View from the Arsenal Tower, Springfield, Mass (1)

Looking southwest toward downtown Springfield from the Arsenal tower, around 1882. Photo from Springfield Illustrated (1882).

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The view in 2015, photographed with permission from the Springfield Armory National Historic Site.

When the first photo was taken around the early 1880s, Springfield was in the midst of a period of rapid growth. In the previous 20 years, the city’s population had more than doubled to 33,340 people by 1880, thanks in no small part to the presence of the Armory where the photo was taken. The Main Street corridor in the distance had become a major commercial center for the entire region, and the slope in the the foreground at the base of the Armory hill had developed into an affluent residential area. Most of the buildings in the first photo were built in the 1860s or 1870s, including most of the houses seen here. Other major landmarks visible here include St. Michael’s Cathedral, which is easily visible on the left side, and St. Michael’s Hall, in the center. Just to the left of St. Michael’s Cathedral is the tower of the old library building, and to the left of it is the steeple of the Church of the Unity. Further in the distance, beyond St. Michael’s, is the Hampden County Courthouse, with the steeple of Old First Church barely visible to the right of it, along with the tower of the old City Hall building in approximately the upper center of the photo.

As dramatic as the population increase had been by the time the first photo was taken, the growth would continue at an even more dramatic pace over the next 50 years, with the population reaching almost 150,000 by 1930, almost 4.5 times the 1880 population. Much of this growth was in the suburban parts of the city, but the downtown area also saw significant development. However, unlike many other comparably-sized cities in the northeast, Springfield’s skyline did not see many dramatic changes until later in the 20th century. From 1908 to 1970, a state law prohibited any buildings taller than the 125-foot steeple of Old First Church, with the exception of the Springfield Municipal Group Campanile tower. Since 1970, though, downtown Springfield has grown upward, starting with the 29-story Baystate West, now named Tower Square, which is visible on the far right of the photo. Other skyscrapers soon followed, including the Chestnut Park apartment building on the left side of the photo, and Monarch Place, just to the right of the center.

Many of the historic structures from the first photo are now gone, including the old library, the Church of the Unity, and St. Michael’s Hall. Many of the Victorian single-family homes and duplexes are also gone, having been replaced by apartment blocks as the city grew in the first half of the 20th century. Some, however, are still standing, including the two brick houses on Byers Street in the foreground that have towers on their roofs. A few blocks further down the hill, mostly hidden by the trees, is the Quadrangle-Mattoon Street Historic District, which includes many buildings that were standing when the first photograph was taken. The Armory itself, including the Arsenal tower where these photos were taken, is also a historic site. It closed in 1968, and is now the home of Springfield Technical Community College as well as the Springfield Armory National Historic Site.

For other then and now views from the Arsenal tower, see the other posts showing the view facing west, northwestsouth, and north.

First Friendly’s Restaurant, Springfield, Mass

The original home of Friendly Ice Cream, at 161 Boston Road in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The scene in 2015:

The first photo was taken only a few years after S. Prestley and Curtis Blake opened the first Friendly Ice Cream location here in Springfield’s Pine Point neighborhood. In 1935, the two brothers, aged 20 and 18, respectively, borrowed $547 from their parents and opened the ice cream shop, charging 5 cents for a two scoop cone as the sign on the side of the building indicates. The business soon proved to be popular, and in 1940 they opened a second shop in West Springfield. By the early 1950s, they had 10 locations in the area, and when the Blake brothers sold the company in 1979, it had grown to over 500 restaurants. Today, the company operates 380 restaurants along the east coast from Maine to Florida.

The buildings in the first photo were probably built in the 1920s or early 1930s, when Pine Point was growing as a middle class residential neighborhood. As seen here and in this earlier post, these commercial buildings are all still standing, but the change in use has reflected some of the changes in the neighborhood over the years. The original Friendly’s has long since closed, and its storefront is now a pizza restaurant, and to the right the storefronts that were once the First National supermarket are now vacant. Directly across the street from here was Nora’s Variety Store, a Pine Point fixture for many years that, likewise, has closed and also stands vacant.

Nora’s Variety Store, Springfield, Mass

A mixed-use commercial and residential building on Boston Road in Springfield’s Pine Point neighborhood, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The building in 2015:

This building is probably best known as the longtime home of Nora’s Variety Store, but on a more personal note it is also where my grandmother was born, in 1917.  According to city records, it was built in 1910, which was around the time that Pine Point was being developed as a residential suburb.  My great grandparents moved into this building around 1914, and they lived here until around the early 1920s, when they moved to a house on nearby Coleman Street.

The first photo shows two storefronts, which appear to have been added sometime after 1920.  To the right was a shoe store, which is now a beauty salon, and to the left was the Boston Road Variety Store.  This later became Nora’s Variety Store, which remained a fixture in Pine Point for many years.  Nora’s closed in the early 2000s, and the storefront was most recently used by another variety store, although it now stands vacant as of 2015.

153-157 Boston Road, Springfield, Mass

A commercial block on Boston Road in Springfield’s Pine Point neighborhood, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The building in 2015:

Springfield’s Pine Point neighborhood was developed in the early 1900s, and consisted primarily of middle class, single-family homes.  This section of Boston Road was the commercial center of the neighborhood, and the first photo shows a variety of businesses here, including two grocery stores, a dry goods store, and a dry cleaners.  Just out of view to the left was the first Friendly’s restaurant, which opened a few years before the photo was taken.  These buildings were probably built around the 1920s or 1930s, and although the stores have changed, the buildings themselves are still standing.

Alexander House, Springfield, Mass

The Alexander House on State Street in Springfield, around 1905. Image from Springfield, Present and Prospective (1905).

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The site in 2015:

The Alexander House was one of many elegant homes that once lined this section of State Street between Chestnut Street and the Armory.  Most of them have long since been replaced, but the Alexander House is still standing, just in a different location.  Its history is explained in more detail in this post, which shows is current appearance around the corner from here, but it was built in 1811 and is one of the oldest existing buildings in the city.

Former owners of the house included portrait artist Chester Harding as well as former Springfield mayor Henry Alexander, Jr., for whom the house is named.  However, its future was threatened in the early 2000s, when a new federal courthouse was proposed for this location.  So, the house was moved about 100 yards away, behind the courthouse on Elliot Street.  The large trees that once stood in front of the house couldn’t be moved, though, so architect Moshe Safdie literally built around them, designing the courthouse so that the trees could be saved as a central element.

State Street, Springfield, Mass

The view looking west on State Street from Myrtle Street in Springfield, around 1913. Image from Progressive Springfield, Massachusetts (1913).

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State Street in 2015:

The first photo shows roughly the same section of State Street as the one in this post, just taken from the opposite direction.  In the early 1900s, the elm-lined State Street was primarily residential, with a number of single-family homes on either side.  Also in the photo, on the right, is the ivy-covered facade of the First Baptist Church, which was built in the late 1880s.  The congregation merged with another Baptist church around the time the photo was taken, and the building later became St. Paul’s Universalist Church.  It was later demolished, and today there is a parking lot on the site.

By the early 1900s, the street was still unpaved, but automobiles were still fairly rare anyway.  Instead, the trolleys of the Springfield Street Railway carried much of the city’s traffic, and at least three appear to be visible here on the busy State Street corridor.  Their days were numbered, though, because within a couple decades most trolley networks around the country had been replaced with buses.  In Springfield, these buses eventually came under the control of the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority, and they still operate many lines along this part of State Street, as seen in the 2015 photo.