First Congregational Church, Chicopee, Mass

The First Congregational Church on Chicopee Street in Chicopee, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

Today, this church is known as the First Congregational Church of Chicopee, but the building actually predates Chicopee by several decades. It was completed in 1826 as the Second Congregational Church of Springfield, back when the present-day city of Chicopee was the northern section of Springfield. This section of Chicopee Street, located just east of the Connecticut River, was the site of the earliest settlement in Chicopee, in the second half of the 17th century. For around 75 years, residents of the village had to travel more than five miles to the center of Springfield in order to attend church services, but a new church was established here in 1751. The first meeting house was completed the following year, and stood here until it was replaced with the current church.

The new church came at the request of newly-installed pastor Alexander Phoenix, who agreed to become the pastor of the church only if the old building was repaired or rebuilt. The congregation chose the latter option, spending $4,400 to construct a new church.  The work was done by Alva Whitmarsh and Seba Shepherd, who were associates of noted builder and architect Isaac Damon. Their design reflected the Greek Revival style of architecture, which was becoming popular during this period, particularly for churches and other public buildings, and it also bore a strong resemblance to many of Damon’s own churches, including the First Congregational Church in Springfield.

The first service in the new church was held on January 4, 1826. It was equipped with a stove for heat – something that was still a novelty in many New England churches – but this stove was apparently a source of controversy. Judge E. W. Chapin, in a letter that was read to the church at its annual meeting in 1897, related a story that his mother had told him regarding this stove, writing that “Some woman opposed the innovation, fearing the heat would be too oppressive. The stove, however, was put up, but for some reason no fire was built in it the first Sabbath. This, however, was not known by the woman, who was so overcome by anticipated heat that she was compelled to leave the church during the service.”

In 1841, the church acquired the house immediately to the left of it, in the distance of both photos. This house had been built in 1830 as the home of Silas Stedman, and was later owned by George Hooker before being sold to the church for use as its parsonage. The church was still a part of Springfield at the time, but in 1848 Chicopee was partitioned off as a separate town, and the church became the First Congregational Church of Chicopee. By this point, the main population centers of the town had shifted to the south and east, to the factory villages of Cabotville and Chicopee Falls, but this church building remained in use here at the traditional center of the town.

The first photo shows Chicopee Street as it appeared around 1892, with the church in the center and the parsonage beyond it to the left. Around 125 years later, this scene has not changed dramatically. The trees are gone, the road has been paved, and a newer house now stands on the right side of the church, but overall this scene still looks much the same as it did at the end of the 19th century. Both the church and parsonage remain standing, and both are still owned by the First Church of Chicopee, which continues to worship here nearly 200 years after the building was completed.

Kendall House, Chicopee, Mass

Looking south on Springfield Street, toward the Kendall House Hotel in Chicopee, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

This scene shows the view looking south on Springfield Street toward the center of Chicopee, with the Chicopee River behind the photographer and the Ames Manufacturing Company facility just out of view to the left. The most notable building in the first photo is the Kendall House hotel, which is seen on the left side of the photo, just beyond the bridge over the canal. The hotel was built around 1834-1835, by prominent businessman Chester W. Chapin, and it dates back to the early days of Chicopee’s industrial development. At the time, Chicopee was still part of Springfield, and this particular area was known as Cabotville. The village was named after the Cabot Manufacturing Company, which was, in turn, named for Boston merchant Samuel Cabot, and this hotel was likewise originally named the Cabot House.

As built, the Cabot House had a fairly plain, Federal-style exterior that was common for commercial buildings of the era, with a brick exterior, three and a half stories, and a gabled roof. It opened as the first hotel in Cabotville, and for the first few years it was operated by Gardner Kimball. In 1836, he hired Marvin Chapin (no close relation to Chester) as a clerk. A native of Somers, Connecticut, Marvin Chapin had just returned to the area after spending time on a surveying crew in Florida, and after just a few weeks here he purchased the Cabot House from Kimball. He and his brother Ethan operated the hotel for several years, but in 1842 they purchased property on Main Street in Springfield and built the Massasoit House, which opened the following year. The Massasoit House went on to become one of the leading hotels in Western Massachusetts, and the Chapins subsequently sold the Cabot House to Madison Kendall.

The hotel later became known as the Kendall House, and enjoyed a prominent location in the center of Chicopee. The Chicopee Falls Branch of the Connecticut River Railroad opened in 1845, with a depot directly in front of the hotel, and three years later Chicopee was incorporated as a separate town. The current City Hall was later built across the street from the Kendall House, and in the meantime the factories here along the riverfront continued to expand, placing the hotel in the center of the city’s industry, commerce, transportation, and government.

The first photo shows the Kendall House with its front section of three and a half stories, a rear section with two and a half stories, and a two-story porch. Adjacent to the hotel, in the center of the photo, was a similar building, known as Chapin’s Block, which was probably built around the same time as the Kendall House. The railroad depot is not visible from this angle, but the white crossing signs can be seen in the center and far left of the photo. The Ames Manufacturing Company, whose factory was soon to be purchased by Spalding, was located just to the left of this scene, and the Dwight Manufacturing Company was just to the right on the opposite side of Springfield Street. Some of the children on the street may have been child laborers for Dwight Manufacturing, similar to those who were documented by photographer Lewis Wickes Hine several decades later.

Around 125 years after the first photo was taken, this scene has changed significantly. Chapin’s Block in the center of the photo is long gone, as are the buildings further in the distance to the right. The road bridge over the canal is new, and the railroad tracks are no longer there, having last been used in 1983. However, the Kendall House is still standing, although it is significantly altered from its original appearance. The gabled roof was removed after a fire in the early 20th century, and replaced with a flat roof and a cornice. The front porch is also gone, and the back part of the building has since been expanded into three full stories. Until recently, the building housed Quicky’s Restaurant and 38 single room occupancy units, but in 2017 the interior was completely renovated and converted into 41 studio apartments.

Ames Manufacturing Company, Chicopee, Mass

The Ames Manufacturing Company on Springfield Street in Chicopee, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

The origins of the Ames Manufacturing Company date back to 1822, when industrialist Edmund Dwight purchased property along the Chicopee River at Skenungonuck Falls, at the present-day village of Chicopee Falls. At the time, Chicopee was the sparsely-settled northern half of Springfield, but the Industrial Revolution helped to transform it into a major manufacturing center, thanks to the many waterfalls here on the Chicopee River. In 1823, Dwight incorporated the Boston and Springfield Manufacturing Company, and within a few years he had built a dam, a canal, and a mill at Chicopee Falls, marking the beginning of large-scale industry here in Chicopee.

In 1829, Dwight persuaded brothers Nathan P. and James T. Ames to relocate their cutlery business from Chelmsford to Chicopee Falls. He provided them with a blacksmith shop at his mill complex, rent-free for four years, and the brothers began operations here with a workforce of nine. The business rapidly expanded, though, and by 1833 they had 25 to 30 employees and were producing a wide variety of cutlery and tools, as well as swords for the Army and Navy.

The company was incorporated as the Ames Manufacturing Company in 1834, and the following year moved to this site further down the river. Known at the time as Cabotville, this village would later become the center of Chicopee when it was incorporated as a separate town in 1848. Here, the Chicopee River drops 50 feet in elevation, and both a dam and a canal were constructed in the early 1830s. At this new site, the company continued to grow and diversify, and by the end of the 1830s the Ames brothers were also producing cannons, cannonballs, bells, and a variety of other metal objects.

The first photo, taken in the early 1890s, shows the canal in the center and the Ames complex on the left. These buildings were constructed starting in 1847, with the oldest section visible just to the right of the tower. The facility was steadily expanded in the following decades, and was largely in its present form by the end of the Civil War. This era marked the heyday of Ames Manufacturing, which produced munitions during both the Mexican War and the Civil War. The Civil War in particular brought prosperity, and this facility became one of the war’s leading producers of swords, light artillery, and heavy ordnance.

During this period, the company also began casting bronze statues, beginning in 1853. Under the direction of foundry superintendent Silas Mosman, Jr., the company produced many important statues, including the Benjamin Franklin statue at Boston’s Old City Hall, the equestrian statues of George Washington at the Boston Public Garden and New York’s Union Square, the Minuteman statue at Concord, and the statues at Abraham Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield, Illinois. However, perhaps Mosman’s most significant accomplishment was casting the bronze doors for the east wing of the U.S. Capitol, which were installed in 1867. In his later years, Silas Mosman was assisted in his work by his son, Melzar, who went on to have an accomplished career both designing and casting statues. He remained here at Ames until 1884, but subsequently left the firm and established his own foundry here in Chicopee.

Of the two Ames brothers, only James lived to see the company’s prosperity in the mid-19th century. Nathan died in 1847, at the age of 43, but James remained with the company until his retirement in 1872, a year before his death. However, by this point Ames Manufacturing was entering a decline. The Civil War had been a boon for business, but after the war the company struggled to adapt to peacetime demands. The factory produced a wide variety of metal products, from mailboxes to ice skates, and as late as the 1870s the company had major foreign contracts for bayonets, scabbards, and sabers. Starting in the early 1880s, Ames also produced bicycles for the Overman Wheel Company. This contract proved lucrative, as demand for bicycles skyrocketed during this period, but this high demand ultimately ended up hurting Ames when, in 1887, Overman opened its own bicycle factory in Chicopee Falls.

The first photo was taken several years later, by which point the company was in serious decline. Ames remained here for about 15 more years, but in 1908 the factory complex was sold to A. G. Spalding and Brothers. This sporting goods company had been established in Chicago in 1876 by baseball player Albert G. Spalding, and in 1893 the company began manufacturing its products in Chicopee Falls. After purchasing the Ames facility in 1908, Spalding set about expanding it, adding several new buildings, and for the next 40 years the factory produced a wide range of Spalding sporting goods. Among other things, Spalding supplied the baseballs for Major League Baseball for most of the 20th century, and these balls were produced here in Chicopee. Spalding was also an early leader in golf equipment, and at one point had an entire building dedicated to producing golf balls.

Spalding relocated to a new facility in Chicopee in 1948, but the old buildings continued to be used by a variety of industries until the 1980s, when the buildings were converted into a 138-unit apartment complex known as Ames Privilege. Despite the many changes in ownership and use, though, the former Ames facility has survived with few major changes over the years. It is hard to tell in the second photo, but the same buildings from the first photo still line the canal, and the only significant change is a fourth floor, which was added to the buildings sometime after the first photo was taken. Because of its level of preservation and its historical significance, the property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Grape Street School, Chicopee, Mass

The Grape Street School at the corner of Grape and Elm Streets in Chicopee, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

During the mid-19th century, Chicopee developed into an industrial center, with factories in the villages of Chicopee Center and Chicopee Falls. Although situated less than two miles apart along the Chicopee River, these two villages were largely independent of one another, and for many years each had its own high school. The first high school was built in 1825 on Church Street in Chicopee Falls, and was replaced by a new building 20 years later. In the meantime, though, a second high school was opened in Chicopee Center in 1843, in this school building on Grape Street.

The Grape Street School had been completed a year earlier, and housed a primary school in the basement and the high school on the second floor. At the time, there were just two teachers in the high school, including a principal and an assistant. Thaddeus M. Szetela, in his 1948 History of Chicopee book, describes the layout of the high school: “There was one large assembly hall, equipped with desks for pupils, with a raised platform in front for the principal’s desk. There were blackboards and tables in the rear on which were a few reference books and magazines. There were openings off this platform to the north, three recitation rooms, one a library.”

This building continued to be used for Center High School throughout most of the 19th century. During this time, by far the longest-tenured and most prominent of its principals was George D. Robinson, who took the position in the fall of 1856. A native of Lexington, Massachusetts, Robinson was a 22-year-old Harvard graduate when he began working as principal, and remained here at the school until 1865, when he left to study law. He subsequently became a prominent lawyer and politician, serving as a Congressman from 1877 to 1884, and as governor of Massachusetts from 1884 to 1887.

Chicopee continued to have two high schools up until the fall of 1890, when Falls High and Center High were combined here at the school on Grape Street. A year later, a new high school building was built on Front Street, midway between the two villages, but the old Grape Street School continued to be used as a public school. It was subsequently renamed the Robinson School, in honor of its famous principal, and in 1899 a second school building was completed just to the right of it, known as the Valentine School.

The Robinson School remained in use well into the 20th century, but it was ultimately demolished in 1959 and an apartment complex was later built on the site. However, the neighboring Valentine School was used as a school into the 1980s, and it has since been preserved and converted into apartments. It stands just beyond and to the right of the apartment buildings in the 2017 photo, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

George M. Stearns House, Chicopee, Mass

The house at 111 Springfield Street in Chicopee, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The house in 2017:

This house was built around the early 1830s, and appears to have originally been owned by Rodolphus Kinsley, a locksmith who held several patents for door locks and latches. At the time, the house was significantly smaller, with relatively plain Greek Revival-style architecture, and likely would have only consisted of the central portion of the house. In 1834, the house was temporarily used as the first home of the Third Congregational Church, which later built its own church building just down the street from here, and by the mid-1850s maps show that the house was owned by a S.F. Williams.

The most prominent owner of this house was George M. Stearns, a lawyer and politician who was living here by the 1870 census, along with his wife Emily and their two young daughters, Mary and Emily. Born in 1831 in Stoughton but raised in rural Rowe, Massachusetts, Stearns came to Chicopee as a 17-year-old in 1848 and studied law under John Wells, a lawyer who later became a judge on the state Supreme Court. Stearns was subsequently admitted to the bar in 1852, and became Wells’s law partner for several years.

Aside from his law practice, Stearns also held several political offices, including serving a term in the state House of Representatives in 1859 and in the state Senate in 1871. In 1872 he was appointed as District Attorney for the Western District of Massachusetts, and in 1886 Grover Cleveland appointed him as U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. He was also involved in the Democratic Party, and served as a delegate to both state and national party conventions.

George and Emily Stearns ultimately outlived both of their daughters, and they were still living here when the first photo was taken in the early 1890s. By this point the house had been significantly altered from its 1830s appearance, including wings on both the left and right side, and the original part of the house was modified with a two-story bay window to the left of the front door. These changes helped to give the house more of an ornate Queen Anne-style appearance, although it still retained some of its original Greek Revival features.

George Stearns died in 1894, several months after he and Emily moved to Brookline, Massachusetts, and this house went on to have a number of different residents over the following years. By the 1900 census it was the home of Alexander Acheson Montgomery-Moore, an Irish immigrant who was the proprietor of the Kendall House hotel in the center of Chicopee. He lived here with his wife Lillian and their infant son Cecil, along with Lillian’s mother Nancy. The family did not live here in this house for long, and by 1909 they were living in Bermuda. Young Cecil would go on to have a distinguished career in the Royal Air Force. He served as a fighter pilot during World War I, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross in the process, and during World War II he was a major, in command of both the Bermuda Volunteer Engineers and the Bermuda Flying School.

In the meantime, by the 1910 census this house was being rented by George S. Ball, who worked as a machinist for Spalding. He and his wife Ina were both in their early 50s at the time, and they lived here with their three children, who were all in their 20s. The oldest, Laura, worked as a trimmer for the Ames Sword Company, William was a shipping clerk for the Stevens-Duryea car manufacturing company, and the youngest, Susie, was a stenographer.

By the 1920 census, the house had become a boarding house, owned by French-Canadian immigrant Elzear X. LaBelle. He and his wife Josephine lived here with their children Leo, Eva, and Edward, and the census shows 11 boarders living here with them. The boarders were all men, mostly in their early 20s, and included two immigrants from Ireland and three from Greece. Most were employed in area factories, including five who worked in a rubber shop and two who worked as die makers in a forge shop, but there were also two firemen, a barber, and a pool room clerk.

The LaBelles were still here in 1930, this time with seven boarders, six of whom were men. They were a wide range of ages, from 27 to 71,  and all were either single or widowed. All but two were immigrants, including one from Scotland, one from Northern Ireland, one from Quebec, and two from Greece, and their jobs included working for a sporting goods company, an electric light company, a rubber factory, a shoe shine parlor, and a restaurant.

The building remained a boarding house for many years, but the exterior has not significantly changed during this time, and it is now a contributing property in the Springfield Street Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. The house was undergoing a significant renovation when the first photo was taken and, when complete, the interior will include 16 units for low-income housing.

Third Congregational Church, Chicopee, Mass

The Third Congregational Church, on Springfield Street in Chicopee, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The church in 2017:

Chicopee’s Third Congregational Church was established in 1834, and originally met in the nearby Stearns House. After meeting in several other temporary locations, the church built its first permanent building in 1837, here at the corner of Springfield and Pearl Streets. The congregation worshipped here for three decades, but in 1868 the old building was demolished and replaced with the present brick church, which was completed in 1870. It features High Victorian Gothic-style architecture, which was common in churches of the era, and it was designed by Charles Edward Parker, a Boston-based architect who would go on to design Chicopee City Hall several years later.

In 1925, Third Congregational Church merged with the Central Methodist Episcopal Church, forming the Federated Church. Central Methodist subsequently sold their building on Center Street, and the merged church continued to worship here in the Third Congregational building. The church has since been renamed Christ’s Community Church, but it remains here in this building, which has seen few changes in the 125 years since the first photo was taken. The house next door, which is now owned by the church, is also still standing, and today both buildings are part of the Springfield Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.