Providence River, Providence, RI

Looking upstream on the Providence River, with downtown Providence in the background, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The river in 2016:

This view is just downstream of the one in the previous post, and shows some of the same features, including the 1896 Banigan Building and the Crawford Street Bridge. At the time, the bridge was the head of navigation for the Providence River, so the first photo shows several steamboats docked here. These boats were a common sight at the turn of the 20th century, providing excursion trips to vacation destinations such as Newport, Block Island, and other destinations in Narragansett Bay, Long Island, and beyond.

Two of the three steamers in the first photo are identifiable. The one on the right is the Warwick, which had been built in 1873 and was in service for nearly 50 years until 1920. En route to Newport in January, the old boat sprung a leak, and later sank at its dock in Newport. Likewise, the What Cheer on the far left of the first photo also fell victim to old age around the same time. Built in New Jersey in 1867, the What Cheer operated in Narragansett Bay for many years before being sold to a New York company. Two years later, the old sidewheel steamer sank at the pier at Glen Island, and was deemed to be beyond repair.

Today, very little is left from the first photo. The only readily identifiable building in both photos is the Banigan Building, although the Customshouse, seen just to the left of it in the 2016 scene, would have also been standing in the first photo. Otherwise, not much remains. The industrial buildings to the left are gone, including the one with the lettering that reads “Phenix and US Club Ginger Ale.” There are no longer any coastal steamers on the river, although, as mentioned in the previous post, the river itself has seen great improvement. In the first photo, most of it in the distance was hidden under the Crawford Street Bridge, which was probably just as well at the time, considering how polluted it was with sewage and industrial waste. Today, the nearly quarter-mile wide bridge is gone, the river is cleaner, and it is now an integral part of downtown Providence’s cityscape.

View from Citadel Hill, Halifax, Nova Scotia

The view looking east toward downtown Halifax from Citadel Hill, around 1900-1917. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.


The view in 2016L

It isn’t in New England, or even in the United States, but Halifax has long had close ties with New England, especially Boston. It is the closest major North American port to Europe, and as such it is the last stop for outgoing ships from Boston, and the first for incoming ships. This scene here shows part of the city’s massive harbor, which has been of strategic importance over the years. After the British occupation of Boston ended in 1776, their fleet took refuge here in Halifax while preparing for an assault on New York City, and many years later the harbor was used as a gathering place for eastbound Atlantic convoys in both world wars.

Through all of this, the strategically-valuable harbor has been protected by Fort George, a series of fortifications atop Citadel Hill. The hill stands just west of downtown Halifax, offering sweeping views of the city and harbor, and making it the ideal location for a fort to command the harbor and its approaches. The photos here were taken near the top of the hill, near the outer walls of the fort. On the left is one of Halifax’s oldest landmarks, the Town Clock, which was built at the foot of the hill. It faces down Carmichael Street, which leads to the Grand Parade three blocks down the hill, where City Hall and St. Paul’s Anglican Church are located.

The date of the first photo is somewhat unclear, but it was taken sometime soon before 1917, when Halifax experienced one of the deadliest disasters in history. Known as the Halifax Explosion, it occurred on December 6, 1917, when the harbor was filled with ships heading to and from Europe during World War I. Two such ships were the Norwegian SS Imo, which collided with French ammunition ship SS Mont-Blanc. The latter caught fire, and after about 20 minutes its cargo of high explosives detonated.

The Mont-Blanc was essentially vaporized, and the blast wave leveled much of the northern part of the city, to the left and out of view in the photos here. A few earlier posts, here and here, show scenes from the aftermath of the explosion, which killed nearly 2,000 people, injured around 9,000 others, and damaged or destroyed around 12,000 houses. The main commercial center of Halifax, seen in this view from Citadel Hill, escaped serious damage. Essentially every window in the city was shattered by the explosion, but most of the buildings in the first photo would have survived the disaster.

Despite being spared from serious damage, there is very little that is still recognizable from the first photo a century later. There are a number of 19th century buildings scattered throughout this section of the city, but the only one that is readily visible in both photos is the clock tower itself, which remains a prominent city landmark.

Today, Halifax remains an important port. It is the largest city in Canada’s Maritime provinces, and its downtown has been built up with skyscrapers, partially obscuring the view of the harbor from Citadel Hill. The shoreline across the harbor in Dartmouth has also changed dramatically in the past 100 years. In 1911, the community had a population of just over 5,000, but today it has over 67,000 people, and is a major suburb of Halifax as well as a commercial center in its own right.

Lost New England Goes West: California Street, San Francisco (2)

Looking east down California Street in between Grant and Stockton Streets in San Francisco, in 1863. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

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California Street in 2015:

When the first photo was taken, the United States was in the midst of the Civil War, and although the bulk of the fighting was some 2,000 miles away, California nonetheless contributed to the Union war effort. Thanks to the Gold Rush about 15 years earlier, San Francisco was a prosperous, rapidly-growing city, and much of this gold was used to fund the Union army. Although southern California had a substantial number of Confederate sympathizers at the time, the northern part of the state, including San Francisco, was predominantly pro-Union, and provided a number of soldiers who went east to fight.

After the Civil War, San Francisco’s prosperity continued, and this section of California Street in the distance became the city’s Financial District. However, the entire area was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and the resulting fires that spread across the city, and only a few buildings in this scene survived. The photo in this earlier post, taken from the base of the hill facing up California Street, shows some of the destruction.

The most notable survivor from the 1863 photo here is the Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral on the left, at the corner of Grant Avenue. Built in 1854, it withstood the earthquake itself, but was gutted by the fires that left only the brick walls standing. The interior was rebuilt in 1909, and the church is still standing today as a prominent landmark in the city’s Chinatown neighborhood.

This post is part of a series of photos that I took in California this past winter. Click here to see the other posts in the “Lost New England Goes West” series.

Lost New England Goes West: Russian Hill, San Francisco

The view of Russian Hill from the corner of Mason and Sacramento Streets in San Francisco, around 1866. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Lawrence & Houseworth Collection.

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The view in 2015:

Today, Russian Hill is probably best known for the zigzag section of Lombard Street between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets, and its excellent views of the city, as seen in this earlier post, also make it one of the San Francisco’s most expensive neighborhoods. However, when the first photo was taken 150 years ago, it was still sparsely populated, mostly with poorer residents who could not afford to live in a more convenient location. This began to change, though, soon after the photo was taken. Cable cars were introduced to San Francisco in 1873, allowing residents to easily move up and down the city’s many hills. As a result, wealthy residents who no longer had to worry about walking up the steep grades now found Russian Hill and nearby Nob Hill, where these photos were taken from, as appealing places to live.

As is the case with most of the other 19th century views of the city, most of this scene was completely destroyed by the fires caused by the 1906 earthquake. Much of Russian Hill now consists of modern condominium buildings, but there are a few surviving pre-earthquake homes near the top of the hill, especially along Green Street. At least one of these, the Feusier Octagonal House, was standing when the first photo was taken. It was built in the 1850s with an unusual octagonal design, and although the photo isn’t clear enough to identify the house, it would be located somewhere near the top of the hill on the left side.

This post is part of a series of photos that I took in California this past winter. Click here to see the other posts in the “Lost New England Goes West” series.

Lost New England Goes West: Sacramento Street, San Francisco (2)

Looking down Sacramento Street from the corner of Powell Street in San Francisco, around 1866. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Lawrence & Houseworth Collection.

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Sacramento Street in 2015:

The first photo here was taken just a half block further up the hill from where, 40 years later, Arnold Genthe would take his famous photograph of the earthquake. Much of this view had changed by 1906, but many of the buildings from this 1866 view were still standing up until the fires destroyed this entire scene. One of the few buildings that survives today from the 1866 photo – in fact, it may be the only one left – is the church on the right side. This is the Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral, which was built in 1854 and, although gutted by the fires in 1906, was repaired and is still standing at the corner of California and Grant Streets.

The view of the church from here is now blocked by modern buildings, and the city’s skyline has obviously changed considerably in the 150 years since the first photo was taken. In the distance down Sacramento Street is the Financial District with its skyscrapers, and at the very end of the street, barely visible, is the Ferry Building, which was built over 30 years after the first photo was taken,. It was one of the few historic buildings still standing in this scene, and also one of the few that survived both the earthquake and the fires.

This post is part of a series of photos that I took in California this past winter. Click here to see the other posts in the “Lost New England Goes West” series.

Lost New England Goes West: View From Nob Hill, San Francisco

Facing northeast from the corner of California and Powell Streets in San Francisco, around 1866. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Lawrence & Houseworth Collection.

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The view in 2015:

Like the view in the previous post, these photos show San Francisco as it appeared in its early years. It had experienced rapid growth during the Gold Rush, and less than 20 years later in the 1860s it was becoming a major city and port on the west coast. The first photo shows the present-day Jackson Square, Portsmouth Square, and Financial District areas, with San Francisco Bay and Yerba Buena Island in the distance. There are a number of ships in the bay or at the wharves, which were likely arriving from or departing for ports around the world. At the time, the city was largely dependent on ships. The Transcontinental Railroad would not be completed for three more years, and the Panama Canal was still almost 50 years away, so the most economical trading route from San Francisco to New York and other east coast ports was the two month, 13,000 mile journey around the southern tip of South America.

Within a few years after the first photo was taken, San Francisco’s population reached 150,000, which was an astonishing 15,000% increase from just 20 years earlier. In the years that followed, the growth continued, and by the time the 1906 earthquake struck, the population was around 400,000. Many of the buildings in the first photo were likely still standing in 1906, but this entire area was destroyed by the fires that were started by the earthquake. At least one building in this view did survive, though. The Montgomery Block, visible just above and to the right of the center, was built in 1853 and stood at the corner of Montgomery and Washington Streets until 1959, when it was demolished and replaced with a parking lot.

Today, development in downtown San Francisco has completely blocked the view of the bay from here. The most prominent building in this view is the Transamerica Pyramid, which was completed in 1972 on the site of the Montgomery Block. It remains the city’s tallest building, and its pyramid shape is instantly recognizable in the San Francisco skyline.

This post is part of a series of photos that I took in California this past winter. Click here to see the other posts in the “Lost New England Goes West” series.