remains as a prominent landmark along Main Street. Among the museum’s artwork is an extensive collection of paintings by artists of the Hudson River School, a movement that was popular in the first half of the 19th century. The museum’s benefactor, Daniel Wadsworth, was a patron of Thomas Cole, one of the leading artists of this era, and many of Cole’s works are now part of the museum’s collection.

Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut (1)

The Wadsworth Atheneum on Main Street in Hartford, around 1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2016:

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The Wadsworth Atheneum is an art museum that has been located in Hartford since this building opened in 1844. At a time when most art collections were found within the homes of the wealthy, the Wadsworth was one of the first public art museums in the country. Its Gothic Revival building was designed by architect Ithiel Town, a Connecticut native who designed a number of prominent buildings, including the state capitols of Connecticut, Indiana, and North Carolina.

The museum was funded by the prominent Wadsworth family and built on the site of Daniel Wadsworth’s home on Main Street, diagonally opposite from the First Church. Over the years, additional benefactors such as Elizabeth Jarvis Colt and J.P. Morgan have expanded the museum’s collections, and along with it the building itself has grown, with additions to the back and on the right side. It remains in operation today as the nation’s oldest public art museum, and the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Elks Lodge, Hartford, Connecticut

The B.P.O. Elks Lodge on Prospect Street in Hartford, around 1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The building in 2016:

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Hartford’s Elks Lodge was built here in 1903, and over the years very little has changed on either the exterior or interior. The Neoclassical building is made of yellow brick, a popular building material at the turn of the century, and on the inside it is finished with oak and mahogany. It has two stories, with assembly rooms on the first floor and the octagonal lodge room on the second floor, on the other side of the arched windows seen here. The neighboring buildings have grown up around it during the past century, but the historic building remains, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.