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.

Union Station, Providence, RI

The view looking across City Hall Park toward Union Station in Providence, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The view in 2016:

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Both the park and the railroad station were relatively new features in downtown Providence when the first photo was taken. They were a part of the larger redevelopment plan of the late 19th century, which included the filling of the Cove basin and the construction of the new State House on Smith Hill. City Hall Park, located on the north side of Exchange Place, was dedicated in 1892 and landscaped in 1898, the same year that Union Station opened on the far side.

The station complex, as seen in the first photo, consisted of five buildings, and replaced an earlier station that had been damaged in an 1896 fire. Together with the new park and the nearby State House, the station provided a grand entrance for visitors to Providence. At a time when most inter-city travel was by rail, the railroad station was the first part of the city that most travelers saw. A good first impression was important, and with this new development, Providence had a station that was worthy of its status as an prominent, growing city.

As with other grand urban passenger stations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, though, the Union Station saw a period of decline by the 1950s. The easternmost building, seen on the far right of the first photo, burned down in 1941, and in the postwar era there was a sharp drop in rail travel with the advent of commercial airlines and interstate highways.

The building was badly neglected, and in 1986 it was rendered entirely obsolete. That year, the elevated tracks adjacent to the station were removed, and the railroad was rerouted a little further to the north. A new, smaller station opened just south of the State House, and the old station was left isolated, several blocks away from the tracks. The following year, it was badly damaged in a fire, but it was ultimately repaired. Even the destroyed easternmost building has since been rebuilt, and today the buildings have been restored and repurposed. From this view, the buildings are no longer visible because of the tall trees on the park, which is now known as Burnside Park. However, they are still there on the other side of the park, and they are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Soldiers’ Monument, Worcester, Mass

The Soldiers’ Monument on the Worcester Common, 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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This scene shows the Soldiers’ Monument from the opposite direction of the view in an earlier post. As mentioned in that post, the monument was designed by sculptor Randolph Rogers and dedicated in 1874, during a time when memorials to fallen Union soldiers were appearing on town commons across New England. It was placed at the northeast corner of the common, across from the Salem Street Congregational Church, which can be seen in the distance to the right. Although information on this church is scarce, the congregation appears to have been established in 1848, and based on the architecture of the building it was probably built around this same time. Also in this scene, on the left side, are several commercial buildings, with signs for carriage and sleigh harnesses, horse clothing, furniture, and even one for “Talking Machines.”

Today, the only landmark left from the first photo is the monument itself. All of the buildings in this scene have since been demolished, and in the early 1970s the Worcester Center urban renewal project was built here, in the area east of the common. It included the office building in the background of the 2016 photo, along with a shopping mall and parking garage. The mall closed in 2006, though, and parts of the complex have since been demolished. As of 2016, the area is now being redeveloped as CitySquare, another downtown Worcester revitalization project.

Worcester Common, Worcester, Mass (2)

Another view of the Worcester Common, taken looking west from the corner of Church and Front Streets, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The Common in 2016:

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Taken from the northeast corner of the Common, on the other end of Church Street from an earlier post, this view shows the Soldiers’ Monument in the center, with City Hall to the left and Front Street to the right. The monument is the oldest feature in the first photo; it was dedicated in 1874 in honor of Worcester’s fallen soldiers and sailors of the Civil War, and was designed by prominent sculptor Randolph Rogers.

Along with the monument, several other buildings remain from the first photo, including the 1898 City Hall. On the far right, partially hidden by trees, are two 19th century commercial buildings. Both were designed by Fuller & Delano, a Worcester-based firm that was responsible for many other significant buildings in the city. The tall red brick building is the Chase Building, which was built in 1886 and, although the top floors were later altered, it is still standing. To the right of it, at the corner of Commercial Street, is the Ransom C. Taylor Block, built around 1897.

Today, the only particularly obvious change to this scene is the Worcester Plaza building in the distance. Originally built as the Worcester County National Bank Tower, it was completed in 1974, and is tied for the record of the tallest building in the city.

Worcester Common, Worcester, Mass

The Worcester Common, seen facing west from the corner of Franklin and Church Streets, around 1914-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The Common in 2016:

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Today, Worcester is the second-largest city in New England, and the Common has been at the center of the city ever since it was a small colonial settlement in the 17th century. Set aside in 1669, more than 50 years before Worcester was formally incorporated as a town, the Common was originally used as a training ground for the militia, burial ground, and the site of the meetinghouse. It was once much larger, but as the city has grown up around it, this common land has steadily shrunk to its current dimensions, and at one point in the 19th century even had railroad tracks running across it.

The first photo was taken shortly after the completion of several prominent buildings along the Common, which are still standing today. These buildings, designed in the popular Classical Revival style of the turn of the 20th century, include the 1913 Bancroft Hotel on the left, the 1915 Park Building to the right of it, and the 1898 City Hall, which is mostly hidden by trees in the distance on the right. Along with the Common itself, all three of these buildings are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.