Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, Washington, DC

The east front of the United States Capitol, during the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln on March 4, 1861. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Capitol in 2018:

The first photo was taken around the same time as the one in a previous post, but this one shows the view from further back, with the entire unfinished Capitol dome in view, along with the crowd that had assembled for Lincoln’s first inauguration. It was the culmination of the highly-contentious 1860 presidential election, which saw the splintering of the Democratic Party into regional factions. Lincoln won the four-way race amid threats of secession from the south, and by the time he was inaugurated on March 4, 1861, seven southern states had followed through on their plans.

Because of this, there was a great deal of uncertainty on the day that the first photograph was taken. The start of the Civil War was just over a month away, and there were still plenty of questions about whether the South would be allowed to peacefully secede, or if the newly-inaugurated president would send an army to stop them. Appropriately enough, the backdrop to this event is the unfinished dome of the Capitol. Begun six years earlier, this new dome was still very much a work in progress during Lincoln’s inauguration, and it seemingly represented the as yet unfinished work of uniting the northern and southern regions of the nation.

The Capitol building itself is actually significantly older than this dome, though. Construction began in 1793, and the Senate and House wings were completed in 1800 and 1811, respectively. However, the building was burned in 1814, during the War of 1812, and its reconstruction was not ultimately finished until 1826. At the time, the building was topped by a low dome, which is visible in the first photo of another previous post. As the country grew, though, so did the Capitol building, and two new wings were added in the 1850s. As a result, the old dome looked out of proportion to the old building, so construction began on the current one in 1855.

During the early 19th century, the Capitol became the primary site of presidential inaugurations. At first, these ceremonies were held indoors, in either the Senate of House chambers, but in 1829 Andrew Jackson became the first president to be inaugurated here on the East Portico. This started a tradition that, with few exceptions, continued into the late 20th century. Jimmy Carter’s 1977 inauguration was the last to be held here on the East Portico, and since 1981 the ceremony has – with the exception of Ronald Reagan’s 1985 inauguration in the Rotunda – been held on the West Portico, on the side of the building facing the National Mall and the Washington Monument.

Four years to the day after the first photo was taken, Lincoln’s second inauguration would also be held here on the East Portico. By then, the exterior of the dome had been completed, and Lincoln’s goal of reuniting the nation had likewise been largely accomplished, with the end of the Civil War only weeks away. However, less than a week after Lee’s surrender, and only 42 days into his second term, Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, who had actually attended the second inauguration here, and had later claimed that he could have killed Lincoln during the event if he had wanted to.

Today, more than 150 years after the first photo was taken, the East Portico does not appear to have changed much. However, it actually underwent a major expansion starting in 1958, when a new portico was built 32 feet 6 inches in front of the old one. Aside from being built of marble, as opposed to the sandstone of the original walls, this new portico was essentially a duplicate. The old walls remain intact inside the building, although the original columns were removed and now stand in the National Arboretum. The 1958 renovations also involved the removal of two statues that once flanked the east steps. On the left, mostly hidden from view in the first photo, was Luigi Persico’s Discovery of America, and on the right was Horatio Greenough’s The Rescue. Both of these statues featured particularly unflattering depictions of Native Americans, and neither have been put on public display since then.

The other significant addition to this part of the Capitol occurred in the early 2000s, when the Capitol Visitor Center was constructed here. Consisting of 580,000 square feet of floor space on three floors, this massive expansion is almost entirely hidden from view in this scene, as it is located directly under the plaza in front of the East Portico. From this angle, the only visible signs of this underground complex are several skylights, including one on the far left side of the scene.

Hadley Company Mills, Holyoke, Mass

Looking north toward the Hadley Company mills, from the corner of Canal and Center Streets in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

The caption of the first photo reads “Twelve o’clock at the Hadley Mills,” and it shows a group of workers leaving the Hadley Company thread mill in Holyoke, evidently on their lunch break. The factory is among the oldest in Holyoke, and was built around the late 1840s by the Hadley Falls Company. This company played a major role in turning Holyoke into a prosperous industrial center, including building the dam and canal system, but it was hit hard by the Panic of 1857 and the subsequent recession. The company’s assets were liquidated in 1859, and were subsequently acquired by the newly-established Holyoke Water Power Company.

In 1863, these mills here on Canal Street became the Hadley Company, a thread manufacturer that had no direct connection to its similarly-named predecessor. It was part of Holyoke’s booming textile industry, producing a variety of threads, yarns, and twine, and by 1879 it had an annual output of 727,315 pounds of yarn. Like most of Holyoke’s industries during this time, the company relied heavily on immigrant labor, and many workers lived in the nearby tenement rowhouses on the other side of Canal Street.

The Hadley Company was acquired by the American Thread Company in 1898, at a time when many industries were consolidating into large corporations. This mill was operated as a division of American Thread for the next few decades, but it was closed in 1928, leaving about a thousand workers unemployed on the eve of the Great Depression. At the time, the New England textile industry was in decline, and the nearby Lyman Mills here in Holyoke had closed just a year earlier, leaving a similar number of unemployed workers. However, it would only get worse for Holyoke, which would continue to lose its industrial base throughout the mid- to late-20th century.

By the 1940s, this mill complex had become the home of the Graham Manufacturing Company, which was later acquired by Johnson & Johnson. Today, the former Hadley Company property has a variety of different owners, but many of the historic mill buildings are still standing, including the three in this scene. The building in the center has lost its cupola, and the fence in the foreground is long gone, but otherwise the scene is still easily recognizable from the first photo 125 years ago.

Front Steps, First Presbyterian Church, Holyoke, Mass

A group of children sitting on the front steps of the First Presbyterian Church, at 237 Chestnut Street in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

As discussed in the previous post, the First Presbyterian Church of Holyoke was established in 1886, and moved into this newly-completed Romanesque Revival-style building two years later. It was built of contrasting granite and brownstone blocks, and had two front entrances on the Chestnut Street side. This particular scene shows the northwestern entrance, which is on the right side of the building when facing it from the street, and it provides good detail of the rough-faced blocks that make up the exterior of the building.

The first photo was taken only a few years after the church was completed, and shows a group of five young children sitting on the front steps. Although the children are unidentified, their parents likely worked in some of the many factories in Holyoke, and they themselves probably ended up working in the factories too. Some may have even attended this church for the rest of their lives, since the building was owned by the First Presbyterian Church for more than a century after the photo was taken.

Today, around 125 years later, not much has changed in this scene. The church is still standing, and this entrance has seen only minor changes, such as a new door and the addition of railings on the steps. The building is a good example of Romanesque Revival architecture, and it is one of many historic 19th century churches in Holyoke. Although the original congregation sold it in 2002, is still in use as a church, and is now the home of the Centro de Restauracion Emanuel.

Main Street Pedestrians, Brattleboro, Vermont

Pedestrians on the sidewalk of Main Street, near the corner of Elliot Street in Brattleboro, in August 1941. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA/OWI Collection.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo was taken in August 1941 by Jack Delano, a prominent photographer who was, at the time, working for the Farm Security Administration. Among the projects of this New Deal-era agency was hiring photographers to document living conditions in rural America in the wake of the Great Depression, and Delano traveled throughout Vermont during the summer of 1941. He took a number of photographs in downtown Brattleboro, showing everyday life in the small town on the eve of World War II. These two young people were the subjects of several of his photographs, and his original caption reads “On the main street of Brattleboro, Vermont, during the tourist season.”

The first photo does not show much of the surrounding streetscape, but several historic buildings are visible across the street. To the left of the lamppost is the stone building at 109-113 Main Street, which was built around 1850 and features an exterior facade that contrasts with the more conventional brick of the surrounding buildings. On the right side of the photo is the Union Block, which was built around 1861 and was evidently named in recognition of the patriotic sentiment at the start of the Civil War. Both of these stores housed discount department stores when the first photo was taken, with F. W. Woolworth on the left and M. H. Fishman on the right.

More than 75 years after the first photo was taken, this scene has not significantly changed. Most of the historic commercial blocks on Main Street are still standing, including the two in this scene, and even the present-day fire hydrant is still in the same location as the one in the first photo. The only noticeable difference – aside from the modern cars – is the change in the businesses occupying the storefronts. The era of downtown department stores is long gone, and both Woolworth and Fishman have since gone out of business. However, unlike many other downtowns, Brattleboro has managed to retain a thriving Main Street, and the storefronts here now house an eclectic mix of different businesses.

Governor’s Carriage, Newport, Rhode Island

A group of men pose in front of the Old Colony House in Newport, around 1880. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

The Providence Public Library’s information on this photo does not provide any context for the first photo, aside from the title of “Governor’s Carriage Newport” and the approximate date of 1880. It does not seem clear, for example, why this carefully-posed photo would include the governor’s carriage yet not the governor himself, but it was taken in front of the Colony House, which at the time functioned as one of Rhode Island’s two state houses, with the other being located in Providence.

As mentioned in an earlier post, the Colony House was built in 1741, and was the work of Newport architect Richard Munday. The exterior was heavily influenced by the work of Christoper Wren, and the interior featured an open hall on the first floor and legislative chambers on the upper floor. For many years, Rhode Island did not have a fixed capital city, with the legislature instead holding sessions on a rotating basis in each of the state’s five county seats. When in Newport, the legislature met here in this building, and continued doing so even after 1854, when the rotation was reduced to just Providence and Newport.

This unusual arrangement continued throughout the 19th century, and the building was still in use by the state government when the first photo was taken around 1880. The practice of alternating legislative sessions finally ended in 1900, though, and Providence became the state’s sole capital city. For the next 26 years, though, the building was used as the courthouse for Newport County, until the current county courthouse was completed in 1926. Located directly to the right of the Colony House, the new courthouse was built with a Colonial Revival style that bears strong resemblance to its predecessor, and the two buildings still stand side-by-side at the eastern end of Washington Square.

Although no longer used as either a state house or as a county courthouse, the building is still owned by the state, and has been a part of several important events over the years. In 1957, President Eisenhower – who spent several summers here in Newport while serving as president – gave a short speech from the front steps here, and 40 years later both the exterior and interior of the building were used for scenes in the 1997 film Amsted, which was set in 1840s New Haven but filmed here in Newport because of the city’s well-preserved historic downtown.

Today, the Colony House is considered a landmark of Georgian-style architecture, and it is one of the best-preserved public buildings of its era in America. The building was already around 140 years old when the first photo was taken, and nearly 140 years have elapsed since then, but there is essentially no difference in its appearance between the two photos. In recognition of this, it was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1960, and the building is currently operated as a museum by the Newport Historical Society.

Lost New England Goes West: Chinatown, San Francisco (2)

The corner of Grant Avenue and Washington Street in San Francisco, around 1920-1930. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Arnold Genthe Collection.

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The view in 2015:

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While the Arnold Genthe photo in the previous post showed San Francisco’s Chinatown before the 1906 earthquake, this view a block away shows the neighborhood some 20 years after it was rebuilt. By this time, though, Chinatown was seeing the effects of many years of anti-Chinese immigration policies, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which made it almost impossible for Chinese women or families to immigrate to the United States. When the first photo was taken, the neighborhood’s population was at an all-time low, and this would not begin to rise again until after World War II, when the Exclusion Act was repealed due to American alliances with China during the war.

Today, it is the largest Chinese community in the world outside of Asia, and in the past 90 years or so this particular view has hardly changed. The building is still standing, as are the ones in the distance to the left, and even minor details such as the fire escapes and the lamppost are the same as they were in the 1920s. The influence of Chinese culture is still very apparent, and Grant Avenue in particular, as shown here, is a major tourist destination in San Francisco.

This post is part of a series of photos that I took in California this past winter. Click here to see the other posts in the “Lost New England Goes West” series.