Simon Colton House, Longmeadow, Mass

The Simon Colton House, as seen from the Longmeadow town green on September 21, 1918. Image courtesy of the Longmeadow Historical Society, Emerson Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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When the first photo was taken almost a century ago, this house was already a historic building, as one of the oldest surviving houses in the town. It was built in 1735 by Simon Colton, who married Abigail Burt a year later. They raised their 12 children in this house, and after Abigail’s death in 1760, Colton married Rebekah Hale. Colton was a prominent resident of Longmeadow, and in addition to serving as a town selectman for nine years and as a captain in the French and Indian War, he also operated a tavern out of the house.

He lived here until his death in 1796, and his son Luther lived here with his wife Thankful and their eight children. Thankful died only a year later, though, and in 1799 Luther remarried to Mehitable Deming, a widow who had four children of her own. She accepted his proposal under the condition that he build her an addition to the house, seen on the right side in this view, where she could go if she needed time away from the 12 children. Luther and Mehitable ended up having two more children of their own, making their household an 18th century version of Yours, Mine and Ours. Luther died in 1804 at the age of 47, but Mehitable lived nearly twice as long, remaining in the house until her death in 1856 at the age of 93.

The house remained in the Colton family for 200 years, until it was transferred to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities in 1935. The organization, which is now Historic New England, has since sold the house, but with the stipulations that the front facade not be changed, and that it remains painted red. Today, the house has not changed much since the first photo was taken 98 years ago, and it is flanked by two other historic buildings. The Justin Colton House on the right, and the 1857 church parsonage, which does not appear in the 1918 scene because it was moved here around 1921, is on the left. All three buildings, along with the rest of the historic buildings around the town green, are part of the Longmeadow Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Incidentally, the Colton House is not the oldest object in the first photo. According to photographer Paesiello Emerson, the elm tree that is partially blocking the view of the house was 300 years old, which, if accurate, would mean that the tree predated even the arrival of the Mayflower. However, it is unlikely to have survived more than a couple decades after the photo was taken, as both the 1938 hurricane and Dutch Elm Disease took a heavy toll on the large elms that once lined the streets of New England.

Thomas Bliss House, Longmeadow, Mass

The Thomas Bliss House on Longmeadow Street, on May 5, 1910. Image courtesy of the Longmeadow Historical Society, Emerson Collection.

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The house in 2016:

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This house is so old that it was actually built in Springfield, years before Longmeadow became a separate town. It is one of many historic 18th century homes still standing in Longmeadow, and although its exact date of construction is uncertain, it was built sometime between 1714 and 1758 for Thomas Bliss, on the opposite side of the street. When Bliss died in 1758, his son Henry sold it to Nathaniel Ely, who operated a tavern out of here. It was used as a tavern until 1833 , and was later moved across the street to its present location.

One of the subsequent owners was Dr. Lester Noble, a dentist who played a role in the high-profile 1849 murder of Dr. George Parkman. Along with fellow Longmeadow dentist Dr. Nathan Keep, Noble used dental records to identify Parkman’s badly mutilated body, making it one of the first trials to use dental evidence. Dr. Noble died a few years before the first photo was taken in 1910. At this point, the house was owned by Cora M. Page, and it featured a porch on the front and side, along with several outbuildings behind it. The porch is partially gone now, as are the barns/sheds in the background, but the historic house is still standing, and at possibly 300 years old it is one of the oldest buildings in Longmeadow.

Burnham Tavern, Machias, Maine (2)

Another view of the Burnham Tavern, taken on June 17, 1937. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

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The building in 2015:

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This view shows the rear of Burnham, which as explained in the previous post was built in 1770 and played a role in the planning of the Battle of Machias, one of the first naval battles of the American Revolution.  Today, the building is well-preserved, and is maintained by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution as a museum, complete with period furnishings on the interior.  The first photo shows its appearance when it was documented for the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1937, and its exterior is virtually unchanged in the nearly 80 years since.  The only noticeable difference is the use of painted shingles instead of clapboards; this is actually in keeping with 18th century customs of putting clapboard on the front and shingles on the sides and back.

Burnham Tavern, Machias, Maine (1)

Burnham Tavern in Machias, seen on June 17, 1937. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

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The building in 2015:

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This building is so old that it was built in a different state.  Maine was part of Massachusetts until 1820, and this tavern not only predates Maine statehood, but it also predates the American Revolution by several years.  Despite its remote location on the extreme eastern edge of the United States, it played a role early on in the Revolution, and it remains preserved as a historic landmark over 240 years later.

Burnham Tavern was built in 1770, just seven years after the area was first settled by English colonists.  Five years later, the American Revolution started, and the tavern was used to plan what became the second naval battle of the war.  In June 1775, a group of local militiamen led by Jeremiah O’Brien and Benjamin Foster captured the British schooner HMS Margaretta.  The Margaretta was renamed the Machias Liberty, and in August it and another captured vessel were commissioned as the first two ships in the Massachusetts navy.

In part because of its proximity to the British colonies in present-day Canada, Machias became a base of operations for privateers who captured British merchant vessels during the war.  In response, the British launched an attack in August 1777, with an invasion force of 123 marines and four of the most harmless-sounding ships in naval history: the HMS Rainbow, HMS Blonde, HMS Mermaid, and HMS Hope.  Undeterred by such intimidating ship names, local militiamen and Native American allies drove off the ships, and Machias survived the war without any additional attacks.

The building’s historic significance was already understood by the time the 1937 photo was taken, when it was documented for the Historic American Buildings Survey.  Not much has changed since then, down to the sign hanging on the right side of the building.  It retains much of its 18th century appearance, both on the outside and on the inside, and it is operated as a museum by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Rufus Colton House, Agawam, Mass

A view of Main Street in Agawam from the corner of Elm Street, with the Rufus Colton House in the distance on the left, seen around 1895-1896. Image courtesy of the Agawam Historical Association.

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The scene in 2015:

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Built in 1806, the Rufus Colton House is architecturally similar to the nearby Captain Charles Leonard House, which was built a year earlier.   Both are believed to have been designed by Asher Benjamin, and like the Leonard House it was built for a local militia officer, Lieutenant Rufus Colton.  Beginning around 1830, it was owned by Martin King (not Martin Luther King, just Martin King), who operated a tavern here for some time.  Main Street was once part of the Boston Post Road, connecting Boston to New York and points south, so it is likely that a good part of King’s business was from travelers on the road.

Today, Main Street is busier, with paved streets replacing the dirt roads of the 1890s, but the Rufus Colton House remains well-preserved after over two centuries.  It may or may not have been designed by Asher Benjamin, but either way it is an excellent example of Federal architecture, and it retains many of its original elements, including the hip roof, the fan window over the door, and the Palladian window in the center of the second floor.  In 2001, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Agawam Center Historic District.

Allis House and First Church, Wilbraham Mass (2)

Another Main Street view of the Allis House and the First Church, sometime in the 1880s or 1890s. Image courtesy of the Wilbraham Public Library.

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Main Street in 2015:

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As mentioned in this post, both of these buildings in the first scene were destroyed in separate fires, not too long after the photo was taken.  The Allis House to the left was a hotel and tavern, offering accommodations for salesmen and other business travelers as well as providing food and entertainment for locals.  It burned in August 1896, but the 1964 History of Wilbraham book suggests that it may not have been accidental; business was apparently declining, and according to a local rumor the resident handyman ran out of the burning building yelling at Mrs. Allis for not telling him when she was planning on burning the place down.

Just under 15 years later the Congregational Church just to the right of the Allis House was also destroyed in a fire, although there was unquestionably no insurance fraud involved here; the steeple was struck by lightning and the church burned to the ground.  Today, Gazebo Park is located on the spot where the old church once stood, along with its two predecessors and its successor, before the present-day church was built in 1958 a short distance down Main Street.