Union Block, Springfield, Mass

The corner of Main Street & Harrison Ave in Springfield, Mass, around 1878-1885.  Photo courtesy of New York Public Library.


The corner in 2014:


This view is very similar to the scene in this post, although the historic photo here is about 30 years older and shows just the buildings along Main Street from Harrison Ave to Court Street. As mentioned in the other post, the building in the foreground here is actually three buildings, which were constructed between 1858 and 1861, and came to be known as the Union Block.  The earliest section, furthest from the camera, is the Republican Block, and it was the home of the Springfield Republican newspaper from 1858 until 1867.  By the time the first photo was taken, it was the home of D.H. Bingham & Co. Clothing House, as seen on the massive sign atop the building.

The Republican Block is the only part of the Union Block that has survived relatively intact to this day.  The middle section, formerly home of Johnson’s Bookstore, is the original 1861 structure, but its facade was completely renovated in 1908 and does not retain any of its original architecture.

Closest to the camera, the northernmost third of the block was home of Kibbe Brothers Co., a large candy manufacturer in the city.  The Union Block was their home throughout the late 1800s, until they moved around the corner to a larger facility on Harrison Ave in 1890, which can be seen in this post.  This part of the Union Block was demolished in 1915, and replaced with the 10 story building that stands there today.

Old City Hall, Springfield, Mass

The old City Hall building in Springfield, viewed from across Court Square, between 1865 and 1885. Photo courtesy of New York Public Library.


The scene in 2014:


Court Square hasn’t changed much in the past 130-150 years, but the buildings beyond it have.  The first photo shows the old City Hall building, which as mentioned in this post was built in 1855, shortly after Springfield was incorporated as a city, and burned in 1905, allegedly as a result of a monkey overturning a kerosene lamp.  I don’t know the circumstances surrounding a primate having access to open flames in City Hall, but that’s how the story goes.  The present City Hall was completed in 1913, and has managed to survive for over a century without any problems from arsonist apes.

Bill’s Block, Springfield, Mass

Several buildings on the west side of Main Street in Springfield, Mass, near the corner of Bridge Street, sometime in the 1870s. Photo courtesy of New York Public Library.


The same location in 2017:


The New York Public Library estimates a date range of 1865 to 1885 for this photo, but a single sign on one of the buildings establishes that it had to have been in the 1870s.  The left-most storefront was home to W.D. Kinsman, a dry goods store that later moved a few buildings north in 1880, as seen in this post.  Other businesses visible on signs here include the Springfield Conservatory of Music, J. Wallach & Co., who sold hats, and F.S. Parmenter, another dry goods dealer.

Today, this site is still a major commercial center – the entire block is taken up by Tower Square, the second tallest building in the city.  People also still park along the side of the street, although instead of horses tied to hitching posts like in the first photo, there are cars parked next to meters.

Springfield Five Cents Savings Bank, Springfield, Mass

The view looking from Court Square toward the corner of Main and Court Streets, around 1878-1885. Photo courtesy of New York Public Library.


The scene in 2014:


The ornate building in the center of the first photo is the Springfield Five Cents Savings Bank, which was built in 1876 at the corner of Main and Court Streets, diagonally across from Court Square.  The building is still there, although the Main Street facade was completely renovated at some point in the past 50 years or so.  However, the Court Street (today Falcons Way) facade is still largely intact, and reveals the fact that this building is not just another nondescript mid-20th century commercial building in the city.

Next to the Five Cents Savings Bank building in the first photo is the 1878 Republican Block, which was the home of the Springfield Republican newspaper.  I don’t know what happened to the building, but it apparently isn’t there anymore, unless it was renovated even more than its neighbor was.

Main Street, Springfield, Mass

The view looking north on Main Street toward Elm Street and Court Square, around 1865-1875. Photo courtesy of New York Public Library.


The scene in 2017:

The first photo has to be one of the earliest photographic views that I’ve seen of Main Street in Springfield.  Most of the views of Main Street that I have featured on this blog show a busy urban scene with large commercial buildings.  That wasn’t the case in this photo, which was probably taken right after the end of the Civil War.  There is certainly commercial activity going on in the foreground, in the immediate vicinity of Court Square, but further up Main Street it has not yet been developed to the extent that later photographs show, such as this one taken a block north and about 50 years later.

Many of the commercial buildings in this scene, especially the ones on the far left and far right, show the Federal style architecture that was common for commercial buildings in Springfield during the first half of the 19th century.  Most of these would be demolished by the turn of the century and replaced with larger, more modern buildings, such as the 1889 Chicopee Bank Building on the left-hand side in the 2017 photo.  Today, as far as I can tell, the only surviving examples are Byers Block just around the corner on Elm Street, Guenther & Handel’s Block on Stockbridge Street, and the Gunn and Hubbard Blocks on State Street opposite the Armory.

Almost everything from the first photo is gone today, including several blocks on the right-hand side, where the MassMutual Center was built in the 1970s.  However, there are at least two buildings from the first photo that still exist, in the block visible in the distance just in front of the church steeple.  This block was made up of three buildings, two of which survive today: the former Johnson’s Bookstore building and the Republican Block.  It is also possible that the 1865 Haynes Hotel (seen in this post) appears in the first photo, although from this angle it is hard to tell.

Corner of Main & Hillman Streets, Springfield, Mass

The southeast corner of Main and Hillman Streets in Springfield, around the 1870s or 1880s. Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library.


The scene in 2014:


Nothing from the first photo still exists today; even the street network has changed.  The corner of Main and Hillman technically doesn’t exist anymore – Hillman Street now ends a block away from Main Street, and the rest is now a pedestrian walkway along one side of Center Square.  Further down the street, the church building is on the site of what is now the corner of Main and Harrison – this intersection was moved so that Harrison and present-day Boland Way were directly across from each other on Main Street.

There are a few notable buildings visible in the first photo, including the Third National Bank Building in the foreground.  This ornate building was the home of the bank, but the upper floors were the Evans House hotel, which was described in the 1884 King’s Handbook of Springfield as “the leading family hotel” and a “convenient, pleasant, and home-like hotel.” Today, neither the hotel, nor the bank, nor the building itself still exist, although the site is still used for banking, with TD Bank now occupying the site.

Further down the street in the first photo is First Baptist Church.  The congregation was established in 1811, and met in several different locations around the city before moving to the Main Street site and constructing the church building in 1847.  However, as the downtown area became more developed, property along Main Street became valuable commercial space, and in 1888 the church was sold and replaced by a commercial building, which can be seen in the center of this post, taken facing the opposite direction.