Wales Public Library, Wales, Mass

The Wales Public Library, at the corner of Main and Church Streets, around 1922-1925. Image courtesy of the Nevins Memorial Library.

The scene in 2017:

The origins of the Wales Public Library date back to 1897, when it began as a collection of books in the corner of a general store. The town had a population of a little over 700 at the time, with woolen mills employing many of its residents. However, these companies began to leave around the turn of the 20th century, and by 1910 the population had dropped by more than half, to just 345 residents in that year’s census. Throughout this time, the small public library continued to operate out of the general store, but around the early 1920s this house was donated to the town, in order to provide a more permanent home for the library.

The early history of this house seems difficult to trace. The state’s MACRIS database of historic buildings gives 1841 as the date of construction, while the library itself gives a date of 1825. Either way, it was apparently built by a Stephen Fisk, although maps from the mid-19th century show it as belonging to the Shaw family. By the second half of the century, the house was right in the midst of the town’s manufacturing center, and was directly adjacent to the woolen mill of the Shaw Manufacturing Company. Around 1875, the Wales Baptist Church relocated to this area, constructing a large church just up the hill from this house, which can be seen in the distance on the right side of the first photo.

At some point in the early 20th century, this house was acquired by the church, which, in turn, gave it to the town for use as a library. It opened in 1922, following a conversion that included changing the window configuration on the first floor. This helped to balance the building’s appearance, as it previously had one window on the left and two on the right, although the second floor windows were unchanged, resulting in a slightly asymmetrical front facade.

The first photo was taken soon after the library opened, and very little has changed in its appearance since then. The church in the distance is long gone, but this building remains in use as the Wales Public Library, with only minor exterior alterations. However, both the town’s population and the library’s collections have grown substantially in almost a century since the building opened, and today the library faces both overcrowding of its shelves and the structural deterioration of the building itself. Because of this, the library is in need of a new building, although to date there have been no definitive plans for relocating.

Wales Baptist Church, Wales, Mass

The Wales Baptist Church on Church Street, seen in the distance from the other side of Main Street, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

The present-day town of Wales was settled sometime around the 1720s, and was, at the time, a part of Brimfield. It was subsequently incorporated as a separate town in 1775, and was known as South Brimfield until 1828, when it was renamed Wales. As was the case across New England in the colonial era, the area’s settlement soon led to the establishment of a church. However while nearly all of these churches were Congregational, Wales was a rare exception. Its first church, formed in 1736, was Baptist, making it among the first Baptist churches in this part of the state. Other denominations would later establish churches here in Wales, but the Baptists would remain the predominant religious group for many years.

In 1802, the Baptists constructed a new meeting house on the southern part of Main Street, near the corner of Union Road. Along with the Baptists, the building was used by other denominations, including Universalists and Congregationalists, and it also served as the town hall. It would continue to be used as the town hall until 1965, and it is still standing today, but the Baptists moved out of the building around 1875, when they built a new church about a mile away on Church Street, which is seen here in the first photo. At the time, this area had become the town’s manufacturing center, and there were several woolen mills in the vicinity of the church, including one that was located just out of view to the right of the scene.

The first photo shows the church as it appeared around the 1890s. The town’s population had peaked about a decade earlier, with a population of 1,030 during the 1880 census. However, the town lost many of its manufacturing jobs by the turn of the 20th century, and the population rapidly declined. Within 30 years, the town lost two-thirds of its residents, with the 1910 census showing a population of just 345. Not until after World War II did Wales see significant growth again, and the town would not surpass its 1880 population until the 1980 census.

The early 20th century population loss hurt Wales’s churches, particularly the Baptists, who had built this large church building at the height of the town’s prosperity. They would continue to worship here until around the early 1930s, when the dwindling congregation joined with the Methodists, whose church was located a little to the south of here on Main Street. The Baptists later took ownership of the former Methodist church, and today the Wales Baptist Church continues to hold its services there, more than 280 years after the congregation was first established.

As the present-day photo shows, the old 1875 church building is no longer standing. It was evidently demolished at some point after the early 1930s, although the short, dead end road on the irght side of the scene still bears the name of Church Street. Today, the only surviving building from the first photo is the house in the foreground, at the corner of Main and Church Streets. Built in the first half of the 19th century, this house later became the Wales Public Library in 1922, and it remains in use today. The first floor windows were altered during its conversion to a library, but otherwise it still stands as the only recognizable feature from the first 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.

158-160 Main Street, Indian Orchard, Springfield, Mass

The building at 158-160 Main Street in the Springfield neighborhood of Indian Orchard, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

The early history of this building seems unclear, but it was likely among the oldest buildings on Main Street in Indian Orchard when the first photo was taken. The state’s MACRIS database estimates that it was built between 1855 and 1860, in the early years of Indian Orchard’s development. At the time, the majority of buildings on Main Street were small wood-frame structures, but over time these began to be replaced by larger brick buildings, as seen on both sides of these photos. However, this building managed to survive, with some alterations, until the late 20th century, despite being overshadowed on either side by taller neighbors.

By about 1880, this building was owned by Walter S. Colwell, a merchant who lived here and ran a meat market around the corner at 21 Oak Street, where the present-day post office now stands. He lived on the left side of this building, at 158 Main, along with his wife Eliza and their son Howard. The  right side of the building was the home of his uncle, Larned Colwell, who lived on the right side with his wife Melissa and their children, Harding and Minnie. Larned was Walter’s business partner, and they were, according to the 1882 city directory, “Dealers in all kinds of Fresh, Salt and Smoked Meats, Lard, Tripe, and Vegetables in their season.”

Larned Colwell died in 1889, and within a few years his widow Melissa had moved to Hampden Street. However, Walter would remain here for at least another decade, although by the 1899 city directory he had evidently left the meat business and was working as a bookkeeper for the Chapman Valve Company. He, Eliza, and Howard moved soon after, and by the 1900 census they were living a few blocks away in a house at 111 Berkshire Street. Within a few years, this property on Main Street was sold to clothing merchant Charles Bengle, who built a large commercial block at the corner of Oak Street, just to the left of this building. Then, in 1908, Octave A. LaRiviere built an even taller building just to the right, surrounding the old building on both sides.

By the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, this building had seen a few alterations from its original appearance, including several storefronts and a cross-gable that faced Main Street. There are no legible signs in any of the storefronts to indicate what businesses were located here, but the building was used for both residential and commercial purposes for many years. It was still standing in 1984, when it was inventoried for the state’s MACRIS database of historic buildings, and a photo from this era showed two ground-floor tenants: de Sousa Real Estate and Notary Public on the left, and Casa de Portugal on the right. However, the building has subsequently been demolished, and today the site is a parking lot, flanked on either side by the other two buildings from the first photo.

Charles Bengle Block, Springfield, Mass

The commercial block at the northeast corner of Main and Oak Streets in the Springfield neighborhood of Indian Orchard, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

Springfield’s Indian Orchard neighborhood was developed in the late 19th century as a factory village, and this intersection at the corner of Main and Oak Streets became its commercial center. The first significant business block, the three-story Wight & Chapman, was built in 1875 at the northwest corner of the intersection, and it was followed 30 years later by this building, which was completed in 1905 on the opposite side of Oak Street, at the northeast corner of the intersection.

This building was originally owned by Charles Bengle, a merchant whose store was located on the ground floor. A native of Quebec, Bengle came to Indian Orchard in 1867, where he found work in the mills. However, after a short time he began working for a grocer, and then for a clothier. After just a year, he purchased an interest in the clothing firm, which became Chapman & Bengle. In 1875, the store moved into the newly-built Wight & Chapman Block, where they were, according to city directories of the era,“Dealers in Clothing, Gentlemen’s Furnishing Goods, Boots and Shoes. Repairing neatly and promptly done.”

In 1886, Bengle purchased Chapman’s interest in the business and became its sole owner. The store remained in the Wight & Chapman Block until 1905, when Bengle completed his new building across the street. His store occupied the storefront on the left side, and he ran it until his death in 1909. However, the business remained in the family for many years, and it thrived during the first half of the 20th century, drawing customers not only from Indian Orchard but also from the nearby towns of Ludlow and Wilbraham.

The first photo, taken in the late 1930s, shows the sign for the “Charles Bengle Co.” above the left storefront. At the time, it was run by Charles’s son Adelard, who died in 1946 and left the store to his son, Victor. However, by this point the store was in decline, and it finally closed in 1952, more than 75 years after Charles Bengle first entered the retail clothing business. It was replaced in this storefront by a radio and television store, but subsequent tenants included an auto parts store and, today, a cabinetry store.

Overall, despite changes in its use, the building itself has remained remarkably well-preserved. The storefronts have not been significantly changed since the first photo was taken, and the upper floors retain their decorative Classical Revival-style features. It is one of several historic business blocks that still stand here on this section of Main Street, including the Wight & Chapman Block and the nearby LaRiviere building, and today the center of Indian Orchard still retains much of its original late 19th and early 20th century appearance.

The LaRiviere, Springfield, Mass

The building at 162-164 Main Street in the Indian Orchard neighborhood of Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

This commercial block was one of several Indian Orchard properties that were owned by Octave A. LaRiviere, a French-Canadian merchant, politician, and contractor who was among the neighborhood’s leading citizens of the late 19th century. LaRiviere, who also went by the name of John Rivers earlier in his career, lived in the house directly to the right of this building, and he also owned a tenement building, which was located a block west of here on Main Street.

This four-story brick building was completed in 1908, and was known as The LaRiviere. It is perhaps the most architecturally significant of the several late 19th and early 20th century commercial buildings here on Main Street, and it features an ornate, polychromatic Classical Revival facade. There are two storefronts on the ground floor, with apartments in the upper floors, and the 1910 census shows at least four families in the building. Based on the census records, the residents were primarily skilled laborers and other middle-class workers at the nearby factories in Indian Orchard, and included a machinist, a foreman, an inspector, a pattern maker, a traveling salesman, a clerk, and a chief engineer.

By the time the first photo was taken, America was in the midst of the Great Depression, but there were still a good number of factory jobs here in Indian Orchard. As was the case in 1910, most of the residents worked as skilled laborers, with the 1940 census showing that most of them earned around $1,000 to $1,300 per year. The building had five different families at the time, with two each paying $40 per month in rent, one paying $36, one paying $20, and one whose rent was not included on the census.

Today, The LaRiviere is one of several historic commercial blocks in the center of Indian Orchard. It remains remarkably well-preserved, with even the storefronts looking the same as they did over 80 years ago. LaRiviere’s house, located on the right side of the scene, has since been altered, but it is still standing and still recognizable from the first photo. The only significant change in this scene is the building on the left, at 158-160 Main Street. It was still standing here as late as the 1980s, when it was included in the state’s MACRIS database of historic properties, but it has since been demolished, and the site is now a parking lot.