Smith Charities Building, Northampton, Mass

The Smith Charities Building on Main Street in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

The building in 2018:

Smith Charities is perhaps one of the most unusual charitable organizations in the country, and its origins date back to the death of its benefactor, Oliver Smith, in 1845. Born in nearby Hatfield in 1766, Smith was a farmer who came from modest means, but over time he became one of the wealthiest men in the region. A sort of Scrooge-like figure, Oliver Smith was a lifelong bachelor who had a reputation of being a miser. He made a fortune by investing in land in Ohio, and maintained his wealth through frugal living, rarely spending money on himself or others. He did make several charitable contributions during his lifetime, but his most significant bequest came after his death, when he left his $370,000 estate to establish Smith Charities.

Under Oliver Smith’s will, his estate was to be administered by three trustees, who would be chosen by elected representatives from eight towns in Hampshire and Franklin Counties: Amherst, Deerfield, Greenfield, Hadley, Hatfield, Northampton, Whately, and Williamsburg. The will also specified how the money was to be used. Part of it was to be used to help the poor and needy of these eight towns, including paying for apprenticeships, providing marriage portions for young women, and supporting widows. Another portion of his estate was to be set aside to accumulate interest for 60 years and, upon maturity in 1905, was to be used to establish an agricultural school in Northampton. This school, now the Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, is still in existence, and still bears his name today.

Despite the public-mindedness of his bequests, his will did not meet with universal approval. The Springfield Republican questioned, “How much wiser and better could he have disposed of is money in his life time, for the benefit of others, and at the same time added to his own happiness,” while the Hampshire Gazette gave an even more pointed rebuke, arguing that someone cannot be truly benevolent if he waits until after his death to give away money. Others, reflecting the conservative New England work ethic inherited from their Puritan ancestors, were skeptical of such a charitable organization, fearing that it would encourage laziness among the poor.

Smith’s will was even less popular with his relatives, who, being thus disinherited, contested the will, claiming that one of the three required witnesses was not of sound mind. The resulting legal battle became a public spectacle, with each side retaining the services of high-profile attorneys. Former Massachusetts Senator Rufus Choate represented Smith’s relatives, while his successor in the Senate, Daniel Webster, represented the will’s executors, and the two argued the case in the old Hampshire County Courthouse at the corner of Main and King Streets. Webster ultimately prevailed, the will was upheld as valid, and Smith Charities was subsequently established.

In 1865, the organization built this two-story building on Main Street as its headquarters. It was designed by prolific Northampton architect William F. Pratt, and features an elaborate Italianate-style brownstone exterior. The second-story windows have since been replaced, but otherwise the building’s appearance has not changed much, and it still houses Smith Charities, which continues to provide support for people in the eight towns that Smith listed in his will.

Despite criticism from many of his contemporaries, Smith proved far-sighted in his plans, and the charity has given out millions of dollars since his death, far more than his initial bequest. His name lives on in both Smith Charities and Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, but not, as one may have assumed, in Smith College. The college is instead named for his niece, Sophia Smith,   who was the daughter of his brother Austin. Sophia had inherited a fortune from her father after his death in 1861, and she, perhaps following her uncle’s example, willed the money for charitable purposes, stipulating that it be used to establish a college for women.

Newport Casino, Newport, Rhode Island

The Newport Casino on Bellevue Avenue in Newport, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

 

One of Newport’s many architectural landmarks is the Newport Casino, which is located on Bellevue Avenue, just a little south of the present-day intersection of Memorial Boulevard. Its origins date back to 1879, when New York Herald publisher James Gordon Bennett, Jr., purchased the Stone Villa house on the west side of Bellevue Avenue, plus a vacant lot directly across the street where the Newport Casino would subsequently be built. Bennett had inherited a considerable fortune – including one of the nation’s leading newspapers – after his father’s death in 1872. Just 31 when his father died, the younger Bennett acquired a reputation as a flamboyant and eccentric member of New York society.

Bennett’s famously erratic behavior included an incident in New York in 1877, when he urinated in the fireplace during a party at his fiancée’s house. The resulting outrage ended their engagement and also resulted in a duel between Bennett and his would-be brother-in-law, although neither man was injured. Another oft-repeated – though probably apocryphal – incident happened in Newport in 1879 when, according to the tale, Bennett dared a friend to ride his horse onto the porch of the Newport Reading Room, an exclusive social club for the city’s elite. Supposedly, the friend lost his membership, and Bennett was said to have resigned his membership in protest before establishing the Newport Casino as a social club of his own.

Whether or not the story is entirely true, it speaks to Bennett’s reputation for impulsive behavior, and either way he soon began work on building the Newport Casino on the vacant lot opposite his Bellevue Avenue mansion. For the designs, he hired McKim, Mead & White, a newly-established architectural firm whose subsequent meteoric rise to prominence would be due in no small part to their work here on the Newport Casino. The result was an architectural masterpiece, which was built in 1880 as one of the first significant Shingle-style buildings. McKim, Mead & White helped to pioneer this distinctly American style of architecture, which would go on to become predominant in New England coastal resort communities in the late 19th century.

In 19th century terminology, a casino was not specifically a place for gambling, but instead referred more broadly to a social and recreational facility. At the time of the casino’s opening in the summer of Newport, the city had already been well-established as the premier summer resort for New York millionaires, and the casino quickly became its social center. The building offered a wide variety of amenities, including stores along the Bellevue Avenue facade, plus a restaurant, a ballroom, a theater, and tennis courts. Unlike the elite Reading Room, it was also less exclusive, with both the wealthy members and the general public able to enjoy the facilities.

The casino would go on to play an important role in the early history of tennis. Originally referred to as lawn tennis, so as to distinguish it from the earlier game of court tennis, the sport came to America in the 1870s and was played under a variety of rules until 1881, when the United States National Lawn Tennis Association – today’s United States Tennis Association – was established to standardize the rules of the sport. Given its reputation as an affluent summer resort, Newport was chosen as the site of the association’s first championships in 1881, with the newly-built Newport Casino serving as the site for both the men’s singles and men’s doubles championships.

The men’s doubles championships would be played here at the Newport Casino for the rest of the 1880s, and the men’s singles championships through 1914. During this time, the sport was dominated by Richard Dudley Sears, a Boston native and Harvard student who won the first seven singles championships from 1881 to 1887, plus the doubles championships from 1882 to 1887, before retiring from the sport at the age of 26. In later years, other prominent winners here included Oliver S. Campbell and Malcolm D. Whitman, who each one three singles titles, and William Larned, who won in 1901, 1902, and from 1907-1911.

In 1915, the tennis championships were moved to the West Side Tennis Club in the Forest Hill neighborhood of Queens, which was more conveniently located and could accommodate more spectators. The Newport Casino continued to be used for other tennis events over the years, but both the building and the city entered a decline in the first half of the 20th century, as Newport began to fall out of fashion as a summer resort. Many of the Gilded Age mansions were demolished in the middle of the century, including James Gordon Bennett’s house across the street from here. Demolished in 1957, the site of his Stone Villa is now a shopping plaza, and a similar fate nearly befell the Newport Casino, which had been threatened with demolition a few years earlier.

The Newport Casino was ultimately preserved, though, thanks to the efforts of Jimmy Van Alen, a Newport native and former court tennis champion who established the International Tennis Hall of Fame here in 1954. Since then, the building has remained well-preserved, with hardly any changes in this scene since the first photo was taken. The Hall of Fame is still here, along with indoor and outdoor tennis courts, plus one of the country’s few remaining courts for court tennis. Along Bellevue Avenue, the building’s first floor houses upscale retail shops and a restaurant, and it forms part of a continuous row of historic buildings that extends the entire block from Memorial Boulevard to Casino Terrace. Because of its level of preservation, its architectural significance, and its role in the early history of tennis, the building was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

Veranus Casino, Chicopee, Mass

The Veranus Casino, at the southwest corner of Springfield Street and Casino Avenue in Chicopee, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

This section of Chicopee was developed in the late 19th century by Frank E. Tuttle and James L. Humphrey, who had purchased 50 acres of land between Springfield and Hampden Streets, just to the south of the center of Chicopee. The development was named Veranus, in honor of Veranus Chapin, who had once owned a farm here, and the centerpiece of this new neighborhood was the Veranus Casino, which was located here at the corner of Springfield Street and Casino Avenue.

The Queen Anne-style casino building was completed in the early 1890s, right around the time that the first photo was taken. It was operated by the Veranus Casino Company, with Frank E. Tuttle as vice president and his father-in-law, George M. Stearns, as president. Unlike the modern sense of the word, a late 19th century “casino” did not generally involve gambling, and the term was instead used for places that offered a variety of recreational activities. As described in the Boston Daily Globe after the company was established in 1890, the casino would be used for “social, literary, artistic, and educational purposes,” and upon completion the building would include a 400-seat auditorium.

The book Picturesque Hampden, published in 1892, includes a lengthy account of the Veranus neighborhood, and describes the casino as “a combination of theater and clubhouse, pleasantly located on Springfield street. It is tastefully and substantially built, in the modern style of architecture, from original designs by F. E. Tuttle, which were perfected by architect F. R. Richmond of Springfield.” The book then describes the interior of the building:

The clubrooms are located in the front portion of the building. They consist of handsome and roomy parlors, one each on the two first floors, both being connected with the kitchen in the basement by a dumb-waiter; a ladies’ dressing-room on the second floor; a gentlemen’s smoking-room and a billiard-room on the third. All of these rooms are attractively finished and adorned with rich and tasteful furniture, in which comfort is the evident consideration, instead of magnificence and costliness. The clubrooms are open to members every day in the year, from 10 a. m. to 10 p. m., and are in charge of a gentleman and lady who reside in the building. On Wednesday evening of each week, special receptions are held here by the club families and their children, and on Sunday evenings they all gather here to sing sacred songs, a piano and psalm books being provided. Harmless amusements are also to be found in the rooms at all times, and light refreshments are served therein to all members and their immediate friends who may desire.

Despite such fanfare, though, the Veranus Casino lasted for barely two decades. In 1913, the same year that Frank Tuttle died, the casino was sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, and the property appears to have subsequently become part of Elms College, which is located across the street from here. The fate of the building seems unclear, although according to the city assessor’s office the current house on the site was built in 1926. If accurate, this would suggest that the casino was probably demolished around this time.

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.