Collins Inn, Wilbraham, Mass

Collins Inn at the corner of Boston Road and Chapel Street in North Wilbraham, probably in the 1890s or early 1900s.  Image courtesy of the Wilbraham Public Library.

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The scene in 2015:

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The historic center of the town of Wilbraham has always been along Main Street in the town’s approximate geographic center.  When it was first settled in the 1700s, this was the ideal place for farming, but as changes in industrialization, transportation, and communication came about in the 1800s, the village of North Wilbraham gained prominence.  Its location on the banks of the Chicopee River and along the main road from Springfield to Boston made this area an important spot for industry and transportation.  In 1839, the Boston & Albany Railroad opened through here, with the North Wilbraham railroad station being located right across the street from here.

The building in the foreground of the first photo was the Collins Inn, which was opened in 1874 by Warren L. Collins.  It sat directly across Boston Road from the railroad station, and across Chapel Street from the Hollister Block, which at the time was used as a drugstore and post office.  In addition to the inn, Collins also operated a livery stable on the site, and ran a stagecoach line from here to the center of Wilbraham, about two miles away.

Aside from transportation, though, the Collins inn also offered Wilbraham another connection to the outside world – the telephone.  The telephone was invented in 1876, and within just four years a line was established from here to the center Wilbraham, at a cost of $30 per year for subscribers.  However, a few years later the cost increased to $100 per year (equivalent to over $2,400 today), and the service was discontinued because of a lack of families willing to pay.  When phone service was re-established in 1904, the Collins Inn became the town’s telephone exchange office for the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company, serving 21 customers in Wilbraham.

The telephone exchange remained here until 1914, when it moved to a different building across the street.  Around the same time, the Collins Inn closed, although the building itself remained standing for some time.  The 1964 History of Wilbraham book indicates that it was still standing at the time, although today its former location is now a parking lot.

Saint Thomas Cemetery, Southington, Connecticut (3)

Another photo of the All Souls’ Day Mass in Southington’s Saint Thomas Cemetery, in May 1942. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA-OWI Collection.

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The cemetery in 2015:

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As seen in the previous two posts, photographer Charles Fenno Jacobs took a number of photos of the All Souls’ Day Mass.  This event probably had a special significance for those attending; it was right around Memorial Day, and some perhaps had already lost a loved one in the war.  Many of the others certainly would have had a son, grandson, brother, or husband serving in the military, and although they wouldn’t have known how long the war would last, it would end up being over three years before it ended.

Today, this section of the cemetery has hardly changed.  The two large crosses that Jacobs used to frame his 1942 shot look the same, and the only obvious difference – aside from the lack of people – is the addition of a few more headstones in the foreground.

Saint Thomas Cemetery, Southington, Connecticut (2)

Another photo of the All Souls’ Day Catholic Mass at the Saint Thomas Cemetery in Southington, in May 1942. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA-OWI Collection.

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The cemetery in 2015:

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Like in the previous post, this is a rather eerie contrast.  By now, nearly all of the people from the first photo have since died, and many of them are probably buried in the same cemetery that they once attended Mass in some 73 years ago.  The cross on the right side of both photos is the main focal point of the cemetery, and the headstones in the western half of the cemetery are arranged in circles radiating outward from the central cross.  It was from here that Reverend Francis J. Mihalek can be seen officiating the Mass in the 1942 photo, as explained in photographer Charles Fenno Jacobs’s caption, which reads: “Southington, Connecticut, an American town and its way of life. On All Soul’s Day the Catholic congregation is gathering in the Saint Thomas cemetery for an outdoor Mass which in 1942 was officiated by the Reverend Francis J. Mihalek.”

Saint Thomas Cemetery, Southington, Connecticut (1)

The All Souls’ Day Catholic Mass at the Saint Thomas Cemetery in Southington, in May 1942. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA-OWI Collection.

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The cemetery in 2015:

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Many of Charles Fenno Jacobs’s Southington photos were taken here in Saint Thomas Cemetery, probably with the intent of promoting goodwill toward Americans from European Catholics.  His original caption reads: “Southington, Connecticut. On All Soul’s Day the Catholic congregation is gathering in the Saint Thomas cemetery for an outdoor Mass which in 1942 was officiated by the Reverend Francis J. Mihalek.”  Today, as is the case with most then and now photos of cemeteries, not much has changed, except for the addition of a few more names on the headstone in the foreground.

Beecher Street School, Southington, Connecticut (3)

Another view of the students at Southington’s Beecher Street School, taken in May 1942. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA-OWI Collection.

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The school in 2015:

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This is a rather depressing contrast, with a field full of schoolchildren in one photo, and an abandoned parking lot with cracked pavement and overgrown weeds in front of a vacant former school building in the second scene.  The first one was one of a number taken at the Beecher Street School by the Office of War Information during World War II, and the first photo is captioned: “Southington, Connecticut. At Beecher Street School, whose student body consists half of Americans of Italian descent and half of Americans of Polish descent. The Queen of May was Emily Shuvak, of Polish extraction; the King was Philip D’Agostino, of Italian descent.”

Assuming it is the same person, Philip D’Agostino was about 13 years old at the time.  He was a local baseball star who turned down a minor league contract for the Brooklyn Dodgers and later served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.  Much later on, he served as Southington’s police chief from 1983 until 1991, and he died in 2008 at the age of 78.  The school building is still standing today; it was last used as the school department offices, and although now vacant it is planned to be redeveloped into apartment units.

Beecher Street School, Southington, Connecticut (2)

Another color photo of students at the Beecher Street School, in May 1942. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA-OWI Collection.

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The scene in 2015:

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The caption of the original photo is “Children stage a patriotic demonstration, Southington, Conn.”  Like the one in the previous post, it was taken at the Beecher Street School, and was probably intended by the Office of War Information to show the patriotic zeal that even young American children display.  At the time, the Beecher Street School was an elementary school; it had been built in 1911, and it would later be converted into offices for the school department.  The students in the 1942 photo would be in their 80s today, and the school building itself now stands vacant, although it was purchased by a private company last year to redevelop into apartment units.