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.

Park Square, Pittsfield, Mass (5)

The view looking east down East Street from Park Square in Pittsfield, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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Park Square in 2016:

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The first photo shows a quiet day in the center of Pittsfield. A couple of groundskeepers maintain Park Square, with the man in overalls on the right operating a push mower. Another man, barely visible in the distance beyond the sign, also appears to be pushing a lawnmower. At the end of the walkway in the center of the photo, a couple of boys play on an old cannon that probably dated back to the Civil War. The only other person visible in the scene is a woman in a black skirt, white blouse, and large hat who is crossing East Street on the far left.

In the foreground, a sundial marks time in the center of Park Square, and to the left of it a sign commemorates the site of America’s first cattle show, which was held here in 1810. It also marks the spot of the “old elm,” which stood there until 1864. This tree towered over the center of Pittsfield since the town was settled in the 1750s. In fact, it was the center of Pittsfield – the surveyor who laid out the downtown area in 1752 used it as the center. It survived numerous proposals to remove it, and by the early 19th century it had become a major landmark, with Park Squre encircling it. In 1825, during his tour of the United States, the Marquis de Lafayette stopped here and gave a speech from under the tree. Later on, the iconic tree was mentioned in the writings of both Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville. However, by 1864 the ancient tree was in danger of falling, and with much reluctance it was taken down.

Today, Park Square is still the main focal point of downtown Pittsfield. East Street in the distance has changed somewhat over the past century, and is no longer a predominantly residential street. Most of the houses that would have been present in the distance of the first photo are gone, but many of the buildings around Park Square are still standing. These include the Berkshire County Courthouse, St. Stephen’s Church, the old town hall, the First Church, the Berkshire County Savings Bank, and the Berkshire Life Insurance Company. All of these historic buildings, along with Park Square itself, are part of the Park Square Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Park Square, Pittsfield, Mass (4)

Looking east toward Park Square in Pittsfield, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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Pittsfield’s Park Square has been featured in several other posts, but the first photo here gives a good elevated view of the oval park in the center of the city. The photo was probably taken from one of the upper floors of the Hotel Wendell, which stood on the west side of the square from 1898 to 1965. From here, guests could overlook the small park, along with the important government and religious buildings that surround it. On the left side of the photo, starting closest to the foreground, was the First Church, City Hall, and St. Stephen’s Church. On the far right, barely in view, is the Berkshire County Courthouse, and even further to the right, just outside of the view of the camera, is the Berkshire Athenaeum, Pittsfield’s public library.

Over a century later, not much has changed in this scene. The trees make it harder to tell, but Park Square is still largely the same as it was in 1906, including the Civil War monument on the west side. Electric trolleys no longer circle the square, but it remains a busy intersection in the middle of the city. The Hotel Wendell is long gone, but all of the other historic buildings from the first photo are still there, although most are hidden by the trees. Because of this level of historic preservation, the square and the buildings around it were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 as the Park Square Historic District.

Park Square, Pittsfield, Mass (2)

Another view looking west from Park Square, with the Hotel Wendell in the distance, around 1905-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The view in 2016:

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Like the view in the previous post, this scene shows Park Square, a small public park that has been at the center of Pittsfield since the 18th century. The first photo shows a lively city center, with cars, horse-drawn carriages, and an electric trolley all moving along the streets in the background. In the foreground, a group of men are seated on the benches in the park. Two elderly men, one of whom is smoking a pipe, are sitting on the bench that faces the camera, engaged in conversation. Given their ages, it is entirely possible that they could be Civil War veterans. Many were still alive in the early 20th century, and like nearly every other city, town, and village of the time, Pittsfield had a monument to its veterans. Visible in the distant center, this monument was designed by sculptor Launt Thompson in 1872.

Today, Park Square has not changed much, and the Civil War monument is still standing on the western end of the park. However, most of the buildings in the background are gone, with the exception of the Berkshire Life Insurance Building on the far right. The most prominent building in the first photo, the Hotel Wendell, opened in 1898 and was later expanded in 1930, replacing the much older commercial buildings to the left. However, the hotel closed and was demolished in the 1960s, and its present-day replacement is a large development that includes the Crowne Plaza Pittsfield, the tallest building in the city.

Park Square, Pittsfield, Mass

Looking west at Park Square in Pittsfield, facing toward West Street, around 1905-1911. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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Park Square in 2016:

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The area around Park Square has been at the heart of downtown Pittsfield since the early days of the city’s settlement. It was incorporated as a town in 1761, and a year later the first meeting house was built here. In 1790, the land for present-day Park Square was donated to the town as Meeting House Common, and ever since then it has served as a public park.

Over the years, the square has seen use for a number of different events. In 1810, the nation’s first agricultural fair was held here, and 15 years later Pittsfield welcomed the Marquis de Lafayette here, while the Revolutionary War hero was passing through on his way to Boston. It was also a mustering ground for soldiers during the Civil War, and after the end of the war a monument was added to the square, in honor of Pittsfield’s soldiers. This monument is visible in the center left of both photos, although it is mostly hidden by trees in the 2016 view.

When the first photo was taken, Park Square was the site of the city’s top hotel, the Hotel Wendell. It opened in 1898, on the left side of the first photo, and stood here until the 1960s, when it was demolished and replaced with the present-day buildings, including the Berkshire Crowne Plaza. Opposite the Hotel Wendell, on the right side of the scene, is the Berkshire Life Insurance Company Building, which was built here in 1868. It is hard to tell because of the trees, but the building is still standing, although it was significantly expanded in 1911, shortly after the first photo was taken.

Exchange Plaza, Providence, RI

Looking east toward Exchange Plaza from City Hall in Providence, around 1913-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2016:

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Exchange Plaza has been at the center of downtown Providence since the 19th century, although both it and its surroundings have undergone many changes during this time. In 1847, the city’s first railroad station was built here on the north side of the plaza. A new station was built a little further to the north in 1898, and City Hall Park opened on the site of the old station, on the left side of both photos. City Hall, where these photos were taken, was built on the west side of the plaza in 1878, across from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument. This statue was dedicated in 1871 and moved to the center of the plaza shortly before the first photo was taken, but was moved back to its original location in 1997.

The first photo shows a variety of transportation methods, including cars, trolleys, and horse-drawn carts. However, at this point cars had begun to dominate the city streets already, and Exchange Plaza had become a parking lot. On the opposite side of the plaza in both photos is the Federal Building, which was built in 1908 as a post office, courthouse, and custom house. It is still in use today, and is one of only a few buildings still standing here from the first photo.

The right side of the plaza, which was renamed Kennedy Plaza in 1964, is now dominated by skyscrapers. In the first photo, the most prominent building here was the Butler Exchange, a six-story commercial block on the far right. It stood here from 1873 to 1925, and after its demolition it was replaced by the present-day 111 Westminster Street building. Completed in 1928, this 26-story skyscraper remains the tallest building in Rhode Island nearly 90 years later.

Today, the only building still standing from the right side of the first photo is the Exchange Bank Building, barely visible in the distance at the corner of Exchange Street, diagonally across from the Federal Building. Completed in 1845, it predates even the original railroad station that stood opposite the plaza. However, it is not the oldest building in the scene. That distinction likely goes to the First Baptist Church in America, which was built in 1775 on the other side of the Providence River. The top of its spire is visible in both photos, behind the Federal Building.