Wight & Chapman Block, Springfield, Mass

The commercial block at the corner of Main and Oak Streets in the Indian Orchard neighborhood of Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

The neighborhood of Indian Orchard is located in the northeastern corner of Springfield, about five miles from the city center, and during the mid-19th century it developed into a small factory village along the Chicopee River. In part because of this distance, Indian Orchard’s growth was largely independent from the rest of Springfield, and came to include a small downtown area, with its own Main Street that was lined with brick commercial blocks. Among these was this three-story, Italianate-style building at the corner of Oak Street. Built in 1875, it was located at one of the busiest intersections in the neighborhood, and included stores on the first floor, plus offices and a public hall on the upper floors.

The building was originally owned by businessmen Henry K. Wight and George H. Chapman, who each had stores on the ground floor. Wight was a partner in Wight, Rivers & Co., a grocery store that occupied the corner storefront, and city directories of the era describe the company as “Dealers in Choice Groceries, Crockery and Glass Ware, Flour, Teas, Coffees, Sugars, Butter, Cheese, Syrup and Molasses. All varieties of Canned Fruits, with a complete assortment of goods usually kept in a first-class store. Also Dealers in Paints, Oils, Window Glass, etc.” Next to this store, on the left side of the building, was Chapman & Bengle, “Dealers in Clothing, Gentlemen’s Furnishing Goods, Boots and Shoes. Repairing neatly and promptly done.”

George Chapman’s business partner, Charles Bengle, purchased Chapman’s interest in the company in 1886, and he remained in business in this building until around 1904, when he built a new commercial block, directly across Oak Street from here, and moved his store into the new building. Then, around 1910, the older Wight & Chapman Block was purchased by Charles Rieutord, the owner of the nearby National House hotel on Oak Street. Upon purchasing this building, he set about renovating it, including extending the storefronts along both the Main Street and Oak Street sides.

Rieutord opened a wholesale liquor store on the left side of the ground floor, and ran it for about a decade, until Prohibition was enacted in 1920. Along with this, he was also involved with the Springfield Breweries Company, which attempted to adapt to Prohibition by producing non-alcoholic beverages. By the mid-1920s, he was the company’s vice president, serving under president Theodor Geisel – the father of Dr. Seuss – but the brewery ultimately went out of business before the end of Prohibition.

By the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, the building’s retail tenants included Frank J. Livi, an Italian immigrant who ran a clothing shop in the corner storefront. The store would remain here until at least the 1960s, and since then the exterior of the building has remained well-preserved. Indian Orchard still retains much of its historic appearance, and still bears closer resemblance to a small mill town rather than a neighborhood of a large city. The Wight & Chapman Block is one of many historic buildings along this section of Main Street, and today it stands as one of the finest commercial buildings of its era, not just in Indian Orchard but in the entire city of Springfield.

Octave A. LaRiviere House, Springfield, Mass

The building at 166 Main Street in the Indian Orchard neighborhood of Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The building in 2017:

The state MACRIS database estimates that this building was built around 1865, although its original appearance has been significantly altered over the years. It is one of the older commercial buildings here on Main Street in Indian Orchard, dating back to when the neighborhood was being developed as a factory village. During this time, many immigrants moved to Indian Orchard, drawn to jobs at mills such as the nearby Indian Orchard Manufacturing Company, and Main Street became a small downtown area lined with stores and other commercial buildings.

Many of the immigrants who came to Indian Orchard were French-Canadian, including Octave A. LaRiviere, who came to the United States as a teenager in the 1850s. In order to avoid anti-immigrant discrimination, he adopted the anglicized name John Rivers, and by 1870 he and business partner Alfred Dessotelle were running the Rivers & Dessotelle variety store here on the ground floor of this building. LaRiviere later became the sole owner of the business, and by 1880 the city directory listed him as selling “Dry Goods, Fancy Goods, Boots and Shoes, Hats and Caps, Window Shades, etc., Gents’ Furnishing Goods.”

LaRiviere – who reverted to his French name by around the turn of the 20th century – lived here above his store, along with his wife Edesse and their two daughters, Eugenia and Josephine. Aside from his dry goods business, he was also active in politics, representing Ward 8 on the city council in 1883, 1884, and 1896, and on the board of aldermen in 1887 and 1888. Then, in 1912, he served as one of the state’s eight at-large delegates to the Republican National Convention, a hotly-contested party convention that pitted conservative incumbent president William Howard Taft against progressive former president Theodore Roosevelt. LaRiviere was a pro-Roosevelt delegate, but Taft ultimately won the party nomination. However, Roosevelt ran a third-party campaign in the fall, and LaRiviere did the same, breaking ranks with the Republicans and running for state auditor as a member of the Progressive Party. LaRiviere finished a distant third in the statewide race, though, behind the Republican and Democratic candidates.

At some point, apparently around 1909, a third floor was added to the building, with a large cross-gambrel roof and dormer windows. LaRiviere continued to live here until his death in 1915, and by the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, the ground floor was occupied by Kitchener’s Department Store. The store would remain a fixture in Indian Orchard for many years, and was still in business here in this building into at least the 1989s, more than a century after the Rivers & Dessotelle variety store first opened in the storefront. However, the rise of suburban malls and shopping centers eventually took its toll on Kitchener’s and other downtown retailers, and the store subsequently closed.

Today, the building is still recognizable from the first photo, although it has undergone some changes. At some point around the mid-20th century, the exterior was covered in asbestos shingles. Although it is hard to tell for sure, these may have been on the building at the time of the first photo, but they have since been replaced by modern siding, except for the section on the far right. On the front of the building, the storefronts have not significantly changed over the years, but the  front porches on the second and third floors have since been completely enclosed, with only two windows on the second floor and a small one on the third floor. Otherwise, the only other noticeable change from this angle is a patio area, which is located above the storefront on the right side of the building.

Edmund J. Gendreau Block, Springfield, Mass

The commercial block at 176 Main Street in the Springfield neighborhood of Indian Orchard, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

This three-story, mixed-use building was built around 1894, and was originally owned by Edmund J. Gendreau, whose name still appears at the top of the photo. Born in Quebec, Gendreau came to the United States in 1873 when he was about 20 years old, and he subsequently settled here in Indian Orchard, which had a large French-Canadian population at the time. The 1880 city directory shows him working as a store clerk, but by the end of the decade he had gone into business for himself and was running a grocery store on Main Street.

Gendreau moved his store to the ground floor of this building once it was completed, and the 1895 directory shows that he sold dry goods, groceries, boots, and shoes here. The upper two floors had a total of four apartments, and Gendreau lived in one of them with his wife Alida and several of their children. During the 1910 census, for example, they were living here with their son Joseph and two daughters, Anna and Corrine, plus Joseph’s wife Albina and Corrine’s husband, Louis Jacques. At the time, Joseph was working as a clerk in a grocery store and Louis was a painter, while Edmund appears to have changed careers and opened a real estate office here in the building.

Edmund lived here in this building until his death in 1930, and the property was still owned by his family when the first photo was taken nearly a decade later. The 1940 census shows Joseph and Albina still living here, with their daughter Alice, her husband, Donald Viens, and their four children. Joseph’s brother Wilfred also lived in an apartment here in this building, along with his wife Louise, their daughter and son-in-law, and three grandchildren. Since then, the building has not significantly changed, aside from the loss of the porches on the right side, and it remains a well-preserved example of a late 19th century commercial block. Many of the surrounding buildings are also still standing, except for the one to the left of it, which was evidently either demolished or trimmed down to one story.

Edmund K. Baker House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 192 Maple Street, at the corner of Central Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This Tudor-style house was built around 1901, and was originally the home of Edmund K. Baker, the secretary and treasurer of the Hampden Paint and Chemical Company. He and his wife Marie were in their mid-40s at the time, and they lived here with their four children: Madeline, Rhea, Donald, and Lawrence. Edmund later became the president of the company, and he continued to live here in this house for the rest of his life. Marie died in 1927, and by the 1930 census Edmund was living here alone except for two servants. He died five years later, and the house remained vacant until the early 1940s.

The house was still vacant when the first photo was taken, but it was later sold and was again occupied by he mid-1940s. However, at some point the top floor of the house was removed, and it was converted into a commercial property. The front porch is also gone, but otherwise the remaining two floors still retain the building’s original Tudor-style architectural elements. Despite its altered condition, though, the house still stands as one of the many historic mansions along this section of Maple Street, and it is now part of the Ames Hill/Crescent Hill Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Safford-Carter House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 238 Maple Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

According to the state MACRIS database, this house was built in 1914 and was originally owned by the Carter family. However, part of the house appears to be older, dating back to around the 1890s, when the property was owned by James D. Safford, the president of the City National Bank. As seen in these two photographs, the house is highly asymmetrical, with a large wing on the left side that does not entirely match the right side of the house. The 1899 city atlas shows a house standing here, with a footprint that roughly matches the right side of the house, which suggests that the right side was built sometime around the 1890s, followed by the large addition on the left side around 1914.

Either way, by 1914 the house was owned by Edwin A. Carter, the vice president of the Chapman Valve Manufacturing Company in Indian Orchard. He and his wife Nina had previously lived on Pearl Street, before purchasing this property in the mid-1910s and evidently building a sizable addition to the house. The couple had two children who died young, and by the time they moved into this house they only had one surviving child, Charles, who was about ten years old at the time. The 1920 census shows the three of them living here along with two servants, and Charles continued to live here with his parents until the late 1920s, when he married his wife Louise.

Edwin Carter remained with the Chapman Valve Company for many years, eventually becoming chairman of the board by the early 1930s. He and Nina were still living here when the first photo was taken, and the 1940 census shows them here with a live-in cook and two maids. Edwin died a few years later in 1943, and Nina continued to live here in this house until her death in 1947. Since then, the exterior of the house has remained well-preserved, without any noticeable changes from the first photo. However, the it is no longer a single-family home, and the interior is now divided into 12 apartments.

Nathan Bill House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 284 Maple Street in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The house around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

The late 19th century was a time of great prosperity for Springfield, and the city experienced rapid growth in population, industries, and commerce. Many elegant homes were constructed during this time, giving Springfield its nickname as “The City of Homes,” but some of the finest were built here on Maple Street, where wealthy residents enjoyed panoramic views from a bluff above the city.

This site here on Maple Street, near the top of the hill, was originally developed in the early 1870s by Jotham G. Chase, a lumber dealer whose business was particularly lucrative in the initial post-Civil War construction boom in the city. With his wealth he purchased this property and began construction of a brick, High Victorian Gothic-style house that was designed by the prominent New York architectural firm of Vaux & Withers. One of the partners Calvert Vaux, had previously worked with Frederick Law Olmsted to design Central Park, and Chase would also hire Olmsted to design the grounds for his house.

The 1873-74 city directory estimated the cost of the house at $50,000, but unfortunately for Chase he never actually moved into the house. The exterior was finished, but he was unable to finish the interior because of financially difficulties, probably caused by the Panic of 1873. This economic downturn resulted in a steep drop in new house construction, which would have, in turn, hurt Chase’s lumber business. The shell of the house stood here for the next decade, and was still in its half-finished condition when Chase died in 1884.

The property was subsequently purchased by Andrew L. Fennessy, a banker who was also the treasurer of the Springfield Bicycle Club. By Thisbe point, the High Victorian Gothic style of the 1879s has fallen out of fashion, which may have been one of the reasons why Fennessy wanted to build a new house on the site. He moved the unfinished house to nearby Maple Court, where it became a multi-family home, and he built a new Shingle-style house, which was completed in 1888.

As it turned out, Fennessy only lived in this house for a few years, because he moved to Boston around 1891. By the time the first photo was taken a year later, the house was owned by Nathan D. Bill, a wealthy businessman who was involved in a number of paper manufacturing companies. He was a Springfield native, the son of Gurdon and Emily Bill, and as a teenager he worked a series of different jobs before becoming an apprentice at a wholesale paper and stationery business, at the age of 18. Two years later, he went into business for himself, as owner of the Union Envelope and Paper Company. This company subsequently became part of the National Papeterie Company, with Bill as one of its partners.

Nathan Bill made a considerable fortune in the paper industry in just a short time, and retired from active business in the late 1880s, when he was just 33 years old. He was one of the wealthiest men in Springfield at this point, enabling him to purchase Fennessy’s mansion here on Maple Street, and he lived here with his wife Ruth and their only child, Beatrice, who was about five years old when they moved into the house.

Although retired from active business, Nathan Bill remained involved in various paper manufacturing companies, but he also took on an active role in the community as a civic leader and philanthropist. He was a library trustee for 60 years, including many years as the library president, and a park commissioner for 28 years, during which time he was a strong advocate for creating new parks and playgrounds.

During this time, the city also benefitted from his philanthropy, including five parks that he donated, all of which still bear the names of members of his family: Emerson Wight Playground, Gurdon Bill Park, Emily Bill Playground, Ruth Elizabeth Playground, and Nathan Bill Playground. He also donated some of the land for the city-owned Franconia Golf Course, which helped prevent part of Forest Park from being converted into a golf course.

The 1900 census shows Nathan and Ruth living here with 14-year-old Beatrice and four servants, whose occupations were listed as “servant,” “seamstress,” “domestic,” and “coachman.” Of these, the coachman, George LaBroad, would go on to have a remarkably long career with the Bill family. He was listed here in city directories as early as 1894, and he would continue to work for the family, first as a coachman and then as a chauffeur, until his death in 1941, several years after the second photo was taken.

The second photo shows few changes in the nearly 50 years since the first photo was taken. Both Nathan and Ruth Bill were still living in the house, and the only significant change was an addition on the left side, where the one-story porch stood in the first photo. However, another interesting difference is the contrast between the horse-drawn carriage in the driveway of the first photo, and the automobile parked in the same spot in the second photo, reflecting the dramatic changes in transportation in the intervening years.

Nathan Bill died in 1947, at the age of 91, and Ruth died three years later. The house was subsequently converted into a nursing home, but by the 1960s it was vacant. The owner had plans to convert both the house and its carriage house into professional offices, but the carriage house was destroyed by a suspicious fire in 1967. A year later, the house itself was destroyed in another fire, and the site was never rebuilt. Today, the property is vacant except for the concrete driveway, which marks the site of the old house. However, the neighboring Frederick Harris House, visible on the right side of all three photos, is  still standing as one of the many historic mansions on this section of Maple Street.

For a view of this house from a different angle, see this earlier post.