Park Street School, Holyoke, Mass

The Park Street School at the corner of Park and Hamilton Streets in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

The caption in Picturesque Hampden identifies this as the Hamilton Street School, but it is actually the Park Street School, which is located just across the street from where the Hamilton Street School once stood. It is perhaps the oldest surviving school building in the city, and dates back to 1868 when it opened as a public school. Like many other buildings of this period, it had Italianate architecture, and it featured a symmetrical front facade with a tower in the center. Just beyond the school, on the left side of the first photo, was the Precious Blood Church, a High Victorian Gothic-style French Catholic church that was completed in 1878.

In 1875, the Park Street School played a grisly role in one of the deadliest, yet also one of the least-known disasters in Massachusetts history. At the time, the Precious Blood Church was under construction, and the parishioners, largely French-Canadian immigrants, worshiped in a temporary wooden church, located behind the right side of the school at the corner of Cabot and South East Streets. The wooden church, built in just a month in December 1869, had a capacity of about 800, and included a large balcony that could seat about 400. On May 27, 1875, the church was filled with some 600 to 700 worshipers for an evening Corpus Christi mass, but toward the end of the service a lace curtain, blown by a stiff breeze through the open windows, touched a lighted candle and caught fire.

The fire on the curtain quickly spread to the wall, and within minutes the building was engulfed in flames. Those on the ground floor of the sanctuary had a fairly easy escape route, through any of the three front doors of the church. However, those in the balcony had only a narrow stairway that led down to the front entrances, where the crowds from the ground floor were also trying to escape. One of the doors eventually became blocked by people who had tripped over each other, and firemen worked desperately to free people from this pile in what little time they had. In particular, future fire chief John J. Lynch – namesake of the former John J. Lynch Middle School – was noted for his bravery in rescuing survivors, and thanks to the efforts of Lynch and other firemen, the death toll was not as high as it otherwise may have been.

Within just 20 minutes of the curtain brushing against the candle, both the church and the adjacent rectory were completely destroyed. The next step was to recover and identify the bodies of the victims, and the Park Street School was converted into a morgue. The bodies were laid out here in the basement by the following morning, and friends and family members of the victims arrived to identify their loved ones. Many of the bodies were burned beyond recognition, and were only able to be identified by clothing, shoes, jewelry, and other personal effects.

The total number of deaths in the fire has been variously listed as low as 74 and as high as 97, although the lower figure is probably closer to the true count. The language barrier likely contributed to some of the discrepancies, and in some cases spelling variations of the same name were apparently recorded as two different people. Either way, though, it ranks among the deadliest fires in the history of the state. By way of comparison, the Great Boston Fire of 1872, which occurred less than three years earlier, destroyed 776 buildings in densely-populated Boston, yet had a death toll of about 20 to 30, only about a third of that of the Precious Blood Church.

At the time of the fire, the new Precious Blood Church was already under construction, but work had not progressed much further than the basement. Nonetheless, two days after the fire a funeral mass was held for the victims, and about 2,500 people crowded into the still-unfinished basement, which had been hastily roofed with boards for the occasion. So many people in such a confined, makeshift space could have posed an even greater danger in the event of a fire, but the funeral passed without incident, and most of the bodies were subsequently interred in a mass grave in the Precious Blood Cemetery, located across the river in South Hadley.

Today, despite such a substantial loss of life, the Precious Blood Church fire has been largely forgotten, and here in the South Holyoke neighborhood there are few reminders of the tragedy. The new Precious Blood Church, which was completed in 1878 and is seen on the left side of the first photo, closed in 1989, and was demolished soon after. Probably the only surviving buildings with a connection to the fire is the Park Street School, which still stands here in a somewhat altered state. It continued to be used as a school for many years after its use as a makeshift morgue, but around 1930 it was sold to the church, becoming a convent and chapel. At some point, the tower was removed, and the building saw other alterations such as additional windows on the second floor, but overall it is still recognizable from its original appearance, and stands as a good example of mid-19th century school architecture.

Burnham School, Northampton, Mass

The Burnham School on Elm Street in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

The scene in 2017:

This house was built sometime around 1810, although it has been significantly altered over the years. It was originally the home of Elijah Hunt Mills, a lawyer and politician who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1815 to 1819, and in the U.S. Senate from 1820 to 1827. Mills was also one of the founders of the Northampton Law School, a short-lived but notable law school whose students included future president Franklin Pierce. Because of ill health, Mills retired from the Senate at the end of his term in 1827, and about a year later he left the Northampton Law School, which closed soon after. He lived here in this house until his death in 1829, and the house was subsequently owned by Thomas Napier, a Southerner who was was apparently a slave auctioneer and a vocal anti-abolitionist.

By the mid-19th century, this house was owned by Samuel L. Hinckley, whose occupation was described as “gentleman” in the 1860 census. Born Samuel Hinckley Lyman in 1810, he legally changed his name in 1831 at the request of his grandfather, Judge Samuel Hinckley, in order to carry on the Hinckley family name. After graduating from Williams College, Hinckley married Henrietta E. Rose, although they were married for less than a year before her death, soon after the birth of their only child, Henry. Hinckley later remarried to Ann L. Parker, and they had four children together. By the 1860 census, all seven family members were living here in this house, along with three servants. At the time, Hinckley’s real estate was valued at $15,000, plus a personal estate of $40,000, for a total net worth equal to about $1.5 million today.

The house was subsequently owned by Hinckley’s younger brother, Jonathan Huntington Lyman, a physician who was living here by the 1865 state census. He received his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1840, and in 1847 he married his first wife, Julia Dwight. She came from a prominent family, and both of her grandfathers were among the most influential men in late 18th and early 19th century New England. Her father’s father was Timothy Dwight IV, the noted pastor, theologian, and author who served as president of Yale from 1795 to 1817, and her mother’s father was Caleb Strong, a Northampton lawyer who served as a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1787, a U.S. senator from 1789 to 1796, and governor of Massachusetts from 1800 to 1807 and 1812 to 1816.

Jonathan and Julia Lyman had three children together, but Julia died of tuberculosis in 1853 at the age of 29. Two years later, he remarried to her older sister Mary, and by 1865 they were living here with Jonathan’s two surviving children, John and Francis, plus two servants. Francis died in 1871 from yellow fever at the age of 18, while in Brazil studying natural history, and John went on to become a physician, after graduating from Harvard Medical School in 1872.

In 1877, Jonathan sold the property to Mary A. Burnham, who established a school for girls here in this house. Originally called the Classical School for Girls, it opened in 1877 with the goal of preparing girls for the newly-established Smith College, located directly across the street from here. Only 22 students were enrolled during this first school year, but the school soon grew, and by the time the first photo was taken there were 175 students on a campus that included several other buildings. Mary Burnham died in 1885, and assistant principal Bessie T. Capen subsequently took over the school, which was renamed the Mary A. Burnham School in honor of its founder.

By the time the first photo was taken, very little remained of the house’s early 19th century appearance. It originally had Federal-style architecture, as seen with features such as the second-story Palladian window, but after its conversion to a school a wing was added to the right side, and the original part of the house was altered with a Mansard roof, dormer windows, and a tower above the main entrance.

The house would remain part of the Burnham School for many years, but in 1968 the school merged with the Stoneleigh-Prospect Hill School in Greenfield, forming the present-day Stoneleigh-Burnham School. The Northampton campus was then sold to Smith College, which converted this building into student housing. It is now known as the Chase House, in honor of writer and Smith professor Mary Ellen Chase, and it is attached to the neighboring Duckett House, just out of view to the right. Over the years, the house has lost some of its Victorian-era elements, particularly the tower, but it still stands today as one of many historic homes along Elm Street.

Elm Street, Northampton, Mass

Looking northwest on Elm Street near Bedford Terrace in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

The scene in 2017:

The first photo shows three 18th and early 19th century homes that once lined the eastern side of Elm Street, directly opposite the campus of Smith College. Starting on the far right, closest to the camera, was the Stoddard House, which was probably built sometime in the mid to late 18th century. Not to be confused with The Manse, an architecturally-similar home that was owned by Solomon Stoddard (1736-1824) and still stands on Prospect Street, this Elm Street house appears to have been owned by his son, Solomon Stoddard (1771-1860). The latter was the great-grandson of yet another Solomon Stoddard (1643-1729), a prominent theologian who had served as pastor of the Northampton church from 1672 until his death in 1729.

The younger Solomon Stoddard was a 1790 graduate of Yale, and he subsequently studied law under Northampton attorney, U.S. senator, and future Massachusetts governor Caleb Strong. Stoddard went on to have a successful career as a lawyer, and also served in a variety of roles in local government, including register of deeds, town clerk, chief justice of the court of sessions, court clerk, and state representative. He and his wife Sarah had eight children, and they lived here in this house until Sarah’s death in 1852 and Solomon’s death in 1860. The house was later sold to Smith College in 1885, and by the time the first photo was taken it was in use as residential building for students.

Just to the left of the Stoddard House, in the center of the first photo, is another 18th century home that was later converted into a Smith College residence. Supposedly built in 1710 by Isaac Clark, the house remained in his family for several generations, and by the mid-19th century was owned by Clark’s great-grandson, Justin Smith. Upon Smith’s death in 1880 he left half of the property to Smith College, under the condition that his sister, Mary Smith Tenney, would be allowed to live there for the rest of her life. During this time, she ran the house as an off-campus residence for Smith College students, and after her death the school took over the property and continued to operate it as a residential building, named the Tenney House.

The third building in the first photo, on the far left of the scene, was also a private home that later became part of Smith College. Built sometime in the early 19th century, this house was originally the home of Enos Clark, a church deacon who lived here until his death in 1864. The property remained in his family for several more decades, but in 1886 it was sold to Mary L. Southwick, who enlarged the house and converted it into another off-campus residence for Smith College students. Known as the Southwick House, it operated into the 20th century, but it was later purchased by the Burnham School, a college preparatory school for girls. The house remained part of the school campus until 1968, when Burnham merged with the Stoneleigh-Prospect Hill School in Greenfield, and it was then sold to Smith College and converted into the Duckett House.

Today, of the three buildings in the first photo, only the Duckett House remains. It is still in use as a Smith College residential building, housing 37 students, and it is connected to the adjacent Chase House, which is just out of view in the distance to the left. As for the other two historic houses, both the Stoddard House and the Tenney House were demolished in the mid-1930s to build the Alumnae House, which was completed in 1938. This building, with its two wings in the center and right side of the photo, is still standing today, and is still in use by the college.

Grape Street School, Chicopee, Mass

The Grape Street School at the corner of Grape and Elm Streets in Chicopee, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

During the mid-19th century, Chicopee developed into an industrial center, with factories in the villages of Chicopee Center and Chicopee Falls. Although situated less than two miles apart along the Chicopee River, these two villages were largely independent of one another, and for many years each had its own high school. The first high school was built in 1825 on Church Street in Chicopee Falls, and was replaced by a new building 20 years later. In the meantime, though, a second high school was opened in Chicopee Center in 1843, in this school building on Grape Street.

The Grape Street School had been completed a year earlier, and housed a primary school in the basement and the high school on the second floor. At the time, there were just two teachers in the high school, including a principal and an assistant. Thaddeus M. Szetela, in his 1948 History of Chicopee book, describes the layout of the high school: “There was one large assembly hall, equipped with desks for pupils, with a raised platform in front for the principal’s desk. There were blackboards and tables in the rear on which were a few reference books and magazines. There were openings off this platform to the north, three recitation rooms, one a library.”

This building continued to be used for Center High School throughout most of the 19th century. During this time, by far the longest-tenured and most prominent of its principals was George D. Robinson, who took the position in the fall of 1856. A native of Lexington, Massachusetts, Robinson was a 22-year-old Harvard graduate when he began working as principal, and remained here at the school until 1865, when he left to study law. He subsequently became a prominent lawyer and politician, serving as a Congressman from 1877 to 1884, and as governor of Massachusetts from 1884 to 1887.

Chicopee continued to have two high schools up until the fall of 1890, when Falls High and Center High were combined here at the school on Grape Street. A year later, a new high school building was built on Front Street, midway between the two villages, but the old Grape Street School continued to be used as a public school. It was subsequently renamed the Robinson School, in honor of its famous principal, and in 1899 a second school building was completed just to the right of it, known as the Valentine School.

The Robinson School remained in use well into the 20th century, but it was ultimately demolished in 1959 and an apartment complex was later built on the site. However, the neighboring Valentine School was used as a school into the 1980s, and it has since been preserved and converted into apartments. It stands just beyond and to the right of the apartment buildings in the 2017 photo, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Morris House, Smith College, Northampton, Mass

Morris House on the campus of Smith College in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

Morris House in 2018:

As mentioned in the previous post, the identical Lawrence House and Morris House were both completed in 1892, filling a need for student housing at the rapidly-growing Smith College. Although the school had opened less than 20 years earlier, in the fall of 1875, with an enrollment of just 14 students, this had grown to 636 by 1892. Morris House, seen here in these two photos, was named after one of these early students, Kate Morris, who was one of eleven women in the school’s first graduating class in 1879. Three years later she became the first to earn a Ph.D. from Smith, and she would subsequently become the first alumna to serve on the school’s Board of Trustees.

Like Lawrence House, Morris House was designed by Hartford-based architect William C. Brocklesby, and in more than 125 years there have been few changes to the building’s exterior. The small dormer windows on the long side of the building have been replaced by larger ones, and the decorative bargeboards under the gables are gone, but otherwise it looks essentially the same as it did when the first photo was taken. It remains in use as one of the 35 residential buildings at Smith College, and currently houses 68 students on its four floors.

Lawrence House, Smith College, Northampton, Mass

Lawrence House on the campus of Smith College in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

Lawrence House in 2018:

When Smith College opened in the fall of 1875, there were just 14 students enrolled in the school. However, over the next few decades the school saw dramatic growth, resulting in a number of new buildings on campus in the 1880s and 1890s. In the six year period from 1886 to 1892, for example, enrollment grew from 247 to 636, and in 1892 two new dormitories were added to accommodate this influx. The two identical buildings, Lawrence House and Morris House, were both designed by William C. Brocklesby, a Hartford architect who was responsible for many of the campus buildings during this period, and they were named in honor of two Smith College alumnae: Elizabeth Crocker Lawrence, class of 1883; and Kate Morris, class of 1879.

Lawrence House, seen here in these two photos, became a cooperative house in 1912, with students receiving discounted tuition in exchange for doing one hour of chores each day. The 62 spots here were highly competitive, requiring high academic standing as well as an interview with the dean, and former resident Constance Jackson, writing for The Smith Alumnae Quarterly in 1922, noted that “it is considered a stroke of luck by most of the college to achieve Lawrence House.” At the beginning of the school year, students were assigned temporary jobs, but they later submitted their preferences for permanent jobs. As Jackson described in her article:

Later, when academic schedules are definitely settled, each student gives the head of the house a card bearing her first, second, and third choice for a permanent task, as well as her “pet aversion.” Needless to say these are never assigned! The freshmen are but little concerned for they have already been informed by upper classmen who have achieved the dignity of sweeping and setting up tables, that the dinner dishes constitute their particular destiny.

Jackson went on to explain how:

The work is never a burden in any sense, for the hour each day spent at one’s particular task is a wholesome change from the academic atmosphere. The interest which everyone takes in the well-being of the house as a whole is truly remarkable and far different from the attitude commonly seen in the houses where the duties of keeping up appearances fall to maids. A scrap of paper in the hallway, a bit of dust on the stairs, is noticed and immediately removed by whomever sees it first – not because it is a duty but because it reflects on the common home which we have all come to love.

Lawrence House remained a cooperative house for many years, and during this time its most famous resident was Sylvia Plath, who lived here from the fall of 1952 until her graduation in the spring of 1955. Although best known for her 1963 novel The Bell Jar, Plath has already written many short stories by the time she moved into Lawrence House, and several of these had been published in magazines. While at Smith College she also served on the editorial board of the school’s literary magazine, the Smith Review, and in 1953 she was selected as a guest editor for Mademoiselle. However, her college years were also marked by increased depression, and her time at Lawrence House was interrupted in 1953, when she spent six months in a psychiatric hospital after her first suicide attempt.

Today, Lawrence House is no longer a cooperative house, but it remains in use as one of 35 residential buildings on the Smith College campus, housing 68 students. The exterior has seen few changes, although at some point in the mid-20th century the dormer windows on the long sides of the building (not visible from this angle) were significantly altered. Otherwise, both Lawrence House and its twin, Morris House, remain very much the same as they did when they were completed over 125 years ago.