Mary McKnight House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 79 Ingersoll Grove in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The house in 2017:

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The McKnight neighborhood was largely developed by John and William McKnight, two brothers who were born in Truxton New York but later moved to Springfield. Here, they first worked as dry goods merchants, before ultimately entering the real estate business. John died in 1890, but his wife Mary continued to be involved in real estate, and built this home on Ingersoll Grove in 1896. Most of the other houses in the neighborhood have Queen Anne architecture, but because this house was built somewhat later, its design reflects the Colonial Revival style, which was coming into popularity at the end of the 19th century.

By 1900, Mary McKnight had sold this house to Cooper Robeson, who lived here with his wife Josephine and their children,  Rebecca, Dorothy, and James. They moved to Boston around 1910, and sold the house to woolen manufacturer Edwin H. Pinney. Originally from Stafford Springs, Connecticut, he was the son of Edwin C. Pinney, who was a state legislator and the president of a woolen company. When he and his wife Jennie moved to this house, they joined the many other business and industrial leaders who lived in the McKnight neighborhood, and they would remain here for many years. They were still living here when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, and not much has changed in the house’s exterior appearance since then. Today, along with the rest of the neighborhood, it is part of the McKnight Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Lyman Besse House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 29 Ingersoll Grove in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The house in 2017:

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The life of Lyman Besse was a classic Gilded Age rags-to-riches story, beginning with his birth in Wareham, Massachusetts in 1854. His father was a farmer, and died when Lyman was just 11, and five years later he left school and traveled to West Virginia, where he found work as a clerk in a general store. By the time he turned 18, he was back in Massachusetts, earning six dollars a week while working for a clothing merchant in Taunton. In 1876, he came to western Massachusetts to work for C. B. Harris & Company, but the following year, at the age of 23, he decided to go into business for himself.

Working with business partner J. E. Foster, he opened his first clothing store in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1877. The business was a quick success, and he soon began opening stores in other cities across the northeast. In 1879, he married his childhood friend, Henrietta Segee, and they lived in Bridgeport for the next nine years. However, as his business empire expanded, he decided to move to Springfield, which had a more central location. In 1888, he and his family moved into this newly-built house on Ingersoll Grove, in one of the most desirable locations in the McKnight neighborhood.

Like most of the other houses in the neighborhood, Besse’s mansion had Queen Anne-style architecture, although this has been somewhat altered over the years. The property also included a massive carriage house in the backyard, and a driveway that connected to both Ingersoll Grove as well as Clarendon Street behind the carriage house. The grounds were well-landscaped, and beyond the backyard was the McKnight Glen, a section of undeveloped parkland owned by the city. As described in an 1893 volume of The National Magazine, “Mr. Besse’s home is situated in the most picturesque section of the delightful and healthful ‘Highland’ region of Springfield, and is one of the most pleasant and attractive homes in the city.”

When the Besse family moved into the house, Lyman was just 34 years old, but he had already achieved considerable success in his clothing business. His company became known as the Besse System, and would ultimately include nearly 50 stores across the eastern United States. In the process, he helped to pioneer the idea of a chain retailer. The same article in The National Magazine declared that he had the largest clothing business in the world, and noted that his ability to buy in such large quantities from his suppliers gave him a considerable advantage over smaller competitors.

Lyman and Henrietta raised six children in this house, and they also regularly employed at least two servants who lived here with the family. After Henrietta’s death in 1926, their daughter Florence moved back to the house to care for her father. Florence was recently divorced from her husband, and she lived here with her two children, Mary Brewster and Kingman Brewster, Jr. Lyman died in 1930, and Florence and the children moved out soon afterward. Kingman, Jr., who was 11 when they left, would go on to gain prominence as the President of Yale University from 1963 to 1977, and then served as the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom during the Carter administration, from 1977 to 1981.

At some point in the early 20th century, the house lost much of its original Queen Anne appearance. The exterior was covered in stucco, and the open wooden porches were rebuilt with granite and enclosed. The chimneys were also rebuilt of granite, and the front facade gained some symmetry when a dormer window on the left was converted into a gable, matching the original gable on he right side of the house. Otherwise, though, the basic structure of the house remained the same, and both the porte-cochere on the right and the carriage house in the distance have survived. In addition, the interior, with nearly 10,000 square feet of living space, has retained much of its 19th century appearance.

In the early 1930s, the house was sold to James D. Gill, a retired art dealer and bookseller who, among other things, had published King’s Handbook of Springfield in 1884. His wife, Emily Frances Abbey Gill, was a prominent philanthropist who, among other things, gave significant contributions to Springfield College to build a women’s dormitory, which is the current Abbey-Appleton Hall. James was already in his 80s when he moved into the house, and he died only a few years later in 1937. Emily was still living here when the first photo was taken, and she remained here until her death in 1950 at the age of 94.

Since Emily’s death, the house has been variously used as a dress shop and as a nursing home, but it is now a single-family residence again. Like many of the other  mansions in the neighborhood, the home has been well-preserved. Although the exterior has changed since it was first built in 1887, there is virtually no difference in its appearance from the first photo, and it is an important contributing property in the McKnight Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Dartmouth Terrace, Springfield, Mass

The view looking east on Dartmouth Terrace from Clarendon Street, probably in the 1890s or early 1900s. Image courtesy of Jim Boone.

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Dartmouth Terrace in 2017:

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Springfield’s McKnight neighborhood was developed in the late 19th century as an upscale residential neighborhood for the city’s many wealthy and upper middle class families. Today, the neighborhood consists of hundreds of Victorian-era homes on several dozen streets, but perhaps the crown jewel of the entire neighborhood is Dartmouth Terrace. It extends from the Thompson Triangle, which is the largest park in the neighborhood , to the McKnight Glen, a ravine that is one of the few undeveloped places in the area. For most of the road, it also features a landscaped median, complete with a small fountain in the center.

Almost all of the houses on Dartmouth Terrace are on the north side of the street, as seen here. The five houses seen here were all built around 1888-1889, and although none are identical, they all have similar Queen Anne architecture. These are among the largest houses in the McKnight neighborhood, and were originally owned by prominent city businessmen. When first built, these five homes were, from left to right, owned by button company owner Louis H. Coolbroth, corset company owner Albert Nason, paper manufacturer Willis A. Hall, coal dealer James Cowan, and G. & C. Merriam treasurer Orlando M. Baker.

More than a century later, the McKnight neighborhood has remained remarkably unchanged. All five of these houses are still standing, and have been beautifully restored to their original appearance. Aside from the height of the trees, essentially nothing has changed in this view since the first photo was taken, and Dartmouth Terrace is now part of the McKnight Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Home for Friendless Women, Springfield, Mass

The building at 136 William Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The building in 2017:

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Springfield was experiencing rapid growth in the 1860s. The Civil War had drawn many to work in the Armory and other factories that contributed to the war effort, and the city grew by 45 percent between 1860 and 1865. With an expanding population came more social problems, though, and in 1865 the Home for Friendless Women was established to provide temporary housing and services for needy women and children. Among the founders, and the organization’s first president, was Rachel Merriam, the wife of dictionary publisher Charles Merriam.

The original building was located on Union Street, directly behind the Merriams’ house on Howard Street. Among those who found shelter here were girls and women fleeing physical and sexual abuse, as well as “fallen women,” a Victorian euphemism for prostitutes. Despite its somewhat bleak-sounding name, the Home for Friendless Women provided much-needed services at a time when such assistance from the government was essentially unheard of, and it was the first charity of its type in the region.

By the late 1880s, the old Union Street building had become too small to meet the growing needs of the organization. After Charles Merriam’s death in 1887, Rachel donated her house on Howard Street. This became the new facility for a few years, but there was still a need for a new building, so in 1897 they opened a new building on William Street, which is seen here. Its design reflects the Colonial Revival style, which was coming into popularity at the end of the 19th century, and it was the work of local architects Benjamin R. Bushey and Guy Kirkham.

Over the years, the building provided shelter for women in a variety of situations. Census records during this time give an interesting snapshot of who was living here, and in 1900 there were ten residents, which included four elderly widows, four single girls in their teens or early twenties, and two young children. Ten years later, in 1910, there were 13 residents, most of whom were elderly and/or widowed. There was also a 36 year old single woman and her infant daughter, plus two teenaged girls and, rather curiously, a 13-year-old boy who does not appear to have been related to anyone else at the home. By the 1920s, it became known as the Home for Girls, and focused exclusively on serving unwed mothers and expectant mothers.

This facility was still in use when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, although overcrowding led the organization to move elsewhere in 1940. By this point, the South End had become largely Italian, and the building became the lodge for the Sons of Italy, an Italian-American fraternal organization. Although they no longer use the building, it is still standing, with few exterior changes, and it is an excellent example of institutional Colonial Revival architecture in the city. As for the Home for Friendless Women, the organization is now known as the Children’s Study Home, and continues to serve Springfield more than 150 years after Rachel Merriam helped to establish it.

Edwin S. Gardner House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 250 Maple Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The house in 2017:

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Edwin S. Gardner was a lawyer who, for many years, lived in a fine house on Ridgewood Place. However, in 1928 he and his wife Harriet, along with their children Mary and Edwin, Jr., moved into this house. Designed by John Barnard and built at a cost of $48,000, it was a significant step up from their earlier home, not to mention the sweeping views of the city and the surrounding landscape. The Tudor Revival style was popular during this time period, and a number of such homes were built here on Maple Street. Many of them, including this one, are so well-designed that they seem as though they would fit in better on an English country estate than here in a New England city.

The Gardners did not remain in the house for to long, though. By the mid-1930s they had significantly downsized and were living elsewhere, perhaps as a result of the Great Depression. In their place, the house was owned by Ida Day, the widow of Robert W. Day, who had been the president of the United Electric Light Company. She lived here with her son Winsor and his wife Sarah, although Sarah died in 1938, around the time that the first photo was taken. Ida died in 1942, and Winsor left the house soon after and moved to the Forest Park neighborhood.

In 1977, the house became part of the Ames/Crescent Hill Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. Very little has changed with its exterior, and the house survived the June 1, 2011 tornado. Today, it stands among many other late 19th and early 20th century mansions that overlook the city from atop the hill.

Frederick Harris House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 270 Maple Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The house in 2017:

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Frederick Harris and Emily Osborne were married in 1879, and shortly afterward they moved into this new house near the crest of the hill on Maple Street. Frederick was the son of Frederick H. Harris, a banker who came to Springfield in 1838 at the age of 15 and found work as a bank clerk. After a few years, the elder Frederick began working in the lumber industry, but later returned to banking as the cashier of Pynchon Bank. In 1864, he joined Springfield’s Third National Bank as cashier, and became the company president in 1886.

Emily, however, came from an even more prominent family. Originally from Auburn, New York, her father David was a prominent businessman and mayor, but her family was even better know for social activism. Her grandmother, Martha Coffin Wright, and her great aunt, Lucretia Coffin Mott, were both leaders of the abolitionist and women’s rights movements, and her brother, Thomas Mott Osborne, was the warden of Sing Sing and an influential prison reform advocate. Her sister, Helen Osborne Storrow, was a wealthy philanthropist, and Helen’s husband was James Jackson Storrow II, a Boston businessman who briefly served as president of General Motors in the company’s early years.

The younger Frederick Harris followed his father’s footsteps as a banker, starting out as a messenger for Third National in 1871. He steadily advanced in the bank, though, and eventually became vice president and then president, succeeding his father after his death in 1911. In addition, he was also active politically, and served as an alderman and as a member of the school committee. When the house was completed, it was considerably smaller than its current appearance. The first major expansion came in 1886, followed by the addition of a ballroom in 1900, bringing the house to over 10,000 square feet of living space.

Frederick and Emily had two children, Florence and Helen, but they were hardly the only residents of this house. Like other wealthy families of the era, they regularly employed multiple servants who lived here. In the 1900 census, they had three, and by 1910 they had four: a housekeeper, waitress, cook, and laundress. Florence moved out after her marriage in 1907 to Frederic Jones, and the couple later moved into a nearby house on Maple Street. Like his father-in-law, Frederic Jones would later go on to serve as president of Third National Bank.

By 1920, Frederick and Emily were living here alone, aside from their army of servants. Frederick died in 1926, and two years later he was memorialized in the naming of the Frederick Harris School, an elementary school on Hartford Terrace in the East Forest Park neighborhood. Emily was still living here when the first photo was taken, and she died in 1940, some 60 years after she first moved in. Since then, the house has remained well-preserved on both the exterior and interior. It was damaged in the June 1, 2011 tornado, but was restored and remains as an important part of the Ames/Crescent Hill District on the National Register of Historic Places.