Chester W. Chapin House, Springfield, Mass

The Chester W. Chapin House at 149 Chestnut Street, just south of Bridge Street, around 1893. Image from Sketches of the old inhabitants and other citizens of old Springfield (1893).


The scene in 2016:

One of Springfield’s most prominent residents of the 19th century was Chester W. Chapin, a businessman and politician who lived here in this home on Chestnut Street for nearly 40 years. Chapin was born in Ludlow, Massachusetts in 1798, and was the youngest of seven children. The family soon relocated to Chicopee, at the time still part of Springfield, where his father died in 1806, just 10 days before Chester’s eighth birthday. As a young adult, he worked for $1.50 a day, building foundations for the cotton mills in Chicopee, and he later took a job as a clerk for his brother Erastus, who owned the old Parsons Tavern in Springfield.

Chapin soon went into business for himself, and in the early 1820s he opened a store in Chicopee. From here, he went on to make a series of  business investments, starting around 1826 when he purchased an interest in the Hartford to Brattleboro stagecoach line. His portfolio expanded in 1831 when he purchased a steamboat line from Springfield to Hartford, and along with this he also owned large interests in several other steamboat companies.

Stagecoaches and steamboats were soon to become largely obsolete, though, and in 1844 Chapin wisely sold his investments and purchased the Hartford & New Haven Railroad. In 1850, he became president of the Connectict River Railroad, which had just been completed from Springfield north to the Vermont border. With these two railroads, he controlled largely the same transportation corridor that had once been served by his stagecoaches and steamboats, but his most significant role as a railroad executive came in 1854, when he became president of the Western Railroad. Extending from Worcester to Albany, this line was later merged with the Boston and Worcester  Railroad in 1867 to form the Boston and Albany Railroad, and Chapin became the new company’s first president.

Aside from his railroad interests, Chapin founded the Agawam Bank in 1846, serving as its first president and later as a director. He was also a director of the New York Central Railroad, the Springfield Fire and Marine Insurance Company, Springfield Gas Light Company, Chapin Bank, Parsons Paper Company, and a number of other companies. By the 1860s, he was among the wealthiest men in the city, as seen in his 1865 income of $78,886, equivalent to over $1.2 million today. Only two other residents of the city, pistol manufacturers Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson, had a greater income that year.

Chapin built this house on Chestnut Street in 1844, the same year that he started investing in railroads. Like most of the other mansions on the street in this era, its design was heavily influenced by the Greek Revival style, but it also shows elements of Italianate architecture, such as the overhanging eaves and the cupola, which would become more popular by the middle of the century. Because this area of Springfield was still sparsely developed, the house was on a large lot that extended behind it, almost all the way to Spring Street.

During the time that he lived in this house, Chapin also served one term in the US House of Representatives, from 1875 to 1877, before being defeated in his re-election bid. He was one of only two Democrats to represent Springfield in the House prior to the mid-20th century. For years, Western Massachusetts was a Republican stronghold, and no other Democrats would be elected to Congress from Springfield’s district until Foster Furcolo in 1949.

Chapin died in 1883 at the age of 84, and the house was owned by his family for the next 30 years. By the early 1900s, though, the property, with its large backyard, was valuable commercial real estate. It was demolished in 1913, and Winter Street was developed through the lot. Here along Chestnut Street, the Willys-Overland Block was built on the left side, and another brick commercial block was built on the right side, where a parking lot is located today.

Harris Block, Springfield, Mass

The Harris Block, at 454-472 Bridge Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.


The building in 2016:

As mentioned in previous posts, Chestnut Street transitioned from a residential to commercial neighborhood in the early 1920s. The home of Daniel Harris once stood just to the right of here, but in 1923 it was dismantled and moved to Westerly, Rhode Island. His name lived on, though, with the Harris Block. This two-story commercial building was built in 1925 at the corner of Chestnut and Bridge Streets, and formed part of the northern side of the newly-developed Apremont Triangle.

When Bridge Street was extended east of Chestnut Street in the early 1920s, it crossed Daniel Harris’s old lot and connected with Pearl Street. This formed a roughly isosceles triangle between the three streets, with a small park in the center that was named in honor of the 104th Infantry, a Springfield-based unit that fought at Apremont during World War I.

Three of the buildings fronting the triangle, including the Harris Block, were designed by architect Samuel M. Green. All three had similar designs, and were two stories tall, with large storefront space on the first floor. This made them ideal for car dealerships, and the Apremont Triangle soon became the center of the city’s automobile industry. Here in the Harris Block, the corner storefront was originally a Rolls-Royce showroom, and their Springfield branch offices were also located in the building.

By the time the first photo was taken, Rolls-Royce was no longer in the building, and the corner storefront was instead a pharmacy. Over the years, car dealerships have moved to more spacious lots outside of downtown, but all of the early 20th century buildings at the Apremont Triangle are still standing, including the Harris Block. Because of this, all of these buildings were added to the Apremont Triangle Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Willys-Overland Block, Springfield, Mass

The Willys-Overland Block at the corner of Chestnut and Winter Streets in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.


The building in 2016:

As mentioned in the previous post, Chestnut Street was once home to some of Springfield’s wealthiest residents. However, by the early 1900s the city’s commercial center was growing east from Main Street, and this area around the corners of Chestnut, Bridge, and Pearl Streets became the center of the city’s automotive business. Springfield played a pioneering role in early automobile manufacturing, starting with Charles and Frank Duryea. In the 1890s, they developed the country’s first gasoline-powered car here in Springfield, just a few blocks away on Taylor Street. In the years that followed, other automobile companies came to the city, drawn by its manufacturing tradition and large pool of skilled workers.

In the first few decades of the 20th century, Springfield was home to many car manufacturers. The Knox Automobile Company was headquartered in the city, and other companies had branches, including Rolls-Royce and Willys-Overland. Unlike Rolls-Royce, the Toledo-based Willys-Overland no longer exists, but its legacy in Springfield lives on in this building, which they built in 1916. The first floor housed their showroom, and the rest of the building had a service station along with a thousand-car garage.

The company remained here for just five years, but the building continued to be used for automotive-related purposes. In the first photo, the upper floors were the Kimball Garage, serving the Hotel Kimball, which is located diagonally across Chestnut Street from here. However, it has since been neglected for many years. It was damaged in a November 2012 natural gas explosion that leveled an adjacent building and shattered most of the windows in the Willys-Overland Block. Although listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building’s future is uncertain, and in 2015 the City Council established it as a one-building historic district, in an effort to protect it from possible demolition.

Daniel L. Harris House, Springfield, Mass

The Daniel L. Harris House at the corner of Chestnut and Pearl Streets, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).


The scene in 2016:

In the mid-19th century, Chestnut Street was Springfield’s most prestigious residential street. Running parallel to Main Street on a bluff overlooking downtown Springfield and the Connecticut River, it was lined with mansions of many prominent residents. Many of these homes were originally owned by members of the Dwight family, and this particular house, located at what would later become the corner of Pearl Street, was built in 1835 by William Dwight (1805-1880). He and his wife Eliza lived here with their seven sons, four of whom would go on to serve in the Civil War. Two, Wilder and Howard, died during the war, and another, General William Dwight, was badly wounded and left for dead after the Battle of Williamsburg. He survived, but was captured and spent time in a Confederate prison.

At some point before 1851, the house was moved slightly to the left of its original location in order to open Pearl Street through the property. At this point, the house was owned by Daniel L. Harris (1818-1879), a civil engineer who built railroads and bridges. He served as the president of the Connecticut River Railroad, and in 1859 he traveled to Russia as a consultant for the St. Petersburg and Moscow Railway. The following year, he served a term as mayor of Springfield, and at this point he was one of the wealthiest men in the rapidly-growing city. In 1866, the Springfield Republican published a list of the taxable income of residents from the previous year, and Harris had the ninth highest income, earning $24,117, or about $377,000 in 2016.

Harris lived here until his death in 1879, and the house remained in his family for nearly 50 more years. By the early 1920s, though, Chestnut Street was no longer the city’s preeminent neighborhood. Springfield’s commercial center had spread up the hill from Main Street, and one by one the 19th century mansions were replaced by 20th century development. Most of these homes disappeared during the 1920s, including the Harris house.

The land became the Apremont Triangle, a small park bounded by Chestnut, Pearl, and Bridge Streets, but the house itself was not completely lost to history. In 1923, it was dismantled and moved to Westerly, Rhode Island, where it was rebuilt to its original design. Today, it is still standing, although it is essentially unrecognizable in its current appearance because of a dramatic 1970 renovation that removed most of the second floor. This article on the Westerly Sun website provides photographs as well as more details about the building’s highly varied history.

Interior of Old First Church, Springfield, Mass (2)

The interior of Old First Church from the balcony, around 1940. Image courtesy of the Springfield College Archives and Special Collections, Cliff Smith YMCA Postcard Collection.

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The church in 2015:

The interior of Old First Church was shown in an earlier post, with a photo that was taken around 1915. At the time, the interior design was from an 1881 remodel, but in 1924 many of the Victorian changes were undone and it was restored to an early 19th century appearance. The c.1940 photo here reflects these changes, and it remains mostly the same today. There is a different organ, which was installed in 1958, the steps up to the pulpit have moved, and most of the pews to the left and right of the pulpit are gone, but there have been no major alterations since 1924.

The church was built in 1819, and after nearly 200 years it is the oldest church building still standing in the city. However, the First Church congregation itself no longer exists. With declining membership and high maintenance costs, they disbanded in 2007, and the city purchased the historic building. They regularly rent it out it out for special events, and since 2009 it has also been used by WellSpring Church for their Sunday services.

Union House, Springfield, Mass

The former Union House/Chandler Hotel building on the right side of the photo, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

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The scene in 2016:

The building on the right side of this scene is one of the oldest existing commercial blocks in downtown Springfield, although much of it will soon be demolished as part of the MGM Springfield casino project. When it opened as the Union House in 1846 it was one of the finest hotels in the city, and it was built for Jeremy Warriner, who had previously operated a tavern a block away at the corner of Main and State Streets. His old tavern had been popular in the stagecoach days, but with the opening of the railroad a half mile away, his inconventiently located, colonial-era building faced stiff competition from modern hotels like the Massasoit House.

Here at the corner of Main and Bliss Streets, his new hotel was actually slightly further from the railroad, but it was at least in a modern building. Within a few years, the hotel had attracted some prominent guests, including President James K. Polk, who stayed overnight here in 1847, accompanied by future president James Buchanan, who was Secretary of State at the time. In 1849, author Sara Jane Lippincott, who wrote under the pen name of Grace Greenwood, visited the hotel and later raved about the quality of the meals here, explaining “I am not about to attempt a description of Warriner’s dinner, with their endless succession of delicious dishes, their inimitable sauces, and exquisite puddings and pastry. For this I have neither time nor talent sufficient.”

However, the Massasoit House continued to draw guests with its convenient location next to the railroad station, and “Uncle Jerry” and “Aunt Phoebe” Warriner retired from the hotel business a few years later. The building continued to be used as a hotel through several changes in ownership, and by the 1880s it had become Chandler Hotel, a name that would remain until it closed in 1933. During this time, the building was extensively renovated, to the point where very little is left from the original 1846 structure.

The first photo was taken soon after the hotel closed, and at the time the first floor was being used as a drugstore. Most recently, it was the home of Glory Shoes, but the upper floors have been vacant for years and are in poor condition. Most of the building will soon be demolished except for the Main and Bliss Street facades, which will be incorporated into the casino design. As for the other buildings in the first photo, the Metropolitan Furniture Company was one of several furniture companies that were once located in the South End. This building was either demolished or trimmed down to one floor at some point, because there was a one-story commercial building here that was demolished as part of the casino project, along with the one on the far left side of the first photo.