Soldiers’ Monument, Brattleboro, Vermont

The Civil War monument and bandstand on the town common in Brattleboro, around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

Civil War monuments are a near-ubiquitous feature of almost every town common across the country, and Brattleboro is no exception. Dedicated in 1887, the Brattleboro Soldiers’ Monument has a granite base, with bronze plaques on all four sides and an eight-foot-tall bronze infantryman on top. As indicated on one of the plaques, the monument was to commemorate “the loyalty and patriotism of the men of Brattleboro, who fought for liberty and the union in the great rebellion of 1861-1865.” According to the plaque, the town had a total of 381 residents who served in the war, 31 of whom died.

The monument was built at a cost of $6,000, and the June 17, 1887 dedication ceremony drew a number of dignitaries here to the common. It was presided over by Frederick Holbrook, a Brattleboro native who served as governor for the first two years of the war, and whose father once lived in a house across the street from the common. The dedication speech was given by James R. Tanner, a Civil War veteran who had lost both of his legs at the Second Battle of Bull Run. Tanner was the stenographer who had been summoned to Abraham Lincoln’s deathbed in order to record eyewitness testimonies from the assassination, and he later went on to become Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, serving from 1905 to 1906. Aside from Holbrook and Tanner, other dignitaries included Governor Ebenezer J. Ormsbee, and Brattleboro resident Colonel George W. Hooker, who was later awarded the Medal of Honor for single-handedly capturing 116 Confederate soldiers during the Battle of Crampton’s Gap in 1862.

The dedication ceremony drew about 5,000 people to the common, but an even larger crowd – estimated at 8,000 – gathered here on September 1, 1902, when Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech during a presidential tour of Vermont. This took place only a few years before the first photo was taken, and Roosevelt spoke from the bandstand in the center of the photo, just to the right of the monument. The president was accompanied by a number of notable Vermonters, including Frederick Holbrook, then-Governor William W. Stickney, federal judge Hoyt H. Wheeler, and U.S. Attorney James L. Martin, whom Roosevelt would later appoint as Wheeler’s successor on the bench. Roosevelt was escorted here from the train station, spoke from the bandstand for about 15 minutes, and was presented with a bouquet of roses. He was then escorted back to the station, and from there he traveled south across the border to Northfield, Massachusetts, where he spent the night at the Northfield Hotel.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, this scene has not significantly changed. The old bandstand was evidently replaced at some point, and a different gazebo now stands on the site. Along with this, the cannon and shot are now gone, and its approximate location is now a picnic table. Otherwise, though, this site continues to be used as the town common, and the Soldiers’ Monument still stands here, now accompanied by a second memorial to the Brattleboro residents who were killed in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

Wells Fountain, Brattleboro, Vermont

The Wells Fountain, at the corner of Putney Road and Linden Street in Brattleboro, around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

The Wells Fountain has been a feature here in the center of Brattleboro since 1890, when it was given to the town by William Henry Wells, a New York businessman who had grown up in Brattleboro. The fountain was originally located about 20 feet from here, but it was moved to its current site in 1906. The first photo appears to have been taken shortly before this move, because the photo shows it closer to the street than it is now, so the original location was probably on the far left side of the present-day photo.

The fountain was the the work of William Rutherford Mead, a noted architect who, like Wells, was a Brattleboro native who moved to New York as an adult. Mead was a cousin of President Rutherford B. Hayes, whose family also had roots in Brattleboro, and he was a partner in the prominent architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White. Mead did not have the same architectural genius of his two partners, Charles Follen McKim and Stanford White, and he designed few works on his own. Instead, his talents were as an office manager, serving as a stable, practical-minded counterbalance to the more fanciful McKim and White. Under his leadership, the firm became one of the country’s leading architects of the late 19th and early 20th century, with commissions such as the Boston Public Library, the Rhode Island State House, and Penn Station, along with many other public buildings and Gilded Age mansions.

The original location of the fountain marked the spot where Mead’s older brother, Larkin Mead, had created an eight-foot-high snow sculpture in 1856. The Recording Angel, as it was called, stood here for about two weeks, and the subsequent publicity helped to launch his career as prominent sculptor. He would later go on to design works such as the statue atop the Vermont State House, a statue of Ethan Allen in the United States Capitol, and the statues on Abraham Lincoln’s tomb. He died in Florence, Italy in 1910, and his grave was topped with a replica of his original Recording Angel sculpture.

Today, the Wells Fountain still stands here at the corner of Linden Street and Putney Road, although its surroundings have changed significantly. The trolley tracks in the foreground of the first photo are long gone, as are many of the surrounding buildings. The land just up the hill behind the fountain was once privately owned, with a house that once stood just out of view to the right. However, this land is now a small public park in front of the courthouse, and part of the foundation of the old house can still be seen on the far right side of the present-day photo.

William B. Howard Memorial Fountain, Wales, Mass

The fountain at the corner of Main Street and Haynes Hill Road in Wales, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

This fountain has been located here on Main Street in Wales since 1887, when it was donated to the town by William B. Howard. Born in Wales in 1832, Howard later moved west to Chicago, where he became a successful contractor. He was responsible for the construction of a number of railroads and bridges, but he was also involved in several other major projects, including the construction of the Indiana State House and the New Croton Aqueduct. Howard often returned to Wales as a summer visitor, where he stayed at the home of Myles Needham, and in 1887 he gave this fountain to the town as a gift. It was made of granite quarried from nearby Monson, and the design of the fountain is essentially identical to one in Monson, which now stands in front of Memorial Hall.

The first photo shows the fountain as it appeared shortly after it was installed at this site. Just beyond it to the left is a house that once served as the parsonage for the Wales Methodist Church. According to the state’s MACRIS database of historic buildings, the house may have been built around 1850, and at the time it was owned by a William Thompson. However, in 1858 the house was sold to the church, which used it as its parsonage until around the turn of the 20th century. The house subsequently reverted to a private residence, but neither it nor the fountain has changed much in 125 years since the first photo was taken, and today this scene looks essentially the same as it did in the early 1890s.

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

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.