Josiah Day House, West Springfield, Mass (1)

The Josiah Day House on Park Street in West Springfield, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The house in 2016:

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This house is the oldest existing building in West Springfield, and probably the oldest brick building in Hampden County. It was built by Josiah Day in 1754 as a rare example of a brick saltbox-style house, and is probably the oldest such house in the United States. The house actually predates West Springfield itself, which had been settled in 1660 as part of Springfield, but was not actually incorporated as a separate town until 1774. By this point, the village on the west side of the river, with its fertile soil for farming, had grown larger and more prosperous than Springfield itself, and for many years its residents had been calling for separation.

Josiah Day was one of the residents who had petitioned the colonial General Court of Massachusetts for separation from Springfield, but he never lived to see West Springfield become its own town. He died in 1770, and his son Aaron inherited the house. Aaron and his wife Eunice moved into the house after their marriage in 1775, just months before the start of the American Revolution.

Although far removed from any major battles, the Day house nonetheless saw several important events relating to the war. In January 1776, Henry Knox passed in front of the house along his journey from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston. He and his men were hauling 60 tons of cannons to fortify Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston, and just two months later these guns forced the British to evacuate Boston. Two years later, the Day House saw the results of another American victory in the war. Following the British defeat at Saratoga, General Riedesel and his Hessian troops were captured and marched to Boston, and along the way they stopped and encamped here in West Springfield on October 30 and 31, 1777, on the common in front of the house.

The closest that the Day House came to witnessing direct military action came nearly a decade later, during Shays’ Rebellion. This uprising, which took place in western Massachusetts in 1786-1787, was the result of high taxes and foreclosures against farmers in the region, and during this time the rebels succeeded in closing courthouses to prevent foreclosure cases from coming to trial. Although Daniel Shays of Pelham was the primary leader of the uprising, Luke Day of West Springfield was also one of the leaders. Luke and Aaron Day were second cousins, and while planning for the assault on the Springfield Arsenal, the climactic event of the rebellion, Luke trained his soldiers on the common in front of the house. According to local tradition, he also used his cousin’s house as his headquarters while he planned the attack.

In the meantime, Aaron and Eunice Day continued living in this house for decades. In 1810, they expanded the house with a wooden addition in the back for their oldest son, Aaron, Jr., who had married Anne Ely that year. Eunice died in 1818 and Aaron, Sr. in 1827, and the house was passed down to the younger Aaron. He and Anne raised their six children here, and Lydia, their last surviving child, lived in the house until her death in 1897. A few years later, the house was sold by the Day family after four consecutive generations of ownership.

While so many other colonial buildings in the area were being demolished around the turn of the 20th century, the Day House was purchased by the Ramapogue Historical Society, around the same time that the first photo was taken. This early effort at historic preservation has been successful, and today the house is still owned by the society. It is open to the public as a museum, and the interior is furnished with antiques from the 18th and 19th centuries, many of which had once belonged to members of the Day family.

White Church, West Springfield, Mass

The old White Church in West Springfield, around 1905. Photo from Springfield: Present and Prospective (1905).

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The church in 2014:

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The old church at the corner of Elm Street and Kings Highway in West Springfield is one of the oldest surviving church buildings in the Pioneer Valley.  It was built in 1802, making it 17 years older than Springfield’s Old First Church.  It’s in a rather odd location, though; it’s on the outskirts of downtown West Springfield, on a hill overlooking the Connecticut River.  This was due to an agreement that the town made with John Ashley, who paid for the construction under the conditions that: 1) he choose the location, and 2) that it remain in use as a church for 100 years.  He got his wish, but almost as soon as the 100 years was up the congregation merged with Park Street Congregational Church, moving to the center of West Springfield in 1909 and vacating the building.  The building was later used as a Masonic lodge, and today it is privately owned.  One curious historical item is the cost of the church; the contract called for $1,400 plus “ten gallons of St. Croix rum.”  Based on the fact that the church is still standing over 200 years later, I think one can assume the rum was not delivered until after it was completed.

North End Bridge, West Springfield Mass

The view looking east over the North End Bridge from the West Springfield side of the river, around 1900-1910.  Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The bridge in 2014:

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The North End Bridge was the second road bridge to be built across the Connecticut River in Springfield, and opened in 1877.  Both views show the bridge looking east from West Springfield toward Springfield.  This bridge was particularly significant to West Springfield residents, as it directly connected downtown West Springfield to the north end of Springfield and, more importantly at the time, Springfield’s railroad station.

The old bridge was described by King’s Handbook of Springfield in 1884 as being “one of the handsomest highway bridges in the United States.”  In 1923, though, it caught fire and was completely destroyed. Two years later a new bridge was completed, and it remains in use today, carrying US Route 20, the longest road in America, over the Connecticut River.  The road on the far left-hand side just before the bridge in the first photo is Riverdale Street; it didn’t look like much at the turn of the last century, but today it is part of Route 5, and is a major north-south route through the Springfield area.  It does not actually pass through this intersection anymore, though.  The 2014 photo was taken from the center of a rotary, which was built atop a tunnel for Route 5.

As an incidental historical note, there is a sign on the bridge in the first photo, which is barely legible.  In higher-resolution copies of the photo, it reads: “No person shall ride or drive a horse or mule on any part of this bridge at a rate faster than a walk under a penalty of two dollars for each offence.”  Today, the bridge traffic usually travels at a significantly higher rate of speed than a walk, except during rush hour.

Springfield Skyline (3)

The view of Springfield from West Springfield, between 1900 and 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The view in 2014:

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The most obvious difference here is the lack of a covered bridge – this bridge was replaced by the current Memorial Bridge (just to the right of the scene in the 2013 photo) in 1922. The first bridge across the river in Springfield was an uncovered, six span bridge that was built in 1805. It collapsed in 1814, and was replaced by the covered bridge, which was completed in 1820. The designer was Isaac Damon, the same architect who designed Springfield’s Old First Church.  This bridge far outlasted its predecessor, and even the present Memorial Bridge hasn’t reached the 102 years that the covered bridge made it to.

The bridge was finally demolished – or, to be more accurate, dismantled piece by piece to reuse the wood – in 1922, upon completion of Memorial Bridge. Although there are no visible traces of the bridge itself, it’s still easy to pinpoint its location; there is a Bridge Street in Springfield, and another one directly across the river in West Springfield. Neither street currently leads to a bridge, but they were once the approaches to the old covered bridge.

Springfield Skyline (2)

The South End of Springfield, seen from West Springfield between 1900 and 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The same view in 2014:

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Like the photos taken from the same spot but angled a little upstream, not much remains visible from the original photo.  Old First Church, the Hampden County Courthouse, and the Court Square Building are still there, but not much else is readily identifiable in both photographs.  The steeple that is visible toward the right-hand side of the first photo is St. Joseph’s Church, which was built in 1873 and demolished in 2008.  The building that has since taken its place is visible in the second photo – it is a gray-green rectangular building visible just above and to the left of the large brick structure that is on the waterfront on the right-hand side of the photo.

Several buildings that are visible in the 2013 photo did exist when the earlier one was taken, but they aren’t visible in it. Among those is the old castle-like National Guard Armory, which was built in 1895 and damaged in the 2011 tornado. At the time it was being used as the South End Community Center, but today it stands vacant, although part of MGM’s proposed casino includes preserving the distinctive facade of the building.
Along the waterfront, much has changed in the past 100 years.  Back in the early 20th century, the waterfront was dominated by boating clubs and factories.  According to a 1910 map, there were three boathouses along this stretch of riverfront, several of which can be seen in this photo. They were the Springfield Yacht Club, the Springfield Canoe Club, and the Springfield Boat Club. Presumably many of their members are among those who are sailing or rowing on the Connecticut River.  Sadly, this is not the case today – the construction of I-91 effectively blocked off downtown Springfield from the waterfront, and today a little-used bike path along the riverfront is the only significant recreational activity available on this part of the river.

Springfield Skyline (1)

Springfield, as it looked from across the river around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The same view in 2010:

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It’s a good thing that Old First Church and the Hampden County Courthouse still exist – otherwise it would’ve been very difficult to pin down exactly what part of Springfield is seen in the early 20th century photo.  In addition, the old Court Square Building is barely visible in between those two buildings in photos.  There are some parts of Springfield that still look similar to how they were 100 years ago, but downtown isn’t one of them.  Along with the skyscrapers and modern hotels that now sit directly across the river, there is also the Memorial Bridge, which wouldn’t exist for another 10+ years from the first photo.  Instead, travelers would cross the river slightly upstream of the current bridge, on a terrifyingly rickety-looking covered bridge that I will probably cover in a future post.  The other big change in the past century was the elevated I-91 viaduct along the Connecticut River, which replaced the railroad as both the prominent feature along the river and also the way that most people traveled from Springfield to points north and south.