Bridge Street, Northampton, Mass

The view looking west on Bridge Street, from near the corner of Market Street in Northampton, around 1890. Image from Picturesque Hampshire (1890).

The scene in 2018:

The first photo shows downtown Northampton as it appeared around 1890, prior to the construction of a railroad bridge over Bridge Street. At the time, the tracks crossed directly over the street, and the crossing was marked by both signs and gates. This was a busy area for both street and railroad traffic; the crossing is located at the eastern end of the downtown area, and Bridge Street was the main road out of Northampton to the east. In addition, the crossing was the site of the junction between the New Haven & Northampton and the Connecticut River Railroads, and an 1873 map shows six tracks passing over Bridge Street.

At the time, the two railroads maintained separate passenger depots, which were located out of view to the left, on the other side of the tracks along Strong Avenue. However, this arrangement would change only a few years after the first photo was taken, when the tracks were raised and Bridge Street was slightly lowered in order to build a bridge that would eliminate the busy grade crossing. This work was completed in 1897, and it coincided with the completion of a new Union Station that replaced the two older stations.

Today, more than 125 years after the first photo was taken, many of the commercial buildings in the distance are still standing. Some of the other buildings were constructed soon after the photo was taken, including the yellow brick Masonic Building, located just beyond the bridge on the right side of the scene. Completed in 1898, it is perhaps best known as the building where Calvin Coolidge had his law offices prior to his political career. Closer to the foreground, the most significant change from the first photo is the railroad bridge, which still carries rail traffic over Bridge Street. However, while it has prevented rail and street traffic from interfering with each other, it has caused problems of its own with its low clearance. Despite prominent signage, trucks frequently end up stuck in the underpass, and locals have dubbed it the “truck-eating bridge.”

Post Office, Northampton, Mass

The post office at the corner of Pleasant and Armory Streets in Northampton, around 1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2018:

This post office was constructed between 1903 and 1905, and it features a Classical Revival-style design that was popular for buildings of this period. It was designed by the office of James Knox Taylor, who served as Supervising Architect of the Department of the Treasury from 1897 to 1912. During this time, Taylor’s responsibilities included designing hundreds of federal buildings, although it does not seem clear as to what extent he – rather than the other architects in his office –  was actually involved in designing this post office.

The building originally had a rectangular footprint, with the main entrance here on Pleasant Street, flanked by two Ionic columns. However, the building was significantly expanded in 1938, as part of a New Deal-era program that constructed many new federal buildings across the country. Here in Northampton, the post office was more than doubled, with a large addition on the left side. The original design was essentially duplicated, though, so the newer half is almost indistinguishable from the older section. However, in order to preserve the symmetry, the original main entrance was closed and turned into a window, and a new entrance was opened in the middle of the Pleasant Street facade.

The expanded building remained in use as Northampton’s post office for nearly 40 more years, but it closed in 1976 when the current post office opened on Bridge Street. The building has been preserved, though, and the interior has been converted into offices. It stands as one of the many late 19th and early 20th century buildings that still line the streets of Northampton, and it is now a contributing property in the Northampton Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Main and Old South Streets, Northampton, Mass

The south side of Main Street, just east of the corner of Old South Street in Northampton, probably sometime in the 1860s. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

The scene in 2017:

The first photo shows the scene along the south side of Main Street in Northampton, sometime around the 1860s. The four buildings here represent a variety of uses and architectural styles, with two mid-19th century brick commercial blocks on the left, a Georgian-style house in the center, and a Greek Revival-style Edwards Church on the right. The most notable of these buildings was the church, which was built in 1833 at the corner of Main and Old South Streets. Formed as an offshoot of the First Church, it was named in honor of Jonathan Edwards, who had served as pastor of the First Church from 1729 to 1750. The congregation worshipped here in this modest wood-frame church for the next 37 years, until it was destroyed by a fire in 1870.

This same fire also destroyed the adjacent Hunt Building, which was built in 1770 as the home of Dr. Ebenezer Hunt. A 1764 graduate of Harvard, Hunt studied medicine in Springfield under Dr. Charles Pynchon, before returning to his native Northampton in 1768. This house was built two years later, with Georgian-style architecture that was similar the home of his second cousin, John Hunt, that still stands on Elm Street. In 1772, Dr. Hunt married his wife Sarah, and they had eight children, two of whom died in infancy. He lived here for the rest of his life, and during this time he was, in addition to practicing medicine, also active in politics. He served for eight years in the state legislature, in both the House and the Senate, and he was a presidential elector for John Adams in both the 1796 and 1800 elections.

Upon Ebenezer Hunt’s death in 1820, the house was inherited by his son David, who was also a physician. At the time, the property extended as far as Old South Street, but in 1833 David sold the corner lot to the Edwards Church, and the church building was constructed soon after. The house remained in the Hunt family after David’s death in 1837, but by the time the first photo was taken it had been converted to commercial use. The storefront signs are not legible in the first photo, but around the 1860s the ground floor housed three tenants, with a crockery store on the left side, a confectionery and fruit store in the middle, and the dry goods store of Robert J. Fair on the right side. By 1870, Fair’s store occupied the entire ground floor, but on May 19, 1870 he lost nearly his entire stock when both the Hunt Building and the neighboring Edwards Church burned.

After the fire, the Edwards Church constructed a new building a few blocks away at the corner of Main and State Streets, and this site here at the corner of Old South Street was soon rebuilt with new brick commercial blocks. The Columbian Building, located on the right side where he church once stood, was completed in 1871, and two years later McCallum’s Dry Goods opened in a new building on the site of the Hunt house. Both buildings are still standing today, although the latter has undergone significant changes over the years and is now Thornes Marketplace. As for the other two buildings in the first photo, it appears that at least one of them is still standing. The building just to the left of Thornes might be the same one from the first photo, minus its top floor, but if so it has been altered beyond recognition from the exterior. However, the building on the extreme left of the first photo appears to still be there, just with major late 19th century alterations.

George P. Dickinson House, Northampton, Mass

The house at 211 Elm Street in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

The house in 2017:

This Queen Anne-style house was built around 1879-1880, and was designed by Eugene C. Gardner, a prominent local architect of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Originally from Ashfield, Massachusetts, he began his career as an architect here in Northampton in the 1860s, although he moved to Springfield in 1868. His subsequent works were predominantly in and around Springfield, although he continued to design homes, factories, and other buildings here in Northampton. Perhaps his most notable work was the Grove Hill Mansion in the neighborhood of Leeds, and this house here on Elm Street was, in some ways, a scaled-down version of the large, highly ornate Leeds house, which was built around the same time.

This Elm Street house was originally the home of George P. Dickinson, the treasurer of the Northampton Gas Light Company. He was living here when the first photo was taken around 1894, but he died in 1897, and the house was later owned by Charles A. Clark, a teller for the First National Bank. He and his wife Katherine were married in 1897, and by the 1900 census they were living here in this house with their two young children, Charles and Katherine, plus a 20-year-old, Irish-born nurse, Mariah Brennan. The Clarks would have two more children, Joseph and Virginia, by the next census, and they continued to live here for many years. However, Charles died around 1920, and the rest of the family moved out by about 1924.

In the ensuing years, the house had a variety of owners, including funeral director Oscar F. Ely in the 1920s, and physician Benjamin F. Janes in the 1930s. At some point, though, the house was converted into apartments. This probably happened in the 1940s, because city directories in the late 1940s show a number of people living at this address, all with different last names. Gardner’s original exterior design of the house has also since been altered, including the enclosed area on the right side of the front porch, the removal of the second-story balcony above the front porch, and alterations to the third-story windows. Overall, though, the house still stands as one of many upscale 19th century homes on Elm Street, and it is now part of the Elm Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.

John L. Mather House, Northampton, Mass

The house at 275 Elm Street in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

The house in 2017:

This brick, Queen Anne-style house was built in 1882, and was one of many upscale homes built along this section of Elm Street during the 19th century. It was originally owned by John L. Mather, a mason and contractor who was about 30 years old when he moved in here. He was single at the time, but in 1891 he married his wife Ella. She had two sons from her previous marriage, and she and John also had a child of their own, Esther, who was born around the same time that the first photo was taken. John served as mayor of Northampton in 1897 and from 1899 to 1900, and he continued to live here until his death in 1922.

By 1924 this house was owned by John A. Pollard, the treasurer of the Hampton Company in Easthampton. He later became vice president of the O. S. P., Inc. music house, and during the 1930 census he was living here with his wife Flora, three of their children, and two grandchildren, plus two servants. John died in 1940, but Flora continued to live here for many years, and she was listed here in city directories as late as the early 1960s. Since then, the house has remained well-preserved, and the only significant difference between these two photos is the lack of the balustrade atop the left side of the house. The property is now part of the Elm Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.

Round Hill Road from Elm Street, Northampton, Mass

Looking up Round Hill Road from Elm Street in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

The scene in 2017:

By the mid 19th century, this area around Round Hill had become home to some of Northampton’s leading residents, including attorney Charles P. Huntington, who built the house on the left side of the photo in 1841. Born in 1802 in Middletown, Connecticut, Huntington later moved with his family to Hadley, where he attended Hopkins Academy before entering Harvard, where he graduated in 1822. He later attended the short-lived Northampton Law School, and while in Northampton he married his wife Helen Mills in 1827. He practiced law in North Adams for some time, but later returned to Northampton. From 1842 to 1850, he also served as the first president of the Northampton Institution for Savings, and in 1855 he became the namesake of the town of Huntington, Massachusetts. Formerly named Norwich, the town was renamed in his honor after he helped to resolve a boundary issue with surrounding towns.

Charles and Helen had seven children together before her death in 1844 at the age of 37. The oldest of their children, Helen Frances “Fanny” Huntington, later married Josiah Philips Quincy of Boston. Both his father and his grandfather had been mayors of Boston, and Josiah and Helen’s oldest son, Josiah Quincy VI, would also become mayor of Boston, serving from 1896 to 1900. In the meantime, Charles Huntington remarried in 1847 to Ellen Greenough, the younger sister of noted sculptor Horatio Greenough. Together, Charles and Ellen had two more children, who grew up here in this house. In 1855, Charles was appointed as a judge to the Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston, and soon after the family left Northampton and moved to Boston, where he lived until his death in 1868.

This house was then sold to William Silsbee, the pastor of the Unitarian Church. He lived here for several years, but in 1864 he sold it to Merritt Clark, a tailor who owned a shop on Main Street for many years. Originally from Milford, Connecticut, he came to Northampton as a teenager in 1846 and apprenticed in the tailor shop of Charles Smith & Co. He later purchased the business, and by the 1870 census he had become a wealthy man, with a listed net worth of $50,000, or nearly $1 million today. He and his wife Sarah never had any children, but his nephew Orman Clark was his business partner for many years, followed by Orman’s son Howard after Orman’s death in 1891. Merritt remained a part of the company for the rest of his life, and he continued to live here in this house until his death in 1919, when he was about 90 years old.

The house remained in the family for several more decades, with Merritt’s niece Mary Clark living here until her death in 1939. It was later acquired by the Mary A. Burnham School in 1965, but three years later the school merged with the Stoneleigh-Prospect Hill School in Greenfield. The house has since reverted to private ownership, and it is still standing today, although it is completely hidden from view by the trees in the 2017 scene. Overall, besides the trees, very little has changed with this view in the 125 years since the first photo was taken. Many of the historic 19th century homes around Round Hill are still standing today, although the Luther Bodman House – just out of view on the right side of the first photo – has since been demolished and replaced with Smith College’s Helen Hills Hills Chapel.