Greenock Inn, Lee, Mass

The Greenock Inn at the corner of High and Franklin Streets in Lee, in 1911. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2015:

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The late 1800s and early 1900s was the era of grand hotels, and many large hotels were built in popular resort areas like the Berkshires. The hotels were often built of wood, and were very susceptible to fire. Here in the center of Lee, the Greenock Inn was no exception. The original building suffered several fires, including one in 1903 that resulted in the death of a fireman, and another in 1908 that destroyed the entire building. The first photo shows the building soon after it was rebuilt, but over time the hotel went into decline. The American Legion purchased the property and demolished the hotel in 1943, with the intent of building a veterans’ home. Ultimately, this plan did not happen, though, and today the site is occupied by a house and a parking lot.

Main Street, Lee, Mass

Looking north on Main Street from near Park Street in Lee, in 1911. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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Main Street in 2015:

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The town of Lee is situated in the Berkshires region of Western Massachusetts, and in the 19th century it was a small but prominent industrial town. At its peak, the town had several dozen paper mills and several marble quarries, and the town’s prosperity was reflected in its downtown area here along Main Street. Most of the buildings in this scene date to the mid to late 19th century, including the historic Memorial Town Hall to the right. It was completed in 1874, and has housed the town offices ever since. Through the years, it has also taken on a variety of other uses, including a post office, Grand Army of the Republic hall, barber shop, movie theater, district court, and police station. In 1965, singer Arlo Guthrie faced littering charges in the courtroom here, an incident which later inspired his famous song “Alice’s Restaurant.” Today, in addition to the town offices, it is also the town police station, and although it has undergone renovations in 1912 and in 1990-1991, its exterior has remained well preserved for over 140 years.

Just beyond the Memorial Town Hall is the Baird and Benton Block, a three story commercial building that was built in 1875 by paper manufacturers Prentiss Baird and Charles and James Benton. It originally had a mansard roof like the neighboring Town Hall, but the roof was destroyed in a fire in the late 1800s. Aside from renovations to the first floor storefronts, the building’s appearance is similar to what it looked like in 1911, but the upper two floors were vacant from the 1950s until a renovation in 2012 that converted it into classroom and office space.

Most of the other commercial building in the scene date from the second half of the 19th century, but the oldest is the Morgan House, the wood-frame building with the two story porch on the left side of Main Street. It was built in 1817 by William Porter as a house, and in 1867 it was purchased by Edward Morgan, who enlarged the original building and turned it into the Morgan House inn. Over the years, its guests have included Ulysses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland, John F. Kennedy, and George Bernard Shaw, and today it is still operated as an inn and restaurant.

Overall, the only significant change to this scene is the Park Building, located on the far left where the Lee Savings Bank building stood in the 1911 photo. It was built just a few years later in 1914, and it is one of the newest buildings along this section of Main Street. The entire area is now part of the Lower Main Street Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places, and it is an excellent surviving example of a historic 19th century New England town center.

Public Library, Lee, Mass

The Lee Library as it appeared in 1911. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The library in 2015:

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In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, steel industrialist Andrew Carnegie was one of the wealthiest men in the world, and he went on to become one of the most generous philanthropists in history. He had a high value of public education, and he contributed funding for over 2,500 libraries around the world, including this one in Lee. It opened in 1907, with Carnegie providing $12,000 toward the construction costs. It was designed by Pittsfield architect Joseph McArthur Vance in the classical revival style that was popular in early 20th century libraries, and was built using Lee marble.

About 10 years after the library opened, Andrew Carnegie purchased the Shadow Brook mansion in the neighboring town of Lenox, where he died in 1919. By the time he died, he had given away over $350 million (nearly $5 billion adjusted for inflation), and his remaining $30 million was given to various charities and foundations. Along with countless of his other libraries, the Lenox Library is still standing today. A new wing was added in 1977, using marble from the original quarry, but otherwise it looks essentially the same from the exterior as it did over 100 years ago.