George D. Robinson House, Chicopee, Mass

The house at 104 Springfield Street, at the corner of Howard Street in Chicopee, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The house in 2017:

This elegant Second Empire-style House was built around 1869, and was originally the home of businessman D. Frank Hale. Variously listed in censuses and city directories as a real estate broker, a merchant, and a landlord, he was evidently prosperous, because the 1870 census lists his real estate as being worth $88,500, plus $5,500 in his personal estate, for a total net worth equal to over $1.8 million today. However, despite this wealth his personal life was marred by tragedy. He and his wife Lucy had six children, but only one of them, their son William, survived to adulthood. Their other five children died of various diseases when they were six years old or younger, including 3-month-old twin boys Arthur and Luther, who died of “brain fever” ten days apart from each other in March 1872.

The Hale family lived here until about 1878, when they moved to Springfield. They sold the house to George D. Robinson, a lawyer and politician who was, at the time, serving his first term in Congress. Born in Lexington in 1834, Robinson moved to Chicopee in 1856 after his graduation from Harvard. Here, he worked as principal of Chicopee’s Center High School from 1856 to 1865, and subsequently became a lawyer and entered politics. He represented Chicopee in both the state House of Representatives and the state Senate, and in 1876 he was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives, where he served from 1877 to 1884.

In 1883, Robinson ran as the Republican candidate for governor of Massachusetts, defeating incumbent governor Benjamin Butler in a hotly contested general election. Butler, himself a former Congressman, had been a notoriously inept general during the Civil War, but he had presidential ambitions and hoped that his re-election as governor would help earn him the Democratic nomination in 1884. However, Butler’s loss to Robinson, after just a single one-year term as governor, significantly hurt his chances, and the 1884 Democratic nomination – and ultimately the presidency – went to another northeastern governor, Grover Cleveland of New York.

Robinson served three one-year terms from 1884 to 1887, and was involved in the passage of several key reforms, including free textbooks for public school students, as well as a law mandating employers to pay their workers on a weekly basis. However, he declined to seek a fourth term in the 1886 election, and retired from politics. He returned to his private law practice, and his work included several high-profile cases. Most notably, he was one of the defense attorneys for Lizzie Borden, the Fall River who was tried, and ultimately acquitted, for the 1892 axe murders of her father and stepmother.

George Robinson’s first wife, Hannah Stevens, died in 1864. Three years later, he remarried to Susan Simonds, and by the time they moved into this house in they late 1870s they had one child, Annie, plus George’s son from his first marriage, Walter. George and Susan were still living here when the first photo was taken in the early 1890s, and he would remain here until his death in 1896. Susan was still living here during the 1900 census, along with her sister Caroline, but she later moved to Springfield, where she died in 1909.

In 1917, this house was sold to the Roman Catholic Church, becoming the rectory for the Assumption Church, a predominantly French-Canadian parish that served some of the many factory workers who had immigrated to Chicopee from Quebec. About five years later, a new church building was completed just to the north of the house, on the right side of the photo, and both it and the rectory remain in use today.

Nearly 150 years after it was built, Governor Robinson’s former house remains as one of the finest 19th century homes in Chicopee, and has been well-preserved over the years. There have been a few minor changes since the first photo was taken, such as the small one-story addition on the left side, but overall it remains in excellent condition, all the way down to fine details such as the iron balustrades on the roof. Today, both the house and the Assumption Church form part of the Springfield Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.

Church of the Holy Name of Jesus, Chicopee, Mass

The Church of the Holy Name of Jesus, seen from the corner of South and Springfield Streets in Chicopee, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The church in 2017:

During the mid-19th century, Chicopee began to develop into a major industrial center, with factories located along the Chicopee River at Chicopee Falls and further downstream here in the center of town. With the factories came immigrant workers, starting with the Irish and followed in later years by French-Canadians and Poles. Primarily Roman Catholic, these immigrants brought significant cultural changes to the Connecticut River Valley, which had been predominantly Congregationalist and almost exclusively Protestant until this point.

The Church of the Holy Name of Jesus was one of the first Roman Catholic churches in the area, and was built between 1857 and 1859, just to the south of the center of Chicopee. Its Gothic-style design was the work of Patrick Keely, an Irish-born architect who designed nearly 600 Catholic churches across the United States and Canada, including St. Michael’s Cathedral in nearby Springfield. Along with the church itself, the property also included the rectory, which was built around the same time and can be seen in the left center of the photo. This was followed in the late 1860s by a school for girls and a convent, and in 1881 by a school for boys, all of which were located on the opposite side of the church.

By the time the first photo was taken, around the early 1890s, both the Irish and French-Canadian immigrant groups were well-established in the area, and Polish immigrants had just started to arrive in large numbers. Primarily Catholic, many of them joined this church, and the parish records showed that Polish families accounted for nearly 30 percent of the baptisms and more than half of the marriages here at the church between 1888 and 1890. However, the Polish community soon formed a church of their own, establishing the St. Stanislaus parish in 1890 and dedicating its first building in 1895.

Around 125 years after the first photo was taken, the church is still standing, along with the rectory. although they are mostly hidden by trees in this view. The only significant change to the church over the years has been the steeple, which was struck by lightning and was replaced by the current copper spire in 1910. However, the church has been closed and boarded-up since 2011, when a renovation project uncovered deteriorating masonry and significant termite damage. The following year, the Holy Name School was closed amid declining enrollment, and in 2015 the school buildings and the convent were demolished. The church itself was not part of the demolition plan, although it remains vacant and its future seems uncertain.

Veranus Casino, Chicopee, Mass

The Veranus Casino, at the southwest corner of Springfield Street and Casino Avenue in Chicopee, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

This section of Chicopee was developed in the late 19th century by Frank E. Tuttle and James L. Humphrey, who had purchased 50 acres of land between Springfield and Hampden Streets, just to the south of the center of Chicopee. The development was named Veranus, in honor of Veranus Chapin, who had once owned a farm here, and the centerpiece of this new neighborhood was the Veranus Casino, which was located here at the corner of Springfield Street and Casino Avenue.

The Queen Anne-style casino building was completed in the early 1890s, right around the time that the first photo was taken. It was operated by the Veranus Casino Company, with Frank E. Tuttle as vice president and his father-in-law, George M. Stearns, as president. Unlike the modern sense of the word, a late 19th century “casino” did not generally involve gambling, and the term was instead used for places that offered a variety of recreational activities. As described in the Boston Daily Globe after the company was established in 1890, the casino would be used for “social, literary, artistic, and educational purposes,” and upon completion the building would include a 400-seat auditorium.

The book Picturesque Hampden, published in 1892, includes a lengthy account of the Veranus neighborhood, and describes the casino as “a combination of theater and clubhouse, pleasantly located on Springfield street. It is tastefully and substantially built, in the modern style of architecture, from original designs by F. E. Tuttle, which were perfected by architect F. R. Richmond of Springfield.” The book then describes the interior of the building:

The clubrooms are located in the front portion of the building. They consist of handsome and roomy parlors, one each on the two first floors, both being connected with the kitchen in the basement by a dumb-waiter; a ladies’ dressing-room on the second floor; a gentlemen’s smoking-room and a billiard-room on the third. All of these rooms are attractively finished and adorned with rich and tasteful furniture, in which comfort is the evident consideration, instead of magnificence and costliness. The clubrooms are open to members every day in the year, from 10 a. m. to 10 p. m., and are in charge of a gentleman and lady who reside in the building. On Wednesday evening of each week, special receptions are held here by the club families and their children, and on Sunday evenings they all gather here to sing sacred songs, a piano and psalm books being provided. Harmless amusements are also to be found in the rooms at all times, and light refreshments are served therein to all members and their immediate friends who may desire.

Despite such fanfare, though, the Veranus Casino lasted for barely two decades. In 1913, the same year that Frank Tuttle died, the casino was sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, and the property appears to have subsequently become part of Elms College, which is located across the street from here. The fate of the building seems unclear, although according to the city assessor’s office the current house on the site was built in 1926. If accurate, this would suggest that the casino was probably demolished around this time.

Springfield Street and Casino Avenue, Chicopee, Mass

Looking north on Springfield Street from the corner of Casino Avenue in Chicopee, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

These views show the same scene as the ones in the previous post, just from the opposite angle. As mentioned in that post, this section of Chicopee was developed in the late 19th century by Frank E. Tuttle and James L. Humphrey, with Tuttle living in the large house in the center of the photo. This house was built in 1888, and most of the other ones in this area date to around the same time. Development was still ongoing when the first photo was taken in the early 1890s, and several more homes would be built in this scene by the early 20th century.

The Queen Anne-style house on the left was built in 1885, and was the home of William W. McClench, an attorney who served as the second mayor of Chicopee in 1892. He had been the unsuccessful Democratic candidate in the city’s first mayoral race, but in the next election he was nominated by both political parties and was unanimously elected mayor. In 1893, he returned to his law practice, forming a partnership with Frederick H. Gillett, a Congressman who later went on to serve as Speaker of the House from 1919 to 1925.

William McClench and his wife Katherine had three children: Marion, Cora, and Donald, and they lived here in this house until 1900, when they moved to a house on Sumner Avenue in Springfield. In 1898, William had become the general counsel for the Springfield-based Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, and he would later become second vice president and, in 1908, the president of the company.

Much has changed here in the 125 years since the first photo was taken, and the neighborhood is now the home of Elms College, which is located just out of view on the right side of the photo. Both of the houses from the first photo are still standing, although both have had significant exterior alterations. The Tuttle house has been the Grisé Funeral Home since the 1920s, and now has a cupola, artificial siding, and changes to some of the porches. The McClench house also has modern siding, along with an enclosed porch, and most of its original Queen Anne-style details are now gone. However, despite these changes, both houses are now part of the Springfield Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.

Springfield Street and Stearns Terrace, Chicopee, Mass

Looking south on Springfield Street from the corner of Stearns Terrace in Chicopee, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

Until the late 19th century, this section of Chicopee was primarily farmland, with little development to the south of South Street and Fairfield Avenue. However, this began to change by the 1880s, as Chicopee grew into a major manufacturing center. This particular area, located just south of the city center between Springfield and Hampden Streets, was developed by Frank E. Tuttle and James L. Humphrey, who built a number of upscale homes on a 50-acre parcel that had once been the farm of Veranus Chapin. The development was named Veranus in his honor, and consisted of gently-curving side streets, as well as an elm-lined Springfield Street, as seen here.

The house in the center of the photo was Frank Tuttle’s own home, and was built in 1888 on the west side of Springfield Street. Originally from Chicopee, Tuttle had moved to Springfield with his parents when he was a teenager, and he spent his early adulthood working as a bookkeeper for Howard & Brothers, a railroad supply company. He later went into business for himself, forming a partnership with John Olmstead. They dealt in cotton waste, using excess material from cotton mills to produce items such as felt mattresses, carpet linings, floor mops, comforters, and a variety of other consumer products. Their company was originally located in Springfield, but in 1887 they moved to a new facility here in Chicopee, next to the land that he and Humphrey would develop.

Frank Tuttle’s first wife was Mary C. Stearns, whose father, George M. Stearns, was a politician and lawyer who, from 1886 to 1887, served as the United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. They were married in 1876, and had two children, one of whom died in infancy. Mary died in 1883, and two years later Frank remarried to Sarah F. Knapp. He and Sarah did not have any children together, but they lived here in this house with Emily, Frank’s daughter from his first marriage, who was about 10 years old when this house was built.

Frank lived here in this house until his death in 1913, and within a few years Sarah and Emily moved to Boston. However, Sarah later returned to western Massachusetts, living in Springfield until her death in 1947. In the meantime, this house was sold to Charles C. Abbey, a businessman who owned the Springfield Coal and Wood Company. Along with this, he was the president of the Chicopee Falls Wheel Company and the Chicopee Co-Operative Bank, and he was also a director of the Chicopee Street Railway. Charles lived here with his wife Emily and her elderly mother, Mary Lombard, until his death in 1919 at the age of 66. Emily’s father had died in 1865 while serving in the Civil War, and her mother died in 1920, at the age of 89.

Emily moved out of this house soon after her mother’s death, and by the late 1920s the house had become the Grisé Funeral Home. At some point over the years, the house saw some changes, including an addition of a cupola, some alterations of the second-story porch, and modern siding. However, it is still in use as the Grisé Funeral Home, and it is part of the Springfield Street Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

The surrounding neighborhood has also undergone some significant changes since the first photo was taken. Most of the homes that Tuttle and Humphrey built in the late 19th century are still standing, but there are also a few more recent homes, including the one on the right side of the photo, which was built in 1926. The elm trees that once lined Springfield Street are long gone, presumably lost to Dutch Elm Disease in the mid-20th century. However, the name of the trees lives on with The College of Our Lady of the Elms, better known as Elms College, which is located directly across the street from here on the left side of the photo.

Willimansett Y, Chicopee Mass

The “Y” intersection of Chicopee Street and Meadow Street in the Chicopee village of Willimansett, around 1917. Image courtesy of the Chicopee Public Library, Russ H. Gilbert Photographic Collection.

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The “Y” in 2015:

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In the early 20th century, the city of Chicopee experienced a large population growth, much of which was made up of Polish and French Canadian immigrants.  Each group settled in particular neighborhoods, and Willimansett became home for many French-Canadian immigrants, including my great-great-grandparents, who lived a block away from here in the 1920s.  From here, workers could commute a short distance by trolley to either the Holyoke mills across the river, or the mills along the Chicopee River a few miles to the south.

This intersection of Chicopee and Meadow Streets became known as the “Y”, so-named because of the angle at which the streets merge.  This is the primary commercial center of Willimansett, but in the early 1900s it was still fairly undeveloped.  The commercial blocks on the right weren’t there yet, nor were the houses to the left.  The only prominent building that appears in both photos is the Chapin School, which can be seen in the distance in the middle of the fork.  It opened in 1898, and had several additions put on as Willimansett grew in population.  Today it is vacant, but it is currently planned to be converted into apartments for veterans.

Probably the most interesting thing about the “Y”, however, is something that does not appear in either photo.  In the 1930s, a grocery store opened here, called the Y Cash Market.  They are no longer in Willimansett, but the name lives on – today the company is Big Y, one of the largest grocery store chains in New England.