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.

Red Men’s Wigwam, Springfield, Mass

The Improved Order of Red Men building at the corner of Main and Stockbridge Streets in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892)

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The scene in 2015:

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The caption from Picturesque Hampden does not provide any additional details beyond “Red Men’s Wigwam,” but this was evidently a lodge for the Improved Order of Red Men, a nationwide fraternal organization that was particularly popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The group had a structure and rituals similar to Freemasons and other similar societies, but used a number of pseudo-Native American rituals and terminology, including calling their local chapters “tribes,” which met in “wigwams” such as this one here in Springfield. However, at the time, the Improved Order of Red Men was only open to white men, an irony that was probably lost on most of its membership.

The organization still exists today, although in much smaller numbers than a century ago, but the building that once stood here is long gone. It was demolished by about 1902, when the present-day Colonial Block was built here. In 1905, the building was expanded to the right, where the old colonial-era George Bliss, Sr. house once stood. When the first photo was taken, the house was owned by McGregory & Casman Marble Works, which explains the many gravestones in front of it.

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.

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The museum in 2015:

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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.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2)

Another view of the Museum of Fine Arts, taken around 1909-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The view in 2015:

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It’s hard to tell, but the Museum of Fine Arts is still there; it is just mostly hidden by the trees in the median of Huntington Avenue. As mentioned in the previous post, this was the second home of the museum, after it outgrew its first permanent building at Copley Square.  Since it opened in 1909, this building has steadily been expanded, with the most recent addition opening in 2010.  From this angle, though, not much has changed.  Even the trolley tracks in the foreground are still there; most of Boston’s trolley lines were replaced with buses in the mid 1900s, but Huntington Avenue’s line is now the E Branch of the MBTA Green Line