Springfield High School, Springfield

Springfield’s old high school, located on State Street, sometime in the 1870s or 1880s. Photo courtesy of New York Public Library.

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The scene in 2012:

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Built in 1874, the building in the top photo was once Springfield’s high school building. It was used as the high school until 1898, when the older part (left-hand side) of Classical High School was completed.  After that, the building was used as a grammar school until 1922, when it was demolished to allow for the expansion of Classical High School.  It was used as a high school until 1986, and has since been converted into condominiums.

Church of the Unity, Springfield

The Church of the Unity in Springfield, sometime in the 1870’s or 1880’s. Photo courtesy of New York Public Library.

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The location of the church in 2012:

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The Church of the Unity was a building of architectural significance – it was the first commission of noted American architect Henry Hobson Richardson, and was built between 1866 and 1869.  However, it was demoished in 1961 and replaced with a parking lot for the main branch of the Springfield Public Library.

Park Street Church, Boston (2)

Park Street Church with Old Granary Burying Ground, sometime in the 1860s. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.

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The scene in 2011:

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As mentioned in this post, which shows the view of the church from the opposite side, Park Street Church was once the tallest building in the United States, from its construction in 1810 until 1846.  It remained the tallest building in Boston until around the time that the first photo was taken.  The tallest building in Boston is also visible in the 2011 photo – the John Hancock tower, which was built over 100 years after the first photo was taken.

The church itself hasn’t changed much, and neither has the Old Granary Burying Ground next to it.  The cemetery was opened in 1660, and many notable figures from the Revolutionary War period are buried there, including John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, Robert Treat Paine, and the victims of the Boston Massacre.

Old South Meeting House, Boston

The view looking north on Washington Street toward Old South Meeting House, sometime shortly before the Great Boston Fire of 1872. Photo courtesy of New York Public Library.

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The same view, in the immediate aftermath of the fire. Photo courtesy of New York Public Library.

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Around 1875. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.

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Sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.

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The same scene in 2011:

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The Great Boston Fire of 1872 was the most disastrous fire in Boston history.  It came just a year after the Great Chicago Fire, although Boston’s fire couldn’t hold a candle to Chicago’s (pun intended) when it came to the death toll and property losses.  Boston’s fire killed about 30, destroyed 776 buildings, and caused about $73.5 million in damages (about $1.4 billion in 2013 dollars).  Chicago, by comparison, killed 200-330, destroyed 17,500 buildings, and caused about $222 million in damage (around $4.2 billion today).

Still, Boston’s fire was extensive in its damage – it destroyed much of downtown Boston, including sections of Washington Street as seen in the first two photos.  However, the historic Old South Meeting House, built in 1729, survived thanks to volunteers using wet blankets to fend off the flames.

By the time the 1875 photo was taken, Boston was rebuilding, but so was Old South Church.  Because the fire destroyed so many homes, people began relocating to the newly filled in Back Bay, and the church followed them, constructing the oxymoronically-named New Old South Church at Copley Square.  No longer needed, the historic building was sold and was to be demolished.  However, given the building’s role in the events leading up the the Revolutionary War, Bostonians rallied to preserve it, making it one of the first such buildings to be preserved for its historical significance.

In the last two photos, most of the buildings in the foreground remain the same, although the skyline in the background has changed.  The building immediately to the right of the church is actually the same in the last three photos, and it looks similar to the burned-out building that occupied the spot before the fire.  I don’t know whether it is the same facade, or if it was just rebuilt with a similar style, but at the very least the existing building dates to the immediate aftermath of the fire.  As for the church, today it functions as a museum, although the congregation holds its annual Thanksgiving service at the building.

Central Congregational Church, Boston

Central Congregational Church at the corner of Berkeley and Newbury in Boston, around 1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The same building, now the Church of the Covenant, in 2015:

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The church was built in 1867, one of the first in Boston’s then recently filled in Back Bay.  By the time the 1904 photo was taken, the Back Bay looked very much like it does today, albeit with fewer skyscrapers.  Still, though, many of the low-rise residential buildings from 1904 are still there, including a few visible in both of these photos.  At the time of its construction, the church was the tallest building in Boston, and retained its title until the construction of the Custom House Tower in 1915.

Boston Skyline

The view of Boston from the harbor, in the early 1930s. Image courtesy of Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

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The view in 2013:

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Boston’s skyline has changed a lot in the past 80 years, but there are still some recognizable buildings in both photos.  The Custom House Tower, the lonely skyscraper in the first photo, is still among the tallest buildings in downtown Boston, but it no longer stands out like it did from when it was built in 1915 until the 1970’s.  Part of the reason why Boston’s skyline got off to a slow start was because, for many years, the city had a 125 foot limit on any buildings; the Custom House was able to skirt these requirements because it was a federally-owned structure.  One of the other prominent building in the 1930’s photo is the John W. McCormack U.S. Post Office and Courthouse, another federally-owned building that is still standing, but barely visible in the 2013 photo.  The building was built between 1930 and 1933, which establishes the earliest that the photo could have been taken.